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.

Let’s Talk About It

How comfortable is your child speaking openly? To you? Or Others?

My husband and I are working to help our kids better improve their communication skills. He and I have learned over the course of our relationship that what and how you talk to one another matters, and if you can clearly get across how you are feeling and what’s behind it, it can really help the other person and how they respond.

My oldest son is good about communicating how he is feeling, but not always in the most effective way. He can come on strong or ‘lash out’ as his younger brother would say. He can be defensive and will talk over others until they stop trying to talk over him.

Our boys went to visit their grandparents and when they were back home we asked them about their trip. My oldest shared a few fun things they had done. My younger son started to share a story that my older son clearly didn’t want told. He became defensive, loud and was unwilling to calm down. So, my husband sent him to his room to cool off. We tried to change the mood of the room, and asked my younger son what fun things he had done on the trip. He shared a few memories, including visit a cemetery with his grandparents (where grandma’s parents are buried). We knew from past experiences anything that reminds my son of death makes him sad. He is unique is how early in life he understands the fragility of life and how fleeting it can be — that’s what makes him sad. We asked him how he felt about going to the cemetery. He said it made him a little sad, but he felt okay. He became quiet. Reflective. He looked like he was on the verge of crying. “Are you okay?” I asked. “It’s okay if going to the cemetery made you sad.” “No, that’s not it,” he said, “I just think my life is bad and I don’t like this feeling.” I was surprised by what he said. My husband and I started to ask questions to try to get to the bottom of what was going on. “What do you mean life is bad?” I asked. “I don’t know. I just don’t like the feelings I’m feeling lately. I used to be happy a lot, but now I’m not happy as much,” he said. He is my happy kid, so hearing this wasn’t easy.

After inquiring some more, he shared that what was behind his somber mode was how he and his brother were interacting. He felt that he would say something and his brother would attack him, call him names, and making him feel bad about himself. He didn’t like how his brother was treating him, which is understandable, but what was surprising was how concerned he was about his brother. “I wonder what he’s feeling to say what he’s saying,” he shared. We could see his concern.

My husband got my older son out of his room and spent some time with him discussing the situation, and how he had been talking to his brother. My younger son and I sat together and discussed strategies for how he could better communicate and advocate for himself with his brother. We wanted to make sure he knew that he shouldn’t allow his brother to talk to him however he wanted to. He needed to stand up for himself, and let his brother know when he wasn’t okay with how he was being treated.

My husband and older son joined us and we sat as a family and talked about the situation. At first, the boys started rehashing the incident that had happened while they were away, with each person defending their position and how the other person was wrong. “This isn’t helpful guys,” my husband shared, “there is a lesson to learn here in how to better communicate with one another. When one of you doesn’t like what the other is saying or how they are saying it, you have the right to tell them. And the other person needs to listen. Not yell or defend your position. Just listen. If you don’t understand why the other person is saying what they are saying, ask questions to get clarification. If you can learn these skills now you’ll be way ahead of the game. I never had these types of conversations when I was your age. I didn’t figure there was a better way to communicate until I was much much older. Learn from this.”

My boys looked at each other. I added to my older son, “You know, your brother was more concerned about you and what you were feeling than what you said and how you made him feel. Remember, everyone here loves each other.” My older son smiled and nodded when he realized how much his younger brother cared for him, even when he wasn’t treating him very well.

That ended our family conversation. My boys seemed closer following the talk. There will inevitably be more work to do in helping our sons improve their communication with each other, but knowing that they are more aware and can start to hone these skills now gives me hope for how they will communicate in the future.

How are you honing your communication skills? How are you helping your child help hone theirs?