Overflowing

What are the worst parts of parenting?

When my boys were little, I would have said lack of sleep, changing diapers, dealing with spit up, drooling, and teething. Of course there are tough parts of parenting as your kid grows that aren’t necessarily fun — setting rules, enforcing them, teaching things, getting your child to listen/care, your child getting upset with you or you with them — but while those times can be challenging, frustrating, maybe even painful, in our house, we always try to find the lesson on the other side.

One son clogged the toilet one evening. Definitely one of those things I’ve never enjoyed as a parent. 😊 He attempted to unclog it, only to fill the bowl to the brim on the verge of overflowing after several failed attempts. He went out to ask his father for help. My husband sprang into action and then started getting upset with my son for not knowing what to do (get water out of the toilet, transfer it to the bucket without spilling on the floor, get towels to clean up what spilled, etc.). My husband got frustrated with my son, and my son got upset with himself for not knowing what to do. I had gone to bed early and woke to several text messages from my son outlining what happened and the sadness he felt about what had happened and how the interaction with his father had went. I texted him back (while he was sleeping) reminding him that even though we might not always like what each other is doing, we always love each other, no matter what. I grabbed time with him once he was awake.

“How are you doing?” I asked. “Better,” he said, “Thanks for your message.” I sat him down and shared some insight with him. “You wouldn’t know this but as your parent our job is to teach you things, and when things happen where you or your brother don’t know what to do, it can feel like we, as your parents, have failed you. And that can feel bad. It doesn’t excuse behavior — if we get short-tempered, frustrated or maybe say things in anger. I want you to understand why your father might have reacted the way he did. We’ve never taught you and your brother how to unclog a toilet so there would be no way you would know how to do that. It’s something we need to teach you. Also, you might have been a bit embarrassed about clogging the toilet. Anyone would be. In the future, you don’t need to worry about that. If you’re in a situation and you try the fix and it seems to be making the problem worse, stop — give yourself time to think what to do next — ask for help, go online and look for tips and tricks, etc.” I took a breath. “Does that all make sense? You didn’t do anything wrong. These things happen and you’re reminding your father and I we have more teaching to do.” He gave me a hug, and headed off to school.

That afternoon my other son, who’d seen what happened said, “I have an idea. I think there are things you and dad should teach us. Maybe pick once a week, and show us how to do it.” “Do you have ideas for what you’d like us to teach you?,” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “unclogging a toilet, paying a bill, setting up an account, tying a tie.” I smiled, these were all great things we’d gladly teach our boys. I told him as much. He started a list when he got home, and his brother is adding to it.

Cleaning up after someone else can feel like the worst when it’s happening. But being able to understand each other better, and how we can help each other (our kids better understand my husband and I, and us better understanding what we need to teach our kids), has me overflowing with gratitude. Who knew a clogged toilet could lead to that?

What bad situation lead to something good for you and your child?

Sexuality

Puberty and sexuality were the two aspects of parenting I was happy I wouldn’t be challenged with for many years when my kids were young, but time has passed and we are now in the full swing of puberty and my boys exploring their sexuality.

My oldest is quiet in regards to his sexuality. He’s opened up to me in the past around feelings of possibly not fitting in one box. My response, that’s fine, you’ve got time to figure this out, Mom and Dad will support you regardless. My youngest is much more vocal and confident in his.

Being on the spectrum, it is not uncommon for sexuality to be more fluid. When my youngest was in elementary school he didn’t like “boy” things (sports, fighting, etc.) and said, “I wish I were a girl.” We explored if he truly wanted to be female and was struggling with gender assignment, but after talking more with him, counselors and therapists, he really liked being a boy (having a boy’s body), he just didn’t like the gender stereotypes that were being thrust upon him being male. We told him that he was perfectly fine as he is, and he needn’t worry about trying to conform or change.

Fast forward to middle school, puberty and sex education are big topics. My husband took both boys to a course at our local children’s hospital when each turned 11. My oldest found it a little uncomfortable but informative. My youngest found it informative and traumatic. When the instructor talked about the act of sex, my son got so upset he started crying and almost threw up.

They are talking about acceptance in his school and how to appreciate everyone as they are, including how they dress, talk, act, sexual orientation, etc. My son has gained confidence in expressing comfort in his differences. He shared one day in the car a few months ago, “Mom, I think I’m bisexual.” My reply, “That’s great.” I tried to just stay even keeled wanting to know I love him and support him no matter what. More recently he’s voiced that he is gay. To that, I’ve said, that is great too. He seemed to want to get more of a reaction out of his father and I when we were in the car driving together. “I just have to tell you, I’m pretty sure I’m gay and that isn’t going to change.” He was so happy about it, it made me smile, but I had to ask some clarifying questions. “Being gay is great, but I’ve wondered if maybe you’re asexual?” He responded, “No, Mom. Being asexual means you aren’t interested in other people. I am.” I continued. “I think asexual can also mean that you like other people but aren’t interested in having intercourse. Let’s look up the definition.” We looked it up. The definition we found read:

Asexual is the lack of sexual attraction to others, or a low interest in sexual activity. Some people consider asexuality to be their sexual orientation, and others describe it as an absence of sexual orientation.

Asexual can also be an umbrella term that includes a wide spectrum of asexual sub-identities, such as demisexual, grey-A, queerplatonic, and many others. Asexual people may identify as cisgender, non-binary, transgender, or any other gender.

After reading the definition I shared my observation. “I think you like others, and the idea of holding hands and kissing is fine, but you have no interest in sexual intercourse or touching. What do you think?” He thought about it and said, “You’re right. I’m fine with holding hands and kissing, but don’t want to do any of that other stuff.” My husband and I said ultimately it does not matter how he identifies now or in the future, we still love him just as he is.

It was important for me to have this conversation with him because as he becomes more independent and starts to explore acting on his attraction to others that he does so with all the information. I don’t want others to misinterpret his wants and desires. I shared with him, “if you tell people you are gay, they may assume you are comfortable with having sex. And if you are, that’s fine. But if you aren’t, that’s something you’ll need to let your partner know so there isn’t any confusion, and people don’t get upset or hurt.” We will definitely have to have more conversations with him as he grows to help him navigate (we’ll be learning along with him).

How are you helping your child accept who they are? How are you helping them better communicate their wants, needs, and desires to others?

Jealousy

Have you ever been jealous of someone else?

It’s a rhetorical question. Everyone experiences jealousy at some point. My oldest’s thinking on his athletic capabilities is being challenged this year in new ways. Where he once was confident, he’s now unsure. Who he is, if he isn’t strong athletically is depressing him, and his outlook for what the future holds. As a parent it is heartbreaking and scary to watch (how can I support him best? Get him out of this funk? Help him see he is way more than what he’s athletically capable of).

After a game, he got in the car and said, “I suck.” He proceeded to talk and talk. He is normally not much of a talker, so the fact that he was talking let me know he needed to. We got home and sat in the car talking for almost another hour. It came up that not only was he feeling bad about himself, but also envious of others — a peer, in particular, who is gifted athletically without having to put much effort in. “This isn’t even the sport he loves, and he’s a starter every game.” I attempted to help him see things from another point of view, but he wasn’t fully listening. He had dug in on the situation being dark and hopeless for him. I worried going to bed that night — would he be okay?

The next morning, after a good nights sleep, he came out to where I was. I shared I’d like to talk with him a little more whenever he was ready. I thought he’d delay the conversation but asked for a minute and then asked what I wanted to talk about. First I asked him if he was feeling any better and he said he was. Phew! I said, “ There’s two points I didn’t make last night, that I think are important. One, things feel really intense right now. You’re 15, you’re going through puberty, you’re still growing, trying new things, and everything can feel really intense,” he nodded in agreement, I continued, “things will get better. If I could go back to my 15 year-old self, I would tell her to be a lot kinder and to not take things so seriously. The second thing I want to talk about is jealousy. We all experience it. You need to understand that while you’re jealous of others, others are jealous of you — for reasons that are out of your control — you’re tall, math comes easily to you, you don’t want for anything. You may think ‘that’s crazy, no one would be jealous of me’, but I’m telling you it’s the truth. Remember that. Your friend can’t help he’s athletically talented. That has more to do with the genes he was given from his parents than anything else. He can’t help that. Just like you can’t help that you’re tall, or good at math, right?” He nodded. “That’s all,” I concluded. “Thanks, mom,” he said. Then we sat and watched a game together on TV. He seemed calmer and more at peace. I hope that is the case.

Has your child experienced jealousy? How have you helped them come to terms or work through it?

The Reward of Road Trips

What do you and your family do to pass the time when you’re on long car trips?

We ventured out to visit some National Parks several states away from us. We packed the car and warned our kids that cellphone coverage would be spotty in places and to be prepared. While flying to the location instead of driving would have been faster, it would also cost us significantly more, and would not have saved us a ton of time, so we opted to drive.

My kids are weary of the boredom that can come with long road trips, and so was I. However, we filled our on-the-road time listening to podcasts (many), music, and talking, and time seemed to pass more quickly. All of us talking was my favorite part. We might talk about what we saw, or what we were looking forward to, or what we learned from wherever we had most recently stopped.

My oldest is in Scouts and working on a merit badge. Part of the badge is for him to learn about finances, budgeting, and savings. He decided to use our time in the car to gain the needed knowledge. It felt productive educating both boys on everything that goes into both small and large purchases. It was nostalgic—thinking about how our own parents had taught my husband and I these same things, and encouraging (thinking we actually taught them useful information they’ll actually use/benefit from).

We’ll see how much they retain. 😊 Long road trips can be boring, but we found great reward in how it let us teach our kids new things, and brought us closer together.

What rewards have you experienced from road trips and/or traveling with your family?

Transitions

What transitions are you currently facing?

Transitions are a normal part of life. We’ve all experienced more dramatic transitions in the past year with COVID — being apart, remote work and schooling, etc. We’re transitioning again as those with vaccinations increase and COVID cases drop.

Coming out of COVID, there seems to be a heightened awareness of what each transition means – a BBQ with friends (luxury), attending an event with more than five people (a little anxiety producing at risk – it feels uncomfortable still, but then joy), and so on.

My youngest son’s school had its graduation ceremony since COVID that was both in-person and live-streamed. It was the first time our family, and many others had been in such a large group setting. We wore masks since many students are still not fully vaccinated and in a desire to be cautious and respectful of others comfort levels with masking.

After the ceremony was over, we went outside to a large open parking lot to congratulate the graduates and parents, and socialize. Being in the open, many folks removed their masks — another transition. It was freeing to see and experience for myself.

As we move out of the isolation and separation COVID brought, more noticeable transitions will come — returning to the office, school or not, for example. We’ll have a heightened awareness of them, and then we’ll get used to them and (potentially) take them for granted as part of life once more. Funny how transitions always seem to have a thread of “hard” (to do) in them, right? But transitions are essentially change and we know that change is rarely easy.

What transitions have you and your family already made? What transitions still await? How are you helping your child make transitions (back to school, parties, being with friends, etc.)?

Motherhood

How are you celebrating Mother’s Day today?

I’m reflecting this year on my time as a mother.

M – Milestones. Getting pregnant. Birth. Watching my children grow. Wow, wow, wow!

O – Observer. Trying to understand my child, what they need, and figuring out how to give it to them (physically, emotionally). A lot of trial and error.

T – Time. Such a strange thing. It slowed down so much when the kids were young. I couldn’t wait for time to go faster. Fast forward and I’d love for time to slow down now. My boys are becoming more independent by the day and will be grown and on their own before I know it.

H – Help. I was bad at asking for it when I first became a parent, thinking I was supposed to know how to magically do everything without any formal experience or training. A huge thank you to family, friends, and other new parents who supported my husband and I, helping us become better parents.

E – Everything. There is so much that goes into parenting. It’s hard, but what a joy. My boys have helped me grow so much as a person. Everything that goes into it — good and bad —has been absolutely worth it.

R – Rewarding. Seeing the world through my boys eyes as young children and now as teens always makes me feel like I’m seeing (appreciating) the world anew.

I hope all the moms out there have a wonderful Mother’s Day. What does being a mother mean to you?

Practice Makes Perfect

Do you have a perfectionist in your family?

My oldest has high expectations of himself. He always has since he was small. In his mind, he should know how to do something expertly even if he has little to no experience with it. Make a goal on every play, ace a new math assignment, get to high levels the first time playing a new video game. He’s disappointment and frustration that things ‘don’t come easily’ is hard for him.

I’ve often wondered where this came from. My husband and I have never pushed either of our boys to be perfect. We have asked them to put in effort, try their best, and not to give up when improvement is needed. Yet, my son’s expectations of himself remain the same.

My husband recently alerted me to what might be a contributing factor. “Have you ever noticed on TV or in the movies how easy new things always seem to be?” he asked, “Take Luke Skywalker, for example. They find him on a remote planet and before you know it, he’s flying a X-wing fighter with enough precision that he hits his target and blows up the Death Star on practically his first try. You never see Luke struggle to learn to fly. He’s just good at it. You never see him put in the work.” Of course, I could point out that we see Luke struggle to become a Jedi, but that is besides the point. My husband was onto something, rarely does effort get the lead in the storyline unless the payoff is big in the end (win the game, gold medal, blow up the Death Star). Struggle and the gift it gives in helping you better understand yourself and what you’re capable of isn’t always easy to see or appreciate.

I find myself having more compassion for my son (vs. concern) over his desire to always achieve peak performance. I plan to use the example my husband shared with me with my son. Maybe it will resonate with him, maybe it won’t. And if it doesn’t, I’ll have to practice what examples I’ll use on him next. After all, practice makes perfect, right?

How are you helping your child when they have high expectations of themselves? How are you helping them understand (appreciate?) the gift of practice?

I’ll be off for a bit to enjoy Spring Break and will be back in a few weeks.

Dreams Dashed

Have you ever had a dream dashed?

When I was young I swam competitively and loved it. I won most races and had my sights on being an Olympic swimmer — I had my heart set on it. I didn’t fully understand the investment of time or money that goes into making it to the Olympics, I figured if I continued to compete at the level I was it would just happen.

My family moved when I was 10 to a town that didn’t have a swim team with 30 miles of it so my Olympic dreams were dashed. I can recall being very upset with my parents that they didn’t realize the impact to me. Of course, my parents probably realized that they wanted to support me, but weren’t willing to let my love of sport guide what and where our family went next. My parents were more fully forgiven when I joined masters swimming (competitive swimming for adults) many years later and learned I had strong upper body strength but lacked the kicking strength needed to be at an elite level. In hindsight, my parents probably saved me a lot of grief, though I have wondered how far I would have gone if I’d have continued to swim in my youth.

My oldest has begged us to play tackle football since he was very young. We have said no, repeatedly, knowing the dangers of head trauma and how dangerous the sport can be. Our son never wavered. He would pitch us on why he should play, what he’d miss out on if he didn’t, and I have to admit I understood (my inner swimmer, in particular ) where he was coming from. He put a lot of effort into conditioning, even during the pandemic, and when they finally allowed students to do sports, we allowed him to join the team (with caveats, of course. A concussion will take him off the team).

He was nervous and excited about starting football. They practice daily and their first scrimmage is coming up. They are figuring out what positions the kids will play at and that has created a fracture in my son’s dreams of being a star football player. He’s played quarterback and wide receiver in flag football — very successfully in both positions. He’s grown though, and is more muscular now. He doesn’t have the arm for quarterback yet for the high school ball, isn’t running as fast as he used to and can block, but is up against guys twice his weight. After practice he came home defeated. “I suck,” he commented. “I don’t think they’re even going to play me.” I could see how devastated he was. As a parent, it’s one of those moments you wish you could take on your child’s pain for them. I reminded him that he is growing and the timing might not being aligning for him to be in ideal shape for any position now, but to keep working at it, and by fall, when sports resume, he’ll be ready. That didn’t seem to help. My husband also spoke to him and reminded him the importance of getting back up and trying again. My son’s dreams of being an star athlete are currently dashed, but we’ll continue to encourage him to not give up on himself so easily. This is a time of growth for him (mentally and physically). To see what he’s made of and capable of. I hope he sticks with this dream and sees it through and doesn’t look back one day and wonder what if.

How are you helping your child follow their dream? How are you helping them when their dream is in jeopardy?

One Love

Are you in a healthy relationship?

Growing up, no one explicitly talked to me about unhealthy relationships. I was fortunate to have parents that modeled healthy behavior, but was left to navigate relationships on my own. I had a good support system, however, my biggest enemy was me. I decided around puberty that I wasn’t outwardly lovable—I didn’t match what I saw on TV or in magazines and didn’t have boys knocking down my door, so drew the conclusion that what I believed was true, and rarely allowed myself to be open to relationships. If a guy liked me for me, well, I knew there was something wrong with him because how could somebody like me? It makes me sad when I reflect on this period of my life. Standing back and watching others in relationships gave me good insights into relationships I was interested in (e.g. hoping to have for myself one day), and those I wanted/needed to avoid. I can remember this served me well following college when I was more confident in my appearance and my inward love was starting to align with my outward. “Joe” pursued me after meeting me at a business outing. He was confident and blunt. He liked me and he made sure I knew it. He asked me out and I agreed though there was a red flag that was quietly being raised within. We agreed to meet at a restaurant but he called earlier in the day and insisted he pick he up. I told him I didn’t feel comfortable with that and he persisted. I gave in. I regretted it immediately and started thinking of ways to get out of the date. Something was triggering inner alarm bells to get away. I was about to call him to cancel when he called me, and shared he’d been in an accident and we’d have to postpone our date. I felt like angels had taken over the situation. I was glad he was okay, but knew he wasn’t for he based on how he explained the accident—he cursed about this woman pulling out in front of him on his motorcycle and how he’d really wanted to take me on a joy ride. No. Nope. Bye Bye. I sighed with relief that the date hadn’t happened—he clearly didn’t know me nor I him. Confidence is great. Aggressive big red flag.

Now my boys are in their teens and navigating relationships—friendship and romantic. My youngest is fortunate enough to have the organization One Love Foundation (joinonelove.org) working with his school. It teaches its students about what consists (characteristics and traits) of a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one. It allows the boys to better understand how their actions impact ours, and how to create and be part of healthy relationships. We’re talking to One Love Foundation about engaging with my older’s high school and look for him to benefit too. What a gift to learn something so important at such a pivotal age, right?

How are you modeling healthy relationships for your child? What are you teaching them to help them better navigates their future relationships?

Proud

When have you seen your child be proud of something they’ve accomplished?

My oldest is learning how to drive. Gulp. He is wired to be anxious in new settings and learning to drive has been no different. We started in a nearby church parking with lots of room so he could get a feel for the car. Learning simple things like wearing your seatbelt, using the gas and brake, and checking your surroundings. He was learning something new, and something that comes with great responsibility. He was nervous but willing to give it a try.

Starting and stopping. Knowing where to put your hands on the steering wheel and turning with crossing your arms were things he had to learn. The first lesson there was jerky motions, and “sorry, I’m sorry” when he did something not quite like he wanted to. It took me back to when I learned to drive. I remember my father teaching me how to first drive in a field, then on dirt and back roads. If he was ever nervous, he never let on. And I can remember thinking if he had confidence in me, maybe I should have confidence in myself.

In our state, you have to go to driving school in order to get your license if you’re under 18. Part of driving school includes driving time with an instructor. While I knew my son enjoyed the safety of practicing in the parking lot, it was time to get him on the road. I didn’t want his first time with the instructor to be his first time on the road.

I took him out and we started on a side street. I didn’t tell him where we were going, I just gave him instructions along the way. “Let’s take a left at this intersection.” “Turn your signal on.” “Go ahead and start braking.” “After you stop count to three before you go.” And so on. We were a few minutes in and he was doing fine but asked, “where’s a parking lot we can pull into.” I could tell he was uncomfortable that a busy intersection was coming up. Instead on pointing out the nearest parking lot, I said, “We’re not stopping. You’ve got this.” We proceeded to drive for a while longer. We went through another busy intersection. You could almost see his confidence grow and his anxiousness subside. At one point I told him he’d be driving us back to our house. “No way!” he said. His fear momentarily returned. Instead of going back home, I had him drive past our house and we drove for another ten minutes. I could see his confidence growing and took advantage of the opportunity to guide him back home and into the driveway. He put the car in park. Smiled, and exited the car.

When I met him inside he couldn’t wait to tell his dad what he’d just done. I told him what a good job he’d done. He was almost glowing, it was a wonderful feeling to know I contributed (even just by being there and believing in him and his abilities) even in a small way. He did all the work.

He went into his room and came back out after a few minutes. “Thanks, Mom,” he said. “I just needed you to know you can do it, and you did,” I said. “I’m proud of you.” He smiled and went back to his room.

We all need people to believe in us regardless of our age, but especially when we’re young. I thankful my father believed in me, and hope my son passes has a similar experience with his child one day. It’s a wonderful memory I’ll treasure.

My son has much more learning to do, and even though mistakes will be made it’s how he’ll grow and get better. And while I might feel proud, him being proud of himself is the greatest gift he can give himself.

What makes you proud? How are you helping build your child’s confidence in them self, and their abilities?