Talk to Me

How would you rate your communication between you and your child?

Growing up, I would have told you I had good communication with my parents. I openly shared with them what was going on in school and with me personally. It wasn’t until I was a parent myself that I realized my communication with my parents was probably closer to okay than good. I never felt comfortable talking in any great depth to my parents about the important stuff–kids being mean at school, my body, feelings of insecurity, the opposite sex, the act of sex, and more. I held back sharing information out of embarrassment or feeling foolish (shouldn’t I know how this works?). I don’t think I was much different than my peers, I think that’s how many of us grew up.

My husband and I have been committed to having better communication with our kids then we had with our parents. We try to talk more openly about the body and sex and allow our kids to ask questions about anything. We’ve told our boys on a number of occasions that in some areas mom and dad are new talking about these things with kids. Our parents weren’t comfortable or never offered to talk to us somethings and we are navigating new ground. We might mess up, but we’re going to try our best.

My oldest is becoming a young man, and my youngest isn’t far behind. Having our kids talk to us about the uncomfortable stuff makes me grateful (uncomfortable, but grateful). I can see how they could easily decide to only share only the good information, what they think we want to hear, instead of sharing good, not so good, ask questions, and reach out when they are confused or don’t understand how something works, why something happened, etc.. I particularly enjoy when we have a conversation and one of my boys will say, “I’m so dumb, I should know this” and I get to respond, “how in the world could you have already known this? What do you think growing up is all about? If you knew everything already, there would be no point in parenting, we could just birth you and turn you loose in the world.” That always makes them smile. The movie Boss Baby gives them a mental picture of what that would look like, and they find that hilarious.

Navigating parenthood is challenging. As a parent, feeling like you are doing a good job can be fleeting. My barometer is set to how openly my sons feel they can talk to me. If they want to keep talking, hopefully that means my husband and I are doing something right.

How is your communication with your child? How are you helping them feel comfortable to talk to you about uncomfortable things?

Mom in the Mirror

Has your child ever done anything that reminds you of you?

My oldest son is entering puberty and his mood swings are becoming slightly more pronounced. He is a sweet and caring kid, but it doesn’t take much to set him off. He will lash out moving from being fine to not fine relatively quickly. Moments that are most likely to trigger this — someone cheating in a game (playground or soccer field), someone embarrassing him (this one’s tricky, because you’re never sure what’s going to embarrass him), or him not knowing how to do something right the first time (it doesn’t matter if he’s had instruction on what to do or not, he has this expectation he’s supposed to know everything and be good at everything).

Thankfully, we’ve had some amazing and caring adults (teachers, coaches, professionals) who have provided us with resources (their time, talent, books, etc.) to help him, but it’s still difficult to see your child struggle.

On a recent morning, I had a time table to get my son where he needed to be, and myself to work. My son, while aware we needed to get to various places, didn’t understand my urgency. He wanted to play a game for a few minutes longer and I couldn’t wait, I needed him to stop playing the game so I could get where I needed to go. I told him as much and he proceeded to express his dissatisfaction with me and how I was negatively impacting him and his day. It was an explosive burst of energy directed straight at me. I was not in the mood to receive it. I promptly shut the conversation down, shared my dislike for his tone of voice and took away his gaming privileges. Immediately following I realized I had to calm myself down.  I was going to have my own explosive outburst if I didn’t.

We rode in silence until we got to our destination. When we got out of the car, I didn’t want the silence to continue, so I said, “Hey, buddy, you know that I love you. I just don’t like how you talked to me back there. That wasn’t okay. I understand you are upset you couldn’t finish your game, but you can’t use that tone, or say those kinds of things to me.” He started to defend himself and his actions, I could have defended my position, but I’m his parent and I wasn’t interested in letting the direction of the conversation continue. “You had something you wanted to do. Mom has something she needs to do. I have to get to work. I couldn’t wait for you to finish your game.” He wasn’t happy but didn’t seem quite as angry as he was earlier. We parted ways, but I couldn’t help thinking about what happened. What was my role in all this? How could I help my son and I avoid this in the future?

It occurred to me that my son and I had something in common. As much as I’d like to think I’m a good communicator, my son reminded me that I’ve still got room to grow. And my son does too. Our situation happened because were weren’t communicating — our wants or our needs proactively. Because I’m the adult (and his parent) I could easily believe my needs always trump his — and while in many cases they do, that’s not always the case. My son should be able to voice his needs and wants. It’s not my job to cave to him, or give him what he wants, but to listen to him, allow him to be heard, and then make a decision. It would be easy to say my son has the issue, but this one goes both ways, and as the adult and parent, it’s my job to model behaviors I want to see from him. My hope is my son will continue to get me to revisit my interactions with him. Am I doing right be him as his parent? What can I work on to be better, and what can I help him getting better at?

My son forced me to look in the mirror, has your child forced you? If so, how did you handle it?

Talk to Me (or someone you trust)

Have you ever wondered what your child was thinking or feeling, and gotten frustrated when they weren’t able (or willing) to talk to you about it?

My oldest son is getting to the age where he is starting to hold back on what he shares with my husband and I. He is willing to ask questions and come to us when something is really on his mind, but struggles to talk to us (or his caregivers or teachers, etc.) when he is frustrated or upset. In these instances, his go-to strategy has been to express his frustration with a grunt and closed fists, or to simply walk away. While I appreciate him being aware enough that he knows he needs to calm himself done before responding, I yearn for him to talk to me (or my husband, or his caregiver, teacher, etc.) to tell us what is going on and why he is getting so frustrated, angry or upset. When he doesn’t or isn’t willing, I feel helpless to help him. It’s feels awful.

We enrolled our son in a camp that was recommended to us to help with these types of struggles. When I picked him up following a day of camp his counselor came over and shared that he refused to participate and talk to them during the day. We discussed how we could get him to open up. The camp, which is outdoors-focused, runs a MineCraft project for their participants. They set-up a project the kids can work on, and help them with their social interactions. My son heard about this and wanted to join. We saw an opportunity to help him get what he wanted (to ‘play’ MineCraft) while helping him open up and better express himself when frustrated or upset. “I’ll make you a deal. You tell your counselor what is bothering you tomorrow, and we’ll consider letting you play MineCraft,” I offered. “Okay,” my son quickly replied. The following day, he eagerly greeted me and said, “Mom, I told the counselor what was bothering me today!” He was excited about it (I’m sure his excitement was around the possibility of him playing MineCraft increasing, but I’ll take it).  I told him that I was glad to hear it, and I’d talk to the camp counselor about how to get him set-up to play with the other participants. My husband and I are not necessarily video game fans, but thought this was about as good as we could hope for as an introduction to the gaming world. As my son and I were leaving I reiterated why it was so important he not keep his thoughts and feelings to himself all the time. “We can’t help you if you don’t talk to us. We don’t know what you’re feeling or thinking. We can’t read your mind. But we can help you when you are willing to tell us. Make sense?” “Okay, Mom. I’ve got it.” We’ll see if this works, but it feels like we’re heading on the right path. I’m feeling a little less helpless.

How have you gotten your child to talk to you when they were reluctant to do so?

Marriage: It’s all about Communication

When my brother-in-law got married, a friend of his gave him some solid advice, “Marriage is all about communication,” he told him. My brother-in-law shared this with my husband and me when we got married a few years later. While we were in agreement with the statement, we didn’t really know what to do with it at the time.

What is communication in a marriage?  Is it simply the act of talking and listening?  I’ve come to believe that it’s much more than that. My husband and I recently reflected on this advice that we’d received nearly eight years ago. My husband pointed out that successful communication in a marriage was more than talking and listening, it included understanding—the need for each partner to work to empathize with the other, to try to understand their point of view. Each person also has to work to make themselves understood, to get their point across. Not an easy task.

You may have heard the expression “heart talk” which refers to talking about how you feel rather than talking about what you think.  Here is an example:

Talking with your head:

“You didn’t take out the trash after I asked you to five times!” 

Talking with your heart:

“It makes me feel discounted when you don’t acknowledge and act on what I ask of you.” 

See the difference? Talking from the heart may seem a little uncomfortable to some, after all, we’re talking about feelings, and most of us run for the hills when we have to do that. But communicating this way can be very effective in helping your partner understand where you’re coming from.

My husband and I have also discovered that a key to communicating well is to understand your individual needs.  What are you getting from each other in the relationship that is making it work? What are you not getting from each other? Or, in other words, what’s not working?  Marriage is partly a journey of self-awareness and you have to have the confidence to bridge the subject of open communication with your spouse.

Do you feel comfortable asking for what you need? Try some of these phrases out:

“I need to feel valued”

“I need to feel respected”

“I need to have some autonomy”

“I need proactive communication”

“I need to be unconditionally loved”

“I need to be listened to”

“I need to be supported and encouraged” 

This may seem like a lot of “I needs”, but being clear about what you need and asking for it is the only way you’re likely to get it.  And having need doesn’t make you needy.  Would you say your child was needy if they said any of the following?

“I need food to eat”

“I need a bed to sleep in”

“I need unconditional love”

“I need respect”

“I need to feel valued and important to you”

“I need to be listened to”

“I need you”

Of course you wouldn’t! And it’s no different in a marriage.  How many married people don’t ask for what they need and maybe haven’t even thought about it?  I suspect many. Most of us are just trying to get through each day and our hectic schedules don’t leave much time to reflect.

Good communication is key to a good marriage, but it’s more than simply talking and listening.

Do you talk to your spouse with your heart or your head? Are you asking for what you need?