What Exactly Are We Teaching — Checkpoint

Do you have those moments when you question what you have (or are) teaching your child?

Our oldest is off on an extended camping trip. He prepared for the trip, ensuring he had his gear, and everything on his checklist. He would have his phone with him, but coverage would be sketchy being in rural terrain. While we knew he’d like his phone to listen to music or a podcast, we were surprised when he wanted to use it to call us.

I’ve shared before, our son will do much to distance himself from us these days — even when at home, so it was a surprise when we got a call the first night he was away. He was with a newer group of kids he didn’t know particularly well and was getting adjusted.

We were surprised when he called again the second and third night. The calls were short, he mainly would run through what he had done, and share how he was doing mentally and physically. Part of me loved him calling. Knowing he was okay, and staying connected. Another part was concerned. Wouldn’t my son grow more (in his confidence, capabilities) if he weren’t in contact with us and made it through the trip without communication? I talked to my husband about it. We agreed that while this was a test run for our son’s future independence, our son needed to know he would be just fine going throughout the trip without being in contact with us. So hard, but needed.

We weren’t sure how to broach the topic with him, but two things came into play — coverage was spotty and some days he didn’t have signal, and his battery (even with power sticks to give him extended use) finally gave out. He’d be forced to go without communication for the second half of the trip. Was I worried? Part of me, yes. Not hearing from him makes he wonder what he’s up to and how he’s doing. But a bigger part of me, the part of me that knows I need to arm him with the skills he needs to be on his own, wasn’t.

I look forward to him getting home with these new experiences and knowledge of his abilities. I’m also waiting for him to want to distance himself again from his father and I. It’s part of growing up. He’s reminding me that I have to stop, periodically, and check in and acknowledge (or challenge) what I’m teaching him. And be aware that time is short as he’ll be off on his own before I know it, and I want to make sure I’ve given him all the tools he’ll need to fly.

What capabilities are you most interested in giving your child? What prompts you to check-in regarding what your teaching your child?

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?

Father and Son Conversations

Anyone stubborn in your household?

If we had a competition in my house for who was most stubborn, I think it would be a four-way tie. 😊 We all have our moments of digging in.

My husband and our oldest son do volunteer work in the community most weeks. My husband thought it would be nice if he and my son went out to dinner, just the two of them, following a volunteer event. He was excited by the idea and told my son the plan. It went over like a lead balloon. My oldest didn’t want to go out to eat, and when my husband pressed my son for why, my son could only respond with that he didn’t know. My husband came to the dinner table, deflated, hurt, and a little angry. My son went to his room. I inquired what happened, was told, and then let some time pass to see how my husband and son would resolve the situation.

I waited, then waited some more. Nothing happened. I finally told my husband I was going to talk to our son.

When I went into my son’s room. I told him I understood he and his father had a conversation and it hadn’t gone so well. He explained, “You know I love you guys, but, I don’t know, (he paused as if trying to pick his words carefully), I don’t want to go out with you by myself, it just feels weird. You know?” I knew what he was talking about and shared, “I do understand what you are talking about. You know why it feels weird, right?” I paused. He looked a little puzzled. “Because you are becoming more…” I trailed off. “Independent,” he said. I could tell this was an aha moment for him. “This is part of growing up,” I continued, “it’s normal for you to want to do more on your own, with your friends, and start to pull away from parents. But guess how Mom and Dad look at this time. We see how quickly you are growing and know it won’t be too long before you’re off on your own. We’ll be lucky to get to spend any time with you. The time we have now is precious and special to us, and while I get you don’t want to be seen with us, you might throw us a bone now and then and have a meal out with us (though any activity will do). We love you kiddo.” He smiled while trying not to smile.

I asked my son to go talk to my husband, who was sitting out in our backyard. He resisted but then went outside. I stayed inside and tried to give them some privacy. My son came in a few minutes later and returned to his room. I figured all had been resolved.

My husband came in a while later. “Did you all talk and get things resolved?” I asked. “No,” my husband replied. “But I saw him go outside. Didn’t you all talk?” “No,” my husband said, “he came outside, walked around a little bit and then went back in.” Ugh, I thought. This is crazy. First, why didn’t my son take to his father, and second, why hadn’t my husband talked to my son? Their stubbornness was shining through.

Not long after, my son walked in the living room, saw my husband was there and started to turn back towards his room. I told my son, “stay right there,” then I looked at my husband, “now you, go into your son’s room and talk this out.” It felt a little ridiculous that I had to instigate this, but I couldn’t take them not talking any longer.

My husband came out of my son’s room after a while. “All good?” I inquired. “Yes, all good.” He later thanked me for intervening, and agreeing they were both being stubborn. I could tell he felt better, my son felt better, which, of course, made me feel better.

How do you handle when you (or your child is) are being stubborn? How do you help your child communicate more effectively?

Discord over Discord

If you have a tween or teen you’ve probably heard of Discord. For those unfamiliar, Discord is an application that allows friends to communicate while playing games online. My youngest asked if he could get an account for his last birthday. We agreed but with rules — he can only talk with people he knows, and if his father and I ever have any concerns, we can take privileges away.

During Covid my son has benefited greatly from being able to connect with his friends through online gaming. After getting a Discord account he was enjoying it on another level. While I’ve been reluctant to let my son get really into gaming, I was glad he had this outlet.

Discord has been a positive experience for my son for the most part. My son sighs loudly (to maybe get me it my husband’s attention?) when he’s frustrated or upset. He sighed like this and I asked him what was going on. He shared he was frustrated because one of his friends via Discord chat was blaming him for something he didn’t do. He was upset that he was falsely being accused, but more upset that his friend did it publicly to his friend group versus messaging him directly. He was struggling with the situation. I sat down next to him at the computer and asked him to walk me through what happened. I could see the dialogue in Discord and could see what my son was saying. What shocked me was what the friend wrote — Who changed me from being the moderator? f u [insert my son’s gaming name]. I saw how my son had replied online. It wasn’t me. I don’t know who it was. Reply from friend: well then who did it? My son: I don’t know but it’s not okay what you said. Friend: get over it. My son: uncool man, uncool.

I asked my son, “Why don’t you block him?” My son at first thought it might make the situation worse, but after we discussed, he determined blocking this “friend” would make his Discord/chatting with his friends way more enjoyable, so he blocked him and breathed a sigh of relief as his “friend’s” messages disappeared from his feed.

Afterwards, we discussed friendship and the fact that we don’t really know why his friend was acting the way he was or saying what he did, but that healthy relationships require respect and his friend needs to earn my son’s respect and trust back. I want my son to get comfortable holding firm on how he’ll allow himself to be treated by others. It’s not always easy, but so important.

How are you teaching your child about friendship and what a good friend is? How are you helping your child set boundaries around how they’ll let others treat them?

Difficult Conversations

Talking honestly about what happened with George Floyd and the aftermath can be difficult, regardless if the conversation is with your child, friends, or family.

I feel fortunate to have a diverse set of friends who have been willing to engage in these conversations that have been uncomfortable but needed. Being honest, owning our truths, and experiences reminds me that with knowledge comes power, and together we can make our community and country better.

In addition to my friends near me, the pandemic has allowed me to talk to my best friends who live far away each week. It has been a blessing to be able to connect with them more often. Typically when we talk I go where I can have privacy and speak freely — after all our talks include discussions about our kids, and spouses. 😊 As the issue of systemic racism, and the call for reform and an end to injustice and a need to address equality has gained traction the topic of discussion came up with my friends. I saw an opportunity to have a potentially uncomfortable conversation with them out in the open (having close friendships doesn’t mean you all think alike — true friendship allows for truths to be spoken, and vulnerability, and love for each other regardless), instead of going into a room and closing the door for privacy, I FaceTime’d with my friends without earbuds in my living room. My youngest son was on our computer in the kitchen. I felt like even if my son wasn’t fully listening to the conversation I needed to do it this way — out in the open not in private. I needed to show him there is value, bravery and strength when you speak from your heart, especially on topics like this. The fact that my friends are willing to listen, respect what i have to say, and still love me makes for wonderful and sustainable friendships. I treasure them.

Change will only happen if we are willing to talk (even when it might be uncomfortable), and really listen to each other.

How are you having these conversations? How are you modeling for or teaching your child how to have them?

Confession of a Mom who Meddled

Have you ever meddled in your child’s life?

The definition of meddling per the Cambridge dictionary: the act of trying to change or have an influence on things that are not your responsibility.

Tried to help them build friendships? Talked to the coach about your child playing in the game or in a better position, or asking a teacher about how you can help your child get a better grade on an assignment?

While our hearts my be in the right place (trying to help our child), they often have unwanted consequences.

I am, and have always been, mindful of the downside to meddling and worked to minimize any interference unless I’ve believed it to be absolutely necessary (and it is almost never is). I thought I was doing a pretty good job of ‘staying out’ of my kids lives–letting them make decisions, mistakes included, and learning from them. My eyes were opened to my unknowing meddling when my youngest son’s girlfriend was at our house with her mother.

My son and this girl’s relationship has been purely innocent–more about two people liking each other than what one would deem a mature relationship that includes strong communication, time together and intimacy. Their relationship is appropriate for their age. Relationship is italicized because my son and this girl rarely see each other (maybe a half dozen times a year), exchange gifts at the holidays, and that’s about it. Her mother and I have been the ones really keeping the relationship going. She’s invited us over for parties and movie nights, I’ve promoted my son to buy the girl gifts, give her cards on Valentine’s Day, etc. If we had let the relationship grow on its own (left it to the kids) it would have likely fizzled out a long time ago. They have gone to separate schools for years.

The girl and her mom were at our house (my son was out with his dad and brother and were on their way home) and while we were waiting I relayed an insight my son had shared about how glad he was that he, and this girl had a healthy relationship (they had learned in my son’s school about healthy vs. toxic relationships). I thought it was cute, but as I shared this piece of information, the girl shrank (like she wanted to disappear). I could tell the use of the word relationship made her uncomfortable. Maybe too big? Had to much weight and responsibility attached to it? I quickly changed the subject, but couldn’t shake the feeling I’d really screwed up.

Of course, I’m not in control of anyone’s feelings, and of course, as people grow, feelings can change. I felt my actions were accelerating a breakup, that wouldn’t have happened if I just kept my mouth closed. My sharing was potentially going to hurt my son. I was devastated.

Sure enough my fears were confirmed a few days later, when her parents, and my husband and I went out. The mother shared that her daughter cared for my son, but no longer wanted a relationship. I felt like I’d been punched and slapped at the same time. Not for what the mother said, but for my fears being realized. My husband was wonderful trying to remind me that this was a long time coming, but I couldn’t forgive myself. I sat my son down and we talked about the situation. I admitted my fault. He was crushed, but let me console him, which I was grateful for. We talked about it over the next few days. He had a present to give her for the holidays and we role-played various scenarios so he would be prepared for what might happen. Thankfully it was pretty non-eventful. They exchanged gifts (my son hit the ball-out-of-the-park with what he gave her). As parents, we offered them space to talk but nerves got the better of them, and nothing was said.

Maybe it’s better this way? I don’t know. My son knows his girlfriend now just wants to be friends, and he is okay with this. I committed to him that I would not meddle in the future (and keep my mouth shut). He forgave me, which was a blessing, and asked if he could still come to me for advice. He helped mend my heart when he asked me that.

Have you meddled? How did you gain your child’s trust back?

Kids Say the Darnedest Things

What’s something funny your child has said?

My earliest memory of my kids saying something funny was after my youngest was born. After a week at home, his older brother asked my husband and I, “When are we going to recycle him?” We couldn’t help but laugh. We loved that our son recognized the importance of recycling, but found it funny that he was ready to send his brother to the bin and go back to being an only child. 😊 Needless to say, we explained you don’t recycle humans.

More recently my youngest has been delivering some pretty classic lines. On the first day of middle school I picked him up at the end of the day. The parking lot was full of parents picking up their kids. My son came towards me. “How was your day?” I asked. “Today was SOOOOO long. I’m exhausted,” he paused then continued, “Well, time to go see my therapist.” It was true he was going to see his therapist after school, but that was a coincidence. I burst out laughing when he said what he said, one, because how many of us have had days where we’d love to see a therapist following? And secondly because he said it so that every other parent could hear. They looked at me, then him. He responded to my laughing and the parents looks, “What? I am going to see my therapist.” You have to love these moments when my son doesn’t have a filter. The parents smiled looked at me. I shrugged, smiled and confirmed we were heading to see his therapist. I smiled the whole drive there.

Several weeks into the school year my son had another memorable moment. His class is working to build a tiny house for people in the neighborhood. They had some construction experts come in to walk the kids through the design and get them started on the project. My son shared that he saw one of the men while he was on the bus heading home. “He was smoking,” he said and then made a face and continued, “Not a good look.” Oh my goodness, I couldn’t help but laugh again. I get it, you see someone in one setting and assume you know who they are, and then see them in another context and it challenges what you thought you know. Yet my son was succinct in his observation — right, wrong, or indifferent. I wonder what he’ll say next.

What has your child said that made you laugh?

A Walk in the Woods

Where do you have the best discussions with your child?

We were attending a year end picnic with my younger son’s class. His older brother did not want to be there — fearing embarrassment from being associated with younger kids (how uncool, right?). While our younger son played with friends, my oldest asked his dad to go with him on a walk in the woods that surrounded the picnic area. They were gone 30 minutes or so. I didn’t mind. It was nice to being able to watch the kids enjoy themselves or talk with another parent. When my son and husband came back he asked, “Mom, do you want to go for a walk?” I wasn’t expecting to be asked, but gladly accepted. We walked and talked and walked and talked and walked and talked some more. It was a nice conversation where we got to talk about deeper things — the intricacies of relationships, being vulnerable, being judged, being true to who you are — by the time we got back we’d walked over three miles, but it didn’t leave me tired. It left me feeling energized, even elated (my teenage son will still talk to me — yes!). 😊

When my son allows me to talk with him — not to him, but with him — it feels like I’ve struck parenting gold. Moments I’ll certainly remember and I hope he does too. I hope he thinks of such conversations as being open, honest, loving, and empathetic. I hope he feels the love, support and encouragement I’m trying to share.

How does it make you feel when you connect with your child on a deeper level?

Talking in Code

Does your child speak in code?

When my kids were babies, they communicated with cries, then they graduated to sign language for: milk, more, change (diaper), and ‘all done.’ Then came sounds and words. And then came the tween and teen years, where they have embraced new lingo.

When I was a teen we too spoke in code — whether it was silly languages like ‘pig latin’ or acronyms – LYLAS – Love you like a sis, TTYL – Talk to you later, and CYA – slang for ‘see you!’ As in ‘see you later.’ We didn’t text or email, but passed notes in class and in the hallways because we didn’t have phones or computers to communicate. Our modes were paper, pen, and phone. 😊 We thought we were grown up, even cool in how unique and creative we thought we were.

And here we are today, with my kids talking in new acronyms that I have to decode (IYKWIM was a new one for me – if you know what I mean), reference memes and YouTube stars and other Internet crazed that I’m supposed to be aware of, but I’m not, that come and go at light speed. They too feel like they are unique and creative for finding this way to communicate with their peers. I get it, each generation needs to come up with their own code that lets them relate to their peers in their own way. As you grow, you want to separate from your parents and be your own person, and I can’t fault that. After all, we did the very same thing.

How is your child showing their independence? How are you learning to decode their language?

Talking in Code

Does your child speak in code?

When my kids were babies, they communicated with cries, then they graduated to sign language for: milk, more, change (diaper), and ‘all done.’ Then came sounds and words. And then came the tween and teen years, where they have embraced new form of communication.

When I was a teen we too spoke in code — whether it was silly languages like ‘pig latin’ or acronyms – LYLAS – Love you like a sis, TTYL – Talk to you later, KIT- keep in touch, and CYA – slang for ‘see you!’ As in ‘see you later.’ We didn’t text or email, but passed notes in class and in the hallways because we didn’t have phones or computers to communicate. Our modes were paper, pen, and phone. 😊 We thought we were grown up, even cool in how unique and creative we thought we were.

And here we are today, with my kids talking in new acronyms that I have to decode (IYKWIM was a new one for me – if you know what I mean), emojis, referencing memes and YouTube stars and other Internet crazes that I’m supposed to be aware of, but am not, that come and go at light speed. They too feel like they are unique and creative for finding this way to communicate with their peers. I get it, each generation needs to come up with their own code that lets them relate to each other in their own way. As you grow, you want to separate from your parents and be your own person, and I can’t fault that. After all, we did the very same thing.

How is your child showing their independence? How are you learning to decode their language?