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?

What Exactly Am I Teaching You?

When was the last time your child rebelled?

Having your teen rebel is a part of growing, becoming more independent, and figuring out who they are. I expected some rebellion from my boys but not when it came to preparing them for life on their own.

My oldest has a strong work ethic, he’ll work hard at those things he wants to excel in (academics and sports/personal fitness), and is great about doing anything physical (yard working, helping others), but when it comes to tasks that need to be done (such as cleaning) that he doesn’t enjoy it’s a constant battle to get him to do. Crumbs on the counter from making a sandwich, dishes from dinner in the sink that need to be washed, and don’t get me started about his room. 😊

I have alternated my approaches to get him to do the work that needs to be done. Explaining why it’s important. What caring for your environment tells others about you. How we are a family and we all play a part and have responsibilities. All have had temporary success. He will be better with cleaning for a few days and then fall into old patterns. I started to see some activity that brought things to a head — my husband doing the dishes for my son, the dishes my son did not being truly cleaned (running a wet sponge across a pan doesn’t make it clean), and more crumbs on the counter. I did what any fed up parent would do — I texted him!

You thought I was going to say confront, right? Well I did, but in my text. I needed him to hear me, because I was seriously asking myself what exactly am I teaching you by not addressing this in a more serious manner. My son reads his texts and I knew he’d get the message. I outlined what he needed to do (clean), and our expectations going forward. I knew he would not like what I had to say.

He was able to avoid me until after school. I talked to him about the text I’d sent. You could see him tense up ready to defend himself. “You know Mom,” he started, “all you have to do is remind me that I need to do the dishes.” He continued on for a few more minutes around my role in getting him to do his job. Once he stopped I spoke. “No one in life should ever have to remind you of a job you have to do. Your boss won’t do that, and no one else will either. No one reminds me of things I have to do — even things I’d prefer not to but need to — like cleaning dishes and doing laundry — but these things have to be done and each of us needs to play our part. You need to own cleaning the dishes after dinner every night, and clean up after yourself the rest of the time. I’m not teaching you an important life skill if your father or I just clean up after you. You are quickly becoming an adult and this is an important lesson you need to learn.” He thought about responding, sighed and said, “okay, I got it.”

Having to have confrontational conversations with your child can be hard. This one was hard because I felt I was failing as a parent and the values I want to teach him, and super frustrated with my son for not just doing his job. Will this most recent discussion be my last with my son on this topic? I doubt it, but it reminds me that I always have to be reassessing what my husband and I are teaching our kids, and not giving up even when our kids rebel.

Have you had a similar experience with your child? How are you helping instill the values you are trying to teach your child? How are you combating any rebellion?

Motherhood

How are you celebrating Mother’s Day today?

I’m reflecting this year on my time as a mother.

M – Milestones. Getting pregnant. Birth. Watching my children grow. Wow, wow, wow!

O – Observer. Trying to understand my child, what they need, and figuring out how to give it to them (physically, emotionally). A lot of trial and error.

T – Time. Such a strange thing. It slowed down so much when the kids were young. I couldn’t wait for time to go faster. Fast forward and I’d love for time to slow down now. My boys are becoming more independent by the day and will be grown and on their own before I know it.

H – Help. I was bad at asking for it when I first became a parent, thinking I was supposed to know how to magically do everything without any formal experience or training. A huge thank you to family, friends, and other new parents who supported my husband and I, helping us become better parents.

E – Everything. There is so much that goes into parenting. It’s hard, but what a joy. My boys have helped me grow so much as a person. Everything that goes into it — good and bad —has been absolutely worth it.

R – Rewarding. Seeing the world through my boys eyes as young children and now as teens always makes me feel like I’m seeing (appreciating) the world anew.

I hope all the moms out there have a wonderful Mother’s Day. What does being a mother mean to you?

Spring in Your Step

Are you glad Spring is here?

We often walk our neighborhood on nice days and seeing crocuses starting to bloom was our first sign Spring was coming. Next daffodils started blooming and now tulips are starting to come in.

I was driving my son to school and we noticed daffodils lining both sides of the road as we neared the drop off area. The impact it had was more than either he or I expected. It was similar to seeing lights or a red carpet leading the way. The beauty was striking. My son commented with a tone of awe “Wow, look at that.”

Something about Spring boosts our spirits and puts some pep in our step. It’s a welcome change from the cold, but also feels like it’s the path towards more togetherness and returning to things we’ve done without since the pandemic started.

Are you and your family feeling the same way? Is there more Spring in your step?

I will be taking next week off to enjoy Easter with family and will return in April.

Revenge

What game does your child like to play?

My youngest is into playing Minecraft with his friends. My son is always eager to get online with his friends, but has encountered some challenges. They play on a private server (one of the boys dad’s set it up for the kids) — I appreciate it because I know who he’s playing with. It gave my son comfort too, until he learned some of his friends weren’t playing ‘nice.’

My son would enter the game and find out that someone else had been in the game and had stolen some of his diamonds. I understand this game enough to be dangerous so forgive me if I don’t get all the details right. Essentially my son had to mine diamonds, which are desirable, and having them taken away, by a friend no less, didn’t feel good. The first time it happened he was angry and he let his peers know it. He has an awareness about his feelings and how others impact him that puts me in awe. I didn’t have his level of awareness until my 30s. He let his friends know how he felt and why he felt the way he did.

It was interesting to hear the reactions — mind you I was in another room but within ear distance. First, there was denial by the group, then one tried to play it off like it wasn’t a big deal. My son held firm. His emotion was changing from anger to sadness — he was disappointed any friend would do this, and worse, lie about it. Someone just admitting they had done it would have been much easier for him to deal with. He calmed himself but he was rattled.

He had more gaming time with his friends without issue, but eventually there was another incident—this time he’d asked the group to wait for him to start the game because they were going to get to the end together, but when he logged on, he found they had already reached the end, though they tried to pretend they hadn’t (again, I’m not super familiar with how that works, but my older son confirmed this is possible). My son was very upset. I could hear him telling his friends, “you’re lying,” over and over. The friends changed their story and all but admitted their guilt. Again if his friends had just fessed up, he could have handled it much better.

We had a long conversation about friendship over dinner as a family. My older son, who isn’t overly protective of his brother, wanted to get revenge. “Let’s go in and put dynamite under their (Minecraft) house and blow it up!” he suggested. We all agreed that wasn’t the answer. Instead we talked about what being a good friend is, and how it can be hard when you’re young, especially when you’re going through puberty, trying to figure out who you are, and trying to fit it. It can make you do things that don’t necessarily align with who you truly are, or the friend you want to be. That’s one of the gifts my son benefits from by having autism. He is who he is all the time. He doesn’t have the awareness or ability to manipulate who he is for any given situation. His friends (true friends) will benefit from this as they’ll never have to worry about him treating them any differently regardless the situation.

We decided awareness (open eyes of what his friends were doing), and speaking his truth going forward are his best weapons. He’ll have to make some determinations if his buddies are really friends, he’ll never have to question his motives or behavior, and that is much more satisfying than revenge.

Has your child been hurt by a friend? How did you help them work through it?

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?