Secrets

Secrets can be heavy, and are something a child learns to keep.

When I was six, I was playing restaurant with a friend. We were seated at the play table and decided we need to create a menu to make the game more fun. My friend asked, “what should we put on the menu?” I was feeling gutsy, so instead of saying what I normally would have said–pizza, fries, pie–I decided to try out a new word I’d heard a neighborhood teen say–a word that sounded bad, but I wasn’t sure. I decided my friend would be a safe place to try it out. I said, “why don’t we put f***ing cake on the menu.” My friend’s face went pale. I giggled nervously, thinking I was somehow cool for having the nerve to try it out. My friend said, “you just said a bad word. I’m going to go tell your mom.” Oh no, I thought…I hadn’t thought about my mom finding out as a possibility. I panicked and begged my friend not to tell. They did tell, and I got into big trouble. My punishment was soap in the mouth — needless to say I didn’t say another bad word out loud for a long time, but I picked up another habit…learning how to keep a secret. Instead of asking my parents or a trusted adult what something I didn’t understand, or was confused by, meant I kept it to myself, trying to figure out the meaning on my own, or relying on my peers or older kids in the neighborhood. It was a recipe for a lot of misinformation and even more confusion about how the world worked.

As an adult, I learned keeping secrets can become an overwhelming burden; weighing you down lot a ton of bricks. It can hinder your ability to enjoy your life controlling your thoughts and actions. Speaking your truth–whether it’s ignorance about how something works, or something you did, or something you didn’t do but should have, etc.–can set you free, or certainly start to lift you from the weight of the burden.

My son recently asked if he could talk to me in private. He asks me to do this occasionally, and I always reassure him that I will listen to what he has to say, and he doesn’t need to worry about being embarrassed or ashamed about whatever he wants to talk to me about. He shared that he had seen a picture that made him feel excited, nervous and sick. Despite having the computer in an open space in our home, with parental control filters on, he came across a picture that was too grown up for him to see (the pic was of a woman scantily clad in a provocative pose–it was an ad next to a YouTube video (the YouTube video was appropriate for kids, the ad clearly was not)). My heart dropped a bit when he told me this, partly because I recognized he was losing some of his innocence, and partly because I was hopeful we wouldn’t cross this bridge with him until he was much older. The upside of learning this information was that my son had the courage to tell me, and trusted me to help him deal with it.

While I would love to take away screen time forever and protect my son from being exposed to inappropriate matter, it isn’t realistic, and wouldn’t solve the problem. Instead, my husband and I needed to come up with a plan to help our son. I sat down and talked with him about what he saw (my husband had a separate conversation with him as well), and we came up with a plan for what to do when you come across inappropriate pictures. Like many parental firsts, I felt like we were treading new ground. I’d never had a conversation like this with my parents, and can only hope we’re handling this in a way that will truly help him.

After sharing his secret, my son’s demeanor changed: where he had been moody and short tempered, he became happy and couldn’t get the smile off his face. We were out the next day enjoying ourselves, and he came over to me and said, “Mom, I don’t have any more secrets!” I could see the shear joy on his face at this realization. I asked him how not having any secrets felt. He thought for a moment and said, “Pretty good.” Pretty good indeed, I thought.

Keeping a secret is hard. Helping your child navigate growing up is hard. Having open conversations that don’t allow secrets to live is freeing, and it feels great.

How are you helping your child navigate challenging issues?

A Little Competition

I was recently having coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while and we were getting caught up on what was going on with our kids. Our local team is in the NFL Playoffs and the city has football fever. It prompted us to discuss our boys and athletics. She shared her son was in soccer and was amazed how quickly kids embrace being competitive. She commented that she and her husband had gotten caught up in cheering him on and wanting him to do well. Her comments resonated with me, as I’m sure they would with most parents.

When I speak to parenting groups I often talk about competition as part of the discussion. Remember when your child was born and you had them around other children their age?  if you are like most of us, you probably compared notes on where your child is with their developmental milestones. There was probably a conversation that mentioned something to the effect of: my child is ________ (fill in the blank: sleeping through the night, pulling themselves up, walking, eating solid food, never (or rarely) fusses, etc.). While the conversation isn’t about a sport, it is about how quickly or gracefully your child is progressing, and can start to feel as though your ability to parent is dependent on how quickly your child reaches a milestone. It can create great anxiety for a parent, particularly a new one. Just learning to care for the daily needs of your child, and taking care of yourself can be overwhelming, you don’t come into parenting thinking “I can’t wait to start competing with other parents!” None of us do.

As I talk to parenting groups I mention competition so the participants are aware that this feeling is normal and starts much earlier than many think. It also provides a great opportunity for each of us, as parents, to really understand how we view competition and what we want to teach our children about competition.  Do you thrive to compete and win individually? Do you prefer to collaborate and win as a team? Will you do anything not to compete? How much of your identity is associated with performance? What role does competition play into your “success” (as a person, or parent)?

Both of our sons play soccer in a non-competitive soccer league. We chose this league for a few reasons: the league had a good reputation and large membership (our thinking was: they must be on to something), and my husband and I needed to get clarity for ourselves on the role competition played in our own identities and how much we wanted it to play into our children’s.  I swam on a swim team as a child and learned that if I worked hard, I could win. I also learned that if I worked hard, the results would be better than if I didn’t. The second lesson was a much more valuable lesson for me as an adult. My husband ran on a cross country team. He learned that if he worked hard, his endurance to run long distances surpassed his expectations, sometimes resulting in him winning the competition. He also learned that sticking to something pays off in the long run, a valued lesson he’s leveraged as an adult.

Our boys view soccer in completely different ways. Our oldest wants to score goals and win games. My husband and I have always reiterated to our boys that they are in soccer to learn how to play and have fun, we don’t care if they score many goals or none at all. Our oldest has heard us say this numerous times, but continues to want to win. It’s more than that though, he wants to demonstrate that his hard work translates into successful results. We can certainly understand this desire, but continue to work with him on the dangers of this thinking. Having successful results is not always possible, no matter how well you prepare. It can be a slipper slope to feeling negatively about yourself and your capabilities when you aren’t able to achieve or maintain the results you desire or expect. Our youngest son could care less about being competitive. In fact, we’ve considered taking him out of soccer a few times, because he seems more interested in laughing and having fun than in learning to play. He continues to play because it keeps him active and he is having fun (that was one of the reason we said they were in soccer class after all).

As a parent it is easy to engage in the competition of parenting, the key is noticing it’s going on, and being clear on the role it plays in your life today and the role you want it to play in your child’s.

How does parenting feel like a competition? Do you feel like you’re competing with other parents, or is your child competing with other children, or both? What role do you want competition to play in your child’s life? What lesson(s) do you hope they will take or learn from it?

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

We are reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, a humorous tale of how a traditional church pageant gets overtaken by an untraditional cast of characters–the Herdman family. We got the book so our oldest son could continue practicing his reading skills. The book is just about right for his age as it challenges him from a reading prospective (wouldn’t names like Genesis and Jerusalem challenge most eight year olds?), and from a content prospective–the Herdman’s raise some very good questions about the Christmas story from a child’s naivety about this old story but with a great understanding of the present world as illustrated in one of Imogene’s passages after finding out that the baby Jesus was swaddled and laid in a manger: “You mean they tied him up and put him in a feedbox. Where was the Child Welfare?”

The Herdman children’s questions about the Christmas story have been a good opportunity for my sons and I to talk about the story, what is happening and what it means. Up to this point, my sons have participated in our church’s Christmas Pageant without really understanding the story. They know there are angels, shepherds, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. Dressing up in the costumes is fun. But their experience in the pageant has been one of participation, not appreciation.

This year when a teacher was asking the kids who might want to play Mary in the Christmas Pageant the room was silent for a moment, than my youngest son who recently turned six stated loudly, “I’ll be Mary.” To which the teacher replied, “You want to be Mary?” and looked at me with a quizzical face. I asked my son, “You want to be Mary?” to which he replied, “Yes. I want to be Mary.” I looked back at the teacher and gave her my permission. I’m not sure how comfortable everyone was with my son’s decision (mainly the adults in the room, the children seemed to care less), but I felt if my son wanted to play Mary, by gosh, I was going to let him.

I don’t know what the Christmas Pageant holds for us this year, but it looks like it might be an untraditional one. When roles are changed and things are done out of the ordinary or expected, our own beliefs for how things are, or should be done can be challenged. It’s like the story The Best Christmas Pageant Ever–will the Christmas story be ruined by the Herdman’s being in the play? No. Their participation ended up making it the best pageant ever. Similarly, will our church’s play be ruined if my son plays Mary? No. It will make the play more memorable, and I couldn’t be prouder of him.

How do you encourage or support your child to do something out of the ordinary?

Super Powers

My youngest son entered kindergarten this year, and my husband and I felt it was time he learned to tie his shoelaces. We started with our older son when he was about six months younger than our youngest is now. It took six months to teach him how to do it, so we figured waiting until he was older might help our younger son, though we anticipated it would still take many months of training.

We started practicing about a month ago, having him untie his shoelaces. Then we moved to showing him how to tie them. We took baby steps in showing him how to do it being methodical in our approach. First you make an “x” with the laces, then put one lace over the other and pull it through. I wrestled with whether to continue with the bunny-ears-finding-the-bunny-hole method, or wrapping one lace around your finger and pushing the shoelace with your thumb, to complete the knot. I was trying to figure out what would be easiest for my son to learn. I thought he might struggle and wanted to ease him into this new task.

It took my son about three weeks to master tying his shoelaces. After my attempts to teach him the bunny ear method were unsuccessful, I shared my struggles with his teacher. She listened to what I said, and then took my son aside. She showed him to wrap the lace around his thumb and index finger using a cleaver method. She said, “Superman has to orbit the Earth to get Lex Luthor.” She pointed to my son’s thumb and said, “Where is Lex Luthor?” to which my son responded by pointing to his thumb. She continued, “In order for Superman to get Lex Luthor, he is going to have to push his way to him.” She showed him how to push the lace through to make a bow. He proceeded to mimic her exact instructions, and presto my son is now an expert shoelace tier. He was so proud of himself. It was great to see my son gain confidence in his own capabilities.

As I thought about this, I realized my son was more capable than I was giving him credit for, and I also was reminded that there are many other parents out there that have really creative ways to teach kids. I’m glad I was there to see this and learn from my son’s teacher. I was also glad to learn about my son’s super power (him gaining confidence in his own abilities is a super power to me). I know he has great potential like any child does, and I need to help him discover his.

What are your child’s super powers? How are you helping them discover theirs?

I Don’t Want to Grow Up

Growing up isn’t easy. We tend to think of the difficulties of growing up as being a childhood challenge, but it afflicts adults as well.

My children recently watched the movie Peter Pan. Peter, Wendy, John and Michael’s adventures in Never Land really captured their attention. Peter Pan’s desire to never grow up really peaked their curiosity. You could almost see the words forming in their minds, is never growing up possible? They asked to watch the movie over and over again for weeks on end.

We recently took a family vacation (see my previous blog on road trip marketing toys). We agreed prior to going on our trip, that we would all travel to visit our family and then our oldest son would stay behind for a few days to have an adventure with his grandparents. Our son was excited. I can only imagine what he thought his adventure might include. While I knew he may fantasize that his adventures would be like Peter Pan’s, he knew there would no sword fighting or swashbuckling. Instead his adventure included learning new things like fishing, kayaking, hiking and enjoying the outdoors in a new environment.

The night before my husband, youngest son and I were due to leave I sat down with my son and talked about what would be happening in the upcoming days. He expressed that while he was excited for his adventure, he was sad too. He was going to miss us. I told him that we were going to miss him too. I explained that this was an opportunity for him to get to know his grandparents better and a chance for them to get to know him better. While they had watched his brother and him when they were younger they hadn’t had alone time with him. I told him that it was going to be an opportunity for all of us to be brave and that we’d all grow up a little bit from this.  My son would gain some maturity and confidence from being on his own, and my husband and I would gain some comfort in knowing that our son was blossoming outside of our immediate care. Our youngest wasn’t sure quite what he was going to gain for this experience. I explained, “You are going to get to grow up a little bit too. You’re going to get to spend some time with Mom and Dad one on one (something he’s never done before) and you’re going to see that you are okay on your own.” He replied, “I don’t want to grow up.” And while he wasn’t mimicking Peter Pan, I understood his sentiment. It’s hard to let something go that you love so much, whether it’s your childhood, your brother or leaving your child with his grandparents.

It was wonderful when our son returned home. It was a celebration. We learned a few things about each other on the trip. He traveled well with his grandparents, he picked up fishing and kayaking very quickly and he thrived being on his own. My husband, younger son and I grew too. We learned that while our nest won’t be empty for another decade or so, we have a taste for what it will be like. And while it will be sad when our boys are out of the house and on their own, it will be a celebration too. Of growing, gaining confidence and understanding that everything will be okay. We might not always look forward to opportunities that force us to grow up, but we were all a little bit better for experiencing them.

How do you help your child grow? How are you growing with them?

And…..Action!

Has your child ever asked you to do something you didn’t know how to do, or aren’t sure how to teach them?

There are things I want to teach my children and expose them to, and some things I realize I don’t know how to do or probably wouldn’t be the best teacher (e.g. skiing or snowboarding!), but I also know I can go to a ski resort and pay for them to get a lesson with a skilled instructor. What do you do when you’re not sure who can help?

My boys love stop motion video. It doesn’t matter what format—clay, cutout, graphic, puppet or Lego. You can see stop motion in greater abundance than I did as a kid. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other holiday classics encompassed my exposure to stop motion. My children’s experience has been different. My oldest was able to participate in an iPad Animation class after school one semester. I wasn’t sure how the course would work at first—would they be using clay? Or something else? I soon learned Lego was the format of choice, and the class provided (just for the class itself) the iPads for the kids to use. Every week when I’d pick up my son from class he couldn’t wait to show me how many frames he had shot and what the video action looked like. My husband and I were struck with advancements in technology. Star Wars came to theaters when we were our son’s age, and now our children had tools to make their own movie. Amazing! The iPad Animation class has long since ended and my boys have continued to seek it out. We came across Lego animation both professionally (Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menance) which my kids love, and amateur videos on YouTube. When my children saw that other kids were making Lego videos, they wanted to make them too. The only problem, my husband and I didn’t know how to help—we weren’t familiar with what software the teacher had used with my son’s animation class and weren’t sure if we could figure it out. Because neither my husband nor I were familiar with what we needed to do next, we did what any parent would do. We stalled.

My oldest son began asking, almost daily, to make a Lego movie. “One day,” I replied early on. So he adjusted his question, “Can we make a Lego video one day?” to which I’d reply, “Yes, one day.” It was clear to me that the line of questioning and my response were not making me comfortable. I want to expose my children to different things and certainly want to encourage any interests or passions they have, particularly if they help them explore their creativity or capabilities. I was resistant to allow my sons to make videos because I didn’t know how to help. After a few weeks of stalling I finally told myself enough! I decided it was time to do some digging around the iPad/iPhone App Store to see what was out there. I tried video animation first and got some hits, but not what I was hoping for. I tried again this time typing in the key words Stop Motion Animation. I got a match and found a tool my kids could use. The app is called Stop Motion Animation (go figure!) and is really easy to use. My sons and even my niece started using the software right away, navigated it easily and have made numerous movies since. They love it.

Once I saw how easy the application worked and how much joy my children got from it, I asked myself why did it take you so long to make this happen? I determined not knowing what to do next was what inhibited me from taking action. And isn’t that something we all incur as parents from time to time? Part of my role as a parent is to teach my children things. Getting out of my comfort zone to do something new, even if its simply finding out a way to help my children make stop motion Lego videos, is good for me. I want my children to push themselves to see what they are capable of doing, and it’s good for me to do that too. I’m reminded of the cue given when a scene is being shot in a movie or show…and…ACTION!  When the director says “action” the actors start the scene. They may make mistakes and have to do multiple takes to get the scene right, but hesitation to start doesn’t serve the project or any of the people involved well. Instead of pausing or stalling when faced with a can-we-make-a-video or other situation where I’m not sure what exactly I need to do next in the future, I’ll be less hesitant to jump in and start figuring it out (and….action!). It might not be easy or comfortable for me, but will get easier if I take action.

What prevents you from taking action when your child wants to try something you’re not familiar or comfortable teaching them? What tools do you employ to help to help you take action?

Survive and Advance

ESPN’s 30 for 30 is currently airing “Survive and Advance.” It is the story of Coach Jim Valvano and his 1983 NC State Wolfpack team who won the highly coveted NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship against all odds. It’s a gripping story about a coach who had an amazing gift for connecting and teaching others lessons that transcend the game of basketball and applied to how to live your life. Jim Valvano, also known as Jimmy V, received a diagnosis of cancer and sadly passed away in 1993. Twenty years later he continues to inspire.

The title of this documentary is perfect. Coach Valvano and his team survived many close games, often coming back from behind right at the very end, to advance to the next round towards their ultimate goal—a championship.  Its clear in the documentary that while luck may have played a part, there was a lot more to it and that was Coach V. Coach Valvano believed in his team with a passion, he believed that he would win a championship and that his team would win a championship. He had this dream, and felt so strongly about it he had his team practice cutting down the nets so they would know what it felt like. He shares that he knew how difficult it would be to win a championship, but that his father had given him a great gift—a  belief in him that he could do anything. Wow, I thought, what an amazing gift. When the diagnosis of cancer came, he fought it with the same belief that he could do anything, he would beat this. He went to great lengths to survive and advance (live) every possible day. Towards the end of his battle the Jimmy V Foundation was set-up to raise money to beat (cure) Cancer.  The motto of the Jimmy V Foundation is “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

This story really spoke to me as a parent. When our child is born, we go into survival mode. It can sometimes feel like a struggle to make it to the next day.  But over time as we get more comfortable with our abilities we advance, and are given the awesome task of shaping our child into an amazing, capable human being.  We can inspire our children, get them to dream, and give them confidence in themselves by showing them we believe in them. We can support them as they grow, teach them and guide them to never ever give up, on their dreams or themselves.

Thank you Coach Valvano for being such an inspiration.

How do you inspire? How do you dream? How do you survive and advance?

The Only Thing Constant is Change

My oldest son is getting ready to lose his first tooth. He can wiggle the tooth back and forth, and you can see the new tooth coming in behind it. I recently asked him if he would like for my husband or I to help him get his tooth out.  He immediately responded with a strong and slightly concerned, “No!” We all agreed we would let the tooth fall out when it was ready.

I made an incorrect assumption when I asked my son that question. Most of his classmates have already lost teeth so I figured he really wanted to lose his. But I think like any change we go through we have to adjust to it, get ourselves prepared for it, so we can handle what comes next once the change occurs.

A son’s first new tooth reminded me of when I first became a parent and how quickly my life changed once he arrived. While I had tried to get myself ready for parenthood through classes, books and talking with others, I knew it would take time to adjust to feeling like a parent.  There was excitement in preparing for my son to arrive, but also fear, I didn’t know what to expect really, and if someone had asked me a few days or weeks before my son if they could help him be born faster I would have reacted the same way my son reacted, “No!” because I needed and wanted that additional time to prepare myself.

I am glad my son reminded me of this with his tooth. He’ll be going through many changes in the coming years. I need to appreciate the changes I know are coming, and be prepared to help him navigate the changes we’re not expecting. It won’t be easy, it might even be a little scary, but I know we’ll get through it together one change at a time.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I’ve been thinking about the word respect lately.

My concentration around this word began following recent statements made by my six-year-old son to my husband and I.

“How dare you speak to me that way?” He responded after not getting something that he wanted (e.g. TV or a sweet)

“What the heck?” He responded after we told him we couldn’t accommodate his request (e.g. TV, play a game, etc)

Besides being momentarily dumbfounded by what he said, I responded each time saying, “We don’t talk that way to each other. We treat each other with respect.” Defining respect for him has been a bit more challenging.

The dictionary defines respect as:

Respect (Noun): A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Respect (Verb): Admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

I was brought up to respect my parents, but I hadn’t put too much thought into why, until my son responded this way. My sisters and I were spanked by our parents. Most of my friends growing up were spanked by their parents. Spanking was an acceptable way to discipline for many families in the ’70s. I’m thankful that is no longer the case.

We do not spank our children. I have never been comfortable with the idea of mixing actions like love and hitting together. It was very confusing to me why loving parents would spank a child.  Instead, we talk to our son and explain the situation about why we have to take an action or inaction to reinforce a desired behavior. I thought it was working until his outbursts occurred.

I’ve always respected my parents, but had to think about why that was as a child.  Was it because I admired them for their parenting abilities or because I was scared that if I didn’t respect them I would get spanked? I’m certain it was a mixture of both. I knew my parents loved me. They showed me that in tangible ways—hugs, kisses, cheers and time. The spanking scared me. It hurt and the pain endured often felt disproportionate to what I was being punished for.  It kept me inline, but at an unquantifiable emotional and physical cost.

I don’t want my children to associate needing to experience physical harm to learn a positive lesson together. Spanking will not ever be part of my parent rearing equation. But how do you teach your child respect?

I talk to my boys about respect and treating each other with kindness. Listening to each other, responding with consideration and care. I will never embarrass them knowingly, shame them or lie to them. I will continue to explain things to them and help them make the connection between the action and the consequence (positive or negative). I have a saying I use with my boys: “If I ask you for something its for one of three reasons. I’m trying to teach you something. I’m trying to keep you safe, or I need your help.”

I’m not sure respect can be taught. I believe it’s earned, and I’m hopeful in time my boys will come to respect my husband and I for raising them the way we are and will.  In the interim, I’m working to stick to what I believe is key: being consistent and practicing patience. I’m hoping to be an expert in patience by the time they are teenagers. I hear we’ll be in for quite a ride by then.

How are you experiencing respect in your life?

One is Silver the Other Gold

Make new friends

But keep the old

One is silver and other gold

Anyone who was in the Brownies and/or Girl Scouts growing up like I was is probably familiar with this little tune. I’ve always been fond of it: it’s short, sweet and in its way very poignant. As a child I didn’t fully grasp the concept of friendships and their value the way I do as an adult.

My oldest son, who will start first grade this year, is starting to learn lots of big lessons about what it is to have, and to be, a true friend. As his parent, this is something that leads to moments of great pride and can at other times be very painful.

When he has a play date with a friend, it can be fun to watch the interaction and see the joy on his face.  But when he wants to engage in something with someone and gets rebuffed, it breaks my heart.

Our family recently took a trip out of town and for the most part, we really enjoyed ourselves. During the trip, there was a group of boys my son’s age who were playing and he wanted to join them. But instead of including him in the game, they made a game out of excluding him. They would lure him in as though they were going to let him play and then laughingly reject him. Thankfully, their game ended when I encouraged my son to simply say “no thanks” the next time they asked him to play with them.  Once he’d turned the tables on them and the kids no longer knew they could engage him, they lost interest in teasing him.

During this exchange I struggled with a range of emotions: from pure anger and a desire to discipline or yell at the boys (where were their parents?), to reminding myself to keep calm, knowing that I have to let my son make his own choices. I won’t be able to witness all of these encounters every day for the rest of his life after all. All I can do is try to prepare him to handle situations himself and give him different things to think about and different approaches he can take.

Truthfully, my son wasn’t nearly as phased by the encounter with the bullies as I was. After the incident, I reflected on my own childhood and tried to pinpoint when it was that I truly figured out what real friendship entailed, and realized that it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s.

I shared some advice with my son. He may be too young to understand it right now, but I hope he figures it out earlier than I did.

“A friend is someone who makes you feel good about yourself,” I told him.

He looked at my quizzically so I elaborated some more. “A true friend doesn’t ask you to do, be or act in a different way. They don’t like you for what you have or what you can give them. They like you for who you are. ”

The experience was a good reminder for me that true friendship doesn’t come with a price. It’s more valuable than anything money can buy and best of all, it’s free.