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.

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?