Who Do You Love?

What or who do you love?

My younger son can easily articulate what and who he loves. He says I love you to my husband and I without any discomfort, and for the most part is comfortable sharing his feelings openly and honestly with others. I think he is just wired this way. My oldest keeps his emotions close. He can come across as being quick to anger or unhappiness, but am now better understanding that it is his discomfort that is causing these emotional reactions.

I’m thinking of having my oldest keep a gratitude journal. Peggy Orenstein’s talk and my Head and Heart blog made me think this is one way we can help our son keep his head and heart connected. My hope is that by journaling he’ll grow to appreciate all the good things in his life, and that while disappoint and discomfort will happen there is a different way he can respond because he’ll remember he’s loved and has a lot of things to love in his life.

How does your child express their emotions? How are you helping them remember all that is positive in their life?

Head and Heart

How does your child show others who they are?

My family and I were fortune to see Peggy Orenstein talk about her book Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity. My husband and I decided to have our sons attend with us. While the idea of having to hear about sex, intimacy, and porn with my kids made me uncomfortable, my husband and I knew if these topics were ‘out in the open’ we could talk more openly with our kids about what they are seeing, hearing, and thinking.

My kids shared my discomfort. “Mom, do we have to go?,” they asked. There was no getting out of it. If I as going to power through my discomfort so we’re they. We were going to this talk as a family. I did suggest a compromise, “I know you’re uncomfortable being with mom and dad at this event. If you want to sit away from us, that’s okay.” That seemed to make us all feel a little better.

One of the most powerful revelations I had during Peggy’s talk was when she shared what her work uncovered — that girls are taught to disconnect from their bodies (who you are is one thing, your body or outward appearance another), and boys are taught to disconnect from their heart (have feelings, empathy, etc., but not be able to show them). I thought about how I’ve seen my oldest son struggle with this. It’s like the empathetic kid I’ve known has been working hard to stuff his feelings and empathy way down–with it rarely surfacing as he ages. My husband and I have talked to him about toxic masculinity and encouraged him not to buy into it (or fall into its trap), but Peggy shared insights that helped outline just how hard that is. Our kids are up against what the see on TV, the internet, etc., and risk isolating themselves when they break from the “norm” — stand up for others, or freely express how they feel.

The talk has helped us start a more useful dialogue as a family around what our boys are up against. My husband and my’s goal is to teach them to keep their head and heart connected. It won’t be easy, but us being willing to be uncomfortable together has been for us a great place to start.

How are you helping your child be true to who they are?

Delivery!

Do you have the same policy that I do — don’t open the door to strangers?

Like many of us, most of my holiday shopping has been done online. The convenience is great. All the delivers — not so much. I’m particularly not a big fan of deliveries that require an in-person signature. I can appreciate the need for security and to protect against theft. Still, it’s a challenge — especially when the delivery schedule rarely fits your work schedule.

I came home from an appointment to see a deliver notification tag on my door. I hadn’t noticed it there earlier, so when I got inside I asked my son, who had gotten home before I did, if the delivery person came while he was there. I expected a ‘no’, and was surprised when he said, “yes” as he hadn’t gotten home much sooner than I did. “You did?,” I asked. “You didn’t answer the door, did you?” I have no idea why I asked him, he knows the rules – you never answer the door if mom and dad aren’t there. “Yes,” he said knowing that was the wrong answer. “I know I shouldn’t,” he continued, “I’m not sure why I did. I reflected on it after I did it and decided that probably wasn’t the best choice. I won’t do it again.” He actually used the word reflected, and shared how he’d come to the realization he should do something different in the future — I was impressed. I did not have this level of awareness when I was his age. We talked about the danger of strangers, even when they seem innocent enough (like the postal carrier or UPS person). We talked about being safe and the need to be smart(er) when alone in the house. We all learn by doing — making mistakes helps us grow. I’m just grateful this one had no consequences other than my son being reminded that while he is growing up there are still risks, and he needs to make decisions that help, not hurt, him.

How do you help your child be safe? How do you help them understand the consequences when they make a mistake?

So Thankful

What are you most thankful for this year?

There is much to be thankful for me — my family’s health, having shelter and food, support and love from family and friends, and I can’t forget our cat who brings us so much joy.

Something I didn’t realize how much I appreciated was my sons willingness to talk openly to me. My oldest seemed quieter than usual and less interested in wanting to talk to me. When I’d try to engage him he’d grunt, roll his eyes, or get defensive, “I’m fine. Why do you keep asking me that?” I wasn’t alone in noticing how my son was acting. When this behavior carried over into the following week I decided I was going to have to do something drastic to get him to talk to me so I could better understand what was going on. I did the only thing I knew to do — I asked him to go for a walk.

“Fine,” he said in a tone indicating going on a walk with his mom was the last thing he wanted to do. I think he resolved himself to the idea that I wasn’t just going to leave him alone. We walked for a few blocks and I asked, “What’s going on with you? You seem almost angry at me. If there’s something we need to talk about, let’s talk about it.” He seemed surprised by my question. “I’m not angry at you. My mood has nothing to do with you.” “What does it have to do with because you’ve been acting differently lately and I can’t help you if I don’t know,” I asked. He made a sound of frustration and finally said, “Everything sucks.” Okay, we’re getting somewhere now, I thought. “What sucks exactly,” I asked. “School for one.” “Is it classes, or your teachers or your friends…” my question trailed off. “My teachers are great, classes are fine. It’s all the stupid kids who go to that school. They’re all dumb and judgmental, and it makes me mad because most of the people don’t know anything about me.” I could tell from the way he was talking we’d gotten to the heart of the matter — he was struggling with how you show up to others, what value you bring, how others see you. How bad it can feel when you’re ignored, or feel like you’re being judged. We talked about friendship and how it’s like growing a plant — you have to care for it and feed it, or over time it won’t survive. We arrived back at our house and my son seemed more at ease. His dark mood seemed to subside. I was grateful he agreed to go on the walk. I’ve been where he’s been — we probably all have as teenagers — trying to figure who we are and where we fit in. I’m grateful he was willing to listen and take in what I had to offer, and I’m thankful he no longer felt that he had to try to navigate this on his own.

What are you thankful for this holiday?

I’ll be taking time off to spend time with family and will be back in December.

The Start of Something New

Is your child starting at a new school this year?

My youngest is entering middle school. His first new school in six years. He’s feeling a range of emotions – anticipation and excitement over the new school, what he’ll learn, how it will be different from elementary school, meeting the new students, and making new friends. He is also mourning elementary school. Classmates he grew close to, particularly towards the end of the year. Already missing those that will be moving away, or going to other middle schools. Concerned about if he will make new friends, concerned if he is ready for the harder material, ready for the independence he is gaining.

As a parent, I too am experiencing a range of emotions. I’m excited for him, but also concerned–will he be accepted as he is, will this experience be good for him, will he grow as my husband and I hope from it? I think every parent has these concerns at one time or another. But I have to let him go in order for him to grow, find himself, struggle, make mistakes and be there to help him work through the tough times, and celebrate the successes.

We’ll have the first day of school behind us before we know it. We’ll navigate the start of this something new like we have before (daycare and kindergarten)–by being open to what’s to come with optimism, preparing for unforeseen bumps, experiencing them as they come, and moving onward.

How do you help your child when they start something new? How do you help them adjust?

I’ll be off for Labor Day weekend and back in mid-September.

Growing into Yourself

How did you become the person you are today?

It’s not a simple question to answer.

It’s curious being a parent watching your children navigate who they are and want to be (now and in the future). My oldest son is very self-critical. He often gets frustrated when he can’t do something new exceptionally well the first time. He’s disappointed and gets angry that his body or mind requires him to work at something.

I don’t know where this comes from. We’ve always talked to our kids about hard work and how it pays off. How everyone, regardless how smart, strong, etc., has to work to hone their skill(s) and improve. He’s heard us talk about this numerous times, he’s heard teachers and coaches say this, but can only conclude that he believes our words don’t apply to him.

Until this last school year. For the first time Ive seen him want to get better on his own. It was as if he’d awakened and finally understood that if he wants to improve — in sports or school or anything else, he’s going to have to put in the work. During a student-teacher conference the teacher confirmed this growth / maturity my son had gained. I always feel it is a gift when someone acknowledges you in such a profound way. I could see my son appreciated the teacher’s comments as well. I left the meeting grateful that my son was maturing and taking a more active role in where life takes him, but I can’t put my finger on what led him to this realization, or desire to better himself. Is it self awareness that he lacked before and now found, or just a better understanding of how things work and realizing there are almost always no shortcuts to success?

I’m not sure I’ll ever know, but I’m somewhat in awe of watching my son grow into himself.

How are you helping your child grow into who they will become?

Overcoming Fear

What scares you that doesn’t necessarily scare others?

For me, it’s been horses. Not to see them, be near them, or even pet them. It’s riding them. I’ve been opposed to doing so most of my life.

My fear of horses came from experience. I’d gone to a two week long overnight camp when I was 10 or 11, that offered extracurricular activities. I knew a few of the girls going to camp and they suggested we all sign up for horseback riding. So I did. When we went to ride horses for the first time the camp counselors asked me my experience level. I should have said “beginner”, but instead I said, “intermediate.” I paused, did I say that to impress my friends? They all did have riding experience and I didn’t want to be left behind. “Are you sure?” The counselor asked. I think she picked up on my uncertainty. “Yes,” I said, trying to put a brave face on. “Okay,” she replied, and so I was put in the intermediate group. It was clear fast that I didn’t know what I was doing. The instructors helped me, but I could easily tell these creatures needed to be handled a certain way — a way that an experienced rider would know — needless to say, I was scared.

Every day we would ride a different horse. Most of the horses were easygoing, and relatively easy to handle. I was grateful. Then one day I was told I’d be riding Lightning. He was a bit more to handle but the instructors told me I was ready. Well, I wasn’t. I got on the horse and it took off at full speed. I was holding on for dear life and had no sense for how to slow him down. After several minutes, and with the aid of others, the horse finally calmed down and I was able to safely get down, but not without feeling traumatized. I’d seen my life flash before my eyes. I was told by the counselors what happened wasn’t my fault, but I was done with horses. Done. Until this year.

We had scheduled to visit some of the National Parks (Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce). My husband wanted to set us up for some ‘experiences’ for the family while on the trip. One was going to the Antelope Slot Canyon and doing a tour. Another was doing horseback in Bryce Canyon. I had a decision to make — continue to be scared of riding horses for the rest of my life or face my fear. I thought it was time to address it, and an opportunity to show my kids that anyone can conquer a fear at any age.

We got to the stable the morning of our ride. I was given the tallest horse in the group. Gulp. They helped me on the horse. I was scared, but I saw my sons ahead of me on their horses. They seemed calm, I figured I should project calmness myself. 😊

The horses started down the canyon. I felt like a giant rocking back and forth so high in my saddle. Our wrangler was good — very straightforward, knowledgeable and encouraging. He helped build both my sons confidence in riding and mine. By the time we reached the bottom of the canyon my fear had subsided and we were all enjoying ourselves.

When we returned to the stable, we got off our horses. “What did you think?” I asked my boys. “I was scared at first, but after a while I really enjoyed it,” one son said. “Me too,” the other chimed in, “I’d definitely do that again.” I decided to come clean with my boys. I hadn’t said a word about my fear of riding as I didn’t want them to take on my fear. “I think I overcame my fear of riding horses today,” I said. “You were scared?” they asked. I told them the story of camp and shared how it was likely the difference in the immaturity of the camp counselors (who couldn’t have been more than 17-18 at the time) and our wrangler who was mature and wise regarding horses that made the difference. “Mom thought it’d be a good idea to show you you can overcome fears, and try things again, even if you haven’t done it for decades.” My boys just smiled. I smiled too. Any fear we had was behind us. It was a good day for us all.

How do you help your child work through fear?

It Takes a Village

Who is helping you raise your child?

There are many people that are helping my husband and I raise our kids–family, friends, babysitters, caregivers, teachers, doctors–I refer to this folks as part of our village. Each member plays a critical role in the care, nurturing, mentoring, tending to, and shaping of my boys.

My youngest son’s recent distress required we revisit resources available to him. My son’s village will likely have some new members in the near future. 😊 We’re also now having to rethink environments in which will help him thrive academically and emotionally in the future. The previous known path now isn’t so clear. This lack of clarity is causing me discomfort I haven’t felt this intensely in a while. I’m concerned about doing right by my son and making the right decisions for what’s best for him. It does give me comfort to know I have a village I can turn to for guidance, information, encouragement and support.

How is part of your child’s village?

Stumped

Have you ever struggled to help your child?

My youngest son shared that he had a bad day, and when I probed to figure out why it was bad, it made the situation worse. Instead of getting to the bottom of what made his day bad, he decided that his day wasn’t just bad, but everything was bad, and that he just couldn’t explain all his feelings. I could see my inquiries weren’t having the intended effect.

I attempted again to find out what was behind his feelings. He just got more upset, and after we talked in circles — me inquiring, him unable to explain — he said,”Mom, can we just stop? I’m all talked out.” I sighed, partly relieved since I wasn’t making progress and getting frustrated myself, and partly bummed because I pride myself on helping my kids work through their feelings. I was stumped. “Well, let me know if you want to talk again. I want to help if I can,” I said and that was the end of it.

My son never asked to revisit the topic, he wasn’t as upset as he’d previously been, so maybe whatever was bothering him passed. Or maybe talking helped (even if it was just s little that would make me feel better). My son knows I’m there and want to help, which I feel good about, but boy did I feel pretty helpless (and somewhat worthless) when I couldn’t help him.

It’s frustrating when you don’t have all the answers, or know how to help your child. After thinking about what had happened, I realized that instead of trying to solve the problem, it might be even more valuable to my son if I just listen and acknowledge his feelings, and in the moment, that might be enough. When I don’t have the answers I hope it is.

Have you ever been stumped with your child? How did you handle the situation? And what did you take from it?

The Joy of Giving

What is your child hoping Santa will bring them for Christmas?

We are turning a corner in my family. My kids have reached the age where Santa doesn’t have quite the mystic that he once did. Regardless, both my sons came up with their wish lists for Christmas right around Thanksgiving. My youngest put some pretty extravagant Lego sets on his list (it always kills me that Lego sells sets that go for upwards of $499 — I’m looking at you Death Star). We told our son that he might have to save up some gift cards to get the sets that he’d like, and asked what else he might like. He came up with a few more ideas and we thought we’d solved the problem. A few days later our son, unprompted said, “Mom and Dad, you know, I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t want anything for Christmas.” In shock I responded, “What? Why are you saying that?” I knew he was disappointed that he likely wouldn’t have his desired Lego set under the tree, but thought, based on his suggestions, we’d get him the other gifts he suggested. “Is this because Mom and Dad aren’t going to be able to get you the Lego set you want?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “I just don’t want anything.” I was in a bit of shock and denial, he couldn’t really want nothing for Christmas, right? I decided to end the conversation, because it was clear his mind had been made up.

After a few days, I asked my son again, “What would you like for Christmas?” He said, “I already told you, nothing.” “But I don’t understand why,” I implored, “what changed?” My son didn’t understand my concern, and I couldn’t blame him. As a parent, I am overly sensitive to these milestones that keep speeding by. He’s outgrown Santa and the magic of believing in him — that was a big bummer for me, and now to see him no longer care about what he got makes him seem too grown up. I’m not ready for it! But, of course, it’s not about me and my wants, it’s about my son and what he wants. I have to come to terms, once again, that my son is going to continue to grow and mature and I need to not project my wants and desires on him.

While my son’s interest in receiving gifts has waned, he has taken a notice in giving trees, where you select a name from the tree and buy the desired gift(s) the person wants or needs. I’ve always enjoyed selecting names off these trees — they normally have one up at his after-school program, there’s one in our church and another at work. If it were up to my son, we’d take every name off every tree. I can appreciate his desire to want to help everyone. As he was picking a person’s request off the tree he commented, “I can’t wait to get this person what they need.” I love his empathetic and giving spirit and how much he wants to share with others. I said, “You know I learned when I was a bit older than you that it felt much better giving than receiving, and I’ve felt that way ever since” He looked up at me and smiled. I could see he too was understanding the joy of giving.

My son will have presents on Christmas morning to open, but not because I want to force my wants and needs on him, but because I too want to share in the joy of giving. I’ll explain to him that seeing his smile brings me as much joy as it does when he gives someone something they want or need — and that the joy of giving can happen anywhere and between anyone — family and strangers alike.

What brings you and your child joy during this holiday season?