Fact vs. Fiction

How much screen time is your kid allowed?

Ideally my kids wouldn’t be on for more than an hour a day, but I’d be lying if I said that’s how long they are on.

During the school year it’s a little easier to control / oversee, but honestly we’ve tried to let our kids have a little more freedom and better manage themselves (e.g, consequences if you stay up late playing a game and then are overtired and/or don’t do optimally on a test). It’s a hard lesson to have our kids learn but a needed one (in our opinion).

We were sitting outside having dinner recently on a nice weather evening and got on the topic of what my youngest had learned about a region in the world. He was providing great insights and my husband could validate what he was sharing as he’d spent time in this region himself. My husband made an observation, “it’s interesting to me who you use the internet to educate yourself and find reliable sources to do so. Why is that?” We we’re impressed but also a little surprised since so many people seem to think if it’s in the internet it’s real. 😬 Our son recounted a story about watching videos on YouTube and us telling him what he was watching wasn’t factual or accurate. We pointed out the host of the channel was clearly trying to convince people (for entertainment value or subscribers?) of outlandish things such a Big Foot being real. We told him, if there really was a Big Foot, don’t you think someone would have found him/her by now? What does it eat? How long does it live? It can’t live forever. Our son took this information in and clearly decided that he needed to rethink where he got his information from prior to treating it like fact.

Now, take my oldest son. He also watches YouTube, but we’re not sure he uses such a discerning eye as our youngest. In an attempt to show his independence he’ll push back when we try to discuss something (usually politics) as a family and take a different position to be, well different. And I can live with that if he’s only doing this to show he can think for himself. My concern is that he gets influenced to the point he believes the false narrative as truth, vs. getting his information from a more reliable source (eg someone actually trained in the field/respected). I think it’s a struggle many of us are up against. At this point all I know to do is to listen, counter with facts (and point to the sources) in hopes he understands and accepts the facts even if we disagree on which side we’re on.

How are you helping your kid understand fact from fiction, particularly in what they watch?

What Exactly Are We Teaching — Checkpoint

Do you have those moments when you question what you have (or are) teaching your child?

Our oldest is off on an extended camping trip. He prepared for the trip, ensuring he had his gear, and everything on his checklist. He would have his phone with him, but coverage would be sketchy being in rural terrain. While we knew he’d like his phone to listen to music or a podcast, we were surprised when he wanted to use it to call us.

I’ve shared before, our son will do much to distance himself from us these days — even when at home, so it was a surprise when we got a call the first night he was away. He was with a newer group of kids he didn’t know particularly well and was getting adjusted.

We were surprised when he called again the second and third night. The calls were short, he mainly would run through what he had done, and share how he was doing mentally and physically. Part of me loved him calling. Knowing he was okay, and staying connected. Another part was concerned. Wouldn’t my son grow more (in his confidence, capabilities) if he weren’t in contact with us and made it through the trip without communication? I talked to my husband about it. We agreed that while this was a test run for our son’s future independence, our son needed to know he would be just fine going throughout the trip without being in contact with us. So hard, but needed.

We weren’t sure how to broach the topic with him, but two things came into play — coverage was spotty and some days he didn’t have signal, and his battery (even with power sticks to give him extended use) finally gave out. He’d be forced to go without communication for the second half of the trip. Was I worried? Part of me, yes. Not hearing from him makes he wonder what he’s up to and how he’s doing. But a bigger part of me, the part of me that knows I need to arm him with the skills he needs to be on his own, wasn’t.

I look forward to him getting home with these new experiences and knowledge of his abilities. I’m also waiting for him to want to distance himself again from his father and I. It’s part of growing up. He’s reminding me that I have to stop, periodically, and check in and acknowledge (or challenge) what I’m teaching him. And be aware that time is short as he’ll be off on his own before I know it, and I want to make sure I’ve given him all the tools he’ll need to fly.

What capabilities are you most interested in giving your child? What prompts you to check-in regarding what your teaching your child?

World’s Best Dad

What are the qualities you’d put on the list to determine the world’s best dad?

If I had to boil it down, for me, the qualities would include — love, support, encourage, teach, show/guide, feed (literally and figuratively), and love, love, love. These qualities are pretty much what I’d say makes up World’s Best Mom too. 😊

Because raising kids is hard, dad’s who lean into parenting are even that much more special.

If you were fortunate enough to have a dad that you’d put on the list for World’s Best Dad, congratulations! You hit the jackpot. I know I did, and my kids have too (whether they realize it yet or not is another question ☺️).

Thanks to all the World’s Best Dads out there! We love and appreciate you for being you. Enjoy your day!

Storytelling

We read stories as a family. It is much more rare as our kids have gotten older. There is often pushback — no, ugh, why??? It’s so boring!. But when our youngest came in and said, “Mom, I just read the best book, and you have to read it too,” I knew family reading might be in our future.

My son had just finished reading Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. It’s about how we’ve justified the mistreatment of people of color for centuries through the stories we’ve been told, and allow ourselves to believe. Of course, I’m oversimplifying the contents of the book, but after reading it, upon my son’s recommendation in less than two days, it was the essence of what I took away. The mistruths of what I’ve allowed myself to believe up to this point made me uncomfortable but was also freeing. How could I have been so blind?

Now, before we go further, I’ll share that I, by nature, am a curious person, and am often seeking how to improve myself. I know I am flawed (we all are, we’re human). What happened to George Floyd really opened my eyes to the horrors and trauma that still occur today. It made me (and I believe many of us) want to explore our beliefs and behaviors, and change things for the better. I have actively been working on that, but reading this book helped me better understand how we (collectively as a country and beyond) got to where we are at. I knew we needed to read this as a family and my youngest agreed.

In lieu of a family movie night, we changed it to reading the book. Each of us would read a chapter. While our oldest pushed back — no, ugh!, this is going to be so boring! — it was quicker to read than watch a movie, and he liked getting time back, so he agreed. 😊

We read several chapters then talked about what we read. There was some reluctance on what some family members thought of as “feeling judged” by the author. My son and I disagreed and we proceeded as a family to work through the discomfort being felt. Why do you feel judged? Could/should we be judged in the future for things we still haven’t gotten right now (think equality, gun control, environment)? YES! At the essence, we discussed whitewashing, and how we “wash” over things because they make us feel bad or uncomfortable, and our need to understand things “as they are” and try to see others through a newer, clearer lens.

It wasn’t an easy conversation, but a needed and good one, and by the end I think we all had grown a little more. We still have more reading and growing to do, but I’m grateful that we’re closer to understanding reality for others, and learning how to improve ourselves as a result — in how we engage with, appreciate, and seek more truth vs. what makes us comfortable.

What stories are resonating with you and your family? What discussions are you having as a result that’s helping you (all) grow?

Movie Night

What’s the last movie you watched as a family?

We typically do movie night on Saturdays. We rotate who gets to pick the movie. Sometimes we take a vote. It was my husband’s turn and he chose 10 Things I Hate About You. The movie came out in 1999, and is/was a modern day take on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. My husband picked it for some of the local background (being shot in and around the Puget Sound), and for the story.

I had seen the movie before, but missed a message that likely didn’t resonate with me the first time I saw it, two decades ago. In the scene, the single father is talking to his oldest daughter who is desperately seeking her independence and expresses herself by rebelling against any boxes others put her in (how she’s supposed to act, dress, and/or care about others opinions). The father has a heart-to-heart with his daughter at one point in the movie, understanding that her standing on her own is unavoidable. He is realizing how fast time is going (and has gone), and wants to connect with her while there is still time left. He makes his plea, noting she’s had him watching on the sidelines (vs. being in the game or on the field together) for some time. When I first saw the film, this statement went right past me. This time in stuck. With my boys bring 16 and 14, my husband and I were being directed to the sidelines more and more often.

I discussed it with my oldest a few days later. I referred to the scene in the movie, and shared my awareness of his growing desire for more independence. “Our time is limited. You’ll be on your own before you know it. I know you want your independence, but please let your father and I in, even a little more, just so we can better know you before you are off on your own.” I’m not sure my son understands that he is a mystery to anyone, but he has become a bit of a mystery to my husband and I, as his desire is to mostly be in his room, or out with friends. Only having short, pointed conversations with us here or there, making us curious who he is, what he’s thinking, and what he thinks about things (issues, himself, life in general). We’ll keep trying. I’m not ready to fully be ‘in the stands’ just yet. 😊

What do you connect over as a family? What movie scenes have stuck with you in regards to your parenting journey?

I’ll be off next week celebrating Memorial Day with family and friends and will return in June.

Report Card

How would you grade yourself as a parent?

Most of the time I’d tell you my husband and I are doing “okay” as parents — learning as we go, making mistakes, admitting to ourselves and our kids when we do, learning from them and correcting ourselves/doing better, working to impart wisdom, morals, values, and beliefs, and supporting our boys as they grow. Sometimes I feel like we’re doing well (A/B grading), but other times…

Our oldest doubled-down on not wanting to continue sports in the upcoming school year. He made some good points regarding why he wanted to step away, but his argument seemed to carry a thread of how hard it might be to continue and that was the biggest driver behind his decision. My husband and I knew that the life lessons he would gain by seeing it through were very valuable—you don’t quit when it gets hard, you find your way through. Yet how could we get him to understand and reconsider? We talked about what he would gain by staying, how it would help shape him and his confidence, and how we didn’t want him to look back and regret his decision later when there was nothing he could do about it (meaning he only has two years left in high school). He was standing firm. As much as I hoped he wouldn’t play tackle football due to potential head injury, I was now hoping beyond hope he’d change his mind. It felt like the downside of walking away outweighed the upside. I felt like I was failing my son.

Turn to my youngest. His class is going on an overnight camping trip done by a group called Journeymen. This groups helps develop skills amongst its campers around working together, and successfully completing tasks (such as building on outdoor structure to sleep under). The intention is for the campers to be pushed outside their comfort zone, but have success and grow as a result. My son’s class had participated in it when he was in the sixth grade and he was pushed almost too far (keep in mind he is on the spectrum and his brain isn’t wired to stand significant discomfort easily), that we ended up getting a call where my son pleaded with me to take him home. I told him I couldn’t and explained why it was important he stay (he needed to know that he could do it). He did stay, but was a bit traumatized by the whole experience and was good with never going back again, You can imagine his reaction when we told him his class would be returning. He broke down, got highly upset and stated repeatedly “I’m not going.” My husband and I jumped into trying to calm him. “It will be okay, you’ve grown since the last time and so have your classmates. It will be better.” He wasn’t buying it. After several minutes of being unsuccessful at talking-him-down, my husband offered a great suggestion—have our son talk to his teacher, express his concerns and share what would make him more comfortable going on the trip. Our son was still highly upset, but said he’d try.

That night my husband and I asked each other “are we doing this parent thing right?” Because we felt like we’d be given a F grade based on the recent interactions with our boys. What were we doing wrong? I didn’t sleep well that night wondering what I should be doing differently or better.

Fast forward to the next afternoon. Our youngest gets home from school all smiles. He’d talked to the teacher and the teacher was in agreement around what hadn’t been great the first time round and how it would be different this time. My son had gone from being fearful the prior day to excited about going on the trip. Our oldest got home a little later. Before my husband or I could get a “how was your day” out, our son announced he’d continue to play football and would reserve making any decisions until closer to the start of the season. He wasn’t committing long term, but giving himself more time to make a decision. My husband and I sighed in relief. Maybe my husband and I were doing better than we thought???

What made me feel immensely better was when we shared our failings with a group of friends, and they all shared times they felt like failures too on occasion regarding their kids. Each story was relatable, made us laugh, and while we are trying our best, and aren’t successful in every moment, we see growth in our kids and ourselves beyond.

How would you grade yourself as a parent on any given day? How are you getting through those times you feel like a failure or not living up to the example you are trying to set?

A Sign of Support

The situation in Ukraine is terrible. The bravery the citizens are showing is inspiring. Trying to imagine what it must feel like to be in the situation is impossible. It must be terrifying, stressful, exhausting, and so much more.

My boys are much more aware of politics and what is going on in the world than I was at their age. We discussed what was happening in Ukraine at dinner, and wondered what we could do to help. It can feel hopeless when you are far away and removed from the situation. We talked about how we could show support, and how we could donate to relief organizations. We talked about why one leader would inflict so much pain on so many, with no regard for the damage he’s doing to innocent people (in Ukraine and Russia), their lives, livelihood, and countries. We talked about the beauty of so many around the world being united against the invasion. It wasn’t an easy conversation, but it was a needed one. War is ugly, and no one wins in war.

Following our conversation, our youngest being into geography, insisted we get a Ukrainian flag using his own money. We agreed and now have it hanging in our window as a sign of support. He knows he doesn’t have the means to contribute any significant amount, but knew a visible sign of support had to mean something.

How do you talk to your child about bad things that happen in the world? What signs of support have you and your family taken for others are in need?

Gratitude and Giving Thanks

As we emerge (fingers crossed) from the pandemic, what are you most grateful for?

My youngest son’s school wanted to start a new annual tradition this school year to celebrate being able to come together as a community. They decided to hold a Gratitude Festival—to not only celebrate community, but honor the things we are grateful for — teachers, parents, administrators, friends, health, education, the community, and much more.

Being grateful has given me so much – it helps me be present and notice all the wonderful things around me (people, nature, animals, etc.). Everyday I’m reminded of all the things I have to be thankful for. I’ve tried to instill gratitude in my children. At meals we often share what we are grateful for. I’m hopeful they see the joy in being grateful too.

With Thanksgiving coming up, we often reflect on what we are thankful for. I hope events such as the Gratitude Festival at my son’s school, is one of many events that are held across the country, throughout the year, that provides each of us the opportunity to acknowledge the gifts all around us. After all, realizing the gifts in your life is a catalyst for experiencing gratitude, and when you’re grateful you feel blessed or fortunate. That usually means you feel good. And if you feel good, you’re more likely to spread your good feelings to others. Spreading happiness. What a wonderful thing.

What traditions do you have that are teaching your child gratitude? How are you and/or your child spreading happiness?

I will be away the next few weeks while spending times with friends and family, and will be back in December. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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?