#SEEHER

Do you have concerns about how your child views them self — now or how they will view them self in the future?

As a young adult, I was asked by a friend what gender child I’d like to have when I had kids. I quickly replied, “Boys.” Not because I had heard boys were easier to raise, but because I know the struggles a female goes through in life — the self-doubt, the body image issues, the messages we get heaped upon us about what we are supposed to be, and the resistance we are met with when we don’t conform. I really feared my ability to navigate this with a daughter and do right by her.

As fate would have it, I have two sons. I see my role now being how do I teach my sons to see women as people, equals, and help them be part of the movement towards change?

I was fortunate enough to be in a conference that talked about the #SEEHER movement. As a woman, I was inspired by the women who are taking the steps to ensure women are represented as we truly are — 50% of the population, of all different backgrounds, makeups, religions, and sizes — in advertising and media. Women with influence and power, leading in a moving way. I think we are reaching a tipping point where women won’t accept the status quo for who we are “supposed” to be any longer. And my responsibility is that my sons understand that.

One of the speakers shared that she stops the TV (or movie) periodically and asks her kids what they see — who’s on the screen, what role are they playing, does this reflect the society they walk through every day? If no, it’s a good opportunity for her and her kids to talk about it. I love this idea. I watch TV with my kids, but had never thought to do this. I will now.

#SEEHER comes from the phrase “If you see it, you can be it.” With advancement opportunities still male-leaning, the statement becomes more empowering for a woman if you change it to “If you see her, you can be her.”

I am grateful for all the women and men who are raising their voices to make this change happen. We all can (and should, in my opinion) all be part of this movement. I am inspired by those — young and old — who recognize we get better as a society, culture and country as we make this change. It’s on me to educate my boys. Not to make them feel less than, but for them to recognize their strengths and where they add value, and where their female peers and counterparts do. And up to you to educate yours.

How are you helping your child #SEEHER?

Stumped

Have you ever struggled to help your child?

My youngest son shared that he had a bad day, and when I probed to figure out why it was bad, it made the situation worse. Instead of getting to the bottom of what made his day bad, he decided that his day wasn’t just bad, but everything was bad, and that he just couldn’t explain all his feelings. I could see my inquiries weren’t having the intended effect.

I attempted again to find out what was behind his feelings. He just got more upset, and after we talked in circles — me inquiring, him unable to explain — he said,”Mom, can we just stop? I’m all talked out.” I sighed, partly relieved since I wasn’t making progress and getting frustrated myself, and partly bummed because I pride myself on helping my kids work through their feelings. I was stumped. “Well, let me know if you want to talk again. I want to help if I can,” I said and that was the end of it.

My son never asked to revisit the topic, he wasn’t as upset as he’d previously been, so maybe whatever was bothering him passed. Or maybe talking helped (even if it was just s little that would make me feel better). My son knows I’m there and want to help, which I feel good about, but boy did I feel pretty helpless (and somewhat worthless) when I couldn’t help him.

It’s frustrating when you don’t have all the answers, or know how to help your child. After thinking about what had happened, I realized that instead of trying to solve the problem, it might be even more valuable to my son if I just listen and acknowledge his feelings, and in the moment, that might be enough. When I don’t have the answers I hope it is.

Have you ever been stumped with your child? How did you handle the situation? And what did you take from it?

Let’s Talk About It

How comfortable is your child speaking openly? To you? Or Others?

My husband and I are working to help our kids better improve their communication skills. He and I have learned over the course of our relationship that what and how you talk to one another matters, and if you can clearly get across how you are feeling and what’s behind it, it can really help the other person and how they respond.

My oldest son is good about communicating how he is feeling, but not always in the most effective way. He can come on strong or ‘lash out’ as his younger brother would say. He can be defensive and will talk over others until they stop trying to talk over him.

Our boys went to visit their grandparents and when they were back home we asked them about their trip. My oldest shared a few fun things they had done. My younger son started to share a story that my older son clearly didn’t want told. He became defensive, loud and was unwilling to calm down. So, my husband sent him to his room to cool off. We tried to change the mood of the room, and asked my younger son what fun things he had done on the trip. He shared a few memories, including visit a cemetery with his grandparents (where grandma’s parents are buried). We knew from past experiences anything that reminds my son of death makes him sad. He is unique is how early in life he understands the fragility of life and how fleeting it can be — that’s what makes him sad. We asked him how he felt about going to the cemetery. He said it made him a little sad, but he felt okay. He became quiet. Reflective. He looked like he was on the verge of crying. “Are you okay?” I asked. “It’s okay if going to the cemetery made you sad.” “No, that’s not it,” he said, “I just think my life is bad and I don’t like this feeling.” I was surprised by what he said. My husband and I started to ask questions to try to get to the bottom of what was going on. “What do you mean life is bad?” I asked. “I don’t know. I just don’t like the feelings I’m feeling lately. I used to be happy a lot, but now I’m not happy as much,” he said. He is my happy kid, so hearing this wasn’t easy.

After inquiring some more, he shared that what was behind his somber mode was how he and his brother were interacting. He felt that he would say something and his brother would attack him, call him names, and making him feel bad about himself. He didn’t like how his brother was treating him, which is understandable, but what was surprising was how concerned he was about his brother. “I wonder what he’s feeling to say what he’s saying,” he shared. We could see his concern.

My husband got my older son out of his room and spent some time with him discussing the situation, and how he had been talking to his brother. My younger son and I sat together and discussed strategies for how he could better communicate and advocate for himself with his brother. We wanted to make sure he knew that he shouldn’t allow his brother to talk to him however he wanted to. He needed to stand up for himself, and let his brother know when he wasn’t okay with how he was being treated.

My husband and older son joined us and we sat as a family and talked about the situation. At first, the boys started rehashing the incident that had happened while they were away, with each person defending their position and how the other person was wrong. “This isn’t helpful guys,” my husband shared, “there is a lesson to learn here in how to better communicate with one another. When one of you doesn’t like what the other is saying or how they are saying it, you have the right to tell them. And the other person needs to listen. Not yell or defend your position. Just listen. If you don’t understand why the other person is saying what they are saying, ask questions to get clarification. If you can learn these skills now you’ll be way ahead of the game. I never had these types of conversations when I was your age. I didn’t figure there was a better way to communicate until I was much much older. Learn from this.”

My boys looked at each other. I added to my older son, “You know, your brother was more concerned about you and what you were feeling than what you said and how you made him feel. Remember, everyone here loves each other.” My older son smiled and nodded when he realized how much his younger brother cared for him, even when he wasn’t treating him very well.

That ended our family conversation. My boys seemed closer following the talk. There will inevitably be more work to do in helping our sons improve their communication with each other, but knowing that they are more aware and can start to hone these skills now gives me hope for how they will communicate in the future.

How are you honing your communication skills? How are you helping your child help hone theirs?

Madden

Is your child enthralled with video games?

My oldest son is a huge fan, though we’ve never owned a gaming system. It was a conscious choice by my husband and I. We didn’t want to get caught up in having to have the latest and greatest, spending lots of money on games and accessories, turning our living room into a game room, and most importantly losing our son’s attention. We want to spend time with him while he’s growing up, not him and his video controller.

Of course, we have tablets and my son has found that gaming systems aren’t the only medium that allows you to play games. He quickly found Madden (NFL) was available as an app and begged me to download it. We agreed he could with screen limits (though I know he’s exceeded the limit many, many times). When I’ve realized this and told him to turn the game off, it is met with much resistance. “I need to finish this game!” “Just a minute.” And the list goes on. I’m the ‘bad guy’ interrupting his fun, or so he thinks. After me nagging him multiple times and then walking over and taking the tablet out of his hands he shared his anger. “Why can’t I have an XBOX? Everyone else does!” I took a breath and reminded him that we had no plans of buy a gaming system. He’d already shown us he struggled with screen time just on the tablet. He didn’t like that. I’m sure he thought my husband and I were being unfair and/or mean.

My son went away to overnight camp for a week and was not allowed to bring any electronics. We didn’t know how he’d fair. He had books to read but this would be the longest time he’d been away from electronics. Before he left on his trip, he asked if I’d update his Madden app on the tablet while he was away. “It’s very important,” he said. He even put a reminder on the calendar.

When my son returned I shared with him that I’d had trouble updating the app, but found a work around. He was grateful and started to play the game. After about 30 minutes, he gave me the tablet and said, “You know, Mom, I don’t need this. I’m glad you never got me a XBOX. If you did, I would just be on it all the time and would miss out on doing so much. Like all the stuff I got to do while I was at camp. Sorry I gave you such a hard time about it.” My younger son was standing nearby and overheard the whole conversation. His expression was priceless. He too couldn’t believe what his older brother was saying.

My son is back on his tablet, but not as much as he previously was. I know what a draw Madden can be, and know how much my son enjoys playing it, but am glad he’s seeing the pitfalls of spending all of your free time playing games and how, if you’re not careful, they can take you away from participating in life.

How do you handle your child’s screen time or gaming habits? How are you helping them be present and experience life?

I’ll be off for Labor Day weekend and back in September.

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.

You Won’t Always Like What You Hear

Has your child ever said anything that shocked you?

Immigration has been in the news a lot lately and I am very clear on this topic with my kids — we are a country built on immigrants. We wouldn’t be here if our ancestors hadn’t migrated here, a majority of us wouldn’t. Immigrants are what make our country great, and we need to be welcoming and embrace the diversity we have in this country.

So imagine my surprise, when during a meal, while the kids were telling jokes, my son said, “Why did Trump build the Wall?” “I don’t know, ” I said bracing for something silly like, “because he couldn’t find a chicken,” or “because he wanted a new house,” he said, “to keep out the Mexicans!” He started to laugh. My face went from eager anticipation to fury. “That’s not funny,” I said sternly. “That is why the wall is being built and it’s not right and it’s not funny.” I continued, “When you refer to a group of people by their country, it makes it sound like you are saying something negative about them, and there isn’t anything negative about people from Mexico. They are just like you and me.” I was angry and I clearly was getting my point across. My son’s face crumpled and he began to cry, “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was saying was wrong. I didn’t mean anything by it.” He repeated himself several times. In situations like this, I would normally want to console my son and tell him “it’s okay” but I felt this situation required a different approach. It wasn’t okay, and I would never be okay with anyone in my family repeating what my son said. I was reminded of a time when I was his age and watched a TV show that I’m sure my parents weren’t aware I watched. I used to draw cartoons as a kid, and I drew a cartoon using a word that I didn’t know the definition of — rape. When I showed the cartoon to my parents, I was anticipating them to laugh (like they normally did when they read one of my cartoons), instead I can remember how upset they were. “This isn’t funny. Where did you hear this word?” I hated that I had used a word that was so hurtful to so many, and stupid because I didn’t know what it was or meant, and the worst part was that I’d clearly disappointed my parents. I sensed my son felt the same way. I shared with him that I had had a similar experience when I was his age with my parents (though I didn’t share the specifics). I let him know that I understood how he felt, understood that he was sorry and that it wouldn’t happen again. I told him that what he had said was serious, and there was no sugar coating it — it was wrong and I wouldn’t be doing my job if we didn’t have a serious discussion with him about it. After a few minutes, he calmed down and we finished our meal. After some time passed, my husband and I broached the topic of immigration again — asking the kids what they understood about it, and asked them what questions they had. I’m hopeful that we’ve shed more light on the topic and our sons are more informed.

Part of growing up is making mistakes and having people who care — whether it’s your parents, a teacher, mentor, caregiver or coach — guide you along the way. You’re not always going to like what you hear, but if the advice or teaching helps you be kinder, wiser, more appreciative or just better, its worth listening to.

How do you respond when your child says something counter to how you are raising them? How do you guide them back to the person you want them to be?

Kids Have Power

Have you ever seen the power kids have?

We are walking in the March for Our Lives march this Saturday, March 24th because we need to talk a stand to make our kids and our society safer. We’re walking because it’s important to us. And while I wish we the adults had already addressed these issues years ago (Columbine should have been enough, Sandy Hook should have been the last straw), I’m proud the students called us out on our inability to ‘do something’ and are helping lead this effort. I’ve seen the power kids can have first hand.

I witnessed kids having power in multiple ways — with their honesty, their bravery, their resilience, and their joy. I witnessed a different kind of power when my son (then 10 years old) went to a high school soccer game with his soccer buddies. Their coach also coached the high school team who was playing in the district tournament. The stands were filled with high school kids and their parents. The game was close, both teams were playing hard. Some players were being a little overaggressive — tripping, acting as if they’ve been tripped (oh, the acting!), and physical — running into/hitting each other. One player on the opposing team went into another player so hard he caused his victim to start bleeding profusely from the head. My son and his friends didn’t like what they saw one bit. You started to hear them chatter, “hey, that wasn’t fair.” “Why isn’t the ref giving him a card?” and on it went. I didn’t have a good answer. I wasn’t sure a card was in order either. Not to worry, the situation was reversed soon enough, to where the aggressive player, who had caused the other player to bleed, was clipped and started to bleed (much less so) from his knee. He threw his arms up in the air to the ref and started arguing that the other player should be penalized and how much he’d been wronged. My son and his friends weren’t having any of it. One of them stood up in the stands and said, “Oh, did you get a boo-boo?,” and the other boys immediately chimed in. “Ah, does it hurt? Do you want your mommy?” I don’t know where my son and his friends got this, I’d never seen them act this way before, but I have to tell you it got the crowd and the players attention. The opposing high school students weren’t happy about the comments but couldn’t say anything — what were they going to do yell at a bunch of kids in front of their parents? And the parents couldn’t say anything because, well, they’re the parents and they are supposed to set the example, right? The player, stopped complaining and quick ran across the field as far away as he could get — he didn’t come near us the rest of the game — I can’t say for sure, but would tell you it appeared he might be avoiding our side of the field. I smiled to myself and thought, “Wow, these kids have power.”

Don’t underestimate the power of a child’s voice to make change — it has power. Whether its small and finite — like getting an older kid to stop his behavior on the soccer field, or big and bold — like the Parkland, FL students who are getting us off our backsides to do something about guns in our country.

What (super) powers does your child have? How you are you helping them find their voice?

One Day At A Time

How do you handle stressful situations?

This year has been off to a somewhat stressful start for our family. My job has evolved and I’ve taken on more responsibility. My oldest picked up new classes and is feeling the stress of higher demands on his abilities and performance. And we got a cat (but you already know that).

Early in January, I was having moments where the new responsibilities were too many and coming at me too fast. In those moments I’d feel overwhelmed, and experience a wide range of emotion from fear–can I handle everything that is being given to me? to anger–why is this happening me? to hope — okay, I think I can do this; only to find myself repeating this loop over and over. It was exhausting.

My oldest was going through the same. Taking on assignments that were pushing his comfort level. Due dates that seemed aggressive. Grades hanging in the balance. He too was dealing with a range of emotion from fear — how am I doing to do this? to anger — why are they asking me/making me do this? to hope — okay, maybe I can figure this out. The same loop repeating over and over, and just like his mom, he was finding it exhausting.

In moments of stress, we seek out coping mechanisms. All my former coping mechanisms were not having the intended affect. Food — no thanks, no appetite — I’m too stressed. Meditation — okay I’m meditating, but I’m only slightly less tense after doing so. Giving myself a break — too tense and overwhelmed to even consider it. I had a moment of clarity when I was discussing my situation with a peer. “I’ve got to just take it one day at a time,” I said. I don’t know where it came from, but it was like a light turned on. Part of my struggle was that I kept jumbling everything I had to do today, tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. into the ‘have-to-do’ compartment of my brain which was setting off my ‘help-I’m-overwhelmed’ alarm bells. When I said it outloud, I could almost immediately feel the stress diminishing. One day at a time. I can handle this. Just focus on today. Not tomorrow or the day after that. Just today.

After having this ephiphany I shared it with my son. When he next shared how stressed he was, I asked him what he had to get done that day — not the next or the following, just that day. When he replied with items he had to do he had a similar reaction. He even smiled and said, “I can do that, mom.”

His relief matched mine. I’ve heard the phrase “one day at a time” a million times, but never really took it to heart, until now…when I had to.

How do you cope with stressful situations? How do you help your child cope when they are stressed?

On the Road (Again)

Do you have to travel for work?

I am on the road once again. This year looks to be on that will involve more travel than I’d like. My kids are older, so it’s not as painful as it previously was. They are able to get themselves ready, lunches made and out the door with little effort (other than nagging) from my husband or I. We still have to drive them to various spots, but that seems more of an inconvenience (a needed inconvenience) than additional stress, and when one of us is away the other picks up the slack easily.

My sons are better able to handle one of us being away too. FaceTime helps — me mainly — I need to ‘see’ everyone’s okay.  When I call I often find my kids are happy as clams watching whatever is on Cartoon Network — my call becomes a ‘distraction’ from an episode they’ve probably already seen a dozen times.  They’ll throw me a bone and say “hi, Mom” and ask “How was your day?” and I may get a few more nuggets of what happened during the day. I’m tired, they’re distracted, not ideal for a meaningful interaction, but I’m glad we do it regardless. The guilt I’ve felt in years past has dissipated a bit. It’s still there, but not as strong as it previously was. I’m not sure if that’s because we’ve gotten accustomed to me traveling or my kids (and I) seem to be able to handle it better, or both.

Traveling does remind me that I’m missing precious time with them. The meeting or event may feel really ‘important’ but when I see their little distracted (yes, by the cartoon or video app or whatever has their attention) faces, I’m reminded of the time I’m missing being present with them. How quickly they are growing up, and how I can’t wait until I’m back home again.

How do you stay connected with your child when you are traveling?

When Prayers and Thoughts Aren’t Enough

How did you talk to your child about what happened in Las Vegas?

What happened was terrifying. Unimaginable. Sad. And so very, very disappointing. I struggled to find the words to share with my boys. I decided to let them know that a lot of people were killed and injured in Las Vegas and they weren’t sure why the gunman did it. I let them ask the questions from there.

I struggle why we as a country can’t address this issue. I struggle why we, as parents, can’t band more together in an effort to address this, for no other reason then allowing our kids to grow up in a safer environment. Every time we don’t address this we are saying gun laws as they are are sufficient. Do they feel sufficient to you? They don’t to me.

My kids ask why gun laws aren’t better? Why there isn’t a national registry? Why aren’t more people outraged by this and demanding action?

I tell them that a majority of people want better gun laws but don’t know how to make it happen. I know I feel, at times, hopeless to make change. It’s obvious we need better gun laws and better protections for all of our citizens, yet those in power — that ultimately can do something about it — aren’t. And when my kids ask, “Why?” I tell them that the people in charge are more interested in staying in power than protecting the people. They hide behind the Second Amendment as if our Founding Fathers intended it to allow people to not only bare arms for protection, but let anyone who feels like firing a gun to do so. It’s ridiculous.

Each time we go through one of these traumas we hear from our leaders, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.” And while this is an appropriate sentiment, it’s a pretty empty statement coming from those in charge who actually have the power to do something about it. I’d rather hear, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, and we’re taking action to ensure this never happens again.”

I’m mad. I’m frustrated. I’m disappointed. And I’m more than angry that I can’t do a darn thing to better protect my family. There feels like there is no safe place anymore. I can’t live my life in fear and don’t want my kids to. But how do you do that when the people who are supposed to protect you, refuse to take the steps needed to?

How are you talking to your child about what happened in Las Vegas? If you are as upset as I am, how are you letting your voice be hard, and your leaders know?

Following are some of the groups that are trying to help us address this (click on the name to go to their site). To them I say, “THANK YOU!”

Sandy Hook Promise

Moms Demand Action

Parents Against Gun Violence

Every Town for Gun Safety