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. ūüėä 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?

What a Gift

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
– Alice Morse Earle

Have you ever experienced anxiety? If so, what did you do to calm yourself?

Middle school is stressing my oldest son out. I get it. New, larger school (3x the number of students than his elementary school had); new teachers; getting used to have six different teachers with different expectations; and a locker. Getting used to a new routine can be stressful for anyone early on (regardless of age). My son has high expectations for himself. He gets stressed when he doesn’t know what to do, even if he’s had little exposure, experience or training. In other words, no one holds him to the same expectations he holds himself to. It can be frustrating as a parent to watch. My husband and I do not push our son to be perfect. We encourage him to be open, willing to learn and apply himself. When he gets worked up in his failure to adjust as quickly as he’d like in a new situation, my husband and I try to talk him down often with mixed results — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t — it feels like we’re failing when our words don’t help our son.

I thought my son’s anxiety would start to wane after a few days at school, but they remained strong. One morning he came to me and shared how worried he was about the upcoming day. Instead of trying to calm him down with another speech, I thought, I’ve got to do something different, but what?  Then I thought about what has worked for me when I’m stressed and I thought meditation! I know I was reluctant to try meditation when someone encouraged me to consider it and wondered if my son would feel the same way. “Have you ever heard of meditation?” I asked my son. “Yea, but I don’t really know what it is,” my son said. “Well, meditation is something that can help you with stress. It gets you to relax.” I knew I was oversimplifying it, but was trying to find the words that would make sense for my son. I continued, “there’s an app I use sometimes called Calm. It’s got some really good meditations on it. Want to give it a try with me?” My son didn’t hesitate for a second. “Sure!” he said with a smile. I was surprised how quickly he agreed to try it. I quickly opened the app and scrolled through the meditations until I found sessions under “Calm Kids” (I love it because the app even breaks down the sessions by age group). I launched the intro session and my son and I meditated.

During the session the speaker shared the quote I wrote above. She attributed it to Master Uguay in Kung Fu Panda (I’m guessing so it would resonate more with the sessions younger audience). It made my son smile. I thought the quote was very appropriate. My son was stressing about yesterday, and worrying about the future. How many of us do that? I am guilty of this. Many, if not all, of us are. Instead of dwelling on the past or fearing the future, we have the present right in front of us. It is a gift.  The quote seemed to resonate with my son as well. We continued with the session, which talked us through how to ‘be in the present’ by simply paying attention to our body — our breathing, and how our body felt. Pretty simple stuff, but often overlooked or dismissed as something that isn’t worth our time. I’d beg to differ. When the meditation finished, my son and I opened and locked eyes. He had the biggest smile on his face. His demeanor had changed significantly in eight minutes. He was more relaxed and enthusiastic about the coming school day instead of being riddled with angst. He looked at me and said, “Mom, I’m not nervous anymore. I feel pretty good.” I felt relieved and elated. There is no better feeling for me than when I’ve helped my child. It was yet another gift.

New beginnings can be stressful. I’m glad my son was willing to try the meditation and hope it will continue to help — we’ve already got several more sessions under our belt, so right now they are working and I’ll take it!

How do you help calm your child when they are stressed?

Competition for 1

With the start of the summer Olympics, I’m reminded how much value we place on competition.

My sons are taking lessons this summer to help strengthen their swimming skills. My oldest shared how nervous he was prior to the first lesson. “Mom, what if I don’t do well and they send me back to the beginners class with the little kids?” I could understand his anxiety, he hadn’t really swam much¬†since the prior summer and needed to re-acclimate himself with being in the pool.¬†His stress waned once he started swimming and he did well enough to stay in the advance class. He wasn’t the most advanced and needed instruction from his teacher on several of the strokes, but he listened and was able to do what his teacher asked.

Before a lesson several weeks later my son once again expressed his concern. “Mom, I’m not as good as the other kids. They’re all better than I am.” I understood how he could feel this way, but thought he might be looking at this all wrong. “This isn’t a competition,” I said, “the only one you are competing with here is yourself. Instead of comparing how good you are against the other swimmers, compare yourself to how you did last week. Did you improve on any of your skills? Were you able to do something better than you did before?” I could tell I had got him thinking. “Thanks, Mom,” he said and headed off to get into the pool.

I wasn’t sure if I had really gotten through to him, or if he was saying thanks to end the conversation. ūüôā Following the lesson we were walking back home when he said, “Mom, I improved on some things today!” He was very excited, and I was too — he actually had taken what I’d said to heart. He shared how he had improved on his kick and how we’d learned how to turn his body so he could stroke and kick at the same time. He was very proud of what he had done, and so was I.

There is much competition in the world. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. We learn this as a child¬†and often cling to it as an¬†adult as a measure of our worth. Talking to my son about this made me rethink how I compare myself to¬†others., and¬†that life really is a competition for one.

How do you deal with competition? How are you helping your child?

 

Just Relax…Don’t Worry About It

Is your child anxious or worry a lot?

When I was a child, I worried…a lot. I worried about pretty much everything — would people like me, what I be picked for the team, were there bad things lurking in the shadows of my room, were Scooby Doo monsters real, would my parents be okay, would I do okay on¬†a test, would I make enough money to live on my own when I grew up, how would I do that, etc. It seemed never ending. Some of my worries made sense, many¬†did not. It didn’t matter. They were real to me.

My oldest son has dealt with similar worrying. He worries about most everything. Will he do well on a test, will a burglar get into the house, are there river monsters (darn you, Animal Planet, for putting that thought in my son’s head), will something bad happen, etc. It seems never ending. Some of his worries are logical, some of them are not. It doesn’t really matter though, because I know they are very real to him.

Thankfully, at my son’s school, he has an amazing Guidance Counselor. She recently gave him a book to help. “What to Do When You Worry Too Much,” by Dawn Huebner, PhD. It talks about how worries are real, and how we can help them grow (instead of help them go away) when we pay too much attention to them. She¬†provides strategies involving acknowledging when a worrisome thought occurs, using your newfound insight to defend against such thoughts, giving¬†limited time (once daily) to address¬†any linger worries that just won’t go away,¬†and readjusting your body through activity or¬†relaxation.¬†The book is working wonders for my son.

When we finished the book, I shared with my son that while the strategies are good for him, there are similar strategies they give adults to deal with the exact same things. Adults may not worry about if the Scooby Doo monster is real, but we do worry about our kids, finances, friendships, health, job security, and the list goes on. It was a good reminder for me, that we all have stress and things to worry about. We also have an opportunity to do something about it. Do we spend time worry about everything (and is that productive) or not?

As I got my son ready for bed, we discussed using one of the breathing exercises recommended in the book. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. My son tried it and relaxed his shoulders. I did it, and did the same thing. I felt better already, and he did too.

How do you help your child when they worry about something?

I will be taking time off next week spending Memorial Day with my family. Enjoy the long weekend!

Mom Fail

As a parent, have you ever had felt despite your best efforts, you just¬†can’t do anything right?

I’ve certainly felt this way: when my sons have rejected clothes, toys, food and me! It’s a terrible feeling. You’re trying to do your best by your child, and don’t feel like you’re getting it “right.”

A girlfriend and I were swapping Mom stories one day. Here is how the exchange went:

“I had no idea how much work the Daddy Daughter dance would be to coordinate.”

“I know what you mean. Hang in there. The event will be great.”

“I got my kids to school 30 minutes late today. Mom Fail!”

“No way. You’ve got to cut yourself some slack. You’ve got a lot going on.”

“Thanks I needed to hear that.”

“Absolutely! You’re doing great. Keep me posted on how things go.”

Later in the day, it was I who needed my friend.

“I’m in the ER. Swallowed something he shouldn’t have. ūüė¶ Ugh. How many times have I told him¬†you¬†only put food and water in your mouth!?”

“Oh my gosh, how are you doing? Are you okay?”

“I’m okay. I will feel better when he get’s a clean bill of health.”

“Prayers coming your way. Keep me posted.”

“Thanks.”

a while later…

“Just got the green light. He will be fine. So thankful. Appreciate you being there.”

“Great news. So happy to hear it. Talk to you soon.”

 ** ** ** ** **

Both my friend and I started out by sharing how we’d “failed” as moms. Of course, as a parent you go¬†through ups and downs. An ‘up’ for me, is when one of my sons accomplishes something or has an insight that he’s proud of, and I quietly think/hope I may have influenced or inspired it. A¬†‘down’ comes when I have to argue or be stern with my boys to get them to do something (homework, eat, etc.) or they experience something avoidable (like¬†swallowing something¬†that isn’t water or food). In these moments, my¬†mind wonders to think¬†if only I were a better parent. Ever have one of those moments?

As a parent, we can, too often, beat ourselves up when things don’t go right. There is no perfect parent, or perfect parenting. There are an infinite number of styles, and if your motivation is doing what’s best for your child (not what your child wants, but what’s best for them), you are probably doing a pretty darn¬†good job. My friend and I may have felt like parental failures, but only in the moment. Upon reflection, it was such moments that allow us to¬†stop and reevaluate how we are doing as parents, and adjust (or readjust) as needed.

How have you dealt with moments when you felt like¬†you weren’t at your parenting best? How did you¬†recover from¬†it?

 

So You Think You Can Dance?

How do you stay active?

My youngest son¬†is not interested in athletics at all. We put both he and his older brother in soccer when they were young to learn the skills and how to play the game. My oldest son loved soccer and worked really hard to get good at it. My youngest, well, he would take a nap on the field during the game, over go off to the side and sit down or bounce up and down on the blow-up barriers between the fields. It wasn’t worth it to us (literally and figuratively) to keep him in the sport. We tried others that were offered after school — including riding his bike, golf and tennis to no avail.¬†Our next challenge was to help him figure out what he did like to do.

He showed an interest in cars, art and drama, and we’ve encouraged him in these areas, but we really wanted to find something to would get him more active. It’s not that he has to play a sport, we just want him to move more. My husband took my sons for a run with him to see if that might be a fit, but my son came home and said “no way.” We were starting to get discouraged, but weren’t ready to throw in the towel. Our son had done Wii Dance before and liked it. He came home and showed off some of his moves. My husband and I thought, what about a dance class?¬† We were fortunate enough to find a class that was nearby and decided to give it a try.

My son was fairly happy to try out the class. He couldn’t wait to show off his moves and learn some new ones, but dance class ended up being more challenging than that. It required you to do stretches at the beginning prior to actually dancing. I had forgotten all about this, it has been decades since I last took a dance class. My son struggled to do the exercises, even making grunts and sighs of anguish during the warm-ups. I kept thinking, please don’t let him try to take a nap in the middle of class, or go off to the side to play. Thankfully he is older now, and was able to keep going with the class, but he did struggle. It was something new. It was hard, as his parent, to watch. I was so proud of him for trying, but felt for him.

I don’t know if dancing is in his future or not, but we’re going to give it another try. We’re hoping with some more classes, he’ll start to see how hard work pays off, and how you can have a lot of fun with it. If he doesn’t, we’ll continue to explore other ways for him to be active.

How do you help your child experience new things? How do you help them be active?

When I Grow Up I Want to Be…

Did you know what you wanted your profession to be when you were a kid?  When did you figure it out or are you (like me and) still trying to?

My son was sharing a fictional story one of his friends had shared. The main character was Bill Gates, but not like we know him. In this story, there was a war and Bill Gates was ridding the world of bad people and getting paid money to do so. In a time when super heroes, and good guys and bad guys run rampant, these kind of stories don’t shock me like they used to. I asked my son if he knew who Bill Gates was. He said, “Sorta?” with an uplift in tone that indicated he clearly did not. I explained that Bill Gates did make a lot of money, but it wasn’t from getting rid of bad people, it was from inventing (along with many others) the personal computer. He happened to have a passion for learning about computers, and was visionary in how people could use them. I continued that while he had made a lot of money, he had started a foundation that was focused on giving most of his money away to help others through education and healthcare; and that he was so passionate about this work, that he was encouraging other wealthy people to do the same thing (give their money away towards helping others).

My son was curious about a man making so much money, and instead of spending it all or¬†giving it to his children, he would give it away. “Well, you can’t take it with you when you die. And the money would be more than his kids would ever need,” I explained. I decided to explore with both my sons what they were interested in doing when they grew up. My oldest quickly chimed in that he wanted to build a robot–like Iron Man, or Baemax from Big Hero 6, but for real, not pretend. Or maybe he’d create a new Pok√©mon card. You could see his creative wheels turning. My youngest chimed in. “I want to do construction. Maybe build things. Or maybe paint cars.” I reiterated that they could do whatever they wanted to do when they got older…the only one that would prevent them from doing it was them. I noticed my oldest looked a bit concerned. “But I don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up.” He was clearly upset at knowing for certain what he would be when he grew up, “What am I going to do?” I was not expecting him to feel this pressure to know what he wanted to do. I certainly had some ideas when I was his age, but that was all they were ideas, or fantasies. I reminded¬†both boys¬†that my husband’s and my job¬†is to teach them things, including exposing them to new things and encouraging them to try them so they can know if it’s something that is a passion or interest for them, “Without trying, you’ll never know,and that no one expects you to know what you want to¬†be or do¬†at such a young age,” I finished. That seemed to suffice for my boys and we went on to talk of other things.

Life is precious, and goes by so quickly. What would the world be like if we all followed our passion? Pretty good, right?¬† When you are enthusiastic about something it’s natural to want to share it with others. While not everyone has money to share, everyone has the ability to share what they are passionate about.

How are you helping your child find what they are passionate about? How are you helping them figure out what they want to be when they grow up?

The Gift of Friendship

How is your oldest and dearest friend? What drew you to them when you met? What has kept you friends all these years?

My youngest son is a very friendly kid–he can talk to people easily and engage in new situations without being prompted. He loves to laugh, and be silly. He struggles though, with making friends. He’s likable enough, and people want to be around him, he just struggles to do simple things like: introducing himself (he can play with someone for hours, walk away and we can ask, “Who’s your new friend?” and he’ll reply, “I don’t know.” “Did you ask him his name?,” we’ll continue, and he’ll share, “No, I didn’t think about it.”); or engaging in other’s interests–he is happy to have people engage with him if it’s something he’s interested in, but when it’s not–he’s not as willing. We’re working with him, along with his teachers and others, to help him develop these social skills.

He shared some frustration in lacking strong connection with his peers–even though he’s only seven years old. “I don’t have any friends, and I’m not going to.” When I asked, “What are you talking about?”, he replied, “I haven’t gotten invited to a birthday party in a long time.” He was measuring his friendships by the number of birthday parties he was invited to–I probably did the same thing when I was his age. And while he doesn’t yet understand that friendship is more than getting invited to a birthday party, it still broke my heart when he said this–one, because I could see the pain in his face; and two, I knew he was experiencing self-doubt and feeling hopeless that¬†his situation would never change. We talked about friendship, what goes into being a good friend to someone and how it happens over time. My husband and I shared our own experiences with him and friendships, how some come and go, and some stay when you work on them. Those friendships are gifts that keep on giving. They are the relationships you ultimately want to develop and cultivate. We encouraged him and said his efforts to make lasting friendships would pay off.

Without any intervention or action on my husband’s or my part, within days of this conversation with our son, a flurry of birthday invitations arrived for him. It was almost like the cosmos or God heard our plea and responded in kind (and then some). He ended up getting invited to three birthday parties being held over the same¬†weekend. He was ecstatic. What a wonderful gift those birthday invitations were for him. His demeanor changed, and hope for making meaningful connections with others returned. As a parent, you couldn’t help but share in his joy.

What gifts of friendship have you received or shared with others? How is your child experiencing friendship?