One New Day at a Time

How are you getting through each day with your family at home?

My husband and I went for a long walk in our neighborhood early in the morning over the weekend. Few people were up so it was easy to social distance from the handful of other neighbors we encountered. As we walked we talked about how different things were since the Coronavirus changed how we live. As we talked I reflected how I’d been experiencing a similar feeling I hadn’t felt in a while. It was a fear of the unknown tempered with a need to push through the fear — it was a feeling I experienced when I first became a parent.

I remember after my first son was born how I felt almost disconnected from my body — seeing my baby, adjusting to the baby’s needs, learning this ‘new’ normal, and trying to shake the discomfort I felt — adjusting to being a new parent. How was I going to do this? How was I going to be a good parent when I didn’t have any experience? I was learning as I went, and it felt scary. But I had to adjust, getting paralyzed with fear wouldn’t serve my son, or me well. I had to walk through the fear knowing eventually I’d get comfortable with how my life was changing.

We are adjusting. Each day seems a little easier than the last. Much like it did in those early days of parenting. I move forward with the knowledge that I did it before and I can do it again — one new day at a time.

How are you adjusting to how the virus is impacting your family’s life?

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?

While the Kids are Away, the Parents Will…

Has your child ever spent the night at their grandparents, or a friend’s house? Or gone away to overnight camp? How did you spend your free time?

My boys go away a few times a year — to camp, a school trip, or visiting their grandparents. Every time they leave, my husband and I have to figure out what to do with ourselves. All our parenting duties temporarily go away and we have to adjust to it being just the two of us.

When my boys were young, I coveted date night. Just having some time away with my husband was priceless. I desperately needed a break from my parenting responsibilities. But as my boys have grown and become much more independent, date nights are something my husband and I need. It’s no longer about needing a break, but instead about being connected.

A date night now can include simple things like a walk around the neighborhood, eating dinner together, or talking, about anything other than work or the kids. This time together reminds us why we’re together. When our kids are gone (particularly when it’s for several nights) we miss them, but know that they are growing with the experiences they are having, while we are strengthening our relationship while they’re gone.

How do you and your significant other stay connected? How do you enjoy your (kid) free time when you have it?

Head and Heart

How does your child show others who they are?

My family and I were fortune to see Peggy Orenstein talk about her book Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity. My husband and I decided to have our sons attend with us. While the idea of having to hear about sex, intimacy, and porn with my kids made me uncomfortable, my husband and I knew if these topics were ‘out in the open’ we could talk more openly with our kids about what they are seeing, hearing, and thinking.

My kids shared my discomfort. “Mom, do we have to go?,” they asked. There was no getting out of it. If I as going to power through my discomfort so we’re they. We were going to this talk as a family. I did suggest a compromise, “I know you’re uncomfortable being with mom and dad at this event. If you want to sit away from us, that’s okay.” That seemed to make us all feel a little better.

One of the most powerful revelations I had during Peggy’s talk was when she shared what her work uncovered — that girls are taught to disconnect from their bodies (who you are is one thing, your body or outward appearance another), and boys are taught to disconnect from their heart (have feelings, empathy, etc., but not be able to show them). I thought about how I’ve seen my oldest son struggle with this. It’s like the empathetic kid I’ve known has been working hard to stuff his feelings and empathy way down–with it rarely surfacing as he ages. My husband and I have talked to him about toxic masculinity and encouraged him not to buy into it (or fall into its trap), but Peggy shared insights that helped outline just how hard that is. Our kids are up against what the see on TV, the internet, etc., and risk isolating themselves when they break from the “norm” — stand up for others, or freely express how they feel.

The talk has helped us start a more useful dialogue as a family around what our boys are up against. My husband and my’s goal is to teach them to keep their head and heart connected. It won’t be easy, but us being willing to be uncomfortable together has been for us a great place to start.

How are you helping your child be true to who they are?

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?

So Thankful

What are you most thankful for this year?

There is much to be thankful for me — my family’s health, having shelter and food, support and love from family and friends, and I can’t forget our cat who brings us so much joy.

Something I didn’t realize how much I appreciated was my sons willingness to talk openly to me. My oldest seemed quieter than usual and less interested in wanting to talk to me. When I’d try to engage him he’d grunt, roll his eyes, or get defensive, “I’m fine. Why do you keep asking me that?” I wasn’t alone in noticing how my son was acting. When this behavior carried over into the following week I decided I was going to have to do something drastic to get him to talk to me so I could better understand what was going on. I did the only thing I knew to do — I asked him to go for a walk.

“Fine,” he said in a tone indicating going on a walk with his mom was the last thing he wanted to do. I think he resolved himself to the idea that I wasn’t just going to leave him alone. We walked for a few blocks and I asked, “What’s going on with you? You seem almost angry at me. If there’s something we need to talk about, let’s talk about it.” He seemed surprised by my question. “I’m not angry at you. My mood has nothing to do with you.” “What does it have to do with because you’ve been acting differently lately and I can’t help you if I don’t know,” I asked. He made a sound of frustration and finally said, “Everything sucks.” Okay, we’re getting somewhere now, I thought. “What sucks exactly,” I asked. “School for one.” “Is it classes, or your teachers or your friends…” my question trailed off. “My teachers are great, classes are fine. It’s all the stupid kids who go to that school. They’re all dumb and judgmental, and it makes me mad because most of the people don’t know anything about me.” I could tell from the way he was talking we’d gotten to the heart of the matter — he was struggling with how you show up to others, what value you bring, how others see you. How bad it can feel when you’re ignored, or feel like you’re being judged. We talked about friendship and how it’s like growing a plant — you have to care for it and feed it, or over time it won’t survive. We arrived back at our house and my son seemed more at ease. His dark mood seemed to subside. I was grateful he agreed to go on the walk. I’ve been where he’s been — we probably all have as teenagers — trying to figure who we are and where we fit in. I’m grateful he was willing to listen and take in what I had to offer, and I’m thankful he no longer felt that he had to try to navigate this on his own.

What are you thankful for this holiday?

I’ll be taking time off to spend time with family and will be back in December.

β€˜Tis the Season

What time of year is most stressful for you?

For many, the holiday season brings stress with it, but my stress starts earlier in the year and peaks around this time — like a roller coaster with the biggest hill at the end.

January usually brings changes at work which require an adjustment — it’s common for me to have to tell myself at some point during the month, “calm down, you’re going to figure this out.” And I do. Just around the time I’m acclimated to the changed there are school activities, events, volunteers needed, vacations to plan, and again it culminates to what feels like a fever pitch, and then school is out, and the stress lowers. Then vacation comes, and the break is welcomed and rest is enjoyed. Recharging is the goal. Then school starts again, there is planning, figuring out logistics, getting used to a new schedule, new teachers, new activities, new places we have to be at new times. Then we adjust, and the stress lowers. Then it picks back up with all the things that come rapid fire starting in October and goes through the end of the year — Halloween, birthday parties, family visiting, getting the photo album together, getting the holiday card written and sent, scheduling holiday parties, making plans with friends, getting the house ready for Christmas, shopping, and the list goes on and on.

I knew I was overly stressed when I received a reminder call of an upcoming appointment. I was certain the person had the wrong date. “I was just there two or three weeks ago.” I rescheduled the appointment pushing it a month out. It was only when I paused to really think about it (the next day) that i realized it had been closer to six weeks since I had gone in, and I was in fact due for an appointment. Where did the time go? I thought.

No one is making me do any of these things. This is my doing. I want my children to have certain experiences (parties, holidays, vacations, etc.). I want to capture the memories and make sure I’m not getting behind (cause that would stress me out even more). But I realize I am close to burn out and desperately need a vacation. Time off is just around the corner so I’m just trying to power through until I get there. My guess is many of us are in the same boat.

How do you handle stress as a parent throughout the year? How do you navigate stress during this time of year?

Birthday Smirthday

What’s your most memorable birthday?

My oldest son decided he wasn’t in the mood to celebrate his birthday this year, with the exception of receiving presents, of course. 😊 I asked him what he wanted for breakfast and dinner — as that is a tradition in our family, the person having the birthday gets to pick. “Nothing,” he replied. “Nothing? I asked, “I can’t make you something or pick you up something from the store?” “Nope,” he said. Hmmm. I thought, this is something I like to do. It made me uncomfortable not to celebrate his birthday in our traditional way. So I decided to make him some of his favorite foods without his knowledge. I even took the steps of baking while he was out of the house, and opened doors and windows to air the house out so he wouldn’t know.

On the morning of the big day I put out some of the food I made and left a sticky note alerting him to where he could find it should he want it. I gave it a 50-50 chance whether he would eat what I made or not. Without any acknowledgment from my son, later in the day I found he had eaten the food I made. Now, it was time to address dinner. He wouldn’t budge on not wanting to eat anything special. Instead he said,”why don’t you all go out and give me some alone time here?” My husband didn’t miss a beat, “Done,” he said, and we were out the door. When we returned, I brought out his favorite dessert so we could sing to him. He tried to outwardly show his disdain with a grunt, though I did see a slight smile that acknowledged he was surprised, maybe even appreciated the gesture. We sang while my son grimaced and then I put the dessert in the fridge and told him it was there should he want it.

I had postponed going on a business trip because I wasn’t going to miss his big day. With how my son acted, it made me second guess my decision if only for a moment, because I genuinely believe on this particular day my son could have cared less if I was there or not. But I would care. I would regret it and I believe when he’s older any memory of me not being there on his birthday would have bothered him too. It would have bothered me if my parents had missed one of mine (they never have).

I’m glad I did what I did for my son even if he didn’t fully embrace the love and effort behind it. I always want my boys to know they are tops with me. Work or anything else will never take priority. He may think birthday celebrations aren’t for him, and that’s okay, but he needs to know his Mom is always going to do her best to make him feel loved, particularly on his special day.

What’s the best thing you’ve done for your child on their birthday? What do you do to celebrate?