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?

Fundraising

What has your child had to fundraise for?

I sold cookies, candy bars, a game of Monopoly based on our local town, and wrapping paper to fundraise growing up. I asked for sponsorship in walks, runs, and other physical feats to raise money to fund trips (camp, mission trips, school outing), or a good cause (awareness, research, prevention). While all things needed the money I never felt comfortable doing it (particularly when I sold things no one wanted, like the Monopoly game based on my local town).

Fast forward to present day, my son has been asked to raise money for his sport. The funding will help pay for equipment, uniforms and other things the staff and team need. They are asking each child to send out an email to 20 people they know (family and friends) asking for financial support. In normal times I would most likely be okay with this, however, with COVID and how it has impacted so many, not to mention what seems like non-stop natural disasters (flood, fire, hurricane, etc.) everywhere you look, it doesn’t feel right. I get the program needs the money. I also get that the staff are underpaid and don’t have the extra money to cover (nor would I expect them to) the costs to fund the sports program adequately. My son and I discussed.

“You know you’re supposed to be asking others for money for the team?,” I asked. “Really? No one said anything,” he shared. I explained that the parents had received several notices and that he had to set up a page and it tracked how many people they sent the solicitation out to (by # of unique emails, and by unique donation). There were prizes he could win if enough individual people donated. I then shared my discomfort with him doing this due to COVID, and so many hurting. His father and I could make a donation to hopefully cover what was needed from him. He said he agreed. I’m sure he felt relieved he wouldn’t have to ask others for money as well.

Raising money is something we all do to help fund the underfunded or good causes. It can be uncomfortable but rewarding when we see positive progress, or outcomes. Did our son miss out on an opportunity to learn the pros and cons of fundraising? In this scenario, yes. But he has fundraised before selling pumpkins, and Christmas trees, so he knows what goes into raising money including hard labor, selling a product, and helping give the customer good service so he increases his chances of a return (happy) customer. He’s even shared that it felt like they really earned the money when they raised it this way.

Solicitation for fundraising is an easier way to bring in money for a cause, but can also be oh, so uncomfortable. Am I missing out on an opportunity for my son to learn life lessons by not having him participate, possibly. But our hope is that he’ll be on the team in future years and we can revisit fundraising this way hen it feels more appropriate (more people are doing financially better).

How does your family handle fundraising requests? How do you handle any discomfort with asking or being asked?

The Reward of Road Trips

What do you and your family do to pass the time when you’re on long car trips?

We ventured out to visit some National Parks several states away from us. We packed the car and warned our kids that cellphone coverage would be spotty in places and to be prepared. While flying to the location instead of driving would have been faster, it would also cost us significantly more, and would not have saved us a ton of time, so we opted to drive.

My kids are weary of the boredom that can come with long road trips, and so was I. However, we filled our on-the-road time listening to podcasts (many), music, and talking, and time seemed to pass more quickly. All of us talking was my favorite part. We might talk about what we saw, or what we were looking forward to, or what we learned from wherever we had most recently stopped.

My oldest is in Scouts and working on a merit badge. Part of the badge is for him to learn about finances, budgeting, and savings. He decided to use our time in the car to gain the needed knowledge. It felt productive educating both boys on everything that goes into both small and large purchases. It was nostalgic—thinking about how our own parents had taught my husband and I these same things, and encouraging (thinking we actually taught them useful information they’ll actually use/benefit from).

We’ll see how much they retain. 😊 Long road trips can be boring, but we found great reward in how it let us teach our kids new things, and brought us closer together.

What rewards have you experienced from road trips and/or traveling with your family?

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?

One Love

Are you in a healthy relationship?

Growing up, no one explicitly talked to me about unhealthy relationships. I was fortunate to have parents that modeled healthy behavior, but was left to navigate relationships on my own. I had a good support system, however, my biggest enemy was me. I decided around puberty that I wasn’t outwardly lovable—I didn’t match what I saw on TV or in magazines and didn’t have boys knocking down my door, so drew the conclusion that what I believed was true, and rarely allowed myself to be open to relationships. If a guy liked me for me, well, I knew there was something wrong with him because how could somebody like me? It makes me sad when I reflect on this period of my life. Standing back and watching others in relationships gave me good insights into relationships I was interested in (e.g. hoping to have for myself one day), and those I wanted/needed to avoid. I can remember this served me well following college when I was more confident in my appearance and my inward love was starting to align with my outward. “Joe” pursued me after meeting me at a business outing. He was confident and blunt. He liked me and he made sure I knew it. He asked me out and I agreed though there was a red flag that was quietly being raised within. We agreed to meet at a restaurant but he called earlier in the day and insisted he pick he up. I told him I didn’t feel comfortable with that and he persisted. I gave in. I regretted it immediately and started thinking of ways to get out of the date. Something was triggering inner alarm bells to get away. I was about to call him to cancel when he called me, and shared he’d been in an accident and we’d have to postpone our date. I felt like angels had taken over the situation. I was glad he was okay, but knew he wasn’t for he based on how he explained the accident—he cursed about this woman pulling out in front of him on his motorcycle and how he’d really wanted to take me on a joy ride. No. Nope. Bye Bye. I sighed with relief that the date hadn’t happened—he clearly didn’t know me nor I him. Confidence is great. Aggressive big red flag.

Now my boys are in their teens and navigating relationships—friendship and romantic. My youngest is fortunate enough to have the organization One Love Foundation (joinonelove.org) working with his school. It teaches its students about what consists (characteristics and traits) of a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one. It allows the boys to better understand how their actions impact ours, and how to create and be part of healthy relationships. We’re talking to One Love Foundation about engaging with my older’s high school and look for him to benefit too. What a gift to learn something so important at such a pivotal age, right?

How are you modeling healthy relationships for your child? What are you teaching them to help them better navigates their future relationships?

Upsetting

How did you learn about what happened at our nation’s capitol this week?

I was on a call with others when someone shared what was happening. A family member called soon after confirming the news. I was hopeful with my boys remote learning they wouldn’t hear about what was happening until after it was over.

Of course, news of what was going on spread amongst the students. I was glad my husband and I were both home so we could have an open discussion with our sons about it. My youngest was more outwardly impacted by what he saw than his older brother. “It’s scary,” he said. I agreed. It was upsetting. Not only because of what happened but by the adults that perpetrated it. Kids (teens included) look to adults for how to act in different situations, and model the behavior they see. The adults who instigated this, and participated in it, failed our young greatly.

The damage is done, and I can only hope that parents, caring adults, mentors, teachers and leaders are who our kids will look to and model themselves after. I hope the young can see right from wrong and don’t believe violence is the way to make any positive change.

It’s upsetting.

How are you and your family dealing with what happened?

Talking with Your Kids about Racism, Injustice, and the Need for Change

What happened to George Floyd is horrific.

As my family and I watched the aftermath and the juxtaposition between peace and unrest it forced us, as a family, to talk in a deeper way than we might have otherwise.

As a parent it is important to me to help my children be better people than I am. I’d like to think that I’m a good person, but know there is always room for growth. And while I’d like to think I’ve always been open-minded and self-aware, the truth is that came with time. I’m trying to help ensure my kids are open-minded and self-aware from the get go.

Based on this, it is why we’ve talked about racism, inequality, and injustice (for those of different color, religions, gender identity, sexual orientation, gun violence, etc.) as a family, and why our recent opportunity to read together has helped us have these conversations.

It can be incredibly frustrating when the injustices are so blatant, and you raise your voice (participating in peaceful protests, write to your govt officials, and vote) and nothing seems to change.

I’m reminded that change being made is often met with resistance. It’s hard. It isn’t easy. And if you really want change, you have to keep raising your voice, and demanding it. Even if it seems exhausting and infuriating and disappointing in how long it can take.

As parents, we play a role in this change. In how we make our kids aware of the injustices that still exist today, how we have empathy for others, appreciate diversity, and how we have to use the tools that we have (voice, and actions) to be the change.

How are you talking to your child about what’s going on? How are you helping your child be the change?

Easy Come Easy Go

When was the last time your child did something that surprised you?

This last happened to me a few days after Christmas. My oldest has been asking for an iPad for a while. We have never invested in a gaming system for our kids, and my son likes to use my iPad (which is very old) to play Madden. My iPad is so old, it no longer can support any of the latest versions of Madden so, as far as my son is concerned, it’s useless. 😊 My husband and my response is always the same when our son tells us he wants this, “Do you understand how expensive iPads are?” Communicating that we understand he wants it, but it’s not going to happen. We said if he wanted an iPad so badly, he should ask for money from his grandparents, and other family for Christmas.

I was in need of a new smartphone earlier in the year after the screen on my previous phone shattered. When buying the phone they had a buy one get one free offer so I decided to pick up an iPhone for my son. My husband and I had been talking about upgrading him from his flip phone to an iPhone but still had concerns over him having such a device (particularly with all the content that’s available). Thank goodness for parental controls. Being able to restrict his usage as night, limiting what sites he can access made us feel more comfortable giving it to him as his Christmas gift. It was one of the few times I’ve seen my son get a gift and be almost overwhelmed with gratitude.

A few days after the holidays my son came to me and said, “Mom, you know that money I was saving for the iPad? Well, I no longer need it since I have my iPhone. I want to give it to #TeamTrees.” My son learned of this organization (teamtrees.org) while watching YouTube. They were getting a lot of press and buy-in from other YouTube and non-YouTube celebrities helping them achieve their goal of planting 20 million trees. My son was caught up in the hype and wanted to contribute his savings that day. While I loved that my son wanted to donate his money I wanted to make sure he was really thinking through where his money was going, and taking the steps to educate himself on the cause, charity, and feeling good about where his money went (e.g., what about the cause speaks to, or resonates with you?). My husband and I asked him to do some research, sleep on it and we could figure it out in the following days. Once we learned #TeamTrees had exceeded their goal, my son was more willing to look into other charities. We had him look up charity ratings, and after doing some research he decided to donate his savings to the ArborDay Foundation. I was proud and surprised at how easily my son was letting go of the money he’d been saving up for almost a year. He could have easily bought something for himself, but felt compelled (maybe influenced by the YouTube community?) to give his money away.

I’ll take this kind of surprise from one of my children any day.

When was the last time your child surprised you in a good way?

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?

Aww Man

Do you have a brother or sister? If so, have you always gotten along?

My boys generally get along pretty well. They are opposites, for the most part, one like sports, and gaming. The other is interested in the arts, and geography. But, they have their moments. My oldest is a thinker, he’s not a big talker (communicator), and has been known to have a quick temper from time to time. My younger is easy-going, generally in good spirits, and can talk your ear off if he’s interested in the topic. Like any siblings, with their age difference, the older one can think the youngest is annoying or acting “like a baby.” The younger can be confused sometimes when he’s unclear what he’s done to upset or annoy his brother (and there are other times when he knows exactly what he did). 😊

Being in middle school, my youngest has shown an interest in learning Minecraft. My oldest first got into Minecraft in elementary school, grew bored with it but has recently experienced a renewed interest. [If you’re not familiar with Minecraft it’s a video game where you can build worlds, explore, gather, and do combat. There is somewhat of a cult following–with many enthusiasts, songs (parodies), blogs, videos, memes, etc.] Since my youngest is just starting to learn the game, he asked his brother for help. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw his big brother step in to help and show him what to do. My oldest is at the age where he ‘couldn’t be bothered’ by his younger brother, but thankfully that hasn’t been the case. They are bonding over it. This is one of the first times my oldest has had a chance to teach his brother (be a mentor). He’s enjoying this role, and he’s good at it. Aww (Man) — you’ll get this reference if you’re a fan of Minecraft. 😊 I hope this is just the first on many bonding experiences they’ll have that will help their relationship grow.

How do your children get along? What do they bond over?