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?

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?

What Exactly Am I Teaching You?

When was the last time your child rebelled?

Having your teen rebel is a part of growing, becoming more independent, and figuring out who they are. I expected some rebellion from my boys but not when it came to preparing them for life on their own.

My oldest has a strong work ethic, he’ll work hard at those things he wants to excel in (academics and sports/personal fitness), and is great about doing anything physical (yard working, helping others), but when it comes to tasks that need to be done (such as cleaning) that he doesn’t enjoy it’s a constant battle to get him to do. Crumbs on the counter from making a sandwich, dishes from dinner in the sink that need to be washed, and don’t get me started about his room. 😊

I have alternated my approaches to get him to do the work that needs to be done. Explaining why it’s important. What caring for your environment tells others about you. How we are a family and we all play a part and have responsibilities. All have had temporary success. He will be better with cleaning for a few days and then fall into old patterns. I started to see some activity that brought things to a head — my husband doing the dishes for my son, the dishes my son did not being truly cleaned (running a wet sponge across a pan doesn’t make it clean), and more crumbs on the counter. I did what any fed up parent would do — I texted him!

You thought I was going to say confront, right? Well I did, but in my text. I needed him to hear me, because I was seriously asking myself what exactly am I teaching you by not addressing this in a more serious manner. My son reads his texts and I knew he’d get the message. I outlined what he needed to do (clean), and our expectations going forward. I knew he would not like what I had to say.

He was able to avoid me until after school. I talked to him about the text I’d sent. You could see him tense up ready to defend himself. “You know Mom,” he started, “all you have to do is remind me that I need to do the dishes.” He continued on for a few more minutes around my role in getting him to do his job. Once he stopped I spoke. “No one in life should ever have to remind you of a job you have to do. Your boss won’t do that, and no one else will either. No one reminds me of things I have to do — even things I’d prefer not to but need to — like cleaning dishes and doing laundry — but these things have to be done and each of us needs to play our part. You need to own cleaning the dishes after dinner every night, and clean up after yourself the rest of the time. I’m not teaching you an important life skill if your father or I just clean up after you. You are quickly becoming an adult and this is an important lesson you need to learn.” He thought about responding, sighed and said, “okay, I got it.”

Having to have confrontational conversations with your child can be hard. This one was hard because I felt I was failing as a parent and the values I want to teach him, and super frustrated with my son for not just doing his job. Will this most recent discussion be my last with my son on this topic? I doubt it, but it reminds me that I always have to be reassessing what my husband and I are teaching our kids, and not giving up even when our kids rebel.

Have you had a similar experience with your child? How are you helping instill the values you are trying to teach your child? How are you combating any rebellion?

Aww Man

Do you have a brother or sister? If so, have you always gotten along?

My boys generally get along pretty well. They are opposites, for the most part, one like sports, and gaming. The other is interested in the arts, and geography. But, they have their moments. My oldest is a thinker, he’s not a big talker (communicator), and has been known to have a quick temper from time to time. My younger is easy-going, generally in good spirits, and can talk your ear off if he’s interested in the topic. Like any siblings, with their age difference, the older one can think the youngest is annoying or acting “like a baby.” The younger can be confused sometimes when he’s unclear what he’s done to upset or annoy his brother (and there are other times when he knows exactly what he did). 😊

Being in middle school, my youngest has shown an interest in learning Minecraft. My oldest first got into Minecraft in elementary school, grew bored with it but has recently experienced a renewed interest. [If you’re not familiar with Minecraft it’s a video game where you can build worlds, explore, gather, and do combat. There is somewhat of a cult following–with many enthusiasts, songs (parodies), blogs, videos, memes, etc.] Since my youngest is just starting to learn the game, he asked his brother for help. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw his big brother step in to help and show him what to do. My oldest is at the age where he ‘couldn’t be bothered’ by his younger brother, but thankfully that hasn’t been the case. They are bonding over it. This is one of the first times my oldest has had a chance to teach his brother (be a mentor). He’s enjoying this role, and he’s good at it. Aww (Man) — you’ll get this reference if you’re a fan of Minecraft. 😊 I hope this is just the first on many bonding experiences they’ll have that will help their relationship grow.

How do your children get along? What do they bond over?

The “You’re a Bad Parent” Lecture

Have you ever been approached by someone or overhead comments on your parenting?

My family and I went away for Memorial Day weekend. We decided it would be fun to ride bikes where we were. We picked our bikes from the local bike shop and got ready to go. My youngest son was struggling to keep his balance on his bike. He’s outgrown his smaller bike, but doesn’t feel confident on an adult bike. We had the kids practice in a parking lot to build their confidence. After a while we decided we were ready for our ride, which would take us through a small town and back to where we were staying. We had driven our car to pick up the bikes we were renting. My husband was going to drive back to where we were staying and we’d meet him there later.

I should have known the ride might not go as planned when my oldest son refused to lead the way. He was adamant that I had to lead. I think he thought he would get too far ahead, go the wrong way, and get lost. “Easy,” I told him, “just don’t go too fast, and stop periodically to make sure I’m still behind you.” “No,” he insisted, “you have to go first.” I expressed my concern about being able to keep an eye on his younger brother, who was doing better on his bike, but still not out of the woods (I had just watched him narrowly miss hitting a parked Tesla – gulp). My husband was gone with the car, and we had a several miles ahead of us.

I went first, reluctantly. I didn’t make it a block before I heard my oldest yelling, “Mom! Mom!” I turned around thinking my youngest was having a hard time getting started. Instead I saw what happened. He’d hit a parked car. Thankfully he hit it at an incredibly slow speed, but it scared him — and the driver who was sitting inside. 😦 I made my way back to the car. My son was sobbing — hitting the car had scared him but then having the driver approach him sent him over the edge. I told my son it was okay and that this can happen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my car sideswiped by a cyclist, (accidentally of course), in my downtown area. The driver realized my son was young so quickly redirected their anger at me. I started by asking if they were okay. I asked if they thought any damage had been done to their car and what I could do to help. I don’t think the driver was hoping I was to try to remedy the situation, because after doing so, and apologizing profusely, she started down the path of questioning my ability to parent. I don’t think she said ‘what kind of mother let’s her child ride his bike where he can hit a parked car’ but it was close enough. She clearly was upset about what happened and didn’t seem content on letting me leave until she’d said what she wanted. I listened. She wasn’t going to give me any wisdom or insights into how to better parent. But she could get me to review my actions, take accountability for my role, and I could let her feel heard. When she was done with her lecture I asked if there was anything else I could do to make this right and that prompted another tongue lashing. I learned my lesson and when she finished next I just said, “Okay.” And walked back to where my kids were. I called my husband to come back and pick up his bike since he was too upset to go on, and once he did, my older son and I went on our bike ride.

Having a stranger be genuinely upset with you is a terrible feeling. Have a stranger upset with you over your parenting is a whole other level of awful — they can strike a nerve and call you on some truth (I had already been concerned about my younger son on his bike — I should have stood firm(er) on my oldest son leading), or just try to public shame you revealing how little about the situation and your parenting they actually understand.

I was grateful the exchange was behind us and everyone was okay. We were able to work with my youngest son the remainder of the weekend to build his confidence with the bigger bike. We still have a ways to go, but are making good progress.

How do you handle situations where people judge your parenting choices?

 

 

I’m Curious

What is your child curious about?

It was one of those days where work was running long, and I needed to pick up my son from an after school activity. I was on a conference call that required I listen into, not actively participate. When my son and his friend jumped in the car, I told them I was on a work call. My son knows this means I need you to be quiet so I can hear what’s being said, but his friend didn’t know this and began to ask questions.

“Who is on the call?”

“Can they hear me?”

“Why are you only listening?”

“Are you listening so you can see if the people on the phone are doing their job right?”

Thankfully the call was in full swing by the time I had gotten the kids and I had a good handle on where the conversation was going and hearing everything that was being said was not quite as important as it had been earlier in the call. At first, when my son’s friend started asking questions I was trying to answer and still listen to the call. It was tough. Work can often feel like the priority, but his genuine interest in better understanding what was happening made me focus less on what was being said on the phone and more on him and what he was asking. It was clear to me he’d never heard someone on a conference call before (I was intrigued), and while I may see them as a necessity to get things done more quickly, he saw this as something new that he wanted to better understand. His curiosity was contagious. He was interested in learning and I was interested in sharing. Here’s how I answered his rapid fire questions. 😊

“People that I work with”

“No, the phone is muted”

“Because I just need to hear what’s going on, I don’t need to say anything”

“I’m listening because it will help my team and I better understand what we need to do next. The people on the phone know how to do their jobs, I’ll just be better able to do mine if I know what needs to happen next.”

We arrived at his house not long after. His attention had turned back to my son and as they said goodbye I reflected on what had just happened. Having a young person that is curious and looking to you for answers is priceless. And while the work call was important, engaging with my son’s friend, even though briefly, was a better use of my time (and much more rewarding).

How are you encouraging your child’s curiosity?