Make It Count

How aware is your child about the upcoming election?

We all want it over and behind us, right? My boys have been aware of politics and world happenings at a much younger than I was. I found politics boring growing up and didn’t feel a need to pay attention to it until I could vote.

We listened to an interesting story on the radio where a sixteen year old made the case for young people should be allowed to vote. While that might seem absurd to some, his argument was compelling, particularly when he raised the issue of working and paying taxes, but having no say in where his tax dollars were spent.

Our youth are more aware and engaged in politics and the obvious things that need to be addressed in our country — healthcare for all, equality, climate change, and so much more. They don’t have a vote, so they look to us, their parents, caregivers, family, and friends to do what they can’t … vote. They’re counting on us.

Please vote.

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!

Who Needs a Hug?

Ever had one of those days where you just need a hug?

I was wrapping up a particularly stressful day and joined my family in the kitchen. “I could use a hug,” I said to my husband. He knows this is code for I need you to give me some reassurance (hugs work great) that lets me know I’ll get through this/this too shall pass/everyday won’t be like today. My younger son jumped up from his chair and said, “Let’s give Mom a hug sandwich!” My husband and I were reminded of hug sandwiches we’d done with our sons when they were much younger. It would be a fun way for us to show affection for each other and include the kids. There were ham sandwich hugs (one kid in between my husband and I), double decker (both kids in between us), and other silly variations. My son suggesting a hug sandwich was just what I needed that day.

Once the hug sandwich began, we noticed our older son sitting down not joining us. My husband and I looked at each other, and then he asked our son to join us. In typical teenage fashion he said “no.” “Ah, come on,” I responded, “everyone needs a hug every once in a while. Join us.” “Nope,” he said. My husband, younger son and I briefly commiserated and decided he was going to get a hug whether he wanted one or not. My husband said. “Okay, if you’re not coming to us, we’re coming to you.” We walked in our 3-person hug sandwich towards my oldest son (I was going backwards relying on my husband and younger son to guide me). There was much laughter as we shuffled across the room. Once we were in front of my oldest, who was still seated, we asked him to join us. “No,” he repeated. We weren’t giving up. We all started asking him to join us. Finally we started repeating his name over and over. After he realized we weren’t going to give up he stood up and gave us a resigned, “fine.” He briefly joined the family hug (1-2 seconds max) sandwich before stepping away and ensuring he got some distance from us so we couldn’t keep after him. 😊

The hug was something we all needed — reminding us we’re there for each other, we care about each other, and can be silly together regardless how old we are.

How do you do hugs in your family?

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?

Gender Fluidity

Gender fluidity is not something I gave much thought to prior to becoming a parent. I thought in terms of having a boy or a girl and the joys and challenges that came with each.

As our culture has become more aware, and with strong individuals who have been brave enough to be their true selves, it’s opened conversations and minds on what it means to be transgender, LGBTQ, and helped bring awareness and appreciation for those who do not identify non-binary or non-conforming to a single gender. As a parent it has given my husband and I an opportunity to explore our sons knowledge, and experiences around the topic.

This didn’t just happen out of the blue. We’ve continued to read as a family. Moving from To Kill a Mockingbird to Call of the Wild. We started a third book, but it wasn’t holding our interest, so we let our youngest pick the next book. He suggested we read The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater. He had started to read it at school prior to the school closing due to Covid-19. He thought the book was good and hadn’t finished it. We got a copy and started to read.

We are still early in the book but are learning one of the main characters is non-gender conforming and prefers the pronoun “they” vs. he/him or she/her. It’s written in such a way that while the character is non-conforming that is secondary to who they are. They are true to themselves and good at finding others that will accept them as they are. They are confident in their own skin. Who doesn’t want that (for themselves or their child)? It’s lead to us having truly wonderful conversations with our boys, talking about diversity and acceptance. Everyone is essentially different — it’s a matter of how outwardly visible those differences are, right? — so many of us can more easily hide (or try to) our differences because they aren’t outwardly visible, but oh how freeing it feels when you let your full true self be known.

I’m grateful my son recommended this book, and look forward to us continuing to grow together in appreciation of everyone regardless of how they identify.

How are you helping your child understand and appreciate differences in others?

Classic

What activities are doing with your family to pass the time while we’re physically distancing ourselves?

Puzzles have made a resurgence. Reading. Binge watching shows. Watching or reading classics. Sewing. Playing music. Gardening. So many wonders things I see folks doing around me.

We have picked back up reading as a family. Our oldest was assigned to read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee prior to his school closing. As a book I’ve loved, I yearned to read it again, and suggested we read it together. Everyone agreed. We take a chapter each and read to each other most nights after dinner. We talk about the character in the books, how things were different in our country regarding attitudes and accepted stereotypes in the 1930s, we talk about class, opportunity (or lack there of), knowing your neighbors (in only a way you can in a small town), and passing judgement before having the full picture (or all the facts). It’s also a great opportunity for my husband and I to see how far our children’s reading skills have come (this book is not the easiest to read as it has many challenging (dare I say advanced?) words).

My husband and I were reflecting on the opportunity being stuck in the house has given us — being able to read with our kids again. We thought those days were long behind us, and have really enjoyed revisiting this activity. We enjoy seeing our kids interested in what we’re reading — in a way that shows the book is making them think, and helping them open their eyes to bigger issues we still struggle with in our society today. I’m grateful we’ve had this opportunity to do this as a family. I look forward to seeing what we do next once we finish this classic.

What activity are you enjoying doing as a family during this time?

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.