At the Crossroads of Raising an Independent Child

Are you trying to raise an independent child?

I am. I was raised to be independent, it was a conscious decision on my parents part. They were involved in my life — they taught me manners, how to be safe, led groups I participated in, they advocated when they needed to for me, came to every recital, game or event we were participating in and cheered me on — all while teaching me to be independent. I was taught how to take care of my space, learning how to set the table, clean-up (table, room, house), vacuum and wash clothes. I was taught how to earn money, encouraged to get a job when I turned 16. They encouraged me to play sports, music, etc. and try new things. They gave me the skills I needed to go out into the world on my own.

I have always taught my kids about safety, though I’m always unsure how effective what I’ve taught them will be (I hope it will be sufficient); I’ve taught them manners (which we are still working on); and my kids have responsibilities around the house, and are encouraged by us to try new things, but know there are still many my skills my husband and I need to teach our kids.

As I’ve previously shared, my oldest is in middle school and is still adjusting to all the changes that have occurred. We got him a flip phone (his first phone) when he started school so he can stay in touch with us so we know he’s gotten to school or is on his way home. The flip phone was chosen because of the limited capability it has. It was a conscious decision on our part. My son first started with only texting me as we had discussed — when he got to school and we he was on his way home. Then he started adding a phone call into the mix. Or two. Or three. He doesn’t seem to understand mom has a job and can’t always grab the phone right away (though he does know I’ll call him back as soon as I can). And while I love the fact that my son wants to talk to me — whether he’s calling to tell me about his day or a struggle he had, I feel like I’m at a crossroads. Almost like a mother bird that has pushed her son out of the nest only to let her baby bird come back onto the ledge of the nest to hang out. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking to my son. I am so grateful he wants to call me and talk, but I wonder if I’m delaying his ability to be independent. I did not have a phone when I went to school. I had to figure out how to get where I needed to be when I needed to be there, and I only called my mom or dad when there was an emergency (I can remember this happened once in high school when my car had a problem and I needed my dad’s help to figure out where to get the car towed to). I remember not wanting to bother my dad at work, but couldn’t think of any other way to handle the situation. My dad was grateful I called, but that only happened once. In reflection, I feel like my parents had pushed me out of the nest — it wasn’t a ‘don’t come back’, it was a ‘you’ve got this, don’t like us hold you back.’ I don’t want to hold my son back. I want him to have confidence in his ability to navigate situations and feel empowered to do so.

I’m not sure what the future holds, but I am aware that my husband and I need to be thinking about how we are helping our children be independent — successful on their own. Of course I don’t want my child to pull away from me, but I believe this is a necessary for them to truly grow.

Thankfully I have time, but I’m at a crossroads, and hoping I pick the right path.

How are you helping your child be independent?

 

Change the Label

How were you labeled as a child? Smart? Sweet? Athletic? Witty? Creative? Different? Etc.?

We’ve all experienced others putting labels on us at some point in our life. A positive label is easy to accept as truth. A negative one can be confusing, embarrassing, and make you sad or mad. I’ve yet to meet someone who is happy to be labeled a ‘bad’ person or kids who’s excited to be seen a ‘problem’ or ‘troublemaker.’ Labels can shape who people become and the choices they make, particularly when they don’t feel like they can overcome the label put upon them.

My oldest is experiencing being associated with a negative label first hand. He has struggled with emotional regulation. He can be as sweet as can be, empathetic and compassionate, but if he feels something is unfair or unjust (against him or someone he cares about) his anger rises, quickly. He loves playing football on the playground with some newer friends. These friends, who come from more challenging backgrounds than my son, exhibit behavioral issues (largely in the form of lack of respect to teachers regardless of the consequences) and have gotten themselves labeled the troublemakers. My son is experiencing guilt by association as a result. From my son’s perspective there is nothing wrong with these kids. He likes them and enjoys spending time with them. A teacher, who knows my son and his emotional strengths and weaknesses, has recently being coming down hard on my son for what he believes are trivial things — sliding down a banister at school and having to miss some of recess (my son claims he only slide down the banister two steps; and acknowledges that other kids who slide down the bannister also had to sit out); and asking to go to the bathroom only to go half-way down the hall and turn back around (never using the restroom). This seemed to make the teacher particularly mad. I was unable to understand from my son why, but believe it may be that some of his other friends have done the same thing and the teacher had had it.

My son was very frustrated and shared with me why the teacher was wrong and he was right. While I empathized with my son’s feelings of being wrongly targeted, I had to remind him that he had a role to play. “You shouldn’t be sliding down the banister even if it’s one step. Your teacher’s job is just like mine. Teach you things and keep you safe. If you slide down the banister and they don’t say anything or give you a consequence then other kids may think they can do it and get away with it too. What if a younger kid tries it and gets hurt?” I asked. My son tried to defend himself, “but I was barely on the railing.” “My point,” I continued, “is if you don’t want to sit out during recess, stay away from the banister. Period. There is no upside to sliding down even one part of it.” I went on, “You have to pick your battles and this one isn’t worth it.” He thought about what I said. We sat for a minute or so quietly. Then I added, “I want to go back and talk about labels. I don’t like them. People, particularly young people, can accept the labels they are given and let them define who they are or become. You are not a bad kid or a troublemaker. Do you do things that are wrong sometimes? Sure, but that’s part of growing up. I don’t know that your friends are either, but I do think you all are frustrating your teacher with your behavior. You don’t want to be labeled as troublemaker, because if you are, people will pay closer attention to what you are doing and will be looking for you to ’cause trouble.’ Someone who isn’t considered a troublemaker will be able to do the same thing and they won’t get in trouble, but you will. You don’t want that?” I paused, “You are going to be going to middle school in the fall and are going to have the opportunity to start over — a clean slate. You can get to decide how you come across to others. You can change the label.” He thought for a moment, as if he was thinking, and quietly said, “Okay. Thanks.”

I’m not sure if I got through, but am hopeful he’ll take what I said to heart. I don’t like labels. They generalize people too easily and can divert us from really getting to know someone, their story, and what redeeming qualities they have (because most of us do have some).

Has your child been labeled? How are you helping your child navigate labels?

What Brings Us Together

It’s Super Bowl Sunday. An American tradition of coming together with family and friends and watching the big game, while enjoying rich food and celebrating competition.

Our family found the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet in recent years which airs at the same time as the Super Bowl. In the Puppy Bowl they do an animal take on the big game with puppies of different breeds playing together. And while there is some competition (e.g. which dog will finish the task first) it is more about watching these adorable animals interact. My youngest son loves puppies and anything ‘cute’ so the Puppy Bowl is a hit for him. My oldest son, husband and I found it quite cute ourselves after watching it for a few minutes. It is much more enjoyable for us than watching violent hits, boasting players and beer commercials, and I should note I actually like watching football normally. The Super Bowl just seems like a game on steroids (literally and figuratively?).

With all the chaos of the last week the Puppy Bowl got me thinking. Animals don’t differentiate between people. Animals are eager and willing to meet (and play) with people they have just met happily (unless, of course, they have been mistreated). We should take a lesson from the animals playbook.  Our pets and our love for them bring us together.  People from all races, religions, and countries love their pets. People’s love for these creatures is universal. Animals have a magical quality of meeting us where we are, and excepting us how we are without judgement. They provide love, comfort, companionship, and joy (and much more). My sons love animals and are asking us for a pet (and we’re hoping there may be some in our future). My husband and I grew up with animals and remember how important they were to us.

Puppies aren’t the only cute critters having a bowl game today. There is also the Kitten Bowl on the Hallmark Channel. My youngest is looking forward to seeing both the kittens and puppies play, and so is the rest of my family. We might tape the ‘big game’ and fast forward through to see the commercials later, and while either the Patriots or Falcons will become the Super Bowl Champions, the animals are winning out this year.

How is your family celebrating it being Super Bowl Sunday?  What do you and your family love most about animals?

 

Kids Choice – Dealing With Loss

When have you had to console your child when they experience loss and there is no way to soften the impact? It’s heart wrenching, right?

I had one of those moments on Tuesday night. While I was shocked as the results were coming in (and trying to handle my confusion and intense disappointment as discretely as I could), I wasn’t expecting my kids reaction. When I went to tuck them in, my youngest asked me if Hillary won. I told him “it doesn’t look like it.” He got fear in his eyes. He started to cry in a way I’ve never seen. What he said next jarred me. He didn’t say, “Why?” or “How could this happen?” That would have been expected. Instead he said, “Oh my gosh. We’re going to go to war! The country is going to be so bad.” War? I thought. Where did that come from? He’s really scared to think we are going to war. And how in the world did he grasp my own fears? That our country is taking a huge step backwards for women and minorities, the sick, the poor and mentally ill and all other marginalized groups. My older son joined in the conversation, he was equally distressed. “Why can’t kids vote? We never would have let someone like him be President.” My son made a good point.

Children have a wonderful inability to filter themselves when they are young. And they have an even greater ability to filter through BS. Politically correct is, well, not in their vocabulary. While there are certainly situations where you can grimace as a parent for what your child said out loud, there is something very straightforward about their views. They see things for what they truly are and convey them in black and white terms: you are nice, you are not nice; you are good, you are bad; etc. This ability came through Tuesday night. “I hate that I’m not allowed to vote until I’m 18. That’s ridiculous. If you asked the kids, none of us would ever vote for someone who was so mean, hateful and a bully!” my oldest said. While there was a big part of me that wanted to join in and bash the results and those who voted for the other side, I could tell what my kids most needed was for someone to tell them that everything is going to be okay, even though as their parent, and a woman, I’m not sure I believe it.

“It’s going to be okay. We’ll get through this,” I said. My youngest son didn’t buy it. He looked me in the eyes with that same terror pleading me to tell him I was kidding, or somehow the election results were going to turn out differently.  I didn’t know what else to do but to hug him. We were both experiencing a huge unexpected loss. We both felt the impact, and while they say time heals all wounds, this seems like a wound that will be opened for the next four years at a minimum.

I am grateful for educators at my kids school that brought the kids together to talk through the results and let the students voice their opinions to help them deal with their feelings. I am grateful for where I live and how people here are willing to stand up and say #notmypresident. And that many business leaders and local government officials have publicly said that won’t tolerate discrimination and hate, and are trying to give grieving adults the same message I gave my boys — we’ll get through this somehow. We just have to stick together.

Sometimes you can’t make sense of things, and sometimes you have to figure out how to make the best of a situation. I love the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” There feels like a lot of darkness right now and I, as a parent, need to figure out how to light a candle. I can’t let an election determine how my neighbors, or my kids classmates and their families are treated, we all are more alike than different and we all have to figure out how to come together and work together. No more division, no more fear.

How do you console your child when you are in an inconsolable situation, regardless if its the loss of a loved one or the results of an election?  How are you helping your child when you are experiencing your own grief?

 

Back to School Shopping

Is going back to school the most wonderful time of the year as the commercial suggests?

My husband and I had every intention of doing our back to school shopping for our kids early. We let the kids pick out their backpack, lunch box and water bottle, and we get the rest of the school supplies asked for by the school.  When did it change from bringing your own supplies to bringing supplies for the class?  There is a simplicity to it that I miss from my youth, when you got a pencil box (with some ‘cool’ design’) that contained pencils, a ruler and other school supplies (erasers, glue, etc.). We didn’t bring in things we’re asked to bring in now: reams of printer paper, dry erase pens for the board, and glue sticks and folders by the dozen. I understand due to funding issues, parents bringing supplies is helpful, and I’m happy to contribute…I just wish there were an easier way.

Despite our hope of getting school supplies early, we didn’t make it to the local Target until a few days before school started. The scene when we arrived at the store reminded me of arriving at Target on Black Friday after everything had been picked over. There were several other parents, much like us, buzzing around the endless bins trying to find the allusive #2 pencils (is it possible for a store to be out of #2 pencils?), composition notebooks and several other items that seemed to be out-of-stock. It was like we were all on a treasure hunt, hoping the missing supplies would somehow materialize.

A couple of us were reading our lists out loud (Now, where could erase tops be? Have you seen any folders that have pockets by no fasteners?). When we heard each other, we all couldn’t help but chuckle. It all seemed so ridiculous. “Can’t we just give the school a check to get school supplies?” one person asked. “Or how about all the parents pool their money and someone go to Costco so we can buy in bulk?” another suggested. All good ideas, I thought. Most years most of the school supplies ends up making it to the teacher for the class’s use, but it never fails that some remains hidden deep inside my sons backpacks, only to be found at the end of the school year (so many glue sticks, and what are these expensive dry erase markers still doing in here??? Ugh!).

I find the whole experience leaves me feeling exhausted instead of energized for the new school year, but alas, it is what it is.  Next on the list, getting my sons new shoes…wish me luck (I’ve heard the shoe section looks like a tornado hit it. Yikes!).

How do you survive the trials and tribulations of getting your child ready for school?

Our Town?

Have you experienced a moment where your child made you rethink or appreciate life a little more after seeing it through their eyes?

My husband and I went to pick my son up from a lesson. He finished his lesson early and had free time prior to our arrival, and had decided to build a town with multi-colored triangular blocks. Some buildings were tall and round. Others were short and flat. One stood out. It was encased in a plastic holder that lifted it off the ground a few inches. I asked my son to explain all the things in his town. He pointed to the tall and round buildings. “This is a movie theater and this is a grocery store.” He moved over to the short and flat buildings. “This is where the poor people live.” And then he moved to the building that was on the plastic base off the ground. “This is where the rich people live.” I asked him what made the rich people live off the ground vs. the poor people. He replied, “The rich people have a force field around them to keep the poor people out.” He paused, probably because my mouth had dropped open in disbelief at his sage observation. “You know, so people can’t get their stuff. They really don’t like people to get their stuff.” I asked, “And where do we live?” He pointed back over to the poor section. “We’re over here. This is the poor to medium section. We live in the medium section house.” “Okay,” I said, “Where do you want to live?” He said, without hesitation, “Over here.” He pointed to the same poor-medium section but one house over. “I would be close to the movie theater and grocery store, and, I’d be close to you.” It made me smile, but also made me think. How would I have answered the same questions when I was his age? Did I have the same awareness of the ‘have’s’ and the ‘have-not’s’ back then? Where did he get this insight from? He seemed wise beyond his years.

The conversation made my husband and I realize that once again our children are noticing things–even things we think they shouldn’t until they are much older. We were reminded that when we’re fortunate enough to have our kids share their insights with us, it’s an opportunity for us to teach them (explain our take on the situation, or how others might think); and get their ideas for what can be done to make things better. I always learn when my children share their ideas–either about them (how they think, what’s important to them, etc.) or from them (sometimes their simple yet smart ideas come are way better than anything I (or I dare say most adults) could come up with). I see things in a new, fresh way.

What have you learned from, or about, your child from their observations?