While the Kids are Away, the Parents Will…

Has your child ever spent the night at their grandparents, or a friend’s house? Or gone away to overnight camp? How did you spend your free time?

My boys go away a few times a year — to camp, a school trip, or visiting their grandparents. Every time they leave, my husband and I have to figure out what to do with ourselves. All our parenting duties temporarily go away and we have to adjust to it being just the two of us.

When my boys were young, I coveted date night. Just having some time away with my husband was priceless. I desperately needed a break from my parenting responsibilities. But as my boys have grown and become much more independent, date nights are something my husband and I need. It’s no longer about needing a break, but instead about being connected.

A date night now can include simple things like a walk around the neighborhood, eating dinner together, or talking, about anything other than work or the kids. This time together reminds us why we’re together. When our kids are gone (particularly when it’s for several nights) we miss them, but know that they are growing with the experiences they are having, while we are strengthening our relationship while they’re gone.

How do you and your significant other stay connected? How do you enjoy your (kid) free time when you have it?

Please Stand Up

Have you ever been reluctant to take a stand on something? Or let others know how you truly feel when it might not be universally popular?

I have. I hate to admit it, but over the course of my life there have been more times than I can count where I’ve kept my mouth shut, hand down or otherwise stayed out of sight instead of saying (or showing) how I really felt for fear retaliation — judgment, embarrassment, and shame. Now for all the times I’ve stayed in the shadows or been quiet I don’t truly know what would have happened if I stood up for myself because I didn’t do it.

I can remember one of the first times I did stand up for myself. A boy on the bus decided to pick on me one day. I can’t remember what he said exactly, but it left me in tears. I got off the bus at a friend’s house and was greeted by my friend’s mom who asked what was going on. I told her about the boy and she asked me, “Why would you put up with that? You need to let him know he can’t get away with that!”  It was the first time I can remember someone telling me how to stand up for myself. It was the words I needed to take action. The next day on the bus, I went right up to the same boy and was very direct with him — I told him in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t going to put up with him picking on me any longer. I don’t know if it was my tone, or what he might have viewed as aggression (I seem to recall walking very swiftly towards him with my index finger pointed squarely at his face), but he backed down and actually apologized. The experience taught me that standing up for who you are or what you believe in can be very freeing. You don’t have to stay in the shadows or feel trapped.

I am stepped out of the shadows this weekend, participating in the local Sister’s March in unity with others in my community who believe we are stronger together and that coming together is better for all. I wanted my boys to see their mom in action, standing up for something she believes in, and let my kids know they can stand up for things they believe in to (when the day comes). I felt it important they understand each of us has values and beliefs we hold dear, and we can’t let fear hold us back from taking a stand when we feel compelled to do so.

When I asked what my kids what they thought about me marching they said, “That’s pretty cool, mom.”  Standing up for myself sounds pretty cool indeed.

How do you stand up for yourself? How are you helping your child stand up for themselves?

 

Secrets

Secrets can be heavy, and are something a child learns to keep.

When I was six, I was playing restaurant with a friend. We were seated at the play table and decided we need to create a menu to make the game more fun. My friend asked, “what should we put on the menu?” I was feeling gutsy, so instead of saying what I normally would have said–pizza, fries, pie–I decided to try out a new word I’d heard a neighborhood teen say–a word that sounded bad, but I wasn’t sure. I decided my friend would be a safe place to try it out. I said, “why don’t we put f***ing cake on the menu.” My friend’s face went pale. I giggled nervously, thinking I was somehow cool for having the nerve to try it out. My friend said, “you just said a bad word. I’m going to go tell your mom.” Oh no, I thought…I hadn’t thought about my mom finding out as a possibility. I panicked and begged my friend not to tell. They did tell, and I got into big trouble. My punishment was soap in the mouth — needless to say I didn’t say another bad word out loud for a long time, but I picked up another habit…learning how to keep a secret. Instead of asking my parents or a trusted adult what something I didn’t understand, or was confused by, meant I kept it to myself, trying to figure out the meaning on my own, or relying on my peers or older kids in the neighborhood. It was a recipe for a lot of misinformation and even more confusion about how the world worked.

As an adult, I learned keeping secrets can become an overwhelming burden; weighing you down lot a ton of bricks. It can hinder your ability to enjoy your life controlling your thoughts and actions. Speaking your truth–whether it’s ignorance about how something works, or something you did, or something you didn’t do but should have, etc.–can set you free, or certainly start to lift you from the weight of the burden.

My son recently asked if he could talk to me in private. He asks me to do this occasionally, and I always reassure him that I will listen to what he has to say, and he doesn’t need to worry about being embarrassed or ashamed about whatever he wants to talk to me about. He shared that he had seen a picture that made him feel excited, nervous and sick. Despite having the computer in an open space in our home, with parental control filters on, he came across a picture that was too grown up for him to see (the pic was of a woman scantily clad in a provocative pose–it was an ad next to a YouTube video (the YouTube video was appropriate for kids, the ad clearly was not)). My heart dropped a bit when he told me this, partly because I recognized he was losing some of his innocence, and partly because I was hopeful we wouldn’t cross this bridge with him until he was much older. The upside of learning this information was that my son had the courage to tell me, and trusted me to help him deal with it.

While I would love to take away screen time forever and protect my son from being exposed to inappropriate matter, it isn’t realistic, and wouldn’t solve the problem. Instead, my husband and I needed to come up with a plan to help our son. I sat down and talked with him about what he saw (my husband had a separate conversation with him as well), and we came up with a plan for what to do when you come across inappropriate pictures. Like many parental firsts, I felt like we were treading new ground. I’d never had a conversation like this with my parents, and can only hope we’re handling this in a way that will truly help him.

After sharing his secret, my son’s demeanor changed: where he had been moody and short tempered, he became happy and couldn’t get the smile off his face. We were out the next day enjoying ourselves, and he came over to me and said, “Mom, I don’t have any more secrets!” I could see the shear joy on his face at this realization. I asked him how not having any secrets felt. He thought for a moment and said, “Pretty good.” Pretty good indeed, I thought.

Keeping a secret is hard. Helping your child navigate growing up is hard. Having open conversations that don’t allow secrets to live is freeing, and it feels great.

How are you helping your child navigate challenging issues?