Being Good Enough

Have you ever struggled with self-esteem?

I sure did (and still do, though no where as much as I did when I was younger thanks to the help of some very smart people (therapists) over the years). My oldest comes across as very confident in who he is, and what he’s about, which I admire, yet I see him struggle with his esteem in a repressed/painful way. He has high expectations of himself — always. If he doesn’t live up to those expectations regardless how unrealistic they are he gets frustrated and defeated. He does have resources to talk to, yet, I’m not sure how much he is sharing (working on/addressing), and how much he is holding back. I remind myself he is young, and he will continue to learn more about himself as he grows and allows himself to be more vulnerable/open.

My youngest has high emotional intelligence. He has great empathy and can quickly understand when others are feeling. He is my ‘happy’ guy, but even he gets unhappy sometimes. He starts high school this year and is starting to think about what that means — new building, new teachers, new people, new pressures, and more. He sighed while we were in our family room. I asked him what was up. He said, “I’m just thinking about high school, and what that means. I think it will be fine, but I guess I’m just worried I won’t make any friends.” As a kid on the spectrum, forming new friendships is something he struggles with, though, he has friends and people often approach him because of his sunny demeanor. He will have opportunities to make new friends, assuming he puts in the effort. The way he said his statement it made me feel like he was trying to tell me something more. I pried, “you have friends and most people like you, so what is your concern?” He thought and then said, “I don’t know. That I’m not…” he paused, looked down, then back as me and said, “good enough.” You could have knocked the wind out of me. It took me til my mid-thirties to have that epiphany about myself and here he was at only 14. I asked, “Good enough for who?” I thought he might say, “the other kids,” or something along those lines, but instead he said, “me.” Wow! I was in awe of my child. To understand something so profound about himself as his age just blew me away. I asked, “how are you not good enough for yourself?” He shared that he thought he might have to change who he is (autism mannerisms (flapping and humming) and all), and he hated the idea of not being true to himself in order to fit in at school. I loved my son so strongly in that moment. That he loved himself that much and knew he’d be letting himself down if he had to change inspired me. I need to be more like my son. He has got this loving yourself thing all figured out!

The start of high school will come and go. He will adjust, and God-willing, it will go much better than he anticipates. What I don’t think my son understands is that by loving himself and his uniqueness, he will inspire others to do the same. Wanting to fit in is normal, but oh how boring. Loving who you are is (but shouldn’t be) the exception. It inspires, and draws people in. I hope my son understands just being himself is not only good enough, but exactly (the role model) what others need.

How are you helping your child adjust to the new school year? How are you helping them embrace who they are?

I will be off taking some time off to enjoy the last weeks of summer and be back in September.

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?

How Getting Feedback Helps

My sons got to spend time with their grandparents over a school vacation. My oldest planned to help his grandfather with some outside work while there.

I called to check in and see how things were going. My oldest shared, “I feel pretty worthless.” “Why are you saying that?,” I asked. “Because, grandpa asked me to dig out some dirt, and after I was done, he and the neighbor, who’s helping out, had to come back and redo the work I did. It’s embarrassing.” Clearly my son wanted to do a good job for his grandpa. I doubted grandpa saw the work he’d done as anything other than helpful, yet, I knew that my saying that wouldn’t help my son. “What could you do different tomorrow?,” I asked him. “I don’t know. That’s why this is so frustrating. I’m not sure what I could have done differently.” There was silence while both he and I thought. “What about if you start doing the work, then stop after a few minutes and get grandpa’s feedback — confirming you are doing it right, or make adjustments. That should allow you to get it right and feel good about it the first time. What do you think?” I asked. “Hmmm. That makes sense,” he replied. We then changed the topic and discussed what else he’d been up to while there.

The next evening we checked in again. This time he felt much better about the work he’d done. “Everything went fine,” he shared. He was smiling. It was good to see my son feeling so pleased. The following day, he sent me a video and texted that they’d finished. You could tell be his voice how proud he was of the work they had done.

I’m happy my son got to work with his grandpa and learn some new things. I hope he took from it that by taking the simple step of asking for feedback and correcting as you go, can save you pain (maybe even embarrassment), and help you feel good about what you accomplish.

What simple steps are you teaching your child to avoid mistakes, and/or be more successful?

Peer Pressure

What peer pressure did you experience as a kid?

My oldest is allowed to have lunch off school grounds every day. He and two friends go a few blocks to a park and normally eat lunch there. One day he left the house without his lunch. I was able to run his lunch over to him during a lunchtime break. I picked him up after his sports practice had ended later in the day. Driving home I asked him how his day was. I got the normal “okay, I guess” answer. For whatever reason I asked, “and lunch was okay too?” I was thinking about what I’d brought him, did I get it right, did he get enough to eat — I’m not sure why I was concerned. I expected another short answer, but instead I got a “Well, actually…”

He started to explain what happened during lunch. The food I brought him was fine. But one of his friends got into a fight with another student who was also in the park. It was a little hard to follow how it went down, but based on what I could gather one student started “jawing” about my son’s friend and trying to get another student and my son’s friend to fight. When the instigator’s efforts didn’t work he was pressured by his group to do something. He walked over to my son’s friend, slapped him, and my son’s friend retaliated. My son’s friend was the bigger kid and the fight was over pretty quickly. My son got upset with his friend for engaging in the fight, and asked him what he was thinking. “Don’t you know what you have to lose? It’s so not worth it.” My son’s friend got upset with him for not joining in (my son’s friend didn’t need any help in the fight, it sounded like his expectations were ‘that’s just what friends do’). My son disagreed and told his friend, “The issue is between you and the other kid. Why would I get involved? This has nothing to do with me.” His friend didn’t like that answer. We talked about how my son handled the situation (I was impressed and proud he’d had this insight and had been able to tell his friend), and had great empathy for my son’s friend and the other boy involved. They appeared to have gotten caught up in peer pressure — if it had only been the two boys it didn’t sound a fight would have ever occurred.

My son feels for his friend and the consequences. Will he get kicked off the sports team they play on? Or get benched for a few games? Will his friend get in trouble by the school (it happened off campus by during school hours)? Will he and his friend get to the other side of this? Will his friend see that my son cares about him and wants his friend to make good choices, which can be so difficult to make when peer pressure is strong? I know my son is hopeful and so am I.

How does your child defend themselves against peer pressure? How are you helping them make good choices in tough situations?

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?