Who Do You Love?

What or who do you love?

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

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

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

Head and Heart

How does your child show others who they are?

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

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

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

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

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

Birthday Smirthday

What’s your most memorable birthday?

My oldest son decided he wasn’t in the mood to celebrate his birthday this year, with the exception of receiving presents, of course. ūüėä I asked him what he wanted for breakfast and dinner — as that is a tradition in our family, the person having the birthday gets to pick. “Nothing,” he replied. “Nothing? I asked, “I can’t make you something or pick you up something from the store?” “Nope,” he said. Hmmm. I thought, this is something I like to do. It made me uncomfortable not to celebrate his birthday in our traditional way. So I decided to make him some of his favorite foods without his knowledge. I even took the steps of baking while he was out of the house, and opened doors and windows to air the house out so he wouldn’t know.

On the morning of the big day I put out some of the food I made and left a sticky note alerting him to where he could find it should he want it. I gave it a 50-50 chance whether he would eat what I made or not. Without any acknowledgment from my son, later in the day I found he had eaten the food I made. Now, it was time to address dinner. He wouldn’t budge on not wanting to eat anything special. Instead he said,”why don’t you all go out and give me some alone time here?” My husband didn’t miss a beat, “Done,” he said, and we were out the door. When we returned, I brought out his favorite dessert so we could sing to him. He tried to outwardly show his disdain with a grunt, though I did see a slight smile that acknowledged he was surprised, maybe even appreciated the gesture. We sang while my son grimaced and then I put the dessert in the fridge and told him it was there should he want it.

I had postponed going on a business trip because I wasn’t going to miss his big day. With how my son acted, it made me second guess my decision if only for a moment, because I genuinely believe on this particular day my son could have cared less if I was there or not. But I would care. I would regret it and I believe when he’s older any memory of me not being there on his birthday would have bothered him too. It would have bothered me if my parents had missed one of mine (they never have).

I’m glad I did what I did for my son even if he didn’t fully embrace the love and effort behind it. I always want my boys to know they are tops with me. Work or anything else will never take priority. He may think birthday celebrations aren’t for him, and that’s okay, but he needs to know his Mom is always going to do her best to make him feel loved, particularly on his special day.

What’s the best thing you’ve done for your child on their birthday? What do you do to celebrate?

Zip Lining through Fear

Does your child seek out adventure or shy away from it?

My oldest loves thrill rides, and is more often than not, open to trying something new. Even if it might be a little bit scary. My youngest is opposed to thrill rides, and generally opposed to trying anything that involves taking a visible risk. I understand. I was scared of the same things when I was young, but through the encouragement of my parents (largely my father who reminded me, time and again, that I could do this, and that everything would be okay) I learned to not only overcome my fears but be willing to take risks.

We decided to go to a zip line operator to do something fun as a family over the holiday weekend. We knew going in we’d all be a little nervous once we got to the top of the zip line, but thought the fun of doing it together was worth it.

I went first, my youngest son after me followed by my husband and his older brother. When my youngest got to the first platform he was scared. I thought well goodness we’re not even half way up. He looked at me and said, “A bee is stinging me.” The platform wound around the tree making it awkward for me to get to him quickly to try to help. I managed to get to him, saw there was a bee on his shirt and tried to shake it off. I thought I had when my son cried, “Mom, it’s stinging me. Make it stop.” I thought the bee was gone, but when I pulled my son’s shirt away from him the bee flew out. I thought oh no, do we go on? Do we stop? We were only on the first platform. After everyone had calmed down I looked at my son. “The bee is gone now. Are you okay? Are you ready to move on?” I don’t know what possessed me to say that, maybe it was the fact that my son is getting older and things like this can happen. I didn’t want the bee to be the end of our experience. He nodded and we kept moving forward. We got to the next platform and while crossing on the bridge (which honestly was pretty scary as there were big openings where you could see the ground directly below your feet) his harness came down around his legs. This can’t be happening I thought. Maybe someone was trying to tell us not to zip line? Thankfully a staff member saw what happened and quickly got to him and got his harness back on and tightened properly. We finally reached the zip line. He was behind me as I got ready to go. “I’m scared,” he said. “I am too,” I said, “I can only get through my fear if I go.” I stepped off the platform and off I went. Almost instantly my fear was gone and I was enjoying zipping down the line. “It’s great!” I told my son as I was soaring through the air, “You’re going to love it.” It took him a while to get his courage up to go after me. My husband was on one end encouraging him and I was on the other. After a few minutes, he stepped off the platform and came hurdling towards me. I could see that he too had moved from fear to that’s what I was so worried about?

When he was off the zip line he was so proud of himself, and so was I. He had many opportunities to turn back, say “I’m done”, but he didn’t. He showed himself he’s tougher and more capable than even he could have believed.

How does your child work through fear? How do help show them what they are capable of?

Opportunities to Progress

Where does work fall as a priority?

It can be hard as a working parent to balance your career aspirations and family. I have been encouraged to pursue promotion opportunities several times throughout my career. I was reluctant when my kids were younger, but as my kids have grown and become more independent I’ve reconsidered going for it. I became aware of a job that interested in me and went all in. I interviewed, shared references, and made sure the hiring manager knew I wanted the job. It was a stretch position for me. I knew it would be difficult to get the job as I’m sure there were others with more relevant experience, but I had to try.

What I hadn’t expected was the roller coaster of emotions I went through. It ranged from being excited by the possibility of the new role to terrified — what was I thinking? I had carved out a nice niche in my current role and had a lot of flexibility, was I really ready to give that up?

I’m not sure what possessed me, but I stayed firm on going for the job. I let myself be vulnerable to the prospect that something good or bad might happen (getting the job or not).

I finally heard from the hiring manager that the role had been filled, and while I was disappointed I was also relieved. Going for the job gave me an opportunity to really go for something (have no regrets about that), and not getting it allowed me to stay in my comfort zone a while longer.

I was talking with my kids about not getting the job. They both assumed I would be really bummed out, but I told them how I felt. That I was unsure how much time the new role would take, and had concerns it might take me away from them more than I’d like. I told them, “nothing, and I mean nothing is more important to me than raising you and watching and helping you grow. Jobs will come and go, but raising you is only for a short period of time. I can go for opportunities to progress when you all are grown if it’s still that important to me.”

My kids were surprised at first, and then smiled. I’m glad they know they are my number one priority. I want them to always know that. I may look at other work opportunities between now and when they are out of the house, but know part of my criteria for any new job is that while I’ll put in my all, it will fall in priority behind my husband and kids.

How are you juggling competing priorities? How are you letting your child know they are your top priority?

I will be on vacation spending time with family and will return mid-August.

Your Parental Rating

How would you rate yourself as a parent?

It’s not as straightforward as you’d think, right? There are so many different categories that could go into the rating — loving, nurturing, ability to teach/educate your child, how well you handle emotions (your child and your own), your cooking skills, organization skills, ability to provide, ability to get yourself and your child safe, and so much more. If you got a rating for each category what would be your average?

A few days before my youngest graduated from elementary school my husband and I were in the main office and ran into the principal (who is retiring) and the resource teacher. We thanked them for being so good to both of our boys. They clearly cared about helping our boys be successful in school and helping them thrive. “You’re boys are great, ” both commented, “You all are great parents.” I immediately chimed in, “TBD.” Meaning, while it’s always nice to hear others think you are doing well, my husband and I have further to go with our boys before we can fully accept that rating. I think instead my husband and I work to not be complacent, or take for granted the precious time we’ve got with our kids, and our need to stay open and aware of our shortcomings and where we can improve. No parent is perfect, but striving to be the best you can for your kids is as good a goal as any.

How would you rate yourself as a parent? Where do you see opportunity to grow and do better by your child?

We are the Champions

How do you celebrate your child’s success?

As I shared in an earlier post, my older son’s flag football team won the city-wide tournament, which qualified them for¬†the Regional Flag Football tournament (dubbed the Super Bowl Championship).

My son was much calmer going into this round than the city-wide games. I told him to just ‘enjoy it’ (easier said than done, I know), and that ‘no one could take away what they’d already accomplished. They’d be the city-wide champions regardless.’ This seemed to help. We arrived early and waited for his teammates.¬†The other teams were there early and were getting prepared. One team even arrived in a limousine.¬†My initial¬†thought was¬†“that’s so nice” and then I thought “is this team here for a different game or tournament?”¬†when the kids stepped out of the limo in matching uniforms, the limousine started honking it’s horn and there was a line up of fans for the kids to run through. I was genuinely confused, what was going on?¬†Then my husband leaned over and said, “I think they’re trying to psych out their opponents.” Aha, I thought, my husband was probably right, though I was disappointed because if what he said was true the psyching out was being coordinated by the parents of the players, and not the players themselves.

Our team continued arriving slowly over the next hour. One of the coaches got caught up in traffic, another was with his son at a soccer tournament that was running long. It was becoming a little concerning.

Our fears subsided when we had five, and finally a sixth player arrive. The first game started. The other team had over ten kids, plenty of subs and we had five players with a sixth on the sidelines (he’d been injured and they were holding him out of the game unless absolutely needed). The odds were stacked in our opponents favor, but then we played.¬†Our kids played with toughness, determination and a will to win. It was special. They beat the other team 44-6. Then they moved to the championship game. We’re going up against the kids that showed up in¬†the limousine. Their fans were cheering them on in droves, they’ve¬†had balloons and tents set-up. We had a decent showing on our side, but the other team had us beat. Then the game started. They drove down the field, it was looking like they might score, when¬†we intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown; and then we get the ball back and drove down for another touchdown. My son’s team was so in-sync with each other that they were not going to let¬†a player on the opposing team have any success if they could help it. They batted balls away from the opponents, they intercepted, they pulled flags at the last minute to stop a score from happening, it was magical. As I was watching it I was thinking this is one of those moments we’re going to remember for the rest of our lives. We won the game 28-0.¬†My son¬†and his teammates got trophies —¬†they were SO excited. It was amazing to watch, see my son be a part of it, and talk to him about what a special day it was.

We went out and¬†celebrated with the team afterwards. It was one of those days¬†you just don’t want to end. The following day we watched, and re-watched video we had taken. My son paced around with excitement around playing flag football again in the Summer League, Fall League and¬†any league available to play in¬†in-between. ūüôā As the weekend came to an end my son asked, “Mom, is that it?” I asked him what he was talking about. He said, “Is that it? We won, and now there’s nothing else?” I knew what he was referring to.¬†When you’ve prepared for something for so long, it happens and then it’s over, where do you go from there? I told my son, “You’ll see your team soon¬†when you go to the coaches’ house¬†for the season ending party.¬†And we can have people over during the summer and maybe we could get a pick-up game together.”¬†But I¬†know there’s only a 50-50 chance that will happen. It’s hard when the victory is over, the dream realized. When you reach a goal and have to find a new one.

I’m¬†grateful my son, and our family had this experience. It was a special one, but it reminded me that I have to help my son¬†appreciate his accomplishments, be grateful for his opportunities, to believe in himself and his capabilities,¬†and to set his sights on the next goal.¬†After all, my desire is to help him be victorious in whatever he does.

How do you celebrate your child’s successes? How do you help them prepare for their next?

Happy Fourth of July! I’ll be off next week enjoying the holiday.

How Am I Doing as a Mother?

When you think about what kind of mother you are, what comes to mind?

I want my children to see me as someone who deeply loves and cares about their well-being, but am also tasked with teaching them things and keeping them safe. My job isn’t to give them what they want, when they want it, or remove all the obstacles life throws their way, or to always be pleasant. My job is to teach them to navigate these obstacles, appreciate hard work and the rewards of your labor, and how to treat others in a way you feel good about.

Being a parent is challenging. You learn as you go. You learn from the modeling of your own parents and others you respect. It’s ever changing with endless opportunities to learn something new.

When my children were younger and Mother’s Day rolled around, I simply wanted a break. I wanted time to myself, to relax and rest. As my children age, I view Mother’s Day as an opportunity for me to check-in with myself and see if I am being the mother I want to be. Am I teaching my children the things I want to? Am I modeling the behavior I want them to replicate?

I love that people honor their moms on Mother’s Day, and while I’m sure I’ll enjoy a good meal with my family, I’m more interested in how I navigate my role as a parent. How I improve. How I mother my boys in a way I’m proud of and satisfied with after my children are off on their own.

What does Mother’s Day mean to you? How do you celebrate the occasion?

Object vs. Equal

How do you experience your value?

As a child, I would tell you I experienced my personal worth or value when I did something I was proud of — worked hard to accomplish a difficult task, tried something I was afraid of, or pushed myself to get even better at something I was already skilled at. While I was personally proud, being acknowledge by others, particularly my parents and peers, went a long way in how I saw myself and what I had to offer others. Another way I was valued was by conversations I used to have with my father as I got older. He would often pull me aside to help me through a difficult situation. He would talk to me, give me his perspective and then remind me what I brought to the situation. He told me how he “saw” me and the value I had to offer, the value I didn’t necessarily see in myself.

My oldest son questions his value. He feels this particularly as it applies to the¬†opposite sex. As we encourage him to explore being friends with girls, maybe¬†even¬†test the waters¬†of having a relationship, he is vehemently against it.¬†He isn’t willing to reach out because he concretely¬†believes he will be rejected. As he puts it, “what do I have to offer?”, “I not good enough for them,” so “what could they possibly see in me?” I don’t know that I was able to verbalize these sentiments until I was much older and after much therapy. This got me asking myself when do we start viewing ourselves as objects vs. equals? Things vs. beings that have value. I was acknowledged by my parents, I believe I had experiences where they tried to get me to understand my value outside of my physical self. Yet, here is my son, a smart, nature-loving, athletic¬†kid¬†that struggles with his self-worth.

I¬†felt the spotlight that others assigned a value to my outward exterior most intensely in middle school. My weight fluctuated¬†as I entered puberty. Growth spurts, moving from one state to another,¬†and the¬†loss of a familiar summer sport (I moved to a¬†city that was small and didn’t¬†have a¬†swim team)¬†contributed to my weight struggle. I didn’t know why I wasn’t thin like my siblings. I would have done anything to be. Diet, shame and self-hate never seemed to produce the body that I wanted. It was a burden I carried for decades and only in recent years have I¬†begun to unravel and loosen its grip on me. I would do anything, and I mean anything to help my children avoid this. I’m not sure how to do this, other than diets are a no-go for my kids (healthy eating and getting them moving/exercising — check, putting them on a diet — not gonna happen), to continue to expose them to¬†object vs. equal type thinking of themselves and others — the trappings and how¬†easy they are to fall into; and how to recognize them, avoid them and choose a more enlightened and less self-defeating path.

I have to be on the lookout for opportunities to talk to my sons about these things. I caught my sons recently when they mentioned how “hot” a TV personality was.¬†Thankfully we were in¬†our house¬†without anyone outside our family¬†around. “That is a person playing a role,” I chided. “How do you¬†think they would feel if¬†they knew you only thought about them in how they look on the outside?” My¬†boys didn’t¬†like that I had¬†‘caught’ them in object thinking.¬†“Well, Mom, lots of people think she looks hot, it’s not just us,” one son replied. “That’s the problem,” I continued, “if you don’t realize you’re doing it, you’ll continue to do so. This causes damage when people only¬†see their worth based on what others see on the outside and don’t spend time to get to know what’s on the inside. Do you understand?” “Yes,” they chimed in unison.

This isn’t an easy lesson to teach. We are bombarded with messages that we are only as good as our outward appearance, there are industries built on us buying into this. It’s our job as parents to be aware of these pervasive and consistent untruths that¬†are being told. And help our children combat them.

How are you combating object messaging your child receives? How are you combating messaging that values only your or your child’s outside appearance?

Raising a Man

 

How are you raising your child to become the adult you want them to be?

I grew up with sisters and am learning about raising boys in real-time. Boys were always a puzzle to me growing up. They could be caring and kind, and then aggressive, dismissive and cruel. What makes them act this way?, I’ve often thought. I’ve heard throughout my life (both as a child, teen and now parent), “It’s easier to raise boys than it is girls.” This never made sense to me. The beauty of girls is that we are¬†allowed to have¬†emotions.¬† And while there¬†may be¬†room for improving how we experience or work through our emotions, we are¬†not conditioned to hide or repress them. Boys don’t often tell you what’s going on. My oldest son talks to my husband and I and is pretty open about what’s going on — yet he too really struggles to understand the emotion(s) he is feeling and what’s causing them. He lumps them all into two categories: those that make me feel good, and those that make me feel bad.

Watching my sons grow, I am starting to see them exhibit those same confusing behaviors I saw from boys when I was growing up. Particularly from my oldest. He can be loving and kind, empathetic and thoughtful, and then on what seems like a turn-of-the-dime, he can be rude, dismissive and cruel — whether its to his classmates, friends, brother or my husband and I. Consequences seem to have minimal impact, it’s almost like he can’t help himself. My biggest concern as I watch him grow is what kind of man he will be. I want to believe that what my husband and I are teaching him the ‘right’ things: appreciating diversity, equality, and what you have, being kind to one another, and sharing your gifts with others. He’s for equality, diversity, fairness,¬†and taking care of the planet, yet I see him struggling with being kind. He often directs feeling of negativity towards his younger brother, or us. I understand the desire to vent to those that you know will still love you and be there for you, but it’s draining on my husband and¬†our patience and takes a toll on his younger brother. He shared what he deemed a ‘good day’ that included playing volleyball well in P.E. (I’m good with this), and then watching a female classmate miss a shot and fall in a way that was ‘hilarious’ – “Mom, I couldn’t stop laughing,’ he said (I’m not good with this). I attempted to ask him how he thought the girl felt (I’m sure embarrassed) and he acted as though I were purposely trying to be a killjoy. “Mom, I said I had a good day.” and he immediately ended the conversation.

I want my child to be happy, but not at the expense of others. Particularly not at a women’s expense. Maybe I’m overly sensitive because¬†overt sexism and misogyny are¬†finally getting the exposure we¬†women have needed to¬†change what is ‘acceptable’ behavior. I feel like I’m at a pivotal point in my son’s maturing and need to ‘up’ my parenting¬†skills a notch¬†to ensure we’re¬†guiding him down a path toward manhood that¬†he’ll one day be proud of. I want him to be kind to others. I want him to see the benefit — not only to others to how he’ll feel. I don’t know how else to do that then exhibiting the behavior myself, and getting him to think (rethink) how he interacts with others.

What challenges are you facing in helping your child to grow to be the adult you hope they will be? How are you helping your child?