Peer Pressure

What peer pressure did you experience as a kid?

My oldest is allowed to have lunch off school grounds every day. He and two friends go a few blocks to a park and normally eat lunch there. One day he left the house without his lunch. I was able to run his lunch over to him during a lunchtime break. I picked him up after his sports practice had ended later in the day. Driving home I asked him how his day was. I got the normal “okay, I guess” answer. For whatever reason I asked, “and lunch was okay too?” I was thinking about what I’d brought him, did I get it right, did he get enough to eat — I’m not sure why I was concerned. I expected another short answer, but instead I got a “Well, actually…”

He started to explain what happened during lunch. The food I brought him was fine. But one of his friends got into a fight with another student who was also in the park. It was a little hard to follow how it went down, but based on what I could gather one student started “jawing” about my son’s friend and trying to get another student and my son’s friend to fight. When the instigator’s efforts didn’t work he was pressured by his group to do something. He walked over to my son’s friend, slapped him, and my son’s friend retaliated. My son’s friend was the bigger kid and the fight was over pretty quickly. My son got upset with his friend for engaging in the fight, and asked him what he was thinking. “Don’t you know what you have to lose? It’s so not worth it.” My son’s friend got upset with him for not joining in (my son’s friend didn’t need any help in the fight, it sounded like his expectations were ‘that’s just what friends do’). My son disagreed and told his friend, “The issue is between you and the other kid. Why would I get involved? This has nothing to do with me.” His friend didn’t like that answer. We talked about how my son handled the situation (I was impressed and proud he’d had this insight and had been able to tell his friend), and had great empathy for my son’s friend and the other boy involved. They appeared to have gotten caught up in peer pressure — if it had only been the two boys it didn’t sound a fight would have ever occurred.

My son feels for his friend and the consequences. Will he get kicked off the sports team they play on? Or get benched for a few games? Will his friend get in trouble by the school (it happened off campus by during school hours)? Will he and his friend get to the other side of this? Will his friend see that my son cares about him and wants his friend to make good choices, which can be so difficult to make when peer pressure is strong? I know my son is hopeful and so am I.

How does your child defend themselves against peer pressure? How are you helping them make good choices in tough situations?

Overflowing

What are the worst parts of parenting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexuality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jealousy

Have you ever been jealous of someone else?

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

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

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

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

Winning and Losing

How do you handle wins and losses?

Our oldest dressed for his team’s game and watched as they went up by many points. Early in the second half it looked like a potential blowout. But the other team kept playing, our team made mistakes, confidences got shaken, and what should have been a blow out ended up with the opposition winning soundly. It was a tough night.

The next morning after a good nights sleep washed most of the sting of the loss away, my son and I talked about the game. “Any thoughts on yesterday’s game?” I asked. He was quiet for a few moments. I couldn’t tell if he hadn’t heard me or was thinking about his answer. Just as I was going to ask another question he replied. “You know, I’ve been thinking about what my soccer coach in elementary school used to ask us after a loss — did they win, or did we lose? — I think we lost yesterday.” Whoa, I thought, that was profound. He’s really thinking about this at a deeper level, and processing what happened. I agreed with him on them losing. He talked for a few minutes on his view of why the loss occurred and what he’d fix if given the chance (plays he’d run, positions he’d have switched out to keep everyone with enough energy to play their best, etc.). He talked like a mature adult, with great leadership potential. I was both a little surprised and very impressed. I was reminded he is 15, a young man, stepping out of the shadow of his younger self. Gulp! Time truly is going fast.

Winning feels good. Losing doesn’t, but you learn so much more when things don’t go as you hoped or planned. You learn about yourself – what you’d do differently and improve the next time, and others – what’s within your control (not much) and what isn’t — and how to digest the pain in a way that helps you process the situation and moves you toward positive personal growth.

How do you help your child when they lose? How are you helping them see the upside of not winning, and the opportunity for growth?

Fundraising

What has your child had to fundraise for?

I sold cookies, candy bars, a game of Monopoly based on our local town, and wrapping paper to fundraise growing up. I asked for sponsorship in walks, runs, and other physical feats to raise money to fund trips (camp, mission trips, school outing), or a good cause (awareness, research, prevention). While all things needed the money I never felt comfortable doing it (particularly when I sold things no one wanted, like the Monopoly game based on my local town).

Fast forward to present day, my son has been asked to raise money for his sport. The funding will help pay for equipment, uniforms and other things the staff and team need. They are asking each child to send out an email to 20 people they know (family and friends) asking for financial support. In normal times I would most likely be okay with this, however, with COVID and how it has impacted so many, not to mention what seems like non-stop natural disasters (flood, fire, hurricane, etc.) everywhere you look, it doesn’t feel right. I get the program needs the money. I also get that the staff are underpaid and don’t have the extra money to cover (nor would I expect them to) the costs to fund the sports program adequately. My son and I discussed.

“You know you’re supposed to be asking others for money for the team?,” I asked. “Really? No one said anything,” he shared. I explained that the parents had received several notices and that he had to set up a page and it tracked how many people they sent the solicitation out to (by # of unique emails, and by unique donation). There were prizes he could win if enough individual people donated. I then shared my discomfort with him doing this due to COVID, and so many hurting. His father and I could make a donation to hopefully cover what was needed from him. He said he agreed. I’m sure he felt relieved he wouldn’t have to ask others for money as well.

Raising money is something we all do to help fund the underfunded or good causes. It can be uncomfortable but rewarding when we see positive progress, or outcomes. Did our son miss out on an opportunity to learn the pros and cons of fundraising? In this scenario, yes. But he has fundraised before selling pumpkins, and Christmas trees, so he knows what goes into raising money including hard labor, selling a product, and helping give the customer good service so he increases his chances of a return (happy) customer. He’s even shared that it felt like they really earned the money when they raised it this way.

Solicitation for fundraising is an easier way to bring in money for a cause, but can also be oh, so uncomfortable. Am I missing out on an opportunity for my son to learn life lessons by not having him participate, possibly. But our hope is that he’ll be on the team in future years and we can revisit fundraising this way hen it feels more appropriate (more people are doing financially better).

How does your family handle fundraising requests? How do you handle any discomfort with asking or being asked?

Needs, Wants, and Priorities

When did your child last tell you they had a need that really wasn’t one?

My oldest loves sports, and has been excited to start training for the upcoming Fall season with his team in advance of school starting. He also is in Scouts and has had a outing planned that overlapped with practice. You can imagine what happened.

Because of COVID and the uncertainty of what play would be allowed and when, there was little communication to the families around practice and when it would take place. My son’s troop had booked their Summer trip in the Spring allowing for everyone to get vaccinated before the trip. The troop was very successful in 2020 selling pumpkins and Christmas trees, so they could afford to fly to their destination (which is a big deal. They’ve always driven before). My son was excited for the trip, but hated that it would overlap with his practice. “I’m letting my team down,” he said one evening. “Would you feel like another team member was letting the team down if they went on a scheduled trip and couldn’t go to practice?” I asked. “Yes, I would,” he said, paused then responded, “okay, no I wouldn’t.” He grimaced (he really doesn’t like it when my husband or I are right, or make a good point). 😊

As the trip neared, his desire to not let his team down (real or perceived) amplified. As the departure date neared following one practice he expressed his angst. “I’m just starting to get the rust off and playing good again. I want to stay for the entire practice before I leave but I can’t because the troop has to get to the airport four hours before the flight leaves. It’s ridiculous.” I asked, “have you talked to the Scout Master to see if we can bring you to the airport to meet them?” “I did,” he said, “but I got a ‘why don’t you just leave practice early’ response.” He continued. “I mean, the Scout Master just doesn’t get it. I have needs. I need to practice and be with my team, why can’t he think about my needs?” I had to suppress a chuckle. I gave him a minute to calm down. “You know the Scout Master has to coordinate everything for all you kids. There are a lot of logistics involved and if he starts bending to various needs it makes his job a whole lot harder. I get that you don’t want to miss practice, but your needs don’t go in front of what’s best for the troop. Everyone worked hard to go, practice will be there. You’ll get caught up. You should be looking forward to this. You were until practice started.” He sighed, “yea, l guess you’re right.” We drove in silence the rest of the way home.

Your wants and needs can feel intense when you’re a teen. You want your wants or needs met now, not later. Later is forever away. Helping our son understand true priorities and what matters is the opportunity my husband and I found in this experience. Knowing what is truly important, will have the greater impact (on you and others), and making choices/decisions you feel good about down the road.

Before my son left I tried to help him reframe the situation. “You won’t remember every practice, they’ll blend together, but you will remember taking this trip. It’s something special and will be memorable.” He shook his head in agreement. It also helped that he happened to twist his ankle in practice the day he had to leave early to catch his flight, and was going to need to rest it for a few days (coincidence or fate?) . 😊

What does your kid see as a need you disagree with? How are you helping them figure out what are their true priorities?

I’ll be away next week to spend time with friends and family for Labor Day and will be back in September.

Movers Wanted

What jobs have you had family or friends help with?

Moving, particularly when I was younger, involved soliciting the help of family and friends. I never liked asking, but always appreciated the help.

My sons aunt and uncle were in need of help moving from a rental back to their home. They were in a pinch and asked for my sons help a few days before they needed it. Both boys said “of course,” as they love their aunt, uncle, and cousins and wanted to be off assistance. When they found out they would also get some money for doing it they were beyond thrilled.

After they helped them move, my husband and I asked them how it went. “It was nice,” my youngest shared, “it was nice just spending time with them alone. We had fun.” We realized our kids hadn’t spent much alone time with their aunt and uncle, we (my husband or I) always seemed to be around at the same time. I was happy that had this experience and shared memory with other family members. My oldest piped in, “Yea, they said that might want our help again in another week.” He was excited by the prospect.

Helping others can be so fulfilling. Helping others and getting paid, especially if you’re young and want/need to make money — near utopia (at least for my kids). 😊

How do you model family and friends helping in times of need? How does your child view helping others?

The Reward of Road Trips

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing Independence

How independent is your child?

When my boys were young I longed for the day they would be able to dress and feed themselves, ride their bike, play with a friend or do an activity without parent supervision. As teens, my boys have been able to do these things for quite some time, but now are moving into the phase of wanting more independence.

My oldest is quickly embracing being a young man. Learning to drive, growing taller, and feeling more confidence in his capabilities helps. He has moved into a phase where he is testing his independence.

Our son does sport conditioning most weekday mornings. He has his father or I to pick him when he is done. It can be challenging to do based on my husband and my work commitments. I was feeling good when I got to the parking lot to pick up my son early one day. I was able to finish a work call and let my son know I was there. He had his phone and asked me from the field, “A couple of upper class men want me to lift weights with them after practice. Can I stay with them? I’ll get a ride home later.” “Sure,” I replied and headed home. I didn’t think much of it until we gathered around the dinner table later. “How did lifting go?” I asked. “Oh, it was fine. We only did it for a little bit than went over to one of the guy’s houses and played basketball. That was fun.” “What?,” I said, “why didn’t you tell me where you were going?” “It just kind of happened,” my son replied. We spent the next few minutes discussing why us knowing where he is is important. I reminded him of a saying I’ve said to him before, “I can’t help you if I can’t see you or don’t know where you are.” He said he understood and would be more upfront with his whereabouts.

Fast forward to the next day. He asks if he can join a friend to go boating in a nearby lake. The assumption was there would be adult supervision. At dinner that night we asked how boating went. “It was great. We went tubing behind the boat. It was a lot of fun.” “Who all was there?,” I asked. “My friend, his 18 year-old brother and his friend.” Wait, what? I thought. “Was one of his parents with you?” “No,” my son replied, “but his brother has his boating license.” Oh boy, I thought, here we go again. My husband and I then discussed with our son the importance of providing upfront information. Being truthful about where you’re going, and who will be there, is important. It helps us as parents know how to find you if needed, give guidance, not to mention build trust. And with trust comes more independence. We pivoted the conversation and tried to help our son understand that the situation could have presented challenges he wasn’t prepared for. “You don’t know the older brother that well or his friend. What if one of them brought alcohol or an edible trying to be cool? What would you have done? There are cops of the lake that patrol for just this thing. And if you get caught on a boat where someone else is doing something wrong you may get be accused simple by proximity and/or association. Not only do we (your father and I) need to know where you are and the details, you also need to assess the situation and make sure you’ve got a plan if you feel like you need to leave.” He was upset. He thought we were challenging him on his judge of character. “I’m sure your friend’s brother is a good kid, but you’ve said so yourself, you didn’t know the friend. This isn’t about your judgment of character, it’s about you understanding the importance of being honest with us, aware of your surroundings, and having a plan for when things go south (how can you safely exit the situation, how can you get help if needed (be if from mom or dad or the authorities, etc.)),”

It was a needed conversation that I’m quite sure we’ll have again. “Part of growing up includes making mistakes and learning from them. Your father and I are trying to help you better navigate growing up, and avoid mistakes as much as we can. That’s it. We’re not trying to be harsh, or firm, or difficult.” He seemed to understand—we’ll see.

How is your kid showing their independence? What conversations are you having with them to help them make good choices as they grow?

I’ll be off for the next few weeks enjoying time away with the family and will be back later in August.