Kids and War

How do you explain war to your child?

My knee jerk reaction is to try to shield them from the horror. There is nothing pretty about war. What is going on in Syria is unbelievably sad, and angering. To see people suffer, lose there homes and have to flee their countries in order to survive is unfathomable. Seeing innocent people killed, particularly the children by chemical weapons is devastating.

My boys have been wondering what is going on in Syria and why. It’s hard to explain. It’s ultimately about people not being able to get along and resorting to violence instead of finding peaceful solutions. I get that solving these types of problems aren’t easy, but I really want my boys to know that war is not the answer and never will be.

My youngest son got some exposure to war recently in his social studies class.  The class was studying Native Americans and their struggle to maintain control of their native land from the settlers.  Each class member was assigned a position — you either were a Native American tribe member or a member of the American military. My son was part of a tribe. The class was given different situations and asked how they wanted to handle it. In one situation, both groups wanted a piece of land and neither was willing to give the land to the other. Their choice was to 1) sign a treaty that allowed them to share the land, or 2) decide to fight the other for the land. My son said, “Mom, I signed the treaty, but others kids in the tribe decided they wanted to fight.” “What happened? ” I asked. “Well, I lived,” said my son, “those who fought died.” Wow, I thought, this is a pretty good lesson he’s learning. The next challenge the class was faced with was 1) stay on the Reservation and be safe, or 2) fight and have to get your land back. “What did you choose?” I asked my son. “Well, I was going to go back to the Reservation because I wanted to be safe, but got accidentally shot by one of my classmates who thought I was trying to leave the Reservation,” he said. The idea that my son got ‘shot’ by friendly fire didn’t go unnoticed. Seems  this class activity was a little more realistic than I would have thought. “What did the lesson teach you?” I inquired. “Well, fighting almost always results in death. You might as well find a way to make peace.” Wow. Nine years old and he’s already figured this out. I wish some of our world leaders could.

How do you talk to your child about war? How do you help them understand unexplainable things?

No Sugar Coating

When I sat down to write this, I intended to write something light-hearted, maybe even something inspired by the newly released Beauty and the Beast movie, but I couldn’t after my son shared a story about his friend experiencing racism.

It’s not an easy topic to discuss, but the conversation I’ve had with my son has stayed with me since we had it, and I need to get this out.

Have you talked to your child about racism?

I’ve never felt equipped to talk about racism to my children because I’ve experienced very little racism myself.  Gender inequality and sexism I can speak volumes to, but I’m no expert on racism. I can remember when my oldest son first learned about Rosa Parks in kindergarten and became obsessed with understanding why African-Americans were treated so unfairly. “Why did black people have to sit in the back of the bus in the first place?” he asked. I’d respond with something along the lines of “People were small minded”, “People were ignorant”, or “It’s complicated, but know that it was wrong and horribly unfair.”

Both my boys have questioned racism over the years, particularly anytime they’ve overheard a news report. “Why did the police officer shoot that man who was running away from him?” “What’s going on in Ferguson?” “Why don’t some people like Obama?” Each time, my husband and I have attempted to answer their questions, but I’ve never felt like we gave adequate responses. For me, the hardest thing I’ve had to try to explain to my children as their parent is why adults behave badly. And when I hear (or see) another adult being visibly racist its the epitome of adults behaving badly in my book. Children learn from adults, so as teachers of our children we are all responsible for racism continuing (whether we are the ones perpetrating it or standing by and letting it happen). Now, I know there are many reasons why many of us aren’t more vocal or willing to take action when we see it: we fear retaliation, we think it’s none of our business, or because we’re complacent and/or complicit; but what does that teach our kids?

Earlier this week, my son came home from school and asked “why are people still so racist?” I asked him what he was talking about, as he was clearly upset. “Shawn (who is a black friend of his) told me he was playing outside with his brothers over the weekend and a neighbor called the cops of them. They weren’t doing anything wrong, they were just playing. Why would someone do that?” he asked, then added, “He was pretty scared, but thankfully the cop told him that he wasn’t doing anything wrong and he wasn’t going to be arrested and not to worry about it.” I was stunned, and saddened. The only “crime” Shawn was guilty of was being black in a predominantly white part of town. I live in a liberal-minded, highly diverse city, and foolishly thought things like this didn’t still happen here. But it did. If my son had been doing the same thing his friend had, no one would have called the cops on him. I moved from sad to mad. I wanted to do something about it, but was at a loss. I had no idea who called the police. I couldn’t confront them. All I knew to do was talk to my son about what happened. I shared his anger in what happened, we talked about what Shawn must have gone through and how scary that must have been; and that what happened wasn’t right. I felt good that we acknowledged the injustice, but felt helpless to right this wrong.

I’m hate racism (the irony of this statement is not lost on me).  There’s no way to sugar coat this. It’s ugly. I don’t see the benefit in breaking each other down and holding each other back. How do we get through the hate (or fear or whatever is allowing this to continue) and get to the other side of understanding and acceptance? How do we become a culture that wants to help each other not hurt each other. I feel ill-equipped to address this beyond my family. But starting at home is exactly where it should begin, right? It starts with me as my kids’ parent. It starts with you.

How are you teaching your child to accept and care for others that are different from them?

Sing

Getting your child to do something they don’t want to is hard.

While reading the elementary school’s weekly newsletter we noticed our oldest son’s class was participating in a school concert on Friday night. When we asked our son about the concert happening, (because he hadn’t said a word about it), he shrugged his shoulders and say, “yea?” It was clear he wasn’t excited about the upcoming event.

As Friday approached, he started to voice his desire of not wanting to participate. “I don’t want to sing in the concert. None of my classmates are going to be there. It’s just going to be me!” he said. Because the concert was more of a showcase of what the kids had been learning in music class than a formal recital we honestly didn’t know how many of his classmates would be there. We didn’t want to stress him out, but we thought it was important he participate. It would be easy to sit out and not be there, but what message would that send our son?  That you can skip things that are uncomfortable in life? Or it’s okay to not show up even though others have put in time to help you learn? It felt too important, like we were going to be missing teaching him an life lesson (e.g. sometimes you have to do things in life you don’t want to do) if we didn’t make him go.

As we got closer to the concert, he became more vocal. “I don’t want to go. This is going to be so embarrassing!” I was preparing myself to have to threaten him with privileges he’d lose if he didn’t, but offered this alternative instead. “If you sing in the show, maybe even enjoy it, we might do something fun after the show. Or you can sing in the show, not enjoy yourself and show how unhappy you are about having to participate, and we can just go home. It’s your choice.” He grimaced. He had a decision to make.

The concert went fine. He had classmates there, with two that unexpectedly did dance moves during each of the songs that made for a fairly entertaining show. It loosened most of the kids up and by the third song, they seemed relaxed and enjoying themselves, even joining in with the other kids moves.  Even my son joined in. I’m pretty sure I may have even seen him smile.

At the end of the show he joined us. I asked, “So, how was it?” “Not so bad,” he responded, “can we go to the pie place?” I couldn’t help but smile myself. “Sure,” I said. We headed out and from his body language my son appeared to be both proud of himself (for doing the show), and surprised (that he actually enjoyed it). Funny how that works.

How do you handle situations where you child is reluctant to participate?

I Have a Dream

What are your dreams for your child?

I’m inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream for his:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a teenager I questioned my parents on why they had had kids — the world is a tough place, why would you want to bring someone into it?  My dad said, “To leave the world a better place. You want your children to do better than you did.” I got it.  Wanting your child to be a better person, a better contributor to the world than you are is a lofty goal.  It is my dad’s dream for his own children, and I’m hoping to achieve it with my own.

It got me thinking about what my dreams are for my own children. I want them to be a better person than I am. I want them to contribute in a more meaningful way. But my dreams going even further. I too want them to live in a country where they are not judged by their outward appearance (and not judge others by their’s), but by the content of their character. I want them to appreciate the beauty all around them, even in the most common places; to care for others, to be empathic, understanding and giving; and to experience as much joy in their life as possible.

As a parent, I have to evaluate what I’m doing to make the dreams I have for my boys a reality. I can be open about my dreams with my children, and try to get them to see the benefit of the dreams I have for them, but ultimately they will have to decide which of my dreams they want adopt and make their reality.

What dreams to you have for your child?

Thank you, Martin Luther King, Jr., for your inspiring words.

Mom in the Mirror

Has your child ever done anything that reminds you of you?

My oldest son is entering puberty and his mood swings are becoming slightly more pronounced. He is a sweet and caring kid, but it doesn’t take much to set him off. He will lash out moving from being fine to not fine relatively quickly. Moments that are most likely to trigger this — someone cheating in a game (playground or soccer field), someone embarrassing him (this one’s tricky, because you’re never sure what’s going to embarrass him), or him not knowing how to do something right the first time (it doesn’t matter if he’s had instruction on what to do or not, he has this expectation he’s supposed to know everything and be good at everything).

Thankfully, we’ve had some amazing and caring adults (teachers, coaches, professionals) who have provided us with resources (their time, talent, books, etc.) to help him, but it’s still difficult to see your child struggle.

On a recent morning, I had a time table to get my son where he needed to be, and myself to work. My son, while aware we needed to get to various places, didn’t understand my urgency. He wanted to play a game for a few minutes longer and I couldn’t wait, I needed him to stop playing the game so I could get where I needed to go. I told him as much and he proceeded to express his dissatisfaction with me and how I was negatively impacting him and his day. It was an explosive burst of energy directed straight at me. I was not in the mood to receive it. I promptly shut the conversation down, shared my dislike for his tone of voice and took away his gaming privileges. Immediately following I realized I had to calm myself down.  I was going to have my own explosive outburst if I didn’t.

We rode in silence until we got to our destination. When we got out of the car, I didn’t want the silence to continue, so I said, “Hey, buddy, you know that I love you. I just don’t like how you talked to me back there. That wasn’t okay. I understand you are upset you couldn’t finish your game, but you can’t use that tone, or say those kinds of things to me.” He started to defend himself and his actions, I could have defended my position, but I’m his parent and I wasn’t interested in letting the direction of the conversation continue. “You had something you wanted to do. Mom has something she needs to do. I have to get to work. I couldn’t wait for you to finish your game.” He wasn’t happy but didn’t seem quite as angry as he was earlier. We parted ways, but I couldn’t help thinking about what happened. What was my role in all this? How could I help my son and I avoid this in the future?

It occurred to me that my son and I had something in common. As much as I’d like to think I’m a good communicator, my son reminded me that I’ve still got room to grow. And my son does too. Our situation happened because were weren’t communicating — our wants or our needs proactively. Because I’m the adult (and his parent) I could easily believe my needs always trump his — and while in many cases they do, that’s not always the case. My son should be able to voice his needs and wants. It’s not my job to cave to him, or give him what he wants, but to listen to him, allow him to be heard, and then make a decision. It would be easy to say my son has the issue, but this one goes both ways, and as the adult and parent, it’s my job to model behaviors I want to see from him. My hope is my son will continue to get me to revisit my interactions with him. Am I doing right be him as his parent? What can I work on to be better, and what can I help him getting better at?

My son forced me to look in the mirror, has your child forced you? If so, how did you handle it?

Better Than Gold

Have you ever struggled to do something you thought should be easy?

My youngest son has been struggling to learn to ride his bike. He got his bike last year, but we realized soon after getting it, that it was too big for him, and he’d have to grow into it. We were excited to teach him this year. We took him out and followed the same steps we’d done with his older brother. We removed the pedals, and had him work on coasting and balancing first. Then we put the pedals back on in hopes he could balance and get his feet up on the bike. He learned to coast, and even get his feet up on the pedals momentarily,  but without pedaling, the bike would tilt to one side and he would put his foot down. We kept trying to explain to him that the bike wouldn’t fall over if he started pedaling, but he didn’t believe us. He got frustrated and very upset. We even reminded him that he’d get a reward once he finally learned to ride his bike. That just seemed to make his disappointment in himself for not being able to do it worse. We abandoned bike riding that day and decided we’d try again the following, but the results were the same. He could coast, and get his feet up on the pedals, but would ultimately put a foot down without getting the bike going.  He then let out a cry of frustration, disappointment and anger. “I’ll never learn to ride my bike!” he exclaimed and broke down in tears.

My husband and I were at a loss as to what to do; did we need to get him into a biking class, get him private instruction, or get him a different bike?  I thought about how I learned. I didn’t appreciate how quickly I picked it up as a kid. I learned within an hour of my father and sister teaching me. I hadn’t struggled for long, and here was my son struggling for days on end. He desperately wanted to be successful, and was getting down on himself. We could tell that we had to figure out how to help him, or risk having him decide that there are some things in life he just can’t do (and that was *not* acceptable to my husband or I).

After two weeks of daily practice without success, I had an idea. What if one of us held the back wheel steady and gave him a push so he could pedal and get the feel of the bike in motion?  We got our son up on the bike and he could push for a rotation or two, but when the bike leaned, he would put his foot down. He was frustrated, but we could tell he understood now what we’d been trying to explain. He tried again and again. Sometimes going a couple of rotations, sometimes not making it even one. We encouraged him not to give up, that he was very close. He got up on the bike again, holding the back wheel steady, he started to turn the pedals. One rotation, two rotations, three, four, five, and the bike kept going. He rode across the lot away from us. He got to a place where the pavement started to go back up and stopped himself. He turned back and shouted, “I did it!” It was a mixture of relief and pride. He continued his joy for the next minute saying so all could hear (and I’m guessing folks from a few blocks around could), “I did it! I didn’t think that I could but I did. I really did it!” By the time I caught up to him, he was happily shouting and crying. It made me cry. I knew how hard he had been trying, and how frustrated he had been. It was one of those moments where I felt I’d had some success as a parent. Those moments don’t come often, but when they do, they feel better than gold.

I think my son felt his achievement was better than gold too.

How have you helped your child succeed?  How have you helped them when they struggled?

I will be taking some time off to enjoy the rest of summer break and will be back in September.

Guns: What Do I Tell My Kids?

Orlando. Sandy Hook. Dallas. And so many more. Did you know there’s a site that lists mass shootings in the US? http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting

I’ve told my children since they were born that Mom and Dad’s job is to keep them safe and teach them things. I feel like I have a great ability to teach them things, and a much more limited ability to keep them safe, particularly with our country’s struggle to protect it’s citizens against gun violence.

When one of my son’s asks me how something works or how they can navigate a situation (particularly avoiding harm, or making the best decision to keep them safe), I usually have an answer. When my oldest son asked what was being done to stop gun violence I didn’t have one. Is my answer: Our politicians are fighting amongst each other and more concerned with staying in office than fixing this issue (mind you, they’ll hide behind the Second Amendment claiming that’s the main thing they are trying to protect), or that a small minority of people with big influence continue to keep enough people scared where they think they need guns? I’m honestly at a loss. It feels like grown-ups acting irresponsibly, and how do I explain that to my kids, when I’m trying so hard to teach them to act responsibly?

As a parent, it really bothers me that I don’t have an answer for this. It bothers me that I don’t have a greater ability to influence this or change what’s going on. Of course, I will continue to vote for candidates that believe we need regulation and oversight, and will continue to contact my senators and representatives, but it doesn’t feel like my efforts (and many others) has had much of an impact. I believe a majority of our country wants to feel safe and doesn’t think more guns, or few gun laws is the answer.

I pray my son’s never encounter gun violence. I pray we don’t encounter someone whose decided to randomly shoot innocent people, but I have to tell you I feel like our chance of avoiding this is as good as anyone else’s. 26 lost their lives at Sandy Hook. 49 in Orlando. 5 in Dallas. Enough. Enough. Enough.

What do you tell your kids? What do I tell mine?

 

Mom, please!

Have you ever embarrassed your child in public? When did your parent embarrass you as a child? How did it affect you?

My parents are loving people. Growing up they were strict, but loving. Spanking was used to discipline in our house. The threat of a possible spanking typically kept me in line, so thankfully, I cannot remember my parents embarrassing me in a your-going-to-get-a-spanking kind of way in public. Instead, they would let me know a spanking was coming in more private settings (away from others, in the car or house). It was a warning and I had a choice to make—straighten up or get spanked. My decision was easy to make (I would do just about anything to avoid being spanked). I noticed other parents weren’t as considerate and would embarrass their children in front of others. While I hated getting spanked, I was grateful my parents were different. I realized my parents could embarrass me in a different way as I grew older—when they’d brag about me in front of others. I hated it because 1) as a teen I was very self-conscious (aren’t we all?) and I was mortified when attention was put on me, 2) I didn’t feel like the things my parents were sharing were worth bragging about, and 3) I felt utterly unable to stop my parents from what they were doing in fear of embarrassing them (I knew how much I didn’t like it, and assumed they wouldn’t like it either). I definitely didn’t just stand there and take what was happening in these situations. I would attempt to stop my parents mid-sentence. “Mom, please.” “Mom, really. Please stop.” I’d even try the eye roll, and try to make eye contact with my parents friend in an attempt to communicate I’m so sorry, but it never seemed to work.

Now that I have my own children, I’ve been faced with the same challenges my parent went through. We don’t spank in our house, so my boys have never had to fear that as a punishment, however, it makes motivating them to behave that much more challenging. Taking away privileges or a stern talking to works sometimes, but sometimes it doesn’t. I feel very challenged in these moments. There is a part of me that would like to vent my frustration at their resistance to adhere to what I’m asking them to do, and I have to catch myself sometimes from not doing this in public (it’s not easy) when they’re acting out around others. A “get in the car NOW” seems to do the trick, they know I’m unhappy with their behavior and it will be better for them to get into the car than not. Still, it’s a challenge.

My boys were in a concert at school. They would be singing a few songs with their classmates. My youngest was eager to participate. My oldest was mortified. “I’m not going,” he said, “and you can’t make me.” At first, my husband and I responded, “Oh yes we can. Don’t you tell us what you are or are not going to do.” That just seemed to make my son dig his heels in deeper. “Nope, I’m not going to do it.” My husband tried reasoning with him. “You’re part of your class…a team. You’re going to let your classmates down if you don’t participate, and that’s going to be embarrassing.” My son simply replied, “No it won’t. Half of them aren’t here anyway, no one is going to notice.” He was right, it was a volunteer concert (not mandatory) so many of his classmates weren’t there. Ugh. The show was going to start soon, and we were nearing the end of our attempts to prompt our son to participate. My husband and I felt strongly he couldn’t “opt-out” of participating, because often in life you can’t do that–you’ll lose a job, or a friend, or an opportunity. My mind was spinning, what else could we do?  And then it occurred to me. “You are going to go up and sing with your class. We are only asking you to go up there to try your best. No one expects perfection.” My son was getting ready to say, “No again” when I cut him off. “If you don’t go, I was pull you up there kicking and screaming if I have to, and that will be embarrassing not only for you, but for me. No one is going to forget that.” He gave me a ‘you wouldn’t’ and then a ‘how could you!’ face, then got up and went with his classmates calmly to the stage. I hated that it had resorted to this, but was glad he was motivated to participate. As his class sang, we could see that our son was enjoying it, he even gave us a ‘thumbs up’ from the stage at one point. Afterwards, he came back to us and in a ‘you-were-right-but-I-hate-admitting-it’ tone shared, “I was so nervous, but I think I did pretty good.”  My husband and I smiled, “You did great.” I shared, “I loved that one song, can we sing it now?” My son looked at me and said, “Mom, please!” I didn’t, of course, (though I was tempted to) but it was fun to see the moment come full circle.

How do you prompt your child to action without embarrassing them?

 

 

 

 

Back to School — Okay with Not Being Popular

Being popular can cause people to do strange things. Largely not being themselves but trying to be what they think others will perceive as cool or popular.  

I’m looking at being popular quite differently this year. Instead of worrying about my kids feeling like they fit in (being most liked or not), I’m much more concerned with them feeling safe.

Are there any parents out there that are fearful of their child going to school and getting caught in random (or targeted) violence? We’ve seen what happened at Sandy Hook, we continue to hear news story after news story of innocent people being killed by people who had access to guns and felt entitled to use it as they see fit (not to defend, but for revenge). The most recent story being the horrifying work place killing of the news reporter and photo journalist this past week in Roanoke, VA.

I am tired to hearing these stories. It feel like it’s something I’m just supposed to accept. I don’t. I will never get used to these stories. I will never be okay with innocent people dying at the hands of someone who has a gun and uses it because they can.

I am tired of people having easy access to guns and using them in violent ways. Often stories can seem ‘far away’ and not something we have to deal with in our personal lives. I live in a place I would say is safe, yet we’ve had two events where multiple people died at the hands of ‘ordinary’ citizens in the past few years. You hear about people killing people in movie theaters, who would have ever thought that would happen?  Where does it end?

I am tired of having to deal with people who have guns who feel entitled to have them and brandish them anywhere they see fit (I was in a fast food restaurant not long ago and a gentleman came into the restaurant with a pistol tucked into the back of his jeans, it wasn’t in a holster and wasn’t secure. It was almost like he was asking someone to pick a fight with him, or call him out on having the gun, so he could use it. I tried not to panic, but had my kids with me, so we got our food and quickly exited the restaurant. What kind of society do we live in, where the person with the gun has more rights than the unarmed citizen?).

I am tired of being scared to speak out because there are those that are much more vocal than I that feel differently. I am not against people owning guns, but do feel people should have to demonstrate that they can operate them safely and in the right places if they want to own one.

And I’m tried of being quiet because I fear someone with a gun may want to silence me for speaking up.

My kids are what are helping me find my voice. I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t say anything because I can’t bare the thought of them dying at the hands of someone who happens to have a gun, and feels compelled to use it against others; or that as a society we don’t figure out how to address this so our children don’t have to when they are adults — how much worse does it have to get before it gets better?

As the kids go back to school, I think about it being a new year, new opportunities, a new chance to teach our kids a different way. We have to model what that change is.

I know my position may not be popular, and I’m okay with it. Especially if it helps others find their voice. The more of us who feel this way and speak up, the better chance we have for change. Is there anyone else out there that is with me?

Modern Day Lemonade Stand

Did you have a lemonade stand growing up? Has your child? What memories do you have of making money when you were growing up?

A friend recently shared that their children had a lemonade stand and served cookies to neighbors who were heading out to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. They had had mild success in years past, and were rethinking what they might sell. It has been hotter than normal temps, and they were inspired. In addition to the lemonade and cookies they decided to make and sell water balloons. The water balloons ended up being a big money maker for them (when I heard about this I had two reactions: 1) what a great idea, how fun!, and 2) yikes! I hope no one got an unexpected water balloon thrown at them). It was fun to hear about how entrepreneurial the kids had gotten, and how excited they were by their financial success.

My son recently found yet another Lego set he ‘has to’ have. It’s clearly a discontinued model, because so far we’ve only found it on eBay and Amazon and the price has been upwards of $450 (I know, for a Lego set???).  Anyhow, my husband and I are working to teach our kids the value of a dollar and the reward of hard work. Our son knows he can only get the set if he has the money, and based on his allowance, he’d have enough money for the set in a couple of years (and only if he never spent a dime of his allowance and saved birthday and Christmas money), and clearly wants to do whatever he can to accelerate the timeline. He’s too young to mow lawns or get a job, and a lemonade stand (even with water balloons) isn’t practical in the part of town we live in, so it’s been a bit of a struggle to come up with ways he can earn some extra cash. My husband though had a great idea. We have a fruit tree that, based on the weather, can produce a significant number of small plums. So many, in fact, that some years if we don’t stay on top of picking them up the plums daily our yard can easily turn into an ooey-gooey (not to mention rotten fruit-smelling, bug-attracting) mess (yuck!). My husband made my son an offer, “We’ll pay you one cent for each plum you pick up.” My son jumped at the idea. He grabbed his shoes and headed out the door.

The tree is providing quite a yield this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if my son makes upwards of $10-20 (yes, there are that many plums) when all is said and done. I told my son one night after he picked up the plums, “I guess it’s true what they say–money does (or can) grow on trees.” We couldn’t help but laugh. My son won’t make enough money from picking up the plums to buy the Lego set, but he is learning what it takes to earn money–you have to work hard, and often for a long time, to get to what you want. He’s learning this lesson one plum at a time.

How are you teaching your child about money (earning, saving, donating or spending it)? What creative alternatives to a lemonade stand have your and your child come up with to make money?

I’ll be taking some vacation time and will return in August.