About to Snap

Do you ever lose your patience with your child?

Most of us do. At least from time to time. My husband needed to work late one night, so I got my boys to various appointments and commitments around town, and once we were finished we went out for dinner. My kids wanted to go to a pizza place followed with a trip to the ice cream store next door.

I got the boys their pizza and turned my focus to my phone. I had some work I needed to get caught up since I’d been running the kids all over the place. My kids were busy eating and watching the TV at the restaurant. I was thinking about how I wanted to respond to a work email. I began to type my response when he oldest asked, “Can we leave now?” I didn’t realize they were already finished. I asked for a minute so I could finish my work. Before I was done, my son said, “Mom, can we go?” I tried to suppress my frustration with the question and instead redirected my son. “Why don’t you and your brother put your plates and trash away.” They did as I asked, and I was able to just get my email off before my son said, “Mom, come on, let’s go.”

I followed my sons to the ice cream shop and had them place their orders while I continued to try to get through my work emails. After they ordered, I decided to get some ice cream too. I paid and we sat down to eat our ice cream. Almost as soon as my backside was in the chair my oldest son said, “Mom, can we go?” I just sat down, and his question made me almost snap. In a stern voice I said, “I just sat down. I’m not going anywhere until I’m done. Stop asking me when we’re going.” I could tell my son wasn’t expecting my reaction to be so strong. I gave myself a minute to calm down. Up to that point I’d been a ball of stress, getting the kids from place to place, making sure everyone was taken care of and fed, trying to get some work done, and, heaven forbid, have a couple minutes to sit down and have a moment with my kids.

My son wasn’t in the mood to talk to me on the way home, and I understood, I had snapped at him and he didn’t think he deserved it. If I had been more mindful What happened wouldn’t have. I should have communicated better with my boys and let them know that I was under stress to get done work done and ask them to give me some room and keep any questions to a minimum. I believe we would have avoided me getting upset and my son feeling like he was blindsided. It was a reminder to me to be more mindful in the future and remember how important teaching good communication skills to my kids is.

Have you ever unexpectedly lost your cool with your child? What did you take from the situation? What did you do differently after?

Model Driver

Are you your best self when you’re driving your child somewhere?

I am not. Well, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes, I can be, but each car ride varies. If there is lite traffic, and we’re not in a hurry, you are probably see a pretty good version of me.  When traffic is heavy, and/or I’m in a hurry to get somewhere, probably less so. While not a model driver, I’ve worked hard to be mindful of what I’m saying while my kids are in the car. I revert to a play-by-play announcer when I encounter, what I deem, a driver who’s not following what I consider the obvious rules of the road — letting people in, waiting your turn at four-way stops, and turning left behind the car going straight through the intersection. “That car should have waited their turn.” “If they would come across, we could go behind them.” “It wasn’t that car’s turn!” My kids have heard it all, and I’d hate to see them doing an impression of me in the car.

My boys and I were coming home through downtown and traffic was heavy. There is a particularly busy interaction where you can wait for the signal to change five to six times before you get through. By the time it’s your turn, you are more than ready to go. A car, who was in the bus lane (a lane it wasn’t supposed to be in) realized they needed to get out of that lane chose to pull in front of me and partially block the intersection. I went into play-by-play mode. “That car shouldn’t be there, what are they doing?” I knew what the car was doing, but really didn’t like that they had just cut in front of me. The kids were frustrated waiting as well, so me commenting on it, only made the situation worse. The light changed and finally it was our turn to go. I thought the car that had pulled out in front of me would proceed forward, but instead they waited and signaled for other cars to go, not allowing me and all the cars waiting behind me to go. As I saw the walk sign counting down and knowing when it hit zero the light would turn yellow and we still hadn’t moved, I lost my cool and did something I never do — I beeped my horn. And not like a tap-tap-tap like my best self would have done, but more what my upset self felt — MOVE IT, I’M TIRED OF WAITING! The car finally started going and I and maybe one car behind me made it through the intersection.

After getting through the intersection, my oldest son said, “Wow, Mom, you used the “F” word.” “I did?,” I said. I didn’t have any recollection of saying it. Then my younger son said, “Yea, Mom, you said it alright.” “Really?” I replied. I still couldn’t believe I’d cursed in front of my kids. Now some people curse, and I have my fair share of moments when I’m alone in my car, and/or don’t have anyone listening to me, and I’m upset. It’s different when I’m around people. I don’t like curse words — they carry such strong emotions, and can change the way others perceive you and what you are saying. I stress with my boys this point often. I always want them to think before they speak, and avoid curse words if at all possible (and it’s always possible, right?).

I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed in myself. I had prided myself on trying to be a model driver, or more a model parent, by being mindful of my speech, yet in a moment of high frustration the word came out without me even realizing it. I know how upsetting it was for me to hear my parents use a curse word when I was growing up, and honestly I can only remember each one of them maybe using a curse word once in my life, but each time it left an impression on me. I didn’t like knowing my parents were…human, and maybe more like everyone else than I was ready to accept. I thought of my parents as role models being wise and caring, and while I knew they weren’t perfect they were as close to perfect as any two people I knew.

My son helped ‘refresh’ my memory on what I said to the woman, but the way he said it gave me hope. You said, “You’ve go to be…well, you know, the f-word, kidding me. You drive in front of us and now you’re not going?” I was grateful he didn’t quote me verbatim. I apologized to my son’s for cursing in front of them. They didn’t seem too phased by it, but I’m concerned they will remember it much like I remember those times when my parents did.

We always strive to be good role models, it can feel terrible when you have proof you haven’t lived up to it. It does give me a chance to discuss my mistakes with my sons, take responsibility, and change my behavior (really watch my words — especially when I’m in that heavy traffic!) going forward. I think my kids like knowing Mom makes mistakes too.

How are you modeling the behavior you want for your child? How are you handling situations where you make mistakes?

Let’s Talk About It

How comfortable is your child speaking openly? To you? Or Others?

My husband and I are working to help our kids better improve their communication skills. He and I have learned over the course of our relationship that what and how you talk to one another matters, and if you can clearly get across how you are feeling and what’s behind it, it can really help the other person and how they respond.

My oldest son is good about communicating how he is feeling, but not always in the most effective way. He can come on strong or ‘lash out’ as his younger brother would say. He can be defensive and will talk over others until they stop trying to talk over him.

Our boys went to visit their grandparents and when they were back home we asked them about their trip. My oldest shared a few fun things they had done. My younger son started to share a story that my older son clearly didn’t want told. He became defensive, loud and was unwilling to calm down. So, my husband sent him to his room to cool off. We tried to change the mood of the room, and asked my younger son what fun things he had done on the trip. He shared a few memories, including visit a cemetery with his grandparents (where grandma’s parents are buried). We knew from past experiences anything that reminds my son of death makes him sad. He is unique is how early in life he understands the fragility of life and how fleeting it can be — that’s what makes him sad. We asked him how he felt about going to the cemetery. He said it made him a little sad, but he felt okay. He became quiet. Reflective. He looked like he was on the verge of crying. “Are you okay?” I asked. “It’s okay if going to the cemetery made you sad.” “No, that’s not it,” he said, “I just think my life is bad and I don’t like this feeling.” I was surprised by what he said. My husband and I started to ask questions to try to get to the bottom of what was going on. “What do you mean life is bad?” I asked. “I don’t know. I just don’t like the feelings I’m feeling lately. I used to be happy a lot, but now I’m not happy as much,” he said. He is my happy kid, so hearing this wasn’t easy.

After inquiring some more, he shared that what was behind his somber mode was how he and his brother were interacting. He felt that he would say something and his brother would attack him, call him names, and making him feel bad about himself. He didn’t like how his brother was treating him, which is understandable, but what was surprising was how concerned he was about his brother. “I wonder what he’s feeling to say what he’s saying,” he shared. We could see his concern.

My husband got my older son out of his room and spent some time with him discussing the situation, and how he had been talking to his brother. My younger son and I sat together and discussed strategies for how he could better communicate and advocate for himself with his brother. We wanted to make sure he knew that he shouldn’t allow his brother to talk to him however he wanted to. He needed to stand up for himself, and let his brother know when he wasn’t okay with how he was being treated.

My husband and older son joined us and we sat as a family and talked about the situation. At first, the boys started rehashing the incident that had happened while they were away, with each person defending their position and how the other person was wrong. “This isn’t helpful guys,” my husband shared, “there is a lesson to learn here in how to better communicate with one another. When one of you doesn’t like what the other is saying or how they are saying it, you have the right to tell them. And the other person needs to listen. Not yell or defend your position. Just listen. If you don’t understand why the other person is saying what they are saying, ask questions to get clarification. If you can learn these skills now you’ll be way ahead of the game. I never had these types of conversations when I was your age. I didn’t figure there was a better way to communicate until I was much much older. Learn from this.”

My boys looked at each other. I added to my older son, “You know, your brother was more concerned about you and what you were feeling than what you said and how you made him feel. Remember, everyone here loves each other.” My older son smiled and nodded when he realized how much his younger brother cared for him, even when he wasn’t treating him very well.

That ended our family conversation. My boys seemed closer following the talk. There will inevitably be more work to do in helping our sons improve their communication with each other, but knowing that they are more aware and can start to hone these skills now gives me hope for how they will communicate in the future.

How are you honing your communication skills? How are you helping your child help hone theirs?

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?