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?

Having a Me Moment

My youngest is into transit — it doesn’t matter which kind — light rail, water taxi, metro/subway, train — he studies them (thanks to the internet) and enjoys learning all the ins and outs, including their layouts, how to navigate/makes transfers, payment accepted, hours of operation, etc. To most, that might seem boring. To him, it brings him to life.

We decided to go east for Spring Break. My youngest was the navigator as we used mass transit for most of our travel to get around. We took a light rail from the airport, then transferred to a metro line. We/He learned things as we went — what was running on time or delayed, payment challenges (for those who ride transit and have struggled with a ticket kiosk, you know what I’m referring to), poorly marked transfers (how in the world do we get to the green line, I only see an exit?), and entering the metro on the wrong side of the platform (oh no, is that the train we want to be on over there?).

My favorite was when we entered the DC metro for the first time. Clearly, this is what my son had been waiting for. He had the biggest smile on his face that expressed immense joy. “You look happy,” I said. “Mom,” my son replied with a smile even bigger, “This is one of the best transit systems in the US, even in the world. I’m having a me moment.” I just watched him as he took it all in. Side note: for those that aren’t familiar with kids on the autism spectrum like my son is, you may not know that one of their super powers is knowing what they like/are interested in/their passion. It is super inspiring to see.

While my son was loving our journey for the most part, he’d get upset with himself anytime a mistake happened. He prides himself of his knowledge and likes being thought of as ‘the guy that doesn’t need no stinking map’ (his grandfather coined that phrase for my son after my son told his grandparents he knew the full layout of an amusement park they’d taken he and his brother to and weren’t sure how to navigate without a map. He told them “we don’t need no stinking map. I know how to navigate this place!” And he did.😊).

I had to remind my son that mistakes happening is how we learn, and yes, it can be frustrating and doesn’t feel great, but we’re better for it, when we take something away we’ll do differently. He understood but didn’t like it.😊

My son having his ‘Me Moment’ stayed with me. How fortunate we are as parents when we see our child(ren) come to life —literally seeing their dream coming true before your eyes. It’s rare. Very rare. And, while at the time I don’t think I realized it, I (likely along with my husband) were having a ‘me moment’ too as parents witnessing this/experiencing this with our son.

What is your child passionate about? What ‘Me Moments’ have you witnessed/experienced?

Debate

It never feels good to lose an argument. Especially one you’ve been preparing for.

My youngest’s class was preparing for Oxford style debates on topics regarding social issues, equity, and diversity. His team’s topic was the federal minimum wage, and his team would be arguing in favor of it. We talked about the debate in advance. He shared some of his arguments and his team’s counterpoints for what the opposition would likely bring up. He was ready.

When he got home, following the debate, he was ecstatic. “Over 80% of the students and adults in attendance (made up of student family members) voted in our favor. The other group got only 15%.” He was pleased and thought his team had surely won.

Imaging his (and my) surprise when he came home a few days later and shared the teacher had given the win to the other team, noting how well researched their information was, and their argument strong. My son was sad, disappointed (his team had gotten 80% of the vote!), and a bit confused. “I don’t get it. Our argument was just as well researched and we had way more support.” I understood the emotions he was experiencing, but didn’t have enough information to give him a ‘counter argument’ to why the other team had ‘won’ or in what areas the other team exceeded. My son could see my wheels turning and attempted to address what he thought was coming, “no, Mom, I feel bad and there’s nothing you can do about it. I feel like a dummy for being so wrong.” Of course, this didn’t stop me. 😊

“First, we don’t know why your teacher awarded the other team the win. I get it’s disappointing, “ he stopped me to let me know it was okay for him to have and feel his feelings, and I agreed (though I was super proud of the self-awareness and emotional intelligence my son was exhibiting). I continued, “when do we learn the most?” He gave me one of those I-know-the-answer-Mom-and-you’re-so-annoying. “When we ‘lose’. We reflect on what happened, what we can do better. You really aren’t experiencing a loss here.” He was still upset and we agreed it best to just let him feel his feelings for the time being.

Later that same week, we had end-of-term conferences. My son’s school is still small enough they can do these things. During the discussion the teacher (whom had overseen the debate, and teaches my son in several topics) shared my son’s progress, where he was strong, and areas of focus. Then he brought up the debate. Not to explain why my son’s team lost, but to praise him for his compelling closing argument. He played us audio of the event. My son spoke with passion, and confidence. He engaged the audience (including the adults) in a show-of-hands question segment (how many of you had minimum wage jobs? How many of you had too much money from working those jobs? Etc)—it was impressive. My son was surprised the teacher had thought so highly of his performance and he couldn’t stop smiling. The debate he’d had internally with himself over ‘what he hadn’t done ‘right’, or better than his peers, lifted. He regained his confidence.

It’s amazing to me, even as an adult, the value we put into how others see us, and how we let it effect how we see ourselves. Too often, we don’t get that second set of feedback or information like my son got from his teacher. Imagine if we did. Wouldn’t that be something? Maybe a good question for a future debate.

How do you help your child when they are disappointed by a loss? How do you (or others such as their teachers or coaches) help them regain their confidence?

I’ll be off for Spring Break with the family and will be back later this month,

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?

Growing Pains

What was your middle school experience like?

My youngest is nearing the end of his middle school experience. When we asked how his school day was he made a face (something between resistance and relief), blew out an audible breath and said, “a lot of kids are getting physical in the hallways and parents are getting concerned.” Wait, I thought, I’m a parent and I’m not concerned — because I wasn’t aware anything was going on. I needed to learn more. “What exactly happened?” I asked. My son told us how there are a small group of kids that like to push each other, and use inappropriate language when moving between classrooms when no teachers or staff are present. It had gotten to a point where they had to sit each class down and talk to the students about what was going on because some kids were getting hurt. My son was upset, not because he had gotten caught up in this, but because what his classmates were doing were disappointing to him.

“It bothers me that some of these people are in my class,” he shared. His school is small, and most of the folks in his class he’s been with for years. “I don’t understand why they think this is funny or okay.” We talked about what was going on. My oldest thought the whole thing was humorous and shared stories of his middle school experience that was mirroring his brother’s. The difference was it didn’t seem to bother my oldest, but did my youngest.

My youngest made a comment indicating he still didn’t understand why his friends would engage in this behavior and find it okay. I offered a possible reason for the way the boys were behaving. “Think about when you were starting middle school. You were still more dependent on folks like mom and dad, and your teachers, and willing to listen and adhere. But, middle school is the transit period between being dependent and starting to be independent. Kids start to test boundaries and who they want to be.” My husband chimed in, “it’s like trying new clothes on. They try to see what fits.” We all agreed it’s a normal part of growing, and hoped our son wouldn’t judge his classmates too harshly, though we’re hopeful they’ll rethink their behavior and treat others more kindly going forward.

Growing up is hard. Seeing how others change can be painful, but it’s part of the process we all go through. I continue to appreciate that our son is letting us navigate this with him together.

What growing pains has your child encountered? How are you helping them navigate these changes?

A Sign of Support

The situation in Ukraine is terrible. The bravery the citizens are showing is inspiring. Trying to imagine what it must feel like to be in the situation is impossible. It must be terrifying, stressful, exhausting, and so much more.

My boys are much more aware of politics and what is going on in the world than I was at their age. We discussed what was happening in Ukraine at dinner, and wondered what we could do to help. It can feel hopeless when you are far away and removed from the situation. We talked about how we could show support, and how we could donate to relief organizations. We talked about why one leader would inflict so much pain on so many, with no regard for the damage he’s doing to innocent people (in Ukraine and Russia), their lives, livelihood, and countries. We talked about the beauty of so many around the world being united against the invasion. It wasn’t an easy conversation, but it was a needed one. War is ugly, and no one wins in war.

Following our conversation, our youngest being into geography, insisted we get a Ukrainian flag using his own money. We agreed and now have it hanging in our window as a sign of support. He knows he doesn’t have the means to contribute any significant amount, but knew a visible sign of support had to mean something.

How do you talk to your child about bad things that happen in the world? What signs of support have you and your family taken for others are in need?

Thinking Ahead

Clearly, moving from middle school to high school in the Fall is top-of-mind for my youngest.

My youngest was out in our living room pacing ever so slightly back and forth. “What’s up,” I asked. “Nothing,” he replied, and then he stopped walking and made a hmmm noise. “Well, actually…” he said, “I’m thinking about high school and what those changes will mean for me.” His facial expression was a mix of anticipation and fear. His older brother just went through enrollment for his classes, so it would make sense this was on his mind.

“Are you concerned about something?” I asked. “Well, maybe. I’m concerned it’s going to be a lot more. Classes. The teachers are going to be strict. There’s going to be more homework.” I could see he was stressed about the upcoming change (though it’s still months away). I thought for a minute before responding. “You’re right that change is coming, and I’ve yet to meet anyone that likes change, especially when it’s unclear what exactly the change will be. The good news is, while change isn’t easy, it’s something we all have to go through throughout life, and each time you show yourself you’re able to adapt and successfully make the change, the more confidence you have the next time round. You’ve already gone through some big changes—moving homes, moving from elementary to middle school, learning to navigate public transit and more. Yes, it will be different, but you should grow in your capabilities and feel good about it.”

He exhaled, lowered his shoulders, and smiled. “You’re right, I can do this. Thanks.” That ended the conversation.

We can, too often, look ahead and get anxious, worried, or concerned about the unknown. Change is hard, regardless the age — whether it’s planned or thrust upon you. It’s how you use the tools, including experience, you have to know you can get through whatever life throws at you next.

How do you handle change? How are you helping your child navigate it?

A Good Day

If your child is 10 or older, how often do they tell you they’ve had a good day at school?

In our house it’s normal, particularly from our oldest, to get one of the following responses: it was okay, or terrible (which usually means it was boring or not being prepared for a test or quiz). Rarely is the response good (or anything better than okay). 😊

My oldest needed a ride home from practice. He normally will call me when he’s ready to be picked up. My husband decided to go to the school, in my place, to see what was going on when we still hadn’t received a call or text from our son at the usual time. Of course my son didn’t know his father was already there, so he called me. When I answered his call to let him know his father was there, I noticed a lift (or happiness) in his voice. I was bummed I wasn’t the one going to pick him up, his tone indicated he had something he wanted to either share or talk about. I live for these moments.

My son got home and seemed to be in a good mood, not an overly good mood, but better than your average day. His father mentioned, while my son was getting cleaned up for dinner, that he’d had a good day, and nothing more. As we were eating dinner I inquired with our son, “I heard you had a good day. What was good about it?” He responded, “Dad, have you been gossiping?” This reaction surprised me, I thought my son would just answer the question. My husband said, “All I told Mom was that you had a good day.” I chimed in again, because now my son had me really curious, “so, what was good about your day?” He paused, then said, “the weight room is open after school and they said I can use it.” He looked like he wanted to share more but wouldn’t. I let silence settle in as we continued with our meal. Finally, I had to take another try at finding out what he was holding back. “Was there anything else good about your day?” He thought, then carefully chose his words, “I guess it’s just how the day went. The first four periods, not so great, not so bad. Second part of day went better and knowing I could use the workout room and get all my exercises in felt great.” I knew he was holding something back, but decided not to pry further.

Later that evening, when it was just my husband and I, he gave me a little more insight into my son’s good day, sharing that my son had gotten paired with a classmate he was interested in and the conversation had gone very well. I could understand why my son wouldn’t want to share that in front of us. Liking someone and wanting/hoping to be liked back is when we are most vulnerable. The fact that he’s starting to explore this is exciting and scary (more so for him, but also for his father and I – will it work out, what happens if it doesn’t, we should probably revisit talking with him about healthy relationships, intimacy, sex and responsibilities as those are topics worth going over time and again, even when they’re uncomfortable).

I’m happy my son had a good day. I’m hopeful his confidence in himself and what he has to offer others (in a relationship) will grow. I look forward to the day he feels comfortable talking to me openly about it. And most of all, I hope I’m the one picking him up on his next good day. 😊

How do you get your child/teen to share how their day went? How are you making them comfortable so they can share uncomfortable information?

How Getting Feedback Helps

My sons got to spend time with their grandparents over a school vacation. My oldest planned to help his grandfather with some outside work while there.

I called to check in and see how things were going. My oldest shared, “I feel pretty worthless.” “Why are you saying that?,” I asked. “Because, grandpa asked me to dig out some dirt, and after I was done, he and the neighbor, who’s helping out, had to come back and redo the work I did. It’s embarrassing.” Clearly my son wanted to do a good job for his grandpa. I doubted grandpa saw the work he’d done as anything other than helpful, yet, I knew that my saying that wouldn’t help my son. “What could you do different tomorrow?,” I asked him. “I don’t know. That’s why this is so frustrating. I’m not sure what I could have done differently.” There was silence while both he and I thought. “What about if you start doing the work, then stop after a few minutes and get grandpa’s feedback — confirming you are doing it right, or make adjustments. That should allow you to get it right and feel good about it the first time. What do you think?” I asked. “Hmmm. That makes sense,” he replied. We then changed the topic and discussed what else he’d been up to while there.

The next evening we checked in again. This time he felt much better about the work he’d done. “Everything went fine,” he shared. He was smiling. It was good to see my son feeling so pleased. The following day, he sent me a video and texted that they’d finished. You could tell be his voice how proud he was of the work they had done.

I’m happy my son got to work with his grandpa and learn some new things. I hope he took from it that by taking the simple step of asking for feedback and correcting as you go, can save you pain (maybe even embarrassment), and help you feel good about what you accomplish.

What simple steps are you teaching your child to avoid mistakes, and/or be more successful?

Love Languages

How do you show others you love them?

We were having dinner, discussing how our days went. I asked my sons if either of them had learned anything new or interesting at school. My youngest shared that in his math class, his teacher had added what love languages are. My son’s school is all about equipping boys academically and emotionally so hearing the teacher added this following the lesson wasn’t shocking, but a pleasant surprise.

“What did you learn?,” I asked. “Well,” my son replied, “we learned about love languages and different ways you show others love.” “What are they?” I asked. I’ve read Gary Chapman’s work about love languages before, but was curious to hear what my son would share. “There’s quality time, where you are present with the other person. There’s gifting, and well, that’s obvious. There’s touch, which can mean being close, holding hands, etc.” His older brother decided to leave the table at this point — the talk of intimacy was making him uncomfortable (though unclear if it was the content or discussing it in front of mom and dad 😊). My youngest continued, “words of affirmation, and gifts of service, you know doing something for the other person.”

I was impressed that my son was so knowledgeable in the area of showing others love. Though I shouldn’t be, as his school has made it a point to arm their students with this information. It is a gift when your teen knows about healthy relationships and armed with clarity around different ways we show each other love so he can avoid some of the common pitfalls (not or mis-understanding what’s going on, misinterpret, and hurt or be hurt), so he can have healthy relationships with others. I would have benefited greatly myself if I’d been given this information at his age.

How are you modeling what love is for your child? How are you helping them grow their emotional intelligence so they experience healthy relationships with others?

I will be off next week spending time with family, and will be back at the end of the month.