Anxiety, Stress, and Gratefulness

What sums up 2020 for you and your family?

For us, it’s been anxiety, stress, and gratefulness.

Anxiety – the virus turning into a global pandemic reminded me of when I first became a parent. What is happening? How do I get myself through this? How do I help my sons get through this? Time shifted. It slowed much like it did when my sons were newborns, not knowing what each new day would bring, and bracing myself as I learned and adjusted.

Stress – much like giving birth trying to figure out how to survive — what we were seeing on the news, schools shutting down, work going remote, isolation, boredom, not knowing, toxic politics, people suffering, inequality and injustice, and longevity of the situation setting in — could be overwhelming and feel like you were surviving a trauma over and over. Putting one foot in front of the other to make it through the day could be challenging, but you put on your survivor face cause you had kids that needed to know everything would be okay, even when you didn’t.

Gratefulness – nature and our cat have been lifelines for us this year. Simple things — a sunny day, a rainbow, petting our cat (or simply watching him play, run, or hunt), brought us great joy. Virtual dinner parties, friends reaching out to check in, our boys finding ways to physically distance but still be with their friends, are things we are grateful for. Our health. Masks. People taking the virus seriously. All things we are thankful for. A vaccine, maybe two, coming, hallelujah! Time picking back up, adjusting to our new normal, being healthy. Grateful. Grateful. Grateful.

What sums up 2020 for you and your family? What are you grateful for this year?

Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be off next week, but back in December.

A Dad’s Impact

What impact did your father have on you?

Mine was present and involved. I am fortunate, I know.

My husband is also present and involved with our sons lives, even more so than his father or mine were in our respective upbringings. He understands the importance of his role and the benefit his boys gain from him being engaged in their lives.

Many men are more present, more involved, and even picking up more of the responsibility of raising their child. It has a real impact, and makes a difference with your child, your significant other, and your family. Dad’s matter.

How is Dad making a difference in your child’s life? How will you be celebrating Dad today?

I will be taking a few weeks off to rest and recharge, and will return in July.

Difficult Conversations

Talking honestly about what happened with George Floyd and the aftermath can be difficult, regardless if the conversation is with your child, friends, or family.

I feel fortunate to have a diverse set of friends who have been willing to engage in these conversations that have been uncomfortable but needed. Being honest, owning our truths, and experiences reminds me that with knowledge comes power, and together we can make our community and country better.

In addition to my friends near me, the pandemic has allowed me to talk to my best friends who live far away each week. It has been a blessing to be able to connect with them more often. Typically when we talk I go where I can have privacy and speak freely — after all our talks include discussions about our kids, and spouses. 😊 As the issue of systemic racism, and the call for reform and an end to injustice and a need to address equality has gained traction the topic of discussion came up with my friends. I saw an opportunity to have a potentially uncomfortable conversation with them out in the open (having close friendships doesn’t mean you all think alike — true friendship allows for truths to be spoken, and vulnerability, and love for each other regardless), instead of going into a room and closing the door for privacy, I FaceTime’d with my friends without earbuds in my living room. My youngest son was on our computer in the kitchen. I felt like even if my son wasn’t fully listening to the conversation I needed to do it this way — out in the open not in private. I needed to show him there is value, bravery and strength when you speak from your heart, especially on topics like this. The fact that my friends are willing to listen, respect what i have to say, and still love me makes for wonderful and sustainable friendships. I treasure them.

Change will only happen if we are willing to talk (even when it might be uncomfortable), and really listen to each other.

How are you having these conversations? How are you modeling for or teaching your child how to have them?

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. 😊 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?

Seeing Parenting through Another’s Lens

How do you compare your parenting style to others?

It’s hard, right? I think I’m like many who assume others parent like I do. I certainly see flaws in myself and have areas for improvement in how I parent, but like to think I, like my peers, are parenting in much the same way.

My oldest son plays sports at his school. He’s brought one of his buddies with him to the car after practice, and asked if we could give him a ride home. I agreed, though would have been more comfortable getting this child’s parents approval before doing so. My son is at the age where everything I do embarrasses him, so instead of denying the friend, I agreed to take him home knowing I would want/need to discuss this with his parents. After the boys were in the car, the boy told me how to get to his house and then I mentioned I’d like to meet his parents. He agreed then shared,”I live with my Mom and Dad. Their actually my grandparents, but I call them Mom and Dad because they adopted me as a baby.” I could tell by the way he shared the information he’d said all he was going to say about the situation and I understood. We got out of the car so we could meet his (grand)parents. They were lovely people. The boys went off to his room. The (grand)mom gave me background on the situation without any prompting from me. Over sharing to the point of personal discomfort for me. The boy’s mom had struggled with addiction and wasn’t in his life. Nor was his father. They were doing everything possible to give him as normal a life as they can but it’s tough given their age and the situation.

I left the conversation feeling a range of emotions — I felt a bit overwhelmed hearing so much detail and not knowing what to do with it (the woman had been so open with me even though I didn’t know her), I felt empathy and compassion for the boy (I can only imagine how he deals with his mom and dad not being in his life), and grateful (that he had such loving and willing (grand)parents). I was see parenting from a different lens. I thought of other kids in similar situations that aren’t so lucky. It made me feel guilty and uncomfortable–feeling a need to find ways to better help such kids, but not being sure how to in our ‘it’s none of your business’ culture.

The conversation reminded me that we do not all parent the same, situations and how people approach raising kids are different. And different is okay. No judgment. As long as what’s best for the child is what drives our decisions and behavior.

How do you view the parenting of others? What do you learn or do differently when you’re confronted with seeing parenting in a new way?

I will be away for a few weeks enjoying time with family for Spring Break and Easter.

Cabin Fever

Do you live where there is snow and/or ice?

I have a love/hate relationship with snow. It’s beautiful when it falls, there is something peaceful about it. Yet, when the temperature drops I feel my anxiety rise.

A recent storm happened during the week. As the snow fell, my mind wondered from work and I started fretting about picking up my kids from school. Would the roads be icy? What would traffic be like? Should I head out early? Thankfully, I was able to break away from work and get everyone home safely.

The storm kept my boys out of school for a few days. At first, they loved it. Building a snowman, having a snow ball fight, then coming inside and watching cartoons. They were in heaven for a while, but after a few days their glee turned to boredom. My oldest son even told me, “I hope we can go back to school tomorrow.” You know things are bad when your middle schooler wants to go back to school. 😊

Thankfully the schools were back open the following day. On the heels of this storm, another storm is on its way. You’d think my kids would be happy to have more snow, but they’ve told me they’re ‘over it.’ My sons can’t meet up with friends and do their normal activities. They are feeling restless. They even think our cat has cabin fever (our indoor/outdoor cat hates going out in the snow, but also hates staying indoors all day).

We’re trying to figure out how to spend our time together as we remain home bound. We’re grateful for electricity. We’re grateful for warmth, and a roof over our head. I’m sure we’ll figure it out — whether it’s playing board games, working on puzzles, watching a movie or baking together. I love the time together, but could do without the snow.

Has weather ever kept you and your family at home for an extended period of time? How did you and your family combat cabin fever?