Your Parental Rating

How would you rate yourself as a parent?

It’s not as straightforward as you’d think, right? There are so many different categories that could go into the rating — loving, nurturing, ability to teach/educate your child, how well you handle emotions (your child and your own), your cooking skills, organization skills, ability to provide, ability to get yourself and your child safe, and so much more. If you got a rating for each category what would be your average?

A few days before my youngest graduated from elementary school my husband and I were in the main office and ran into the principal (who is retiring) and the resource teacher. We thanked them for being so good to both of our boys. They clearly cared about helping our boys be successful in school and helping them thrive. “You’re boys are great, ” both commented, “You all are great parents.” I immediately chimed in, “TBD.” Meaning, while it’s always nice to hear others think you are doing well, my husband and I have further to go with our boys before we can fully accept that rating. I think instead my husband and I work to not be complacent, or take for granted the precious time we’ve got with our kids, and our need to stay open and aware of our shortcomings and where we can improve. No parent is perfect, but striving to be the best you can for your kids is as good a goal as any.

How would you rate yourself as a parent? Where do you see opportunity to grow and do better by your child?

All That is Green

Has your child ever felt overwhelmed?

My youngest son came home from a bad school day. His teacher had sent an email alerting us before the end of the day that our son struggled with an assignment the class was given — to write about how to help the environment.

When he got home I asked how his day was. “Okay,” he said. “Really?,” I replied, “I was under the impression you didn’t have a great day.” He could have asked how I knew he’d had a bad day, but instead said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” “Okay,” I said, “but it’s going to be hard for me to help you if you won’t talk about it.” He sighed, “Maybe later.”

We got some dinner. Once he had food in his belly, I asked if he was ready to talk. He wasn’t, so I gave him a choice. “We can talk about this on the way home in the car, or when we get home, but we are taking about it.” He agreed to discuss it on the car ride home.

He started off, “This is very upsetting. I really don’t want to talk about it.” “What is making you so upset?”, I asked. “The future,” he said. Okay, that’s a broad topic, I thought. “What about the future are you most worried about?” “Well, everything,” he replied. “How does your fear about the future have to do with your assignment on the environment?” I asked. He didn’t say ‘duh’ but he might as well have. “Mom, were not doing enough to protect the environment and it’s only going to get worse. And I mean really, really bad.” Aha, I thought, climate change is showing itself in more extreme weather and there is right to be concerned about it getting worse in the future, but that is true only if we don’t acknowledge the problem and do something about it. “Okay, I think I better understand.” It took some more going back and forth before I fully understood that my son was getting overwhelmed by the assignment thinking he had to figure out how to solve all the problems, versus finding simpler doable solutions that could have a positive impact. By the time we parked the car at home he felt better, was more relaxed and seemed ready to rethink how to tackle the assignment. “Picking up trash, helps the environment. Saving water. Conserving energy. Composting.” I could tell he was thinking.

Getting overwhelmed doesn’t feel good at any age. It’s being about to break down what’s causing into smaller chunks that are easier to deal with. Helping you see the forest through the trees.

I’m glad my son is concerned about the environment. I hope this assignment prompts he and his classmates not only to think about it, but to take action and inspire others (including their parents perhaps?) to join in and do even more.

What are you and your child doing to help the environment?

Kid Pride

What makes you proud?

My youngest son starred as Aslan, the lion, in his school’s production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He has participated in school plays each year, and has had speaking parts, but this year’s role was as one of the lead characters meant more lines to memorize, and more pressure to get things right.

We rehearsed the lines over a few weeks. I was impressed at how much he had learned on his own, and really enjoyed working with him on his lines– it made me feel like I was helping him in some way.

Following the final rehearsal he came out of the dressing room looking down. I could tell he needed some space. I know how tense it can be in the final days of practice and thought maybe some of his fellow actors, or the director had given him some feedback he didn’t want to hear. When we were close to leaving the building we saw the director, who asked my son if he would come early the next night so he and the other leads could work on a couple of scenes. My son broke down. “I’m not having fun anymore. I don’t want to do this.” I was caught off guard by the comment and was thinking how do I get him back onboard? Aslan not being in the play.would be noticed. ūüėä Thankfully, the director approached my son in a way that indicated this wasn’t the first time one of her actors had second thoughts about their role. “What’s going on?,” she asked. “People are going to laugh at me. The other actors aren’t taking the play seriously. It’s going to be horrible.” The director gave a knowing look as if she’d had this conversation with many others in the past, and reminded him of plays from previous years “other times we were a lot less prepared than we are now and everything turned out fine.” She spent more time talking my son through the moment, giving other examples about actors who were nervous or stressed or didn’t think others were taking things as seriously. She finished by telling him how important he was to her. “You’ve been acting for me for years, and have grown so much. You don’t realize it now, but you’ve got this. You’re going to do great tomorrow.” She reminded him of the first play he did for her, Elephant and Piggy. He laughed remembering his part from long ago. His demeanor changed. He left the dark cloud he’d been under and seemed to move to a lighter brighter one.

Opening night he was in better spirits. He was relaxed, and seemed more ready. He nailed the performance. I realize I’m his mom, but I’m not sure anyone could have done a better job than he did. All family members who were there couldn’t have been prouder of him, but I don’t think that mattered. What did was that he realized what he was capable of, and that he was proud of himself, and nothing feels as good as that.

What makes your child proud?

Shutdown & Adults Behaving Badly

How were you or your family affected by the government shutdown?

I think we all were. Whether we were directly impacted — having a government job that ceased to pay, or indirectly — those that rely on the services of those government workers that were no longer getting paid, and for what?

There was a range of emotions our family went through as the shutdown extended — anger (this is ridiculous, people are hurting), disbelief (I can’t believe American workers are being made to suffer over a non-crisis), and empathy (what can we do to help those who are hurting because of this?).

As a parent, the greatest threat to undermining our teachings of morals, values and beliefs to our kids (which is a key part of parenting) is adults behaving badly. And what we’ve seen during this shutdown is adults do just that and in the worst way — digging in and abusing their power for their own gain (saving face, pride or an insatiable desire to win at literally any cost). It is sickening to me when I see other adults do this (no less on such a grand scale) and hard to explain to my kids.

“Why are they doing this? Don’t they know they’re really hurting good people?” One son asked. “That’s a great question,” I replied, “Sometimes people make threats to get others to do something they want. People are fighting against the threat, but the way those that shut the government down are fighting — by not paying people — is actually making our country more vulnerable. As a citizen it’s really frustrating to see what’s happened. Even though mom and dad travel for work, I wish the TSA workers would have stopped showing up right from the beginning. I wouldn’t have liked being stuck in another city, but at least the shutdown would have ended sooner and the tactic the leadership was hoping to use to get their way wouldn’t have worked sooner.”

Yes, I probably over explained but I wanted my sons to better understand the situation.

They seemed to understand what I was saying, but I know that it’s doesn’t help my cause as a parent — every time an adult behaves badly, it tells a child that an ideal we ask of our children to strive for, from a behavioral standpoint, is to be questioned. Why do I need to behave when those much older than I who should be setting the example, and are our supposed leaders no less, do not? And so now my sons have a truer sense for how the real world works. Sad.

How are you helping your child understand the shutdown? How do you help them understand a situation better when they see adults behaving badly?

It Takes a Village

Who is helping you raise your child?

There are many people that are helping my husband and I raise our kids–family, friends, babysitters, caregivers, teachers, doctors–I refer to this folks as part of our village. Each member plays a critical role in the care, nurturing, mentoring, tending to, and shaping of my boys.

My youngest son’s recent distress required we revisit resources available to him. My son’s village will likely have some new members in the near future. ūüėä We’re also now having to rethink environments in which will help him thrive academically and emotionally in the future. The previous known path now isn’t so clear. This lack of clarity is causing me discomfort I haven’t felt this intensely in a while. I’m concerned about doing right by my son and making the right decisions for what’s best for him. It does give me comfort to know I have a village I can turn to for guidance, information, encouragement and support.

How is part of your child’s village?

#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.