Sexuality

Puberty and sexuality were the two aspects of parenting I was happy I wouldn’t be challenged with for many years when my kids were young, but time has passed and we are now in the full swing of puberty and my boys exploring their sexuality.

My oldest is quiet in regards to his sexuality. He’s opened up to me in the past around feelings of possibly not fitting in one box. My response, that’s fine, you’ve got time to figure this out, Mom and Dad will support you regardless. My youngest is much more vocal and confident in his.

Being on the spectrum, it is not uncommon for sexuality to be more fluid. When my youngest was in elementary school he didn’t like “boy” things (sports, fighting, etc.) and said, “I wish I were a girl.” We explored if he truly wanted to be female and was struggling with gender assignment, but after talking more with him, counselors and therapists, he really liked being a boy (having a boy’s body), he just didn’t like the gender stereotypes that were being thrust upon him being male. We told him that he was perfectly fine as he is, and he needn’t worry about trying to conform or change.

Fast forward to middle school, puberty and sex education are big topics. My husband took both boys to a course at our local children’s hospital when each turned 11. My oldest found it a little uncomfortable but informative. My youngest found it informative and traumatic. When the instructor talked about the act of sex, my son got so upset he started crying and almost threw up.

They are talking about acceptance in his school and how to appreciate everyone as they are, including how they dress, talk, act, sexual orientation, etc. My son has gained confidence in expressing comfort in his differences. He shared one day in the car a few months ago, “Mom, I think I’m bisexual.” My reply, “That’s great.” I tried to just stay even keeled wanting to know I love him and support him no matter what. More recently he’s voiced that he is gay. To that, I’ve said, that is great too. He seemed to want to get more of a reaction out of his father and I when we were in the car driving together. “I just have to tell you, I’m pretty sure I’m gay and that isn’t going to change.” He was so happy about it, it made me smile, but I had to ask some clarifying questions. “Being gay is great, but I’ve wondered if maybe you’re asexual?” He responded, “No, Mom. Being asexual means you aren’t interested in other people. I am.” I continued. “I think asexual can also mean that you like other people but aren’t interested in having intercourse. Let’s look up the definition.” We looked it up. The definition we found read:

Asexual is the lack of sexual attraction to others, or a low interest in sexual activity. Some people consider asexuality to be their sexual orientation, and others describe it as an absence of sexual orientation.

Asexual can also be an umbrella term that includes a wide spectrum of asexual sub-identities, such as demisexual, grey-A, queerplatonic, and many others. Asexual people may identify as cisgender, non-binary, transgender, or any other gender.

After reading the definition I shared my observation. “I think you like others, and the idea of holding hands and kissing is fine, but you have no interest in sexual intercourse or touching. What do you think?” He thought about it and said, “You’re right. I’m fine with holding hands and kissing, but don’t want to do any of that other stuff.” My husband and I said ultimately it does not matter how he identifies now or in the future, we still love him just as he is.

It was important for me to have this conversation with him because as he becomes more independent and starts to explore acting on his attraction to others that he does so with all the information. I don’t want others to misinterpret his wants and desires. I shared with him, “if you tell people you are gay, they may assume you are comfortable with having sex. And if you are, that’s fine. But if you aren’t, that’s something you’ll need to let your partner know so there isn’t any confusion, and people don’t get upset or hurt.” We will definitely have to have more conversations with him as he grows to help him navigate (we’ll be learning along with him).

How are you helping your child accept who they are? How are you helping them better communicate their wants, needs, and desires to others?

Testing Independence

How independent is your child?

When my boys were young I longed for the day they would be able to dress and feed themselves, ride their bike, play with a friend or do an activity without parent supervision. As teens, my boys have been able to do these things for quite some time, but now are moving into the phase of wanting more independence.

My oldest is quickly embracing being a young man. Learning to drive, growing taller, and feeling more confidence in his capabilities helps. He has moved into a phase where he is testing his independence.

Our son does sport conditioning most weekday mornings. He has his father or I to pick him when he is done. It can be challenging to do based on my husband and my work commitments. I was feeling good when I got to the parking lot to pick up my son early one day. I was able to finish a work call and let my son know I was there. He had his phone and asked me from the field, “A couple of upper class men want me to lift weights with them after practice. Can I stay with them? I’ll get a ride home later.” “Sure,” I replied and headed home. I didn’t think much of it until we gathered around the dinner table later. “How did lifting go?” I asked. “Oh, it was fine. We only did it for a little bit than went over to one of the guy’s houses and played basketball. That was fun.” “What?,” I said, “why didn’t you tell me where you were going?” “It just kind of happened,” my son replied. We spent the next few minutes discussing why us knowing where he is is important. I reminded him of a saying I’ve said to him before, “I can’t help you if I can’t see you or don’t know where you are.” He said he understood and would be more upfront with his whereabouts.

Fast forward to the next day. He asks if he can join a friend to go boating in a nearby lake. The assumption was there would be adult supervision. At dinner that night we asked how boating went. “It was great. We went tubing behind the boat. It was a lot of fun.” “Who all was there?,” I asked. “My friend, his 18 year-old brother and his friend.” Wait, what? I thought. “Was one of his parents with you?” “No,” my son replied, “but his brother has his boating license.” Oh boy, I thought, here we go again. My husband and I then discussed with our son the importance of providing upfront information. Being truthful about where you’re going, and who will be there, is important. It helps us as parents know how to find you if needed, give guidance, not to mention build trust. And with trust comes more independence. We pivoted the conversation and tried to help our son understand that the situation could have presented challenges he wasn’t prepared for. “You don’t know the older brother that well or his friend. What if one of them brought alcohol or an edible trying to be cool? What would you have done? There are cops of the lake that patrol for just this thing. And if you get caught on a boat where someone else is doing something wrong you may get be accused simple by proximity and/or association. Not only do we (your father and I) need to know where you are and the details, you also need to assess the situation and make sure you’ve got a plan if you feel like you need to leave.” He was upset. He thought we were challenging him on his judge of character. “I’m sure your friend’s brother is a good kid, but you’ve said so yourself, you didn’t know the friend. This isn’t about your judgment of character, it’s about you understanding the importance of being honest with us, aware of your surroundings, and having a plan for when things go south (how can you safely exit the situation, how can you get help if needed (be if from mom or dad or the authorities, etc.)),”

It was a needed conversation that I’m quite sure we’ll have again. “Part of growing up includes making mistakes and learning from them. Your father and I are trying to help you better navigate growing up, and avoid mistakes as much as we can. That’s it. We’re not trying to be harsh, or firm, or difficult.” He seemed to understand—we’ll see.

How is your kid showing their independence? What conversations are you having with them to help them make good choices as they grow?

I’ll be off for the next few weeks enjoying time away with the family and will be back later in August.

Away Camp

Does your child go to away camp?

When I was a kid I went to away camp. I absolutely hated it. I was super home sick (made worse by a friend I went with who was more home sick than I) and never adjusted or got comfortable with my new environment. I’m sure there was upside to me — learning to survive in new situations, etc., but at the time it was painful. I was so excited when I got to go home.

Fast forward to the present, based on my experience, we never pushed away camp on our kids, though we knew there would be benefit if they decided to go. Our youngest surprised us a few years back (pre-COVID) when he agreed to go. I was a little concerned (was he ready for it?), but we decided to let him go. Low and behold, the outfit ended up canceling the camp a few weeks in advance. All their other camps were full, but this particular one hadn’t gotten enough campers. My son was a little disappointed, I was a bit relieved. 😊

This year, our youngest had an opportunity to visit a friend who had traveled to another state where they have a family cabin. My son knows his friend well and he was very excited at the prospect of going away, so we agreed to let him.

At the airport, he was a mix of nerves and excitement. I encouraged him to treat the coming trip as an adventure. “This is part of growing up. This experience will help give you confidence when you are older and go out on your own.” A discussion I might have benefited from had my parents had it with me before I went to camp (or did they and I forgot? 😊). He agreed. He gave me a big hug and got on the plane. He was aided by the airline to get to his final destination but did great. FaceTime kept us connected while he was away. Makes me so proud to see him able to do this, and know being away is helping build his confidence and his independence.

Away camp is just one way kids have new adventures and are forced to grow (regardless if they love it, hate it, or are somewhere in between). How are you helping your child build their confidence and/or independence?

Father and Son Conversations

Anyone stubborn in your household?

If we had a competition in my house for who was most stubborn, I think it would be a four-way tie. 😊 We all have our moments of digging in.

My husband and our oldest son do volunteer work in the community most weeks. My husband thought it would be nice if he and my son went out to dinner, just the two of them, following a volunteer event. He was excited by the idea and told my son the plan. It went over like a lead balloon. My oldest didn’t want to go out to eat, and when my husband pressed my son for why, my son could only respond with that he didn’t know. My husband came to the dinner table, deflated, hurt, and a little angry. My son went to his room. I inquired what happened, was told, and then let some time pass to see how my husband and son would resolve the situation.

I waited, then waited some more. Nothing happened. I finally told my husband I was going to talk to our son.

When I went into my son’s room. I told him I understood he and his father had a conversation and it hadn’t gone so well. He explained, “You know I love you guys, but, I don’t know, (he paused as if trying to pick his words carefully), I don’t want to go out with you by myself, it just feels weird. You know?” I knew what he was talking about and shared, “I do understand what you are talking about. You know why it feels weird, right?” I paused. He looked a little puzzled. “Because you are becoming more…” I trailed off. “Independent,” he said. I could tell this was an aha moment for him. “This is part of growing up,” I continued, “it’s normal for you to want to do more on your own, with your friends, and start to pull away from parents. But guess how Mom and Dad look at this time. We see how quickly you are growing and know it won’t be too long before you’re off on your own. We’ll be lucky to get to spend any time with you. The time we have now is precious and special to us, and while I get you don’t want to be seen with us, you might throw us a bone now and then and have a meal out with us (though any activity will do). We love you kiddo.” He smiled while trying not to smile.

I asked my son to go talk to my husband, who was sitting out in our backyard. He resisted but then went outside. I stayed inside and tried to give them some privacy. My son came in a few minutes later and returned to his room. I figured all had been resolved.

My husband came in a while later. “Did you all talk and get things resolved?” I asked. “No,” my husband replied. “But I saw him go outside. Didn’t you all talk?” “No,” my husband said, “he came outside, walked around a little bit and then went back in.” Ugh, I thought. This is crazy. First, why didn’t my son take to his father, and second, why hadn’t my husband talked to my son? Their stubbornness was shining through.

Not long after, my son walked in the living room, saw my husband was there and started to turn back towards his room. I told my son, “stay right there,” then I looked at my husband, “now you, go into your son’s room and talk this out.” It felt a little ridiculous that I had to instigate this, but I couldn’t take them not talking any longer.

My husband came out of my son’s room after a while. “All good?” I inquired. “Yes, all good.” He later thanked me for intervening, and agreeing they were both being stubborn. I could tell he felt better, my son felt better, which, of course, made me feel better.

How do you handle when you (or your child is) are being stubborn? How do you help your child communicate more effectively?

Can We Talk About It?

When your child asks you for something (they need, want, etc.) what do you do?

When my boys need something (school supplies, clothes) it’s pretty easy. For non-essentials, I typically weigh the pros and cons, we discuss as a family if pricey (can we afford, is this a good use of our money—often turns into financial discussions/teaching moments with kids, etc.), and then we decide.

My oldest found a sports camp he wants to go to. It’s a single-day camp and pricey (not crazy pricey, but enough to make you at least weigh the pros and the cons). I knew how much he wants to go to the camp. My husband and I discussed the cost and agreed we’d let him go. By the time my husband and I connected on this we were full into our workdays and my son school, so I decided to text him to share the good news , he could go to camp but with some conditions. “Your father and I discussed and you can go to the camp. In return I’ll take a daily hug, you need to make sure all the dishes are done before you go to bed, and lessen the sass towards mom.” I said all of this ending with a smiley face 😊 to let my son know I was serious, but also that it was coming from a place of love.

I expected his response to be “great” or “thanks,” instead he responded with the following in rapid fire: are you sure? I can pay for it? Can we talk about this before you sign me up? Was my son ‘adulting’ on me? I texted him back, “We can cover — is hugging me really that bad? 😊 We’ll discuss tonight before we register you.” He responded “Thanks.” It seemed like he was being very pragmatic and he got me thinking. Does he not want to go? Is there something about the camp that worries him? What’s prompting this desire to part with money? My son rarely spends money, he’s always saving it which made me think am I missing an opportunity for my son to feel good about spending his hard earn money in a way that feels good to him?

That night we talked about it. My husband and I explained that we would cover the cost for this camp, but other specialty camps he might want to do over the summer he could cover. My son was excited, and we felt like we’d found a happy medium. Reflecting on the situation I realize my son is getting closer to adulthood daily and I need to start leaning into that more (vs holding onto the vision of him being young and more dependent). It may be uncomfortable for me, but the more I practice it the easier it will become.

How are you helping your child make money choices? How are you helping them prepare to be independent?

Talking in Code

Does your child speak in code?

When my kids were babies, they communicated with cries, then they graduated to sign language for: milk, more, change (diaper), and ‘all done.’ Then came sounds and words. And then came the tween and teen years, where they have embraced new lingo.

When I was a teen we too spoke in code — whether it was silly languages like ‘pig latin’ or acronyms – LYLAS – Love you like a sis, TTYL – Talk to you later, and CYA – slang for ‘see you!’ As in ‘see you later.’ We didn’t text or email, but passed notes in class and in the hallways because we didn’t have phones or computers to communicate. Our modes were paper, pen, and phone. 😊 We thought we were grown up, even cool in how unique and creative we thought we were.

And here we are today, with my kids talking in new acronyms that I have to decode (IYKWIM was a new one for me – if you know what I mean), reference memes and YouTube stars and other Internet crazed that I’m supposed to be aware of, but I’m not, that come and go at light speed. They too feel like they are unique and creative for finding this way to communicate with their peers. I get it, each generation needs to come up with their own code that lets them relate to their peers in their own way. As you grow, you want to separate from your parents and be your own person, and I can’t fault that. After all, we did the very same thing.

How is your child showing their independence? How are you learning to decode their language?

Talking in Code

Does your child speak in code?

When my kids were babies, they communicated with cries, then they graduated to sign language for: milk, more, change (diaper), and ‘all done.’ Then came sounds and words. And then came the tween and teen years, where they have embraced new form of communication.

When I was a teen we too spoke in code — whether it was silly languages like ‘pig latin’ or acronyms – LYLAS – Love you like a sis, TTYL – Talk to you later, KIT- keep in touch, and CYA – slang for ‘see you!’ As in ‘see you later.’ We didn’t text or email, but passed notes in class and in the hallways because we didn’t have phones or computers to communicate. Our modes were paper, pen, and phone. 😊 We thought we were grown up, even cool in how unique and creative we thought we were.

And here we are today, with my kids talking in new acronyms that I have to decode (IYKWIM was a new one for me – if you know what I mean), emojis, referencing memes and YouTube stars and other Internet crazes that I’m supposed to be aware of, but am not, that come and go at light speed. They too feel like they are unique and creative for finding this way to communicate with their peers. I get it, each generation needs to come up with their own code that lets them relate to each other in their own way. As you grow, you want to separate from your parents and be your own person, and I can’t fault that. After all, we did the very same thing.

How is your child showing their independence? How are you learning to decode their language?

One Step at a Time

How are you keeping your child busy during the summer?

Our summer is sprinkled with trips, camps and hanging out with friends. When our kids have time that isn’t scheduled, my husband and I feared our boys would be glued to the screen all day long, so we came up with a plan. We got the kids pedometers (very basic ones) and told them all screens go off at 10 a.m., and that they have to get 10,000 steps before any screens come back on. We empowered them to be creative in how they get their steps, but they have to get the steps in.

I was traveling the first few days my boys had to follow our plan. I called my sons at lunch to check in on them. “Did you get your steps in?” I asked. “Yea, Mom,” my oldest shared. “We walked around the park and then went to the coffee shop and got a snack.” They went to the park and then to the coffee shop, I thought. Okay — honestly I thought they’d stay around our house — the park isn’t far, but still. “Whose money did you use at the coffee shop?” I asked. I thought perhaps my husband had given them some money, but that was not the case. “We took our allowance,” he said. “Wow, okay. And you guys are doing okay?” I finished. “Yea, Mom, we’re fine.” We ended the call shortly after. I was impressed my boys had taken the initiative to not only find an interesting place to walk, but then had the forethought to bring their own money to get a snack.

The next day when I returned from my trip I checked in with them. “Where did you go today?” I asked. “We walked to the grocery store. We were out of a few things. We were a little short on money, so we couldn’t get everything we wanted,” my son finished. “Wow,” I responded. “You went to the grocery store?” My son piped in, “Yea, I felt pretty stupid that we didn’t have enough money, but we misunderstood one of the things Dad asked us to get.” Hmmm, okay, Dad sent you to the grocery store — I’ll have to talk to him about that, but clearly the kids were able to handle the challenge. “There is no reason to be embarrassed, “I told him, “it’s a great lesson to learn. That’s why it’s important to know how much money you have and budget for what you can afford.” I thought back to the previous day, “You didn’t want to go back to the park and the coffee store today?” “Nah,” my son said, “We figured we’d run out of our allowance soon if we went there all the time, so we’ll probably just go there every once in a while.” This is one of those moments where you think maybe we’re doing okay as a parent. I tentatively say that, because it only takes a smart remark or a roll of one of my sons eyes to remind me that parenting is a journey — and feeling like maybe we are doing some things right can be fleeting.

I’m glad my sons are getting out this summer and not just glued to the TV, computer or tablet all day long. I’m glad they are together and being creative in how they spend their time. I’m impressed by the adult things they are doing — buying things on their own, learning fiscal lessons they’ll remember in the future. It’s another step towards them being independent. We still have a ways to go, but I’m proud of the steps they are taking — literally.

How is your child showing you their independence?

I will be off for the next several weeks spending time with family and will return later in August.

Letting them Go

Have you ever struggled to let your child do something on their own?

My youngest son had his first overnight trip without family. His fourth grade class took an overnight trip to a school in the woods (a nature school). His older brother went when he was in the fourth grade and loved it so much he didn’t want to come back. We were excited for our younger son, but knew he was a little apprehensive, which in turn made me a little apprehensive. My fears: will he have fun? Is he going to be and feel included? Is he going to be okay? My son’s fears (though not confirmed by him) are likely more around no screen time (no TV, no YouTube, no Internet — oh my!).

The morning of his trip he teared up at the breakfast table. “I’m going to miss you so much,” he said. “I know, and we’ll miss you too,” I responded, “but this is good practice for growing up.” He gave me an eye-roll suggesting my response wasn’t what he hoped for (think he was looking for a “we don’t want you to go either…please stay!”). I hugged him and tried to reassure him. “You’re going with people who care about you. Most kids say this trip is the highlight of their elementary school, and now you get to go on it! Most kids (including your brother) would do anything to go back to this camp.” That seemed to help. He wiped his eyes and got ready to go.

It’s hard to let your kids grow up, do things on their own, and help them to be independent. It’s easy to think that if they are independent they don’t need you. But I want my boys to be independent, and to have confidence they have the skills to navigate this life. I want my boys, as they grow into adults, to want to talk and engage with my husband and I because they choose to, not because they have to. It’s still hard to experience the transition as they go from childhood into early adulthood. It’s hard letting them g(r)o(w).

How are you helping your child be independent?

I will be away for the next few weeks and back in July.

 

At the Crossroads of Raising an Independent Child

Are you trying to raise an independent child?

I am. I was raised to be independent, it was a conscious decision on my parents part. They were involved in my life — they taught me manners, how to be safe, led groups I participated in, they advocated when they needed to for me, came to every recital, game or event we were participating in and cheered me on — all while teaching me to be independent. I was taught how to take care of my space, learning how to set the table, clean-up (table, room, house), vacuum and wash clothes. I was taught how to earn money, encouraged to get a job when I turned 16. They encouraged me to play sports, music, etc. and try new things. They gave me the skills I needed to go out into the world on my own.

I have always taught my kids about safety, though I’m always unsure how effective what I’ve taught them will be (I hope it will be sufficient); I’ve taught them manners (which we are still working on); and my kids have responsibilities around the house, and are encouraged by us to try new things, but know there are still many my skills my husband and I need to teach our kids.

As I’ve previously shared, my oldest is in middle school and is still adjusting to all the changes that have occurred. We got him a flip phone (his first phone) when he started school so he can stay in touch with us so we know he’s gotten to school or is on his way home. The flip phone was chosen because of the limited capability it has. It was a conscious decision on our part. My son first started with only texting me as we had discussed — when he got to school and we he was on his way home. Then he started adding a phone call into the mix. Or two. Or three. He doesn’t seem to understand mom has a job and can’t always grab the phone right away (though he does know I’ll call him back as soon as I can). And while I love the fact that my son wants to talk to me — whether he’s calling to tell me about his day or a struggle he had, I feel like I’m at a crossroads. Almost like a mother bird that has pushed her son out of the nest only to let her baby bird come back onto the ledge of the nest to hang out. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking to my son. I am so grateful he wants to call me and talk, but I wonder if I’m delaying his ability to be independent. I did not have a phone when I went to school. I had to figure out how to get where I needed to be when I needed to be there, and I only called my mom or dad when there was an emergency (I can remember this happened once in high school when my car had a problem and I needed my dad’s help to figure out where to get the car towed to). I remember not wanting to bother my dad at work, but couldn’t think of any other way to handle the situation. My dad was grateful I called, but that only happened once. In reflection, I feel like my parents had pushed me out of the nest — it wasn’t a ‘don’t come back’, it was a ‘you’ve got this, don’t like us hold you back.’ I don’t want to hold my son back. I want him to have confidence in his ability to navigate situations and feel empowered to do so.

I’m not sure what the future holds, but I am aware that my husband and I need to be thinking about how we are helping our children be independent — successful on their own. Of course I don’t want my child to pull away from me, but I believe this is a necessary for them to truly grow.

Thankfully I have time, but I’m at a crossroads, and hoping I pick the right path.

How are you helping your child be independent?