Transitioning

Parenthood is all about dealing with transitions, right?

The transitions came fast and furious when my sons were babies. The transitions slowed and felt more manageable as they aged, but there is always that period of time, at least for me, at the beginning of a new phase of their life, that I am uncomfortable because I’m learning how to adjust to the newness as well.

After several challenging moments with my oldest, I started googling for books on ‘my son hates me’. I’ve always been okay with my kids being unhappy with me especially in times where I’m trying to impart a lesson, or teach a moral or value, but lately with my oldest it seems I can do nothing right, it’s embarrassing that I exist, and I’m clearly the most annoying person in the world. It’s the plight of many teenage parents, I know. 😬 I stumbled upon the book “He’s Not Lazy: Empowering Your Son to Believe In Himself,” by Adam Price. The reviews were high so I gave it a shot. What was I missing in my interactions and communications with my son?

I read the book while our family was together for a weekend away. The context of the book is focused on boys who’ve checked out of school, but I found you can easily apply what your son is ‘checking out of’ to almost anything. For my son, he’s fine in school (we’ve taken a pretty hands off approach) with the exception of having him show us progress/reports cards online periodically. We’ve been way more involved/vocal on his activities and have tried to motivate/prompt/threaten (lost privileges) for not being more proactive. In reading the book, I took away the following—I need to give my son more space, even in his activities. He still needs guidance/guardrails, but essentially he’s capable enough and needs to take more ownership. I need (along with my husband), to step back, give him room, and let him show us who he is. This is soooo hard. My son is capable and does need room to grow. He needs to build confidence in himself and his capabilities, but oh how I still want to be able to help him navigate things with ease, and remove obstacles where I can. I’m not helping him by helping him. The age-old trap us parents can fall into. I have to tell myself to zip it (when I want to give coaching or advice), and let him g(r)o(w). Soooo hard.

How are you helping your child grow their confidence? If you have a teen, how are you helping them transition into adulthood?

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?

Wash-Rinse-Repeat

When was the last time you felt blah?

During the first year of COVID, feeling blah was front and center for me. But as we adjusted and things have opened, closed, re-opened-ish, the ‘blahs’ have lessened.

My oldest struggles sometimes when things are mundane. He doesn’t do well with lots of free time. He likes keeping busy and gets restless when he isn’t. He came home from school one afternoon and his mood got progressively worse throughout the evening. I asked if something was wrong, wondering if he’d had something bad happen in school with a test, assignment, or friend. “No,” he said and looked downtrodden. I gave him some space thinking it might just be a teenage thing. I know I liked my space when I was his age.

Later that evening I caught him as he was heading back to his room. “Wanna talk?” I asked, thinking he’d say no, but instead he just started talking. What was interesting is that he started talking to me from his bedroom and didn’t come back to where I was. I questioned does he want to talk? But after continuing to speak, I went to his room. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Everyday is the same. It’s wash-rinse-repeat. If this is all there is, it sucks.” I asked him some more questions to better understand what was causing him to be in this funk and boredom seemed to be the answer. What I found curious is that he had many other things he could do to keep himself occupied (work on projects, get ahead on homework, connect with friends), but he was choosing to be bored and bummed about it.

Of course, as a parent you want to help your child so I made suggestions, tried to get him to rethink boredom and the gift that it can be, and ensure he was okay. It was clear I didn’t have the answer.

I know there is much to be gained by your child learning to deal with occasional boredom. I am like my son in that I don’t like being bored either, but not because of not having anything to do (that part I like). It’s this feeling of, if I’m not doing something than I’m wasting my time/not being productive, and if I’m not being productive, I’m not contributing anything of value, and if I’m not contributing something of value, than I’m wasting precious time. I have to catch myself when I think or feel this, because it’s counterproductive. If you are productive all the time, you’ll burnout or worse.

I drove my son to school the next morning. “Anything of interest happening today at school?,” I asked. “I’ve got a test, but otherwise it’s nothing new. Wash-rinse-repeat.” I asked him if he felt like he was being challenged at school thinking this might be contributing to him being bored. “No, if anything I’m too challenged.” Okay, so school is keeping him engaged that’s good, I thought. Still trying to offer something to help I pivoted to what has served me well for most of my life…noticing your environment and the beauty around you. I offered him a suggestion. “I know you feel like each day is the same, but try to find something new around you. Art on the wall, a bird outside. Just pay attention to what’s around you and see what happens.” He thanked me — whether he was appreciative or subtly letting me know he was “good” and didn’t need any more Mom intervention is unclear. 😊 Regardless, I do hope he can see life for the gift it is, and realize being busy has its place, but stopping and periodically resting (doing nothing) is valuable too.

How do you help your child when they are in a funk? How does your child deal with boredom?

Helping a Mother in Need

When was the last time you did a random act of kindness?

My oldest son needed to get a new identification. After weeks of waiting, and thinking I had everything we needed for the appointment, we headed out to the office. We were met easily by a waiting clerk. Awesome, I thought. I gave them the paperwork. Everything was there. This is good, my optimism for this being the shortest appointment ever was growing. Then they asked for payment. No cash. No credit cards. Only a check would be expected. How could I forget to bring a check?, I thought. My mind started racing. I couldn’t just run to the car, my checkbook wasn’t there. If I went back to the house, I’d lose my place and have to reschedule the appointment again. Dread started sinking in.

Then the most amazing thing happened, a woman working with the clerk next to mine saw what was unfolding and offered to help. “I’ll give you a check. You can just Venmo or PayPal me.” I’ve never been so grateful. “Are you sure you don’t mind?,” I asked. “Not at all,” she said, “I’ve actually been looking for an opportunity to help someone else. The same thing happened to me when I was at a grocery store and the bill was over $400. I couldn’t believe someone would help me in that way and having been wanting to pay it forward ever sense. This makes me feel good.” I used her check to complete the transaction and transferred the owed funds noting in the notes “helping a mother in need.”

We all have had moments when we need help. We left house without diapers, or need someone to hold the baby while we handle another crisis, or ask someone to momentarily watch one child while we chase after another. There are always opportunities to help. This woman was a godsend and truly helped a mother in need. Now I’m on the lookout for who I can help, and pay forward her kindness.

How has someone else helped you in a time of need? How have you helped another parent in need?

Movers Wanted

What jobs have you had family or friends help with?

Moving, particularly when I was younger, involved soliciting the help of family and friends. I never liked asking, but always appreciated the help.

My sons aunt and uncle were in need of help moving from a rental back to their home. They were in a pinch and asked for my sons help a few days before they needed it. Both boys said “of course,” as they love their aunt, uncle, and cousins and wanted to be off assistance. When they found out they would also get some money for doing it they were beyond thrilled.

After they helped them move, my husband and I asked them how it went. “It was nice,” my youngest shared, “it was nice just spending time with them alone. We had fun.” We realized our kids hadn’t spent much alone time with their aunt and uncle, we (my husband or I) always seemed to be around at the same time. I was happy that had this experience and shared memory with other family members. My oldest piped in, “Yea, they said that might want our help again in another week.” He was excited by the prospect.

Helping others can be so fulfilling. Helping others and getting paid, especially if you’re young and want/need to make money — near utopia (at least for my kids). 😊

How do you model family and friends helping in times of need? How does your child view helping others?

Dealing with the Consequence

How do you handle discipline?

Some days I wish I were a stricter parent. That way when I’m handing out a consequence to my child, I wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable about it.

My oldest continues to adjust to middle school. Some days are good, others not so much. He had a bad day this week and decided to direct his displeasure at me. I talked to him calmly (as I always try to do with my kids) and asked him to take a breath, calm down, think about what you’re saying to no avail. I then went into warning mode — “if you can’t calm down and stop this behavior you are going to go straight to bed when we get home,” (mind you it was not much after 5 p.m.). I didn’t want to send him to his room but his behavior needed a consequence. He challenged me. “No you’re not. You’re going to come in my room, talk to me, and then I’m going to get out of my room.” Whoa, I thought, my son is right. I normally do talk to him about his behavior and do back off the consequence — he still has one, but it’s not as extreme as the first. I decided in that moment that I had to stay firm to the consequence I’d handed him. I wasn’t doing him any favors by letting him off the hook. “Not this time. You’re staying in your room and that’s that,” I said. I didn’t get an “I hate you” which surprised me, though I wouldn’t doubt he was thinking it. Instead I got a “this is stupid” which is what he says when he struggles with something or has a different view from someone else. “It’s not stupid. It’s necessary,” I continued, “the point of a consequence is so you learn from it, and hopefully don’t repeat the behavior again.” “Well, I’m going to do this again,” my son claimed. “Well, then I guess you’re going to have to get used to being in your room,” I concluded, “I always hated being in my room, I thought it was really boring, and when my parents handed me that consequence I usually learned from it, and I hope you do too.” He groaned and huffed off.

When we got home he dropped his back and went to his room. He slammed the door for affect. I didn’t go in and talk with him. I just let him sit. After an hour he said, “Okay, I get it, I’m grounded!” I didn’t respond. Just let him sit.

It’s not easy to let my child suffer the consequence of their actions, but its needed. When I don’t enforce the consequence I’m telling him he can get out of things or won’t be held accountable, and I fully expect that out in the world others will hold him accountable.

How do you handle giving your child a consequence when it makes you uncomfortable? How are you keeping your child accountable?

What a Gift

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
– Alice Morse Earle

Have you ever experienced anxiety? If so, what did you do to calm yourself?

Middle school is stressing my oldest son out. I get it. New, larger school (3x the number of students than his elementary school had); new teachers; getting used to have six different teachers with different expectations; and a locker. Getting used to a new routine can be stressful for anyone early on (regardless of age). My son has high expectations for himself. He gets stressed when he doesn’t know what to do, even if he’s had little exposure, experience or training. In other words, no one holds him to the same expectations he holds himself to. It can be frustrating as a parent to watch. My husband and I do not push our son to be perfect. We encourage him to be open, willing to learn and apply himself. When he gets worked up in his failure to adjust as quickly as he’d like in a new situation, my husband and I try to talk him down often with mixed results — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t — it feels like we’re failing when our words don’t help our son.

I thought my son’s anxiety would start to wane after a few days at school, but they remained strong. One morning he came to me and shared how worried he was about the upcoming day. Instead of trying to calm him down with another speech, I thought, I’ve got to do something different, but what?  Then I thought about what has worked for me when I’m stressed and I thought meditation! I know I was reluctant to try meditation when someone encouraged me to consider it and wondered if my son would feel the same way. “Have you ever heard of meditation?” I asked my son. “Yea, but I don’t really know what it is,” my son said. “Well, meditation is something that can help you with stress. It gets you to relax.” I knew I was oversimplifying it, but was trying to find the words that would make sense for my son. I continued, “there’s an app I use sometimes called Calm. It’s got some really good meditations on it. Want to give it a try with me?” My son didn’t hesitate for a second. “Sure!” he said with a smile. I was surprised how quickly he agreed to try it. I quickly opened the app and scrolled through the meditations until I found sessions under “Calm Kids” (I love it because the app even breaks down the sessions by age group). I launched the intro session and my son and I meditated.

During the session the speaker shared the quote I wrote above. She attributed it to Master Uguay in Kung Fu Panda (I’m guessing so it would resonate more with the sessions younger audience). It made my son smile. I thought the quote was very appropriate. My son was stressing about yesterday, and worrying about the future. How many of us do that? I am guilty of this. Many, if not all, of us are. Instead of dwelling on the past or fearing the future, we have the present right in front of us. It is a gift.  The quote seemed to resonate with my son as well. We continued with the session, which talked us through how to ‘be in the present’ by simply paying attention to our body — our breathing, and how our body felt. Pretty simple stuff, but often overlooked or dismissed as something that isn’t worth our time. I’d beg to differ. When the meditation finished, my son and I opened and locked eyes. He had the biggest smile on his face. His demeanor had changed significantly in eight minutes. He was more relaxed and enthusiastic about the coming school day instead of being riddled with angst. He looked at me and said, “Mom, I’m not nervous anymore. I feel pretty good.” I felt relieved and elated. There is no better feeling for me than when I’ve helped my child. It was yet another gift.

New beginnings can be stressful. I’m glad my son was willing to try the meditation and hope it will continue to help — we’ve already got several more sessions under our belt, so right now they are working and I’ll take it!

How do you help calm your child when they are stressed?

Just Ask

Have you ever needed to ask for help and been reluctant to do so? I found myself in that situation this past week. With a busy schedule, and demands piling up, my anxiety seemed to increase with each passing day. How would I get everything done in the upcoming weeks that I need to do? I thought. I ran various scenarios through my mind over and over again and came to the same conclusion. If I was going to do things on my own, I needed to accept that exhaustion and resentment for having to do it all myself would follow.

Someone suggested I ask others to help me out. Of course that sounds logical and rational, I thought, but as a woman I believe I was raised as many others were—not to ask for help. I was taught along the way that women, especially moms, are supposed to bear the “burden” (in whatever form the hardship takes), and asking for help somehow implies weakness or being inept. Or worse, forces us to reveal our imperfection!  Of course that sounds ridiculous. And have you noticed how men seem to have a much easier time asking for help when they need it?

Asking for help is a way for us to connect and care for one another, and is anything but a sign of weakness. It takes courage to ask. Someone could say “no” or they “wish they could but they can’t” and that’s okay. The fact that you were willing to put yourself out there and ask speaks volumes about you recognizing that you are worth it. We miss out on allowing others to show they care about us when we don’t ask. We miss out on an opportunity to grow when we don’t allow ourselves to receive.

A dear friend of mine has been going through some medical difficulties needing to go to doctor’s appointments and have meals brought to her. She didn’t ask for help, but her husband did. I gratefully accepted. It gives me great joy to bring a meal to share and spend time with my special friend.  It makes me feel like I’m doing something meaningful, worthwhile and I thank my friend for that.

It looks like I’ll have the opportunity to reciprocate with my growing pile of ‘to-dos’. I’m going to muster up the courage to ask some friends for help and I suspect those that are able to assist will be happy to do so.

Interesting how something so simple like asking for help can seem so hard.

Are you comfortable asking for help?

When Helping Isn’t Helping at All

I recently discovered that my youngest son has been manipulating me. Not just once or twice. This has been ongoing for quite some time. To provide you with a somewhat recent example, he has learned to manipulate my attempts to get him ready and out the door with his sweetest smiles, his best ‘I’m sorry’, sprinkled in with many ‘I love you-s’. Of course, my son doesn’t realize what he is doing is manipulation, nor does he understand what that word means. He does know that when he invokes these strategies they work!

I love my children very much and tell them when they exhibit an undesired behavior that while I might not like what they are doing I always love them. Yet here is my child over apologizing and saying, “I love you” upwards of ten times a day to delay having to do something or trying to get out of something altogether. I had to reevaluate what was really going on.

Being the baby in the family, I realized in some ways I have treated my youngest son like one. He can put on his own clothes, make his bed and clean up after himself. He’s been able to do this for a while, yet I still jump in to help him when he takes too long. I know if I just jump in I can get things done more quickly and we can be on our way. What wasn’t clear to me was the unintended message of “I don’t think you can do the task, therefore I’m going to help you,” I was sending him. Not a great confidence builder for my son.

I do have commitments that require my family to be out the door at a certain time each day. It takes all of us working as a family to make that happen. Each of us has tasks we each our responsible for, and all of us need to be done in a certain amount of time.

I invoked some strategies that I hadn’t used in a while and am helping my son move towards doing his share and feeling good about his contribution. Breaking free from the use of “sorry” and “I love you.” I now give him time limits for when things need to do done with reminders when we are nearing the end (e.g. he has 20 minutes to eat breakfast. I give him a five warning and another at two minutes if we still have a lot of food to go). A consequence is communicated up front if he is unable to meet his goal (e.g. you won’t have anything to eat until snack time at school if you don’t eat your breakfast now). It takes work, discipline and patience to implement this. It would be so much easier if I just did it myself, but in the long term, doing this the right way, holding my son accountable and giving him the framework to have success should yield better long term results around his own confidence, sense of accountability and ownership.

I won’t miss all the “sorrys” or “I love yous”.  I’ll treasure the new ones I get, because they’ll come without motivation behind them other than to express how he really feels. And while it will take practice on my part I believe there will be much satisfaction knowing I helped him more by not helping him.