Strength vs. Weakness

How do you show your emotions to others?

I have to admit I struggled showing mine when I was younger. I didn’t allow myself to feel or experience my feelings as I thought they’d show weakness or an inability for me to solve problems on my own.

My oldest struggles experiencing his for similar reasons. He came home after sports practice, was mumbling under his breath, saying little to us, and closing his door in a way you knew he didn’t want it opened. He came out briefly to get dinner. When asked how he was, he looked at me incredulously and said, “practice sucked. I’m just so over it!” He’d had practices before he hated, but this felt like something more. You could tell from his body language he felt tense. I attempted to engage. He said something to the effect of “leave me alone, I’m about to blow a gasket.” My husband attempted to engage. Our son resisted. We decided we needed to let him cool down, and then revisit.

The next morning, before we needed to leave for school, I went to talk to him again. “What was going on last night?” I asked. He grumbled and shared he’d had a hard practice. I asked what made it tougher than usual. Turns out it was the wet and cold, I knew he was holding back. “What else?” I pressed. He sighed and said, “okay, when I was driving home and turning onto our street I thought I was clear, but noticed a car, at the last minute, who’s headlight was out.” I could tell they must have almost hit each other and it scared and angered him. I shared as much. “Anytime the unexpected happens, especially in the car, a normal reaction is fear — am I’m okay are they okay? — and then anger — how dare you scare me!” He looked like he was taking this in though we’ve talked about this before. I continued, “what I’m more concerned about is you being unwilling to talk about your feelings when you got home last night. What you were feeling seemed disproportionate to what you were sharing. “Mom, I don’t need a spotlight on me every time I’m upset.” “It’s not a spotlight,” I said, “it’s helping you work through your emotions. If you don’t talk to someone about your feelings and you hold them in, eventually they will come out in an explosive way that others won’t understand. You’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favors when you don’t work to understand your feelings and find a healthy release for them. Talking to others is one of the easiest ways. I’m here. You’re dad is here. Talk to your friends if needed, just talk to someone.”

He appeared to be considering our conversation. He’s becoming more independent and wants to handle things more on his own. I can appreciate that, but desperately want him to avoid the all-too-common pitfall that keeping your emotions to yourself and not experiencing and working through them is a sign of strength instead of what it truly is, a sign of weakness. I learned this when I talked to a therapist for the first time later in life. Learning how powerful and cathartic it could be to talk and work through emotions lifted my confidence in navigating life and armed me to better deal with challenges as they come my way. My hope is that my son sees how sharing and working through his feelings can benefit him too.

How do you work through and express your feelings? How are you helping your kid work through and express theirs?

Pushing through Scary

What everyday situation(s) scare you?

Getting a spider out of the house would be high on my list. For my boys it’s different. For my oldest it’s girls. It makes him so uncomfortable he just avoids, avoids, avoids. Doesn’t want to talk about. Doesn’t want to deal with it. My youngest it’s making friends. Or the knowledge it’s harder for him, as being on the spectrum makes it more challenging for him to pick up on social cues. He has friends, but hasn’t made new ones at his new school yet.

My husband and I feel like our kids listen to us as if we are Charlie Brown’s teacher sometimes – wah wah wah. It takes hearing advice or insight (even if it’s exactly what my husband or I shared) from another adult for the words to land. For my youngest, this truth occurred when he was at the doctor’s office for an annual check-up. He was sharing his struggles (our doctor also tries to assess their patients mental health along with their physical), and the doctor, who had some knowledge of the high school he goes to, encouraged him to join an after school club, or start one if the club he’d be interested in didn’t exist. My son nodded his head, but I could tell he wasn’t truly buying in (after all his father and I had encouraged him to do the same thing. Our son had been willing to do theatre but not pursue his other interests where he’d hoped to connect with others that share his passion for geography and transit.). Regardless, the doctor opened my son’s mind to revisit this.

During dinner we discussed the doctor’s visit including revisiting school clubs. My son resisted (it doesn’t exist), didn’t want to start a new club (no one else will want to join). He was digging in his heels regardless of what might husband or I said. We finished the conversation telling him that often in life, you have to take the lead, regardless how scary, to make things happen. If you don’t take action you’re just living in someone else’s world. That seemed to stick.

He went to his room. My husband and I went about our normal after dinner activities. We weren’t sure, if anything, our son would do in regards to what we had talked about. Lo and behold, within an hour he came out of his bedroom smiling a pretty big smile. “Mom,” he said, “I want to show you something.” I followed him into his room. He’d clearly been searching his school club site and found one that was for world (geography) enthusiasts. We read the description together. “You definitely can contribute here,” I said. He nodded (this time a confident you’re-right-mom kind of nod), and shared he’d reach out to the teacher advisor to join. His mood was lifted. Mine was lifted. He was proud he’d taken an action and saw the positive result that can come.

It can be scary to try new things including (perhaps especially?) meeting new people. Taking action, even if it isn’t always successful, allows you to grow, lessens the fear with practice, and more often than not, leads to success. I’m going to keep pushing my boys to take chances, and have more ownership in their life experience. Now, how to get my oldest to consider opening himself up to love??? 🥰

What scares your child? How are you arming them to break thru the fear?

Transitioning

Parenthood is all about dealing with transitions, right?

The transitions came fast and furious when my sons were babies. The transitions slowed and felt more manageable as they aged, but there is always that period of time, at least for me, at the beginning of a new phase of their life, that I am uncomfortable because I’m learning how to adjust to the newness as well.

After several challenging moments with my oldest, I started googling for books on ‘my son hates me’. I’ve always been okay with my kids being unhappy with me especially in times where I’m trying to impart a lesson, or teach a moral or value, but lately with my oldest it seems I can do nothing right, it’s embarrassing that I exist, and I’m clearly the most annoying person in the world. It’s the plight of many teenage parents, I know. 😬 I stumbled upon the book “He’s Not Lazy: Empowering Your Son to Believe In Himself,” by Adam Price. The reviews were high so I gave it a shot. What was I missing in my interactions and communications with my son?

I read the book while our family was together for a weekend away. The context of the book is focused on boys who’ve checked out of school, but I found you can easily apply what your son is ‘checking out of’ to almost anything. For my son, he’s fine in school (we’ve taken a pretty hands off approach) with the exception of having him show us progress/reports cards online periodically. We’ve been way more involved/vocal on his activities and have tried to motivate/prompt/threaten (lost privileges) for not being more proactive. In reading the book, I took away the following—I need to give my son more space, even in his activities. He still needs guidance/guardrails, but essentially he’s capable enough and needs to take more ownership. I need (along with my husband), to step back, give him room, and let him show us who he is. This is soooo hard. My son is capable and does need room to grow. He needs to build confidence in himself and his capabilities, but oh how I still want to be able to help him navigate things with ease, and remove obstacles where I can. I’m not helping him by helping him. The age-old trap us parents can fall into. I have to tell myself to zip it (when I want to give coaching or advice), and let him g(r)o(w). Soooo hard.

How are you helping your child grow their confidence? If you have a teen, how are you helping them transition into adulthood?

Independence Day

As we get ready to celebrate July 4th, independence is top of mind.

We ventured to the east coast over Spring Break and visited Washington, D.C., Gettysburg, and Philadelphia, PA. It was a trip my husband and I had always wanted to take our kids on, to allow our kids to get a better understanding of our country’s founding, and see historical and iconic sites.

I’ve talked about my teens starting to embrace their budding independence. Going to these sites made me better appreciate what it took for us (as a country) to become free, and the guts it took to do so. Though youth emerging to adulthood isn’t revolutionary, it can be a battle — trying to figure out who you are and who you want to be — maybe pushing against others (parents, teachers, coaches, friends?) who are trying to tell (or influence) who you are — to be you.

This Independence Day, I am in awe of those that helped paved the way for us to live in this wonderful (though not perfect) country. I’m also in awe of my boys as they fight through the trials and tribulations of becoming the men they will be as there is courage, bravery, and strength, in being uniquely you.

How are you helping your child embrace who they are? How are you encouraging their independence?

I will be taking time off to celebrate the holiday weekend with friends and family, and will return in July.

Report Card

How would you grade yourself as a parent?

Most of the time I’d tell you my husband and I are doing “okay” as parents — learning as we go, making mistakes, admitting to ourselves and our kids when we do, learning from them and correcting ourselves/doing better, working to impart wisdom, morals, values, and beliefs, and supporting our boys as they grow. Sometimes I feel like we’re doing well (A/B grading), but other times…

Our oldest doubled-down on not wanting to continue sports in the upcoming school year. He made some good points regarding why he wanted to step away, but his argument seemed to carry a thread of how hard it might be to continue and that was the biggest driver behind his decision. My husband and I knew that the life lessons he would gain by seeing it through were very valuable—you don’t quit when it gets hard, you find your way through. Yet how could we get him to understand and reconsider? We talked about what he would gain by staying, how it would help shape him and his confidence, and how we didn’t want him to look back and regret his decision later when there was nothing he could do about it (meaning he only has two years left in high school). He was standing firm. As much as I hoped he wouldn’t play tackle football due to potential head injury, I was now hoping beyond hope he’d change his mind. It felt like the downside of walking away outweighed the upside. I felt like I was failing my son.

Turn to my youngest. His class is going on an overnight camping trip done by a group called Journeymen. This groups helps develop skills amongst its campers around working together, and successfully completing tasks (such as building on outdoor structure to sleep under). The intention is for the campers to be pushed outside their comfort zone, but have success and grow as a result. My son’s class had participated in it when he was in the sixth grade and he was pushed almost too far (keep in mind he is on the spectrum and his brain isn’t wired to stand significant discomfort easily), that we ended up getting a call where my son pleaded with me to take him home. I told him I couldn’t and explained why it was important he stay (he needed to know that he could do it). He did stay, but was a bit traumatized by the whole experience and was good with never going back again, You can imagine his reaction when we told him his class would be returning. He broke down, got highly upset and stated repeatedly “I’m not going.” My husband and I jumped into trying to calm him. “It will be okay, you’ve grown since the last time and so have your classmates. It will be better.” He wasn’t buying it. After several minutes of being unsuccessful at talking-him-down, my husband offered a great suggestion—have our son talk to his teacher, express his concerns and share what would make him more comfortable going on the trip. Our son was still highly upset, but said he’d try.

That night my husband and I asked each other “are we doing this parent thing right?” Because we felt like we’d be given a F grade based on the recent interactions with our boys. What were we doing wrong? I didn’t sleep well that night wondering what I should be doing differently or better.

Fast forward to the next afternoon. Our youngest gets home from school all smiles. He’d talked to the teacher and the teacher was in agreement around what hadn’t been great the first time round and how it would be different this time. My son had gone from being fearful the prior day to excited about going on the trip. Our oldest got home a little later. Before my husband or I could get a “how was your day” out, our son announced he’d continue to play football and would reserve making any decisions until closer to the start of the season. He wasn’t committing long term, but giving himself more time to make a decision. My husband and I sighed in relief. Maybe my husband and I were doing better than we thought???

What made me feel immensely better was when we shared our failings with a group of friends, and they all shared times they felt like failures too on occasion regarding their kids. Each story was relatable, made us laugh, and while we are trying our best, and aren’t successful in every moment, we see growth in our kids and ourselves beyond.

How would you grade yourself as a parent on any given day? How are you getting through those times you feel like a failure or not living up to the example you are trying to set?

Thinking Ahead

Clearly, moving from middle school to high school in the Fall is top-of-mind for my youngest.

My youngest was out in our living room pacing ever so slightly back and forth. “What’s up,” I asked. “Nothing,” he replied, and then he stopped walking and made a hmmm noise. “Well, actually…” he said, “I’m thinking about high school and what those changes will mean for me.” His facial expression was a mix of anticipation and fear. His older brother just went through enrollment for his classes, so it would make sense this was on his mind.

“Are you concerned about something?” I asked. “Well, maybe. I’m concerned it’s going to be a lot more. Classes. The teachers are going to be strict. There’s going to be more homework.” I could see he was stressed about the upcoming change (though it’s still months away). I thought for a minute before responding. “You’re right that change is coming, and I’ve yet to meet anyone that likes change, especially when it’s unclear what exactly the change will be. The good news is, while change isn’t easy, it’s something we all have to go through throughout life, and each time you show yourself you’re able to adapt and successfully make the change, the more confidence you have the next time round. You’ve already gone through some big changes—moving homes, moving from elementary to middle school, learning to navigate public transit and more. Yes, it will be different, but you should grow in your capabilities and feel good about it.”

He exhaled, lowered his shoulders, and smiled. “You’re right, I can do this. Thanks.” That ended the conversation.

We can, too often, look ahead and get anxious, worried, or concerned about the unknown. Change is hard, regardless the age — whether it’s planned or thrust upon you. It’s how you use the tools, including experience, you have to know you can get through whatever life throws at you next.

How do you handle change? How are you helping your child navigate it?

Wash-Rinse-Repeat

When was the last time you felt blah?

During the first year of COVID, feeling blah was front and center for me. But as we adjusted and things have opened, closed, re-opened-ish, the ‘blahs’ have lessened.

My oldest struggles sometimes when things are mundane. He doesn’t do well with lots of free time. He likes keeping busy and gets restless when he isn’t. He came home from school one afternoon and his mood got progressively worse throughout the evening. I asked if something was wrong, wondering if he’d had something bad happen in school with a test, assignment, or friend. “No,” he said and looked downtrodden. I gave him some space thinking it might just be a teenage thing. I know I liked my space when I was his age.

Later that evening I caught him as he was heading back to his room. “Wanna talk?” I asked, thinking he’d say no, but instead he just started talking. What was interesting is that he started talking to me from his bedroom and didn’t come back to where I was. I questioned does he want to talk? But after continuing to speak, I went to his room. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Everyday is the same. It’s wash-rinse-repeat. If this is all there is, it sucks.” I asked him some more questions to better understand what was causing him to be in this funk and boredom seemed to be the answer. What I found curious is that he had many other things he could do to keep himself occupied (work on projects, get ahead on homework, connect with friends), but he was choosing to be bored and bummed about it.

Of course, as a parent you want to help your child so I made suggestions, tried to get him to rethink boredom and the gift that it can be, and ensure he was okay. It was clear I didn’t have the answer.

I know there is much to be gained by your child learning to deal with occasional boredom. I am like my son in that I don’t like being bored either, but not because of not having anything to do (that part I like). It’s this feeling of, if I’m not doing something than I’m wasting my time/not being productive, and if I’m not being productive, I’m not contributing anything of value, and if I’m not contributing something of value, than I’m wasting precious time. I have to catch myself when I think or feel this, because it’s counterproductive. If you are productive all the time, you’ll burnout or worse.

I drove my son to school the next morning. “Anything of interest happening today at school?,” I asked. “I’ve got a test, but otherwise it’s nothing new. Wash-rinse-repeat.” I asked him if he felt like he was being challenged at school thinking this might be contributing to him being bored. “No, if anything I’m too challenged.” Okay, so school is keeping him engaged that’s good, I thought. Still trying to offer something to help I pivoted to what has served me well for most of my life…noticing your environment and the beauty around you. I offered him a suggestion. “I know you feel like each day is the same, but try to find something new around you. Art on the wall, a bird outside. Just pay attention to what’s around you and see what happens.” He thanked me — whether he was appreciative or subtly letting me know he was “good” and didn’t need any more Mom intervention is unclear. 😊 Regardless, I do hope he can see life for the gift it is, and realize being busy has its place, but stopping and periodically resting (doing nothing) is valuable too.

How do you help your child when they are in a funk? How does your child deal with boredom?

Paying for Your Mistake

What happens in your house when any of your electronics stops working?

In our house, when a valued electronic stops working we go through several phases: denial (I can dry it out, there’s no way that cracked the screen, etc.), fear (okay, this isn’t working, it’s broken, how am I going to fix this?), and stress (how long will it take, how much will it cost?….agh!). Then reality sets in…we will get this fixed, it will cause some inconvenience, and cost us money we weren’t planning to spend.

My boys have longed for a computer that would allow them to play video games on. We hang onto our electronics for a long time, trying to squeeze every penny out of them, and that doesn’t bode well for teen boys dying to play games that require computers with high processing speeds, and loads of memory. We didn’t budge on their ask for many years until COVID hit, with all the social distancing and at-home time we figured it was time.

The boys were overjoyed when we got the computer, and have enjoyed it and used it almost everyday, until it broke. Or more specifically the screen broke. It didn’t get cracked but would only display 3/4 of the screen, the remaining screen was mainly white. What exactly happened? I thought. My boys went through the motions: denial – no it can’t be broken (reboot, still broken); fear – what are we going to do (this will cost money, how quickly can we get this fixed?), and stress – how long will I have to live without my computer??? 😬

I know it must have felt like a lifetime to my kids, waiting almost three weeks for the replacement screen to arrive and the repair shop to fix it. During this time our oldest mentioned a handful of times he’d cover the cost of the repairs. I appreciated that he wanted to cover but wanted to understand why. Neither he nor his brother had been forthcoming regarding what might have caused the screen to become damaged.

After picking up the repaired computer I asked my son why he wanted to pay for the repair, if he felt he had any responsibility in what happened. Without any further prompting on my part he said, “Mom, what happened is totally my fault. I didn’t handle the computer as carefully as I should have.” “How so?,” I asked. “I know I dropped it at least once or twice, and grabbed it when I was moving it.” While I wasn’t crazy about his carelessness with the machine, I was impressed with his honesty and willingness (dare I say desire?) to be held accountable. “Okay,” I said, “You can contribute to the cost of the repairs. The expectation is you will be more careful from now on, and should this happen in the future you will cover the full expense.” “That’s fair,” he said, and that concluded the conversation.

Holding my son accountable financially (even partially) was hard. As a parent, holding my child accountable for behavior or mistakes has gotten easier with time, but adding the financial component felt like we are reaching another more adult-like milestone with our son, and was new ground for me. But it was a good lesson for my son to learn — sometimes you have to literally pay for your mistakes. But owning them, and getting them corrected does pay off (pun intended) 😊 — my sons got to play their games again. They were both ecstatic!

How do you hold your child accountable when they do something wrong? How do you help them learn or do better following their mistake?

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?