One Love

Are you in a healthy relationship?

Growing up, no one explicitly talked to me about unhealthy relationships. I was fortunate to have parents that modeled healthy behavior, but was left to navigate relationships on my own. I had a good support system, however, my biggest enemy was me. I decided around puberty that I wasn’t outwardly lovable—I didn’t match what I saw on TV or in magazines and didn’t have boys knocking down my door, so drew the conclusion that what I believed was true, and rarely allowed myself to be open to relationships. If a guy liked me for me, well, I knew there was something wrong with him because how could somebody like me? It makes me sad when I reflect on this period of my life. Standing back and watching others in relationships gave me good insights into relationships I was interested in (e.g. hoping to have for myself one day), and those I wanted/needed to avoid. I can remember this served me well following college when I was more confident in my appearance and my inward love was starting to align with my outward. “Joe” pursued me after meeting me at a business outing. He was confident and blunt. He liked me and he made sure I knew it. He asked me out and I agreed though there was a red flag that was quietly being raised within. We agreed to meet at a restaurant but he called earlier in the day and insisted he pick he up. I told him I didn’t feel comfortable with that and he persisted. I gave in. I regretted it immediately and started thinking of ways to get out of the date. Something was triggering inner alarm bells to get away. I was about to call him to cancel when he called me, and shared he’d been in an accident and we’d have to postpone our date. I felt like angels had taken over the situation. I was glad he was okay, but knew he wasn’t for he based on how he explained the accident—he cursed about this woman pulling out in front of him on his motorcycle and how he’d really wanted to take me on a joy ride. No. Nope. Bye Bye. I sighed with relief that the date hadn’t happened—he clearly didn’t know me nor I him. Confidence is great. Aggressive big red flag.

Now my boys are in their teens and navigating relationships—friendship and romantic. My youngest is fortunate enough to have the organization One Love Foundation (joinonelove.org) working with his school. It teaches its students about what consists (characteristics and traits) of a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one. It allows the boys to better understand how their actions impact ours, and how to create and be part of healthy relationships. We’re talking to One Love Foundation about engaging with my older’s high school and look for him to benefit too. What a gift to learn something so important at such a pivotal age, right?

How are you modeling healthy relationships for your child? What are you teaching them to help them better navigates their future relationships?

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?

Revenge

What game does your child like to play?

My youngest is into playing Minecraft with his friends. My son is always eager to get online with his friends, but has encountered some challenges. They play on a private server (one of the boys dad’s set it up for the kids) — I appreciate it because I know who he’s playing with. It gave my son comfort too, until he learned some of his friends weren’t playing ‘nice.’

My son would enter the game and find out that someone else had been in the game and had stolen some of his diamonds. I understand this game enough to be dangerous so forgive me if I don’t get all the details right. Essentially my son had to mine diamonds, which are desirable, and having them taken away, by a friend no less, didn’t feel good. The first time it happened he was angry and he let his peers know it. He has an awareness about his feelings and how others impact him that puts me in awe. I didn’t have his level of awareness until my 30s. He let his friends know how he felt and why he felt the way he did.

It was interesting to hear the reactions — mind you I was in another room but within ear distance. First, there was denial by the group, then one tried to play it off like it wasn’t a big deal. My son held firm. His emotion was changing from anger to sadness — he was disappointed any friend would do this, and worse, lie about it. Someone just admitting they had done it would have been much easier for him to deal with. He calmed himself but he was rattled.

He had more gaming time with his friends without issue, but eventually there was another incident—this time he’d asked the group to wait for him to start the game because they were going to get to the end together, but when he logged on, he found they had already reached the end, though they tried to pretend they hadn’t (again, I’m not super familiar with how that works, but my older son confirmed this is possible). My son was very upset. I could hear him telling his friends, “you’re lying,” over and over. The friends changed their story and all but admitted their guilt. Again if his friends had just fessed up, he could have handled it much better.

We had a long conversation about friendship over dinner as a family. My older son, who isn’t overly protective of his brother, wanted to get revenge. “Let’s go in and put dynamite under their (Minecraft) house and blow it up!” he suggested. We all agreed that wasn’t the answer. Instead we talked about what being a good friend is, and how it can be hard when you’re young, especially when you’re going through puberty, trying to figure out who you are, and trying to fit it. It can make you do things that don’t necessarily align with who you truly are, or the friend you want to be. That’s one of the gifts my son benefits from by having autism. He is who he is all the time. He doesn’t have the awareness or ability to manipulate who he is for any given situation. His friends (true friends) will benefit from this as they’ll never have to worry about him treating them any differently regardless the situation.

We decided awareness (open eyes of what his friends were doing), and speaking his truth going forward are his best weapons. He’ll have to make some determinations if his buddies are really friends, he’ll never have to question his motives or behavior, and that is much more satisfying than revenge.

Has your child been hurt by a friend? How did you help them work through it?

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?

So Thankful

What are you most thankful for this year?

There is much to be thankful for me — my family’s health, having shelter and food, support and love from family and friends, and I can’t forget our cat who brings us so much joy.

Something I didn’t realize how much I appreciated was my sons willingness to talk openly to me. My oldest seemed quieter than usual and less interested in wanting to talk to me. When I’d try to engage him he’d grunt, roll his eyes, or get defensive, “I’m fine. Why do you keep asking me that?” I wasn’t alone in noticing how my son was acting. When this behavior carried over into the following week I decided I was going to have to do something drastic to get him to talk to me so I could better understand what was going on. I did the only thing I knew to do — I asked him to go for a walk.

“Fine,” he said in a tone indicating going on a walk with his mom was the last thing he wanted to do. I think he resolved himself to the idea that I wasn’t just going to leave him alone. We walked for a few blocks and I asked, “What’s going on with you? You seem almost angry at me. If there’s something we need to talk about, let’s talk about it.” He seemed surprised by my question. “I’m not angry at you. My mood has nothing to do with you.” “What does it have to do with because you’ve been acting differently lately and I can’t help you if I don’t know,” I asked. He made a sound of frustration and finally said, “Everything sucks.” Okay, we’re getting somewhere now, I thought. “What sucks exactly,” I asked. “School for one.” “Is it classes, or your teachers or your friends…” my question trailed off. “My teachers are great, classes are fine. It’s all the stupid kids who go to that school. They’re all dumb and judgmental, and it makes me mad because most of the people don’t know anything about me.” I could tell from the way he was talking we’d gotten to the heart of the matter — he was struggling with how you show up to others, what value you bring, how others see you. How bad it can feel when you’re ignored, or feel like you’re being judged. We talked about friendship and how it’s like growing a plant — you have to care for it and feed it, or over time it won’t survive. We arrived back at our house and my son seemed more at ease. His dark mood seemed to subside. I was grateful he agreed to go on the walk. I’ve been where he’s been — we probably all have as teenagers — trying to figure who we are and where we fit in. I’m grateful he was willing to listen and take in what I had to offer, and I’m thankful he no longer felt that he had to try to navigate this on his own.

What are you thankful for this holiday?

I’ll be taking time off to spend time with family and will be back in December.

You’re a Good Friend

How many good friends do you have?

My youngest son and I continue to read our new favorite book, The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome by Jennifer Cooke O’Toole. What I love about this book is how much of this information benefits people on the spectrum and those of us who aren’t.

My son and I are now in the part of the book that is about friendship — what makes a good friend and how to go about cultivating a friendship. As I read the chapter I was struck by how much I would have benefitted from someone telling me this information when I was my son’s age about what makes a good friend. When I was young, I didn’t think about friendships in layers per se, but did understand I had different friends — some were kind, some were kind when they felt like it, some could be trusted, others couldn’t, etc. In the book, it spells out characteristics a good friend has. Some of the basics: Smiles when they see you, likes some of the same things you do, shares some of the same opinions, invites you to hang out. And others that are more advanced and truly define a good friend: stands up for you (even if you’re not there), stops you if you put yourself down, listens, sees talents in you that you hadn’t noticed, likes you for exactly who you are. There are many more characteristics she names, but you get the picture, she is shining a light on what a true and worthwhile friend is.

After reading this I reflected on my own childhood friends. I had some friends that had some of these characteristics, but don’t think I had any ‘true’ friends until I was college-age. As I’ve grown older, I’ve sought out, cared for and worked to develop healthy and meaningful friendships vs. giving equal care and time across all friends regardless to what they bring to the relationship. I wondered how I might have invested my time differently with people earlier in life if I had had this information. I thought what the author said was so valuable I grabbed my older son and said, “I need to read this to you.” He has friends much like I did in middle school — some are nice, some are nice when they feel like, some can be trusted, and others cannot. After reading with both my boys I felt like I had given them a path to know how to spot a good friend and better spend their time with people who will value them and their friendship and reciprocate in kind.

Friendship can be a tricky thing to navigate, especially if you don’t understand what a good friend ‘looks’ like. I’m grateful I’ve had an opportunity to enlighten my kids (and remind myself) about what a good friend truly is.

How are you teaching your child to spot (and make) a good friend?

It’s Just Brunch

When you first had your child did you worry about when you could return to activities you enjoyed prior to becoming a parent?

When I first entered motherhood, I had two realizations: I love my son, and I loved my old life, how can I honor both?  I was stumped. As a new parent, I thought sacrifice was paramount to being a ‘good parent’, and anything else was selfish. This kind of understanding and thinking was a rookie mistake on my part. What I learned was that while parenting requires sacrifice, it also requires taking care of yourself so that you can give your child the energy and attention they need from you.

When my son was young, my husband and I were lucky enough to be in a PEPS group (Program for Early Parenthood Support) and were surrounded by other families who were just starting out as parents like we were. We were encouraged to have a Moms Night Out (MNO) where the dads would watch the kids while the moms had dinner, and vice versa, so the dads had an opportunity to do the same. I lived for those MNO in the early days and looked forward to them. But as our kids got older, and required less of us physically, the need by all the moms for these MNO diminished. We probably haven’t had a MNO in years.

In those early days, I needed a reprieve from being a parent. I needed to be with others my age for adult conversation and interaction. I was very mindful of this need in the early days of being a parent. I’ve gotten a bit away from it as my children have grown and become independent.  That is, until, a girlfriend of mine reached out to go to brunch. As a working parent, she realized with all the stresses from work and home life, she needed to connect with others and became proactive about doing so. Thankfully, I was one of the friends she reached out to. “Let’s do brunch,” she said. Oh, brunch sounded nice. I hadn’t done brunch without family members present in a long time. I mean a loooong time. I loved the idea, and eagerly accepted her invitation. I loved having brunch with my friend. She reminded me that it’s okay to start reclaiming your independence and take time for those activities that are important to you — like keeping up relationships and having a good meal that is kid-free.

What kid-free activity have you reconnected with since becoming a parent? Or what activity do you want to? What helped you or what’s holding you back?

The Gift of Friendship

How is your oldest and dearest friend? What drew you to them when you met? What has kept you friends all these years?

My youngest son is a very friendly kid–he can talk to people easily and engage in new situations without being prompted. He loves to laugh, and be silly. He struggles though, with making friends. He’s likable enough, and people want to be around him, he just struggles to do simple things like: introducing himself (he can play with someone for hours, walk away and we can ask, “Who’s your new friend?” and he’ll reply, “I don’t know.” “Did you ask him his name?,” we’ll continue, and he’ll share, “No, I didn’t think about it.”); or engaging in other’s interests–he is happy to have people engage with him if it’s something he’s interested in, but when it’s not–he’s not as willing. We’re working with him, along with his teachers and others, to help him develop these social skills.

He shared some frustration in lacking strong connection with his peers–even though he’s only seven years old. “I don’t have any friends, and I’m not going to.” When I asked, “What are you talking about?”, he replied, “I haven’t gotten invited to a birthday party in a long time.” He was measuring his friendships by the number of birthday parties he was invited to–I probably did the same thing when I was his age. And while he doesn’t yet understand that friendship is more than getting invited to a birthday party, it still broke my heart when he said this–one, because I could see the pain in his face; and two, I knew he was experiencing self-doubt and feeling hopeless that his situation would never change. We talked about friendship, what goes into being a good friend to someone and how it happens over time. My husband and I shared our own experiences with him and friendships, how some come and go, and some stay when you work on them. Those friendships are gifts that keep on giving. They are the relationships you ultimately want to develop and cultivate. We encouraged him and said his efforts to make lasting friendships would pay off.

Without any intervention or action on my husband’s or my part, within days of this conversation with our son, a flurry of birthday invitations arrived for him. It was almost like the cosmos or God heard our plea and responded in kind (and then some). He ended up getting invited to three birthday parties being held over the same weekend. He was ecstatic. What a wonderful gift those birthday invitations were for him. His demeanor changed, and hope for making meaningful connections with others returned. As a parent, you couldn’t help but share in his joy.

What gifts of friendship have you received or shared with others? How is your child experiencing friendship?

Charlotte’s Web

We just finished reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. It’s about the unlikely friendship and life of a spider and a pig. While the book centers on the relationship between the animals, its parallels to human relationships made me appreciate the book even more as I read it to my children.

The book was a good reminder that friendship can be found in the unlikeliest of places. Its about getting past someone’s exterior and seeing who they really are, but it goes further. It includes accepting and appreciating someone as they are. It’s about being vulnerable and allowing yourself to be loved. What a great message for my boys to get. I’m not sure they fully understand the significance in the message the story was telling, but they understand that friendship can be strong, and includes caring and sometimes sacrifice.

In the story, Charlotte is thoughtful, creative, caring, brave and selfless. She is a rare find. A true friend always is. As my children navigate relationships, and how friendship works (or how it should), I’m glad stories like Charlotte’s Web exist. It’s good for my children to hear how friendship can be from someone other than my husband and I.

What true friends are you grateful to have in your life? How are you helping your child navigate relationships?

Close Friendships From Afar

Having a close friend, or friends, move away can be hard.

When I was five, I had a friend named Mary. She is the first friend I can remember from my childhood. She lived in my neighborhood and I really enjoyed our playtime together. I recall one day being at her house and being told by my mother as she was picking me up to leave that this is the last time I would see Mary. “Mary is moving away,” my mother asked. “Why?” I responded. Mary’s mother chimed in that Mary’s father had gotten a job in another city that would require them to move. This was also the first time I can remember being pretty devastated. I couldn’t understand how adults could possibly separate children that had such a good time together. The job Mary’s father had, couldn’t possibly be as important, I thought.

It was the last time I saw Mary, and like any child my sadness at the situation faded as I realized the world went on and I would make other friends.

We have belonged to a parenting group since my oldest was born. The group has stayed together and met regularly ever since, even after many of us had our second child. We are a tight group, a supportive group and we deeply care about one another. One of the five families recently moved away. It was hard to come to terms with. You realize when people leave how you wished you spent more time with them while they were here.

I’m grateful for the time we had with this family, and even more grateful we have technology like FaceTime and Skype to keep us connected even though our dear friends moved far away. Seeing their faces makes them feel closer, and helps keep our connection strong.

I think about my children and what they think about their friends being so far away. Are they experiencing what I did with Mary? I know they’ll move on, but my hope is that through technology and occasional visits, my husband and I will model how with a little effort you can retain the best of friendships, even when you thousands of miles apart.

I’m reminded of my Girl Scout Days and the song, “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” So true.

How have you dealt with relocation — your own, or friends or family? How did you help your children get through it?