Overflowing

What are the worst parts of parenting?

When my boys were little, I would have said lack of sleep, changing diapers, dealing with spit up, drooling, and teething. Of course there are tough parts of parenting as your kid grows that aren’t necessarily fun — setting rules, enforcing them, teaching things, getting your child to listen/care, your child getting upset with you or you with them — but while those times can be challenging, frustrating, maybe even painful, in our house, we always try to find the lesson on the other side.

One son clogged the toilet one evening. Definitely one of those things I’ve never enjoyed as a parent. 😊 He attempted to unclog it, only to fill the bowl to the brim on the verge of overflowing after several failed attempts. He went out to ask his father for help. My husband sprang into action and then started getting upset with my son for not knowing what to do (get water out of the toilet, transfer it to the bucket without spilling on the floor, get towels to clean up what spilled, etc.). My husband got frustrated with my son, and my son got upset with himself for not knowing what to do. I had gone to bed early and woke to several text messages from my son outlining what happened and the sadness he felt about what had happened and how the interaction with his father had went. I texted him back (while he was sleeping) reminding him that even though we might not always like what each other is doing, we always love each other, no matter what. I grabbed time with him once he was awake.

“How are you doing?” I asked. “Better,” he said, “Thanks for your message.” I sat him down and shared some insight with him. “You wouldn’t know this but as your parent our job is to teach you things, and when things happen where you or your brother don’t know what to do, it can feel like we, as your parents, have failed you. And that can feel bad. It doesn’t excuse behavior — if we get short-tempered, frustrated or maybe say things in anger. I want you to understand why your father might have reacted the way he did. We’ve never taught you and your brother how to unclog a toilet so there would be no way you would know how to do that. It’s something we need to teach you. Also, you might have been a bit embarrassed about clogging the toilet. Anyone would be. In the future, you don’t need to worry about that. If you’re in a situation and you try the fix and it seems to be making the problem worse, stop — give yourself time to think what to do next — ask for help, go online and look for tips and tricks, etc.” I took a breath. “Does that all make sense? You didn’t do anything wrong. These things happen and you’re reminding your father and I we have more teaching to do.” He gave me a hug, and headed off to school.

That afternoon my other son, who’d seen what happened said, “I have an idea. I think there are things you and dad should teach us. Maybe pick once a week, and show us how to do it.” “Do you have ideas for what you’d like us to teach you?,” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “unclogging a toilet, paying a bill, setting up an account, tying a tie.” I smiled, these were all great things we’d gladly teach our boys. I told him as much. He started a list when he got home, and his brother is adding to it.

Cleaning up after someone else can feel like the worst when it’s happening. But being able to understand each other better, and how we can help each other (our kids better understand my husband and I, and us better understanding what we need to teach our kids), has me overflowing with gratitude. Who knew a clogged toilet could lead to that?

What bad situation lead to something good for you and your child?

One Love

Are you in a healthy relationship?

Growing up, no one explicitly talked to me about unhealthy relationships. I was fortunate to have parents that modeled healthy behavior, but was left to navigate relationships on my own. I had a good support system, however, my biggest enemy was me. I decided around puberty that I wasn’t outwardly lovable—I didn’t match what I saw on TV or in magazines and didn’t have boys knocking down my door, so drew the conclusion that what I believed was true, and rarely allowed myself to be open to relationships. If a guy liked me for me, well, I knew there was something wrong with him because how could somebody like me? It makes me sad when I reflect on this period of my life. Standing back and watching others in relationships gave me good insights into relationships I was interested in (e.g. hoping to have for myself one day), and those I wanted/needed to avoid. I can remember this served me well following college when I was more confident in my appearance and my inward love was starting to align with my outward. “Joe” pursued me after meeting me at a business outing. He was confident and blunt. He liked me and he made sure I knew it. He asked me out and I agreed though there was a red flag that was quietly being raised within. We agreed to meet at a restaurant but he called earlier in the day and insisted he pick he up. I told him I didn’t feel comfortable with that and he persisted. I gave in. I regretted it immediately and started thinking of ways to get out of the date. Something was triggering inner alarm bells to get away. I was about to call him to cancel when he called me, and shared he’d been in an accident and we’d have to postpone our date. I felt like angels had taken over the situation. I was glad he was okay, but knew he wasn’t for he based on how he explained the accident—he cursed about this woman pulling out in front of him on his motorcycle and how he’d really wanted to take me on a joy ride. No. Nope. Bye Bye. I sighed with relief that the date hadn’t happened—he clearly didn’t know me nor I him. Confidence is great. Aggressive big red flag.

Now my boys are in their teens and navigating relationships—friendship and romantic. My youngest is fortunate enough to have the organization One Love Foundation (joinonelove.org) working with his school. It teaches its students about what consists (characteristics and traits) of a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one. It allows the boys to better understand how their actions impact ours, and how to create and be part of healthy relationships. We’re talking to One Love Foundation about engaging with my older’s high school and look for him to benefit too. What a gift to learn something so important at such a pivotal age, right?

How are you modeling healthy relationships for your child? What are you teaching them to help them better navigates their future relationships?

Showing Your Love

When I was a child, I took love for what I saw around me — in movies, kid/tween shows, saw in advertisements or read in books. As I grew I saw the disconnect between fiction (what I based on TV and books) and real life.

I learned that love doesn’t come in the form of diamonds or chocolate, though they can be nice gestures, but comes in real moments, vulnerable moments, when someone loves you just for being you and let’s you know it all of the time, not just on certain days or occasions.

I have tried to shortcut my sons journey in understanding what love truly is. I remind them that what they see on TV or internet is ENTERTAINMENT not real life (though yes, there are some exceptions), but to take what they’re watching with a grain of salt. Love is putting yourself out there, not pretending or portraying an image you think someone else wants. It’s just being you. Romantic love can be scary, but all other love is not because you decide singularly how to give and receive it.

This Valentines Day there is much that I love. My husband, my boys, my parents, siblings, and friends. A simple hug, a “love you” reply from one of my sons, and a friend checking in, are the gestures that mean the most. It’s true signs of caring and love. It’s the real treasure love provides.

What do you love? How are you helping your child understand what love is?

Enjoying Exercise

Have you found your child more sedentary since COVID began?

My oldest has always been active. You rarely see him sitting or laying around, he’s always moving, dribbling or throwing a ball, or getting out doors. My youngest has been active-resistant. 😊 We’ve always encouraged moving your body as something needed to live a long healthy life. My son gets it, but it’s not been a great motivator for him. We’ve exposed him to different ways he can move (outside of walking and exercise), but he’s resisted. Until his older brother asked him to work out with him.

Imagine our surprise when our youngest eagerly went to work out with his brother. Our oldest has really taken to physical fitness and saw an opportunity to engage with his brother. He asked me about it prior to asking his brother. “I want him to live a long, healthy life. I want him to be around for a while.” I smiled and said, “You know what this says about you, right?” “I don’t know,” he answered, “that he should exercise?” “No,” I said, “that you care about your brother. That you love him.” He suppressed his smile until he couldn’t any longer. “Yea, I guess you’re right,” he concluded.

It is neat to see our sons come together with this activity. My husband and I have done some self-reflection and asked ourselves —shouldn’t we be doing this for our youngest son? But we agreed that he would have fought us, and done anything we asked half-heartedly, while working out with his brother is something he enjoys. And instead of doing the minimum being asked, he’s doing his best. I think he realizes he’s brother cares about him too. Bonus!

What is your child doing to stay active during the pandemic? How are you or a family member helping them?

Brotherly Love

My boys are opposites. One loves sports, the other hates competition. One is very conscious, the other lets things roll off his back with ease. The list goes on.

Being opposite in so many things has helped their relationship in many ways. It’s challenged it in others — one thinking their way (or mindset) is better (or smarter, or more just) than the other. This is when we see our boys defend their positions (again in opposite styles) — one arguing, while the other calmly lays out the facts (which drives his brother even more bananas). My husband and I often intervene, not because our boys need us to, but because the argument either requires tempers to be calmed, or we need the noise lessened — particularly when it’s clear their really is no one is “right” per se — and the boys need to be reminded it’s okay to have a differing opinion or way of thinking about things from others.

As we were driving in the car after getting out of town for a brief reprieve, we started to hear our boys making a commotion in the back seat. I couldn’t really make out what they were doing in the rear view mirror, but knew there was some kind of struggle going on with occasional words being shared. “No fair,” one said. The other replied, “You can’t be serious.” He laughed. “What are you all doing back there?” I asked in a tone that told them I was going to start lecturing them if they didn’t cut it out. “We’re just elbow wrestling, Mom,” my youngest said. “Elbow wrestling?” I said. “Yea,” my oldest replies, “It’s just something we do.” They started laughing and my fears waned. They weren’t arguing or having a dispute. They were just wrestling (mind you in a different way), like most brothers do. The way they were playing, it showed while they are very different they do have something in common, brotherly love.

How does your child get along with their sibling or cousins? How do they show love for others that may be different from them?

Difficult Conversations

Talking honestly about what happened with George Floyd and the aftermath can be difficult, regardless if the conversation is with your child, friends, or family.

I feel fortunate to have a diverse set of friends who have been willing to engage in these conversations that have been uncomfortable but needed. Being honest, owning our truths, and experiences reminds me that with knowledge comes power, and together we can make our community and country better.

In addition to my friends near me, the pandemic has allowed me to talk to my best friends who live far away each week. It has been a blessing to be able to connect with them more often. Typically when we talk I go where I can have privacy and speak freely — after all our talks include discussions about our kids, and spouses. 😊 As the issue of systemic racism, and the call for reform and an end to injustice and a need to address equality has gained traction the topic of discussion came up with my friends. I saw an opportunity to have a potentially uncomfortable conversation with them out in the open (having close friendships doesn’t mean you all think alike — true friendship allows for truths to be spoken, and vulnerability, and love for each other regardless), instead of going into a room and closing the door for privacy, I FaceTime’d with my friends without earbuds in my living room. My youngest son was on our computer in the kitchen. I felt like even if my son wasn’t fully listening to the conversation I needed to do it this way — out in the open not in private. I needed to show him there is value, bravery and strength when you speak from your heart, especially on topics like this. The fact that my friends are willing to listen, respect what i have to say, and still love me makes for wonderful and sustainable friendships. I treasure them.

Change will only happen if we are willing to talk (even when it might be uncomfortable), and really listen to each other.

How are you having these conversations? How are you modeling for or teaching your child how to have them?

Laws of Attraction

How did you know your significant other was ‘the one’?

When the evening weather is nice I like to get outside for a walk. Sometimes we walk as a family, sometimes it’s just me and my husband, or me and one of my boys. My oldest son went for a walk with me this past week. I always treat these walks as a special time for me to get caught up with him.

During our walk, he shared about friendships he was making, and growing more comfortable as a middle schooler. I asked if there was anyone he was interested in as more than a friend. He said, “You know, mom, I think I’m weird.” “Why do you say that?” I asked. “Well,” he paused before continuing, “Because I’m physically attracted to some people, but I’m not sure I like them as a person.” I responded by telling him there was nothing weird about having this insight and he was probably ahead of his peers in his way of thinking about a desired relationship. “Too often people start relationships because of physical attraction, only to find out later they don’t necessarily like the person. A relationship doesn’t work if both people don’t want to be in it, and why would you want to stay in a relationship if you didn’t like who you are with?” He responded, “Yea, it’s just weird though. It’s like one part of me is attracted and the other part isn’t. It doesn’t make sense.” I told him I understood.

As we walked I thought about the laws of attraction and how physical attraction is primal and has helped the human species to survive. I was impressed my son was aware of his own conflicts between his head and heart, and his desire to have a relationship with someone that are in unison vs. disparate.

Is your tween/teen in a relationship? What drew them to their partner?

Who Do You Love?

What or who do you love?

My younger son can easily articulate what and who he loves. He says I love you to my husband and I without any discomfort, and for the most part is comfortable sharing his feelings openly and honestly with others. I think he is just wired this way. My oldest keeps his emotions close. He can come across as being quick to anger or unhappiness, but am now better understanding that it is his discomfort that is causing these emotional reactions.

I’m thinking of having my oldest keep a gratitude journal. Peggy Orenstein’s talk and my Head and Heart blog made me think this is one way we can help our son keep his head and heart connected. My hope is that by journaling he’ll grow to appreciate all the good things in his life, and that while disappoint and discomfort will happen there is a different way he can respond because he’ll remember he’s loved and has a lot of things to love in his life.

How does your child express their emotions? How are you helping them remember all that is positive in their life?

Confession of a Mom who Meddled

Have you ever meddled in your child’s life?

The definition of meddling per the Cambridge dictionary: the act of trying to change or have an influence on things that are not your responsibility.

Tried to help them build friendships? Talked to the coach about your child playing in the game or in a better position, or asking a teacher about how you can help your child get a better grade on an assignment?

While our hearts my be in the right place (trying to help our child), they often have unwanted consequences.

I am, and have always been, mindful of the downside to meddling and worked to minimize any interference unless I’ve believed it to be absolutely necessary (and it is almost never is). I thought I was doing a pretty good job of ‘staying out’ of my kids lives–letting them make decisions, mistakes included, and learning from them. My eyes were opened to my unknowing meddling when my youngest son’s girlfriend was at our house with her mother.

My son and this girl’s relationship has been purely innocent–more about two people liking each other than what one would deem a mature relationship that includes strong communication, time together and intimacy. Their relationship is appropriate for their age. Relationship is italicized because my son and this girl rarely see each other (maybe a half dozen times a year), exchange gifts at the holidays, and that’s about it. Her mother and I have been the ones really keeping the relationship going. She’s invited us over for parties and movie nights, I’ve promoted my son to buy the girl gifts, give her cards on Valentine’s Day, etc. If we had let the relationship grow on its own (left it to the kids) it would have likely fizzled out a long time ago. They have gone to separate schools for years.

The girl and her mom were at our house (my son was out with his dad and brother and were on their way home) and while we were waiting I relayed an insight my son had shared about how glad he was that he, and this girl had a healthy relationship (they had learned in my son’s school about healthy vs. toxic relationships). I thought it was cute, but as I shared this piece of information, the girl shrank (like she wanted to disappear). I could tell the use of the word relationship made her uncomfortable. Maybe too big? Had to much weight and responsibility attached to it? I quickly changed the subject, but couldn’t shake the feeling I’d really screwed up.

Of course, I’m not in control of anyone’s feelings, and of course, as people grow, feelings can change. I felt my actions were accelerating a breakup, that wouldn’t have happened if I just kept my mouth closed. My sharing was potentially going to hurt my son. I was devastated.

Sure enough my fears were confirmed a few days later, when her parents, and my husband and I went out. The mother shared that her daughter cared for my son, but no longer wanted a relationship. I felt like I’d been punched and slapped at the same time. Not for what the mother said, but for my fears being realized. My husband was wonderful trying to remind me that this was a long time coming, but I couldn’t forgive myself. I sat my son down and we talked about the situation. I admitted my fault. He was crushed, but let me console him, which I was grateful for. We talked about it over the next few days. He had a present to give her for the holidays and we role-played various scenarios so he would be prepared for what might happen. Thankfully it was pretty non-eventful. They exchanged gifts (my son hit the ball-out-of-the-park with what he gave her). As parents, we offered them space to talk but nerves got the better of them, and nothing was said.

Maybe it’s better this way? I don’t know. My son knows his girlfriend now just wants to be friends, and he is okay with this. I committed to him that I would not meddle in the future (and keep my mouth shut). He forgave me, which was a blessing, and asked if he could still come to me for advice. He helped mend my heart when he asked me that.

Have you meddled? How did you gain your child’s trust back?

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?