Assume Accountability

Have you assumed your child was thinking or feeling a certain way, and learned later you were wrong?

My oldest is a challenging person to read. He is a young man of few words. You have to work on him to drag out what he’s thinking. It can be easy to assume I know what he’s thinking or how he feels if I don’t spend the time to find out.

We had decided to go walk after dinner as a family. I was busy trying to get some remaining emails out for work while getting my shoes on to walk. I was half-listening to the conversation my husband was having with my oldest son. My husband and son were talking about how something was annoying. My oldest said, “Mom, you know what else is annoying?” My knee jerk reaction was that he was going to say “me” I’m not exactly why — I’d been holding him more accountable and knew he wasn’t super happy about that (who ever is?) and thought he might voice his disdain by taking a shot at me (to test me holding him accountable again?). I assumed wrong. I said, “I really don’t want to know.” “Why?” he asked. “Because I don’t want to hear it’s me.” “Why would I say it’s you?” he asked. “Well, you tell Mom how boring, or uncool, or whatever I am sometimes. I just figured you were just adding to the list.” He looked hurt, wounded almost, that I would think this of him. It was one of those moments as a parent where you pause and question your logic and thinking — realizing you’ve made a mistake (misunderstood, misjudged the situation, etc.). “Well, I was going to say Gator fans,” he concluded with a diminishing smile. He was trying to engage me in something he thought would make me smile (he knows I am no fan of my rival school’s mascot), maybe even laugh, and I hadn’t allowed him to do it. I hated that I hadn’t just said “what?” when he first asked the question.

I reflected on the exchange following our walk. By assuming what my son was thinking and how he would respond, I had indeed made an error. I reminded myself that he’s a teen and I’m the adult. His full frontal cortex is still forming, and mine is mature. I need to be the adult and not assume my child is out to push buttons or minimize my role, or challenge my love for him. I need him to know I am the adult, he is loved regard of what he says, and I should never put words in his mouth (or decide in my mind what he’s going to say before he’s said it). If I need to hold him accountable for saying something insensitive or hurtful I will. As the adult, it’s my job. At the same time, I need to hold myself accountable and hear him out first, and let him speak. And remember the downsides of assuming.

Have you ever assumed wrong about what your child has said or done, or about their intentions? How do you hold your child and yourself accountable?

I will be off next week, but back following. Happy Labor Day!

A Sign of Hope

What gives you hope during difficult times?

Nature calms me. I’ve seen it have similar effects on my husband and boys too.

At the end of a stressful work day I needed to clear my head. It had been raining most of the day but started to clear up. Even though I was exhausted I asked my youngest son if he’d go with me on a walk.

As we left the house, I tried to leave my work day worries behind, but it wasn’t easy to do. After walking in silence for a few blocks my son and I started talking. We had a nice conversation, and my earlier stress started slipping away. As we rounded the corner towards our house, a rainbow appeared in the sky. I decided to stop and take a picture. My son pointed out that the rainbow went all the way across the sky. “It’s a full rainbow,” he said. We stood there and marveled at the sight for a few minutes. It almost felt like a someone was sending me a message that everything was going to be okay. It was just the sign of hope I needed.

Where are you finding hope these days?

Vacation Dreams

How did your vacation plans change this year?

We, like most, scrapped our vacation plans (that were supposed to start in April) once COVID hit. We were hoping we’d be able to travel in the summer, but as the pandemic has lingered our plans have changed. Staying closer to home, trying to come up with things to do.

Planning and the anticipation of an upcoming trip is half the fun of going on vacation in our house. Now even local trips outside the city are tempered with hope that COVID infection rates won’t rise causing state to shutdown again. Instead of anticipation it can be nerve racking.

We all need time away, a break, an opportunity to rest and just be. We’ve had a lot of time to be together, but crave a different landscape. We desperately want to be able to move about like we could before.

In our family, we’ll occasionally ask each other, “What are you most looking forward to?” The response is usually trip related, or about a pending activity or celebration. Almost all take place away from our home. If you ask that question now you’ll hear, “Being able to see my friends”, “Playing sports”, or “Getting out of here.”

We’re dreaming of vacation and being able to move freely (and safely) again.

What are you and your child dreaming of doing post-COVID?

The Benefits of Boredom

Quarantine is creating boredom for many of us, including my kids.

My boys have been thrilled to have more free time since school has been out (though they’ve had increased free time since the virus closed school and learning went online). My husband and I have talked about what we can do to get our kids unglued from screens, but hadn’t really come up with much beyond having the kids go outside for daily physical activity, and reading as a family.

Our oldest helped answer the question when he asked to talk to his father one evening. “Dad, can I talk to you?” My husband described that when my son asked him this, he appeared to have something weighing on his mind. My husband started thinking through what my son might want to discuss and was bracing himself for a worst case scenario— was he looking at inappropriate content on the web, was he wanted to do hang out with friends and disregard the precautions needed to protect against the virus? My husband shared that my son was struggling to get out what he wanted to say. After a minute or so, he sighed and said, “Dad, I’m really bored. There’s nothing to do. If you have any projects you plan to work on around the house tomorrow, can I help you?” We’ll, of course, my husband was relieved. He agreed our son could help him around the house and outside.

After helping his father the following day, before going to bed, he asked my husband if he could help him again the next day. My husband agreed. An interesting turn of events since previous requests for help had been met with sighs and resistance. 😊

My husband joked that he’d have to start coming up with things for them to do, because as a team, they were making quick work of our house projects. I shared that our son was likely experiencing the need to contribute in a meaningful way. Much like we work or volunteer. It might be to make money or to help a cause, but we’re contributing, something I think is a desire we all share, particularly as you grow older and become capable of contributing. We discussed giving our sons (both boys) more structure during the summer with ideas around academics, being creative, and physical. We’ll see what works.

My son had to become bored to understand the benefit (and joy?) of contributing. How is your child dealing with any boredom? How are you turning the boredom into a benefit?

Talking with Your Kids about Racism, Injustice, and the Need for Change

What happened to George Floyd is horrific.

As my family and I watched the aftermath and the juxtaposition between peace and unrest it forced us, as a family, to talk in a deeper way than we might have otherwise.

As a parent it is important to me to help my children be better people than I am. I’d like to think that I’m a good person, but know there is always room for growth. And while I’d like to think I’ve always been open-minded and self-aware, the truth is that came with time. I’m trying to help ensure my kids are open-minded and self-aware from the get go.

Based on this, it is why we’ve talked about racism, inequality, and injustice (for those of different color, religions, gender identity, sexual orientation, gun violence, etc.) as a family, and why our recent opportunity to read together has helped us have these conversations.

It can be incredibly frustrating when the injustices are so blatant, and you raise your voice (participating in peaceful protests, write to your govt officials, and vote) and nothing seems to change.

I’m reminded that change being made is often met with resistance. It’s hard. It isn’t easy. And if you really want change, you have to keep raising your voice, and demanding it. Even if it seems exhausting and infuriating and disappointing in how long it can take.

As parents, we play a role in this change. In how we make our kids aware of the injustices that still exist today, how we have empathy for others, appreciate diversity, and how we have to use the tools that we have (voice, and actions) to be the change.

How are you talking to your child about what’s going on? How are you helping your child be the change?

A Quiet Place

Things seem quieter now, right?

Having the out-of-the-house distractions go away at first was difficult. We are used to having noise around us. If you are like me, prior to the pandemic having the house be quiet — no sounds coming from from kids, my screens making noise, or the sounds of running, playing or arguing — felt good for a little bit, but inevitably the silence would turn to discomfort. I’d get a feeling I was wasting time and should be doing something. If I was doing something I would be making and/or hearing noise. Cue the tv or radio coming on (at a minimum). Hearing noise would calm me.

But now there is a lot less noise all the time — less traffic on the street, no groups of people gathering, no sounds of sports being played, or the kids running around outside with their friends — part of it makes me long for the past, but I’m hopeful for the future and know the noises will return eventually.

I’m trying to really embrace the quiet. When I talk to parenting groups it’s one of the tools I recommend — making quiet time for inward reflection. To inquire within yourself how are you doing and what do you need. It’s a great opportunity to just listen and see how your mind responds. When I do this I’m often surprised by what I hear — you need a hug, you need a break, you need to hear it’s going to be okay. I feel better once I can identify my need(s) and acknowledge getting them addressed (my husband and youngest son are always willing to give good hugs; my kids can help in the house and yard or cook a meal; my husband is always there to tell me it’s going to be okay). If something comes up they can’t address, I seek out others for what I need — talking to my girlfriends to keep those connections going, checking in on my parents to make sure they are okay, etc.

While it being more quiet may make you uncomfortable I’d encourage you to lean into it and see what ahas you have around how you are doing and what you need.

How are you caring for yourself, so you can better care for your family, during this time?

I’ll be taking next Sunday off to celebrate the holiday.

No Distractions

How are you and your child dealing with the Coronavirus?

Our schools shut down a week ago. My younger son’s school transitioned to online learning, my older son’s teachers are giving students optional assignments as enrichment. Neither child seems to mind sleeping in later. 😊 Of course, my husband and I are also working from home which can make for an interesting work day. I’m grateful my kids are older and can care for/entertain themselves. I do, however, enjoy, when I’m on a work video conference and I get to see someone’s child, or family pet wonder into the picture. It reminds me how similar we are — it’s comforting.

Restaurants are take-out only or delivery, public places closed to help slow/stop the spread of the virus. The first week transitioning to this new normal wasn’t easy.

One way we are dealing with the situation is going for walks around our neighborhood. With virtually no traffic it’s easy to distance ourselves from your neighbors. While walking one day we saw a neighbor sitting on her porch. We lamented the change in our daily routines. I shared how there was a calm, almost a peace, I was feeling that I haven’t felt in a while (maybe ever). That with no distractions–having to get kids various places at various times, work commitments, and other activities outside the home–I was forced to just be. She smiled when I said that. “I know what you mean,” she commented. We both agreed having no distractions was a blessing, if only it weren’t the result of a pandemic.

Eventually the pandemic will pass, and life will return to normal. Or maybe we’ll come out of this with a new normal, who knows? For now, I’m trying to embrace the opportunity to just be.

How are you coping with this new normal? Is there any unexpected upside you’re experiencing?

The Simple Things

What is something simple you enjoy?

I was reminded of how the simplest things — like a blanket and two chairs can make a cool fort — when my boys were young and how quickly they grew bored of toys we’d spent money on, only to enjoy the simpler things (that don’t have any additional cost) much more and for much longer.

I was again reminded that enjoyment of simple things isn’t just for us humans. Our cat prefers towels in a chair over a cat bed (oh, the money we could have saved). 😊

People make resolutions in the New Year. I’m going with enjoying the simple things. I might even save some money too (bonus!).

What does your child enjoy that is simple and doesn’t cost a thing?

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?

Delivery!

Do you have the same policy that I do — don’t open the door to strangers?

Like many of us, most of my holiday shopping has been done online. The convenience is great. All the delivers — not so much. I’m particularly not a big fan of deliveries that require an in-person signature. I can appreciate the need for security and to protect against theft. Still, it’s a challenge — especially when the delivery schedule rarely fits your work schedule.

I came home from an appointment to see a deliver notification tag on my door. I hadn’t noticed it there earlier, so when I got inside I asked my son, who had gotten home before I did, if the delivery person came while he was there. I expected a ‘no’, and was surprised when he said, “yes” as he hadn’t gotten home much sooner than I did. “You did?,” I asked. “You didn’t answer the door, did you?” I have no idea why I asked him, he knows the rules – you never answer the door if mom and dad aren’t there. “Yes,” he said knowing that was the wrong answer. “I know I shouldn’t,” he continued, “I’m not sure why I did. I reflected on it after I did it and decided that probably wasn’t the best choice. I won’t do it again.” He actually used the word reflected, and shared how he’d come to the realization he should do something different in the future — I was impressed. I did not have this level of awareness when I was his age. We talked about the danger of strangers, even when they seem innocent enough (like the postal carrier or UPS person). We talked about being safe and the need to be smart(er) when alone in the house. We all learn by doing — making mistakes helps us grow. I’m just grateful this one had no consequences other than my son being reminded that while he is growing up there are still risks, and he needs to make decisions that help, not hurt, him.

How do you help your child be safe? How do you help them understand the consequences when they make a mistake?