Report Card

How would you grade yourself as a parent?

Most of the time I’d tell you my husband and I are doing “okay” as parents — learning as we go, making mistakes, admitting to ourselves and our kids when we do, learning from them and correcting ourselves/doing better, working to impart wisdom, morals, values, and beliefs, and supporting our boys as they grow. Sometimes I feel like we’re doing well (A/B grading), but other times…

Our oldest doubled-down on not wanting to continue sports in the upcoming school year. He made some good points regarding why he wanted to step away, but his argument seemed to carry a thread of how hard it might be to continue and that was the biggest driver behind his decision. My husband and I knew that the life lessons he would gain by seeing it through were very valuable—you don’t quit when it gets hard, you find your way through. Yet how could we get him to understand and reconsider? We talked about what he would gain by staying, how it would help shape him and his confidence, and how we didn’t want him to look back and regret his decision later when there was nothing he could do about it (meaning he only has two years left in high school). He was standing firm. As much as I hoped he wouldn’t play tackle football due to potential head injury, I was now hoping beyond hope he’d change his mind. It felt like the downside of walking away outweighed the upside. I felt like I was failing my son.

Turn to my youngest. His class is going on an overnight camping trip done by a group called Journeymen. This groups helps develop skills amongst its campers around working together, and successfully completing tasks (such as building on outdoor structure to sleep under). The intention is for the campers to be pushed outside their comfort zone, but have success and grow as a result. My son’s class had participated in it when he was in the sixth grade and he was pushed almost too far (keep in mind he is on the spectrum and his brain isn’t wired to stand significant discomfort easily), that we ended up getting a call where my son pleaded with me to take him home. I told him I couldn’t and explained why it was important he stay (he needed to know that he could do it). He did stay, but was a bit traumatized by the whole experience and was good with never going back again, You can imagine his reaction when we told him his class would be returning. He broke down, got highly upset and stated repeatedly “I’m not going.” My husband and I jumped into trying to calm him. “It will be okay, you’ve grown since the last time and so have your classmates. It will be better.” He wasn’t buying it. After several minutes of being unsuccessful at talking-him-down, my husband offered a great suggestion—have our son talk to his teacher, express his concerns and share what would make him more comfortable going on the trip. Our son was still highly upset, but said he’d try.

That night my husband and I asked each other “are we doing this parent thing right?” Because we felt like we’d be given a F grade based on the recent interactions with our boys. What were we doing wrong? I didn’t sleep well that night wondering what I should be doing differently or better.

Fast forward to the next afternoon. Our youngest gets home from school all smiles. He’d talked to the teacher and the teacher was in agreement around what hadn’t been great the first time round and how it would be different this time. My son had gone from being fearful the prior day to excited about going on the trip. Our oldest got home a little later. Before my husband or I could get a “how was your day” out, our son announced he’d continue to play football and would reserve making any decisions until closer to the start of the season. He wasn’t committing long term, but giving himself more time to make a decision. My husband and I sighed in relief. Maybe my husband and I were doing better than we thought???

What made me feel immensely better was when we shared our failings with a group of friends, and they all shared times they felt like failures too on occasion regarding their kids. Each story was relatable, made us laugh, and while we are trying our best, and aren’t successful in every moment, we see growth in our kids and ourselves beyond.

How would you grade yourself as a parent on any given day? How are you getting through those times you feel like a failure or not living up to the example you are trying to set?

Crossroads

My oldest has asked to play football since he was very young. We were against tackle (due to brain injury concern, and the potential for him being exposed and potentially embracing toxic masculinity), but relented following our son being in flag football for many years, COVID isolating us all, and his need to see his dream through.

His first year, it was a shortened season—only four games, but they won most, and he had fun. The second year was a bit more eye-opening for him. He’d get overly anxious before each game — being unable to eat and/or keep anything down. He’d have no energy during the games (you don’t play optimally when you’re tired), and would be starving. All distractions. Workouts were more intense, but that didn’t bother him—he likes pushing himself to be fitter. His teammates were all over the place. Seniors making the season as if it were life and death, and his peers goofing off half the time. It’s left him questioning ‘do I really want to keep doing this?’

My oldest shared with his father he was considering walking away from the game. My husband was taken aback and needed a few minutes to let it sync in. My husband shared what he’d heard when I got home later that evening. “He said he has an important decision to make here in a few weeks about whether he’ll play football or not next year.” We we’re both caught by surprise. I wanted to talk to my son and see if I could understand more of what was driving this.

Thankfully he was willing to talk. I asked him why his was questioning playing with the team. He had clearly been putting some thought into it as he’d put a pros and cons list together mental which he recited. He shared that he loves the team and preparing for the game (though grueling). He hated how anxious he got, and it not allowing him to perform to his ability. He hated the range of attitudes by the players—overly serious (this is life and death), or immaturity, and some toxic masculinity (let’s hit something, pound chests, etc.). I could see how conflicted he was — loving the game, not loving all the comes with it. He was at a crossroads.

I started by telling him that playing, or not playing, was his decision but wanted to give him some things to consider before making the call. I started by talking about his teammates and the effect the pandemic had (which we all don’t fully understand yet) on younger people. “The seniors were overly serious because they got gypped out of two regular seasons due to the virus. They had a brief taste in the shortened season in the Spring of last year and wanted to see what they were capable of. Regarding your peers, studies have already shown maturity lacking in teen age groups due to the virus. Give tour peers through the summer and I’d guess they’ll act more age-appropriate.” I let that sink in for a minute then continued, “Regarding pre-game nerves. We can get you help with that through the doctor and bring in others like a sports psychologist to give you tools. The coach talked to you already about the leadership potential he sees in you, right?” My son nodded his head. “You have the opportunity to lean into being a leader. You followed last year because you thought that was your place, but you are growing and others see the potential in you. You have the opportunity to lead, people respect and listen to what you have to say.” This seemed to get him thinking based on his facial expression. “The last thing I’d like you to think about is not having regrets. You need to think through would you regret not playing sometime down the road, and if the answer is yes, than reconsider.” I shared a story with him about my own high school sports experience. I’d played on the golf team. The game was mentally taxing. I was good, but not great. I took it seriously, but not life or death. I recall questioning myself each year, but particularly before my senior year if I really wanted to subject myself to all the mental stress again. I ultimately decided I would regret it if I didn’t see it through, and I’m so glad I did. I have great memories, continued to improve my game, and got to be a mentor/roll model to the younger players. It was very satisfying.

My son is at a crossroads. My husband and I can only guide him at this point. I don’t want him making a decision he’ll wish he hadn’t later. As a parent, I feel the need to step back and let him make up his mind, and show that we trust him to make decisions that are right for him. He’s becoming an adult after all and needs to learn how to make ‘big’ decisions he can live with. It’s a bit unsettling as a parent to start letting go, but that’s the only way he’ll grow.

What crossroads has your child faced? How are you helping them make decisions for themselves that they feel good about?

Reluctantly Independent

My oldest has his license and can drive where he needs to most of the time (as he shares my car). With this independence, my husband and I expected him to want to do more driving and be out on his own, and he has sort of.

My son normally spends much of his free time with his best friend, who lives a few miles away. They often go to local parks to workout, and hang out with other friends. He and his friend where planning to go to a baseball game they had gotten free tickets to. My son decided he no longer wanted to drive. He asked if I would drop him off at his friends. “What’s going on?,” I asked,”why don’t you just drive yourself over?” He seemed aggravated that I didn’t just agree to drive him. Shaking his head (oh, teens! 😊) he said, “well, I’m not sure where I’m going to park for the game, and I might get too close to something and get a ticket.” I could feel his discomfort but knew I needed him to drive himself to his destination, for no other reason than for him to gain more confidence in his abilities. I needed him to know for himself that he could do this ‘new’ thing (park somewhere new where the rules might be a little bit different) and regardless of the outcome he could figure it out. When my son saw I wouldn’t budge from my position, he looked at my husband who’d been standing nearby and my husband confirmed with a simple ”nope” that he wouldn’t drive him either. My son, clearly unhappy, went to his room.

My husband and I discussed what happened. Why was our son suddenly wanting us to drive him? What was behind this? We know he has a bit of an anxious undercurrent going, it rises to the surface when he tries new things. Learning how to drive is about the most scary new thing you can do, yet my son knows how to drive and the new situation was getting him to challenge his independence and some of the uncertainty (growing, making mistakes, learning) that come with the territory. We agreed we had to hold firm, and if our son wanted to go, he’d have to drive himself.

When it was time for my son to leave, he exited his room, grabbed the car key, and went out the door. No “I’m leaving,” he just went. I knew in his quiet exit he was trying to convey “fine, I’ll do it (or I’ll show you!), but I’m not going to like it.” It felt familiar to me, and thinking I had likely handled situations similar when I was his age with my parents. 😊 Of course, he went to the game, had a great time, and had no issue with parking. I was grateful. While reluctant, by simply driving to a game, my son was growing in his comfort with his independence.

How do you help your child gain the confidence they need to do something that is new(er) or they aren’t comfortable with? How are you helping them gain an appreciation for what they are capable of?

Fundraising

What has your child had to fundraise for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Needs, Wants, and Priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Motherhood

How are you celebrating Mother’s Day today?

I’m reflecting this year on my time as a mother.

M – Milestones. Getting pregnant. Birth. Watching my children grow. Wow, wow, wow!

O – Observer. Trying to understand my child, what they need, and figuring out how to give it to them (physically, emotionally). A lot of trial and error.

T – Time. Such a strange thing. It slowed down so much when the kids were young. I couldn’t wait for time to go faster. Fast forward and I’d love for time to slow down now. My boys are becoming more independent by the day and will be grown and on their own before I know it.

H – Help. I was bad at asking for it when I first became a parent, thinking I was supposed to know how to magically do everything without any formal experience or training. A huge thank you to family, friends, and other new parents who supported my husband and I, helping us become better parents.

E – Everything. There is so much that goes into parenting. It’s hard, but what a joy. My boys have helped me grow so much as a person. Everything that goes into it — good and bad —has been absolutely worth it.

R – Rewarding. Seeing the world through my boys eyes as young children and now as teens always makes me feel like I’m seeing (appreciating) the world anew.

I hope all the moms out there have a wonderful Mother’s Day. What does being a mother mean to you?

Teen Distancing

If you have a teen, do you notice them wanting more space?

My oldest is definitely covets alone time. It’s not uncommon for him to disappear for hours to listen to music, exercise, text or talk with his friends, or just have time away from the rest of us. I get it. I can recall being a teen and spending hours on end in my room listening to music, and just enjoying having time to myself.

We’ve needed a change of scenery from being cooped up due to Covid, and went to a neighboring county for respite. This county has many hiking trails. I had been feeling my son’s distance and asked if he’d go on a mother-son hike with me. My hope was that we could take a leisurely walk and just reconnect. I could better understand what he is feeling — being separated from friends, school being over, the summer and upcoming plans changed or cancelled — and see how (or if) I could help. My son reluctantly agreed. He was suspicious that I had an ulterior motive than just talking (such as wanting to talk to him about something specific), but I assured him I just wanted to connect with no agenda to talk about anything specific.

We went for our hike, or should I say jog? We did walk but you would have thought we were having a race to see how fast we could complete the hike. I had to ask my son to slow down repeatedly. We didn’t have to be too concerned with social/physical distancing because he was always 20 feet in front of me. I started shouting my questions to him (thankfully we had the hiking trail to ourselves), “I just want to check-in with you. How are you doing?” I asked. His response, “Fine.” I tried again, “How are you feeling about things? School being over, and not being able to see your friends?” “Fine,” he responded again. Huff, huff, huff. Image me speed walking up and down inclines trying to get my son to engage in a meaningful dialogue. I’m sure it was quite a sight. “Please, slow down. It’s not a race. I just want to talk, you have been more distant lately, and I just want to make sure you’re okay. That you and I are okay.” “Mom,” he slowed down (hallelujah!), “We’re fine. I just want space. I’m a teenager. I’d prefer not to be cooped up, but what are you going to do? We have to until this is over. It sucks, but it’s just the way it is.”

He continued his slightly slower cadence so I was able to get in a few more questions and get more answers before we finished. He went off on his own once we rejoined his younger brother and my husband.

I remember being his age and seeking more independence from my parents. It’s bittersweet. Amazing to see him grow tinged with sadness with just how soon he’ll be off on his own. While he may want me to give him some teen distance now, I hope he’ll periodically slow down and allow for us to be closer.

How are you bridging any distancing that may be going on with you and your child? How are you keeping them close during this time of distancing?