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). ūüėä

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. ūüėä 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?

Catch and Release

Does your family have a pet? Does your pet ever bring something into the house you wish it hadn’t?

We love our cat. He brings us all kinds of joy, but lately he’s been bringing us a bit more. Mice and birds to be exact. When our cat first joined our family, he was an indoor cat. After several months, we found a pet door that would let him leave and re-enter by detecting the chip he has. We figured this would give him freedom and would keep other animals from entering. What we didn’t account for was that our cat would hunt for prey (mouse or small bird), catch it, and then carry it in. Our cat doesn’t realize it prey wasn’t dead, but playing dead in order to survive. Our cat brings in the critter, lays it on the floor, looks at us with pride (see what I did?) and when we approach, it never fails, the prey suddenly comes back to life and scampers off. Ugh!

One day, he brought a finch in in the morning and a mouse that night, my oldest son, who tends to go to bed the latest and was met with the mouse this particular evening, put his foot down. “We’re locking the cat door at night! I can’t take another animal getting in here.” My husband and I were becoming pros are catching and releasing the prey, and we too were getting tired of our cat bringing small animals in. So we did. Of course, our poor cat is thoroughly confused. The door that let him in and out at will, now doesn’t–it’s open during the day and gets locked at night (prime hunting time). His pride in catching the prey is now viewed as did I do something good or wrong? We’re working with our cat to teach him this new boundary (can you teach cats this?). It’s interesting to see us, as a family, all being on the same page with how best to address the situation. The parental power dynamic is removed and instead it’s how do we solve this together?

Raising kids reminds me of what we’re working on with our cat. You sometimes give them some freedom, and then have to reign it back in when you see either they aren’t ready for it, or it’s being abused. It helps when everyone agrees there is an issue and decides how to best address it together.

How are you giving your child more freedom? Have you ever had to reign it back in?

Your Parental Rating

How would you rate yourself as a parent?

It’s not as straightforward as you’d think, right? There are so many different categories that could go into the rating — loving, nurturing, ability to teach/educate your child, how well you handle emotions (your child and your own), your cooking skills, organization skills, ability to provide, ability to get yourself and your child safe, and so much more. If you got a rating for each category what would be your average?

A few days before my youngest graduated from elementary school my husband and I were in the main office and ran into the principal (who is retiring) and the resource teacher. We thanked them for being so good to both of our boys. They clearly cared about helping our boys be successful in school and helping them thrive. “You’re boys are great, ” both commented, “You all are great parents.” I immediately chimed in, “TBD.” Meaning, while it’s always nice to hear others think you are doing well, my husband and I have further to go with our boys before we can fully accept that rating. I think instead my husband and I work to not be complacent, or take for granted the precious time we’ve got with our kids, and our need to stay open and aware of our shortcomings and where we can improve. No parent is perfect, but striving to be the best you can for your kids is as good a goal as any.

How would you rate yourself as a parent? Where do you see opportunity to grow and do better by your child?

I’m Curious

What is your child curious about?

It was one of those days where work was running long, and I needed to pick up my son from an after school activity. I was on a conference call that required I listen into, not actively participate. When my son and his friend jumped in the car, I told them I was on a work call. My son knows this means I need you to be quiet so I can hear what’s being said, but his friend didn’t know this and began to ask questions.

“Who is on the call?”

“Can they hear me?”

“Why are you only listening?”

“Are you listening so you can see if the people on the phone are doing their job right?”

Thankfully the call was in full swing by the time I had gotten the kids and I had a good handle on where the conversation was going and hearing everything that was being said was not quite as important as it had been earlier in the call. At first, when my son’s friend started asking questions I was trying to answer and still listen to the call. It was tough. Work can often feel like the priority, but his genuine interest in better understanding what was happening made me focus less on what was being said on the phone and more on him and what he was asking. It was clear to me he’d never heard someone on a conference call before (I was intrigued), and while I may see them as a necessity to get things done more quickly, he saw this as something new that he wanted to better understand. His curiosity was contagious. He was interested in learning and I was interested in sharing. Here’s how I answered his rapid fire questions. ūüėä

“People that I work with”

“No, the phone is muted”

“Because I just need to hear what’s going on, I don’t need to say anything”

“I’m listening because it will help my team and I better understand what we need to do next. The people on the phone know how to do their jobs, I’ll just be better able to do mine if I know what needs to happen next.”

We arrived at his house not long after. His attention had turned back to my son and as they said goodbye I reflected on what had just happened. Having a young person that is curious and looking to you for answers is priceless. And while the work call was important, engaging with my son’s friend, even though briefly, was a better use of my time (and much more rewarding).

How are you encouraging your child’s curiosity?

About to Snap

Do you ever lose your patience with your child?

Most of us do. At least from time to time. My husband needed to work late one night, so I got my boys to various appointments and commitments around town, and once we were finished we went out for dinner. My kids wanted to go to a pizza place followed with a trip to the ice cream store next door.

I got the boys their pizza and turned my focus to my phone. I had some work I needed to get caught up since I’d been running the kids all over the place. My kids were busy eating and watching the TV at the restaurant. I was thinking about how I wanted to respond to a work email. I began to type my response when he oldest asked, “Can we leave now?” I didn’t realize they were already finished. I asked for a minute so I could finish my work. Before I was done, my son said, “Mom, can we go?” I tried to suppress my frustration with the question and instead redirected my son. “Why don’t you and your brother put your plates and trash away.” They did as I asked, and I was able to just get my email off before my son said, “Mom, come on, let’s go.”

I followed my sons to the ice cream shop and had them place their orders while I continued to try to get through my work emails. After they ordered, I decided to get some ice cream too. I paid and we sat down to eat our ice cream. Almost as soon as my backside was in the chair my oldest son said, “Mom, can we go?” I just sat down, and his question made me almost snap. In a stern voice I said, “I just sat down. I’m not going anywhere until I’m done. Stop asking me when we’re going.” I could tell my son wasn’t expecting my reaction to be so strong. I gave myself a minute to calm down. Up to that point I’d been a ball of stress, getting the kids from place to place, making sure everyone was taken care of and fed, trying to get some work done, and, heaven forbid, have a couple minutes to sit down and have a moment with my kids.

My son wasn’t in the mood to talk to me on the way home, and I understood, I had snapped at him and he didn’t think he deserved it. If I had been more mindful What happened wouldn’t have. I should have communicated better with my boys and let them know that I was under stress to get done work done and ask them to give me some room and keep any questions to a minimum. I believe we would have avoided me getting upset and my son feeling like he was blindsided. It was a reminder to me to be more mindful in the future and remember how important teaching good communication skills to my kids is.

Have you ever unexpectedly lost your cool with your child? What did you take from the situation? What did you do differently after?

#SEEHER

Do you have concerns about how your child views them self — now or how they will view them self in the future?

As a young adult, I was asked by a friend what gender child I’d like to have when I had kids. I quickly replied, “Boys.” Not because I had heard boys were easier to raise, but because I know the struggles a female goes through in life — the self-doubt, the body image issues, the messages we get heaped upon us about what we are supposed to be, and the resistance we are met with when we don’t conform. I really feared my ability to navigate this with a daughter and do right by her.

As fate would have it, I have two sons. I see my role now being how do I teach my sons to see women as people, equals, and help them be part of the movement towards change?

I was fortunate enough to be in a conference that talked about the #SEEHER movement. As a woman, I was inspired by the women who are taking the steps to ensure women are represented as we truly are — 50% of the population, of all different backgrounds, makeups, religions, and sizes — in advertising and media. Women with influence and power, leading in a moving way. I think we are reaching a tipping point where women won’t accept the status quo for who we are “supposed” to be any longer. And my responsibility is that my sons understand that.

One of the speakers shared that she stops the TV (or movie) periodically and asks her kids what they see — who’s on the screen, what role are they playing, does this reflect the society they walk through every day? If no, it’s a good opportunity for her and her kids to talk about it. I love this idea. I watch TV with my kids, but had never thought to do this. I will now.

#SEEHER comes from the phrase “If you see it, you can be it.” With advancement opportunities still male-leaning, the statement becomes more empowering for a woman if you change it to “If you see her, you can be her.”

I am grateful for all the women and men who are raising their voices to make this change happen. We all can (and should, in my opinion) all be part of this movement. I am inspired by those — young and old — who recognize we get better as a society, culture and country as we make this change. It’s on me to educate my boys. Not to make them feel less than, but for them to recognize their strengths and where they add value, and where their female peers and counterparts do. And up to you to educate yours.

How are you helping your child #SEEHER?

Model Driver

Are you your best self when you’re driving your child somewhere?

I am not.¬†Well, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes, I can be, but each car ride varies. If there is lite traffic, and we’re not in a hurry, you are probably see a pretty good version of me. ¬†When traffic is heavy, and/or I’m in a hurry to get somewhere, probably less so. While not a model driver, I’ve worked hard to be mindful of what I’m saying while my kids are in the car. I revert to a play-by-play announcer when I encounter, what I deem, a driver who’s not following what I consider the obvious rules of the road — letting people in,¬†waiting your turn at four-way stops, and turning left behind the car going straight through the intersection. “That car should have waited their turn.” “If they would come across, we could go behind them.” “It wasn’t that car’s turn!” My kids have heard it all, and I’d hate to see them doing an impression of me in the car.

My boys and I were coming home through downtown and traffic was heavy. There is a particularly busy interaction where you can wait for the signal to change five to six times before you get through. By the time it’s your turn, you are more than ready to go. A car, who was in the bus lane (a lane it wasn’t supposed to be in) realized they needed to get out of that lane¬†chose to¬†pull in front of me and partially block¬†the intersection. I went into play-by-play mode. “That car shouldn’t be there, what are they doing?” I knew what the car was doing, but really didn’t like that they had just cut in front of me. The kids were frustrated waiting as well, so me commenting on it, only made the situation worse.¬†The light changed and finally it was our turn to go. I thought the car that had pulled out in front of me would proceed forward, but instead they waited and signaled for other cars to go,¬†not allowing¬†me and all the cars waiting behind me to go. As I saw the walk sign counting down and knowing when it hit zero the light would turn yellow and we still hadn’t moved, I lost my cool and did something I never do — I beeped my horn. And not like a tap-tap-tap like my best self would have done, but more¬†what my upset self felt —¬†MOVE IT, I’M TIRED OF WAITING! The car finally started going and I and maybe one car behind me¬†made it¬†through the intersection.

After getting through the intersection, my oldest son said, “Wow, Mom, you used the “F” word.” “I did?,” I said. I didn’t have any recollection of saying it. Then my younger son said, “Yea, Mom, you said it alright.” “Really?” I replied. I still couldn’t believe I’d cursed in front of my kids. Now some people curse, and I have my fair share of moments when I’m alone in my car, and/or don’t have anyone listening to me, and I’m upset. It’s different when I’m around people. I don’t like curse words — they carry such strong emotions, and can change the way others perceive you and what you are saying. I stress with my boys this point often. I always want them to think before they speak,¬†and avoid curse words if at all possible (and it’s always possible, right?).

I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed in myself. I had prided myself on trying to be a model driver, or more a model parent, by being mindful of my speech, yet in a moment of high frustration the word came out without me even realizing it. I know how upsetting it was for me to hear my parents use a curse word when I was growing up, and¬†honestly I can only remember each one of them maybe using a curse word once in my life, but each time it left an impression on me. I didn’t like knowing my parents were…human, and maybe more like everyone else than I was ready to accept. I thought of my parents as¬†role models being wise and caring, and while I knew they weren’t perfect they were as close to perfect as any two people I knew.

My son helped ‘refresh’ my memory on what I said to the woman, but the way he said it gave me hope. You said, “You’ve go to be…well, you know, the f-word, kidding me. You drive in front of us and now you’re not going?” I was grateful he didn’t quote me verbatim. I apologized to my son’s for cursing in front of them. They didn’t seem too phased by it, but I’m concerned they will remember it much like I remember those times when my parents did.

We always strive to be good role models, it can feel terrible when you have proof you haven’t lived up to it. It does give¬†me a chance to discuss my mistakes with my sons, take responsibility, and change¬†my behavior (really watch my words — especially when I’m in that heavy traffic!) going forward. I think my kids like knowing Mom makes mistakes too.

How are you modeling the behavior you want for your child? How are you handling situations where you make mistakes?

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?

One Step at a Time

How are you keeping your child busy during the summer?

Our summer is sprinkled with trips, camps and hanging out with friends. When our kids have time that isn’t scheduled, my husband and I feared our boys would be glued to the screen all day long, so we came up with a plan. We got the kids pedometers (very basic ones) and told them all screens go off at 10 a.m.,¬†and that they¬†have to get 10,000 steps before any screens come back on.¬†We empowered them to be creative in how¬†they get their steps, but¬†they have to get the steps in.

I was traveling the first few days my boys had to follow our plan. I called my sons at lunch to check in on them. “Did you get your steps in?” I asked. “Yea, Mom,” my oldest shared. “We walked around the park and then went to the coffee shop and got a snack.” They went to the park and then to the coffee shop, I thought. Okay — honestly I thought they’d stay around our house — the park isn’t far, but still. “Whose money did you use at the coffee shop?” I asked. I thought perhaps my husband had given them some money, but that was not the case. “We took our allowance,” he said. “Wow, okay. And you guys are doing okay?” I finished. “Yea, Mom, we’re fine.” We ended the call shortly after. I was impressed my boys had taken the initiative to not only find an interesting place to walk, but then had the forethought to bring their own money to get a snack.

The next day when I returned from my trip I checked in with them. “Where did you go today?” I asked. “We walked to the grocery store. We were out of a few things. We were a little short on money, so we couldn’t get everything we wanted,” my son finished. “Wow,” I responded. “You went to the grocery store?” My son piped in, “Yea, I felt pretty stupid that we didn’t have enough money, but we misunderstood one of the things Dad asked us to get.” Hmmm,¬†okay, Dad sent you to the grocery store — I’ll have to talk to him about that, but clearly the kids were able to handle the challenge.¬†“There is no reason to be embarrassed, “I told him, “it’s a great lesson to learn. That’s why it’s important to know how much money you have and budget for what you can afford.” I thought back to the previous day, “You didn’t want to go back to the park and the coffee store today?” “Nah,” my son said, “We figured we’d run out of our allowance soon if we went there all the time, so we’ll probably just go there every once in a while.” This is one of those moments where you think maybe we’re doing okay as a parent. I tentatively say that, because it only takes a smart remark or a roll of one of my sons eyes to remind me that parenting is a journey — and feeling like maybe we are doing some things right can be fleeting.

I’m glad my sons are getting out this summer and not just glued to the TV, computer or tablet all day long. I’m glad they are together and being creative in how they spend their time. I’m impressed by the adult things they are doing — buying things on their own, learning fiscal lessons they’ll remember in the future. It’s another step towards them being independent. We still have a ways to go, but I’m proud of the steps they are taking — literally.

How is your child showing you their independence?

I will be off for the next several weeks spending time with family and will return later in August.

You Won’t Always Like What You Hear

Has your child ever said anything that shocked you?

Immigration has been in the news a lot lately and I am very clear on this topic with my kids — we are a country built on immigrants. We wouldn’t be here if our ancestors hadn’t migrated here, a majority of us wouldn’t. Immigrants are what make our country great, and we need to be welcoming and embrace the diversity we have in this country.

So imagine my surprise, when during a meal, while the kids were telling¬†jokes, my son said, “Why did Trump build the Wall?” “I¬†don’t know, ” I said bracing for something silly like, “because he couldn’t find a chicken,” or “because he wanted a new house,” he said, “to keep out the Mexicans!” He started to laugh. My face went from eager anticipation to fury. “That’s not funny,” I said sternly. “That is why the wall is being built and it’s not right and it’s not funny.” I continued, “When you refer to a group of people by their country, it makes it sound like you are saying something negative about them, and there isn’t anything negative about people from Mexico. They are just like you and me.” I was angry and I clearly was getting my point across. My son’s face crumpled and he began to cry, “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was saying was wrong. I didn’t mean anything by it.” He repeated himself several times. In situations like this, I would normally want to console my son and tell him “it’s okay” but I felt this situation required a different approach. It wasn’t okay, and I would never be okay with anyone in my family repeating what my son said. I was reminded of a time when I was his age and watched a TV show that I’m sure my parents weren’t aware I watched. I used to draw cartoons as a kid, and I drew a cartoon using a word that I didn’t know the definition of — rape. When I showed the cartoon to my parents, I was anticipating them to laugh (like they normally did when they read one of my cartoons), instead I can remember how upset they were. “This isn’t funny. Where did you hear this word?” I hated that I had used a word that was so hurtful to so many, and stupid because I didn’t know what it was or meant, and the worst part was that I’d clearly disappointed my parents. I sensed my son felt the same way. I shared with him that I had had a similar experience when I was his age with my parents (though I didn’t share the specifics). I let him know that I understood how he felt, understood that he was sorry and that it wouldn’t happen again. I told him that what he had said was serious, and there was no sugar coating it — it was wrong and I wouldn’t be doing my job if we didn’t have a serious discussion with him¬†about it. After a few minutes, he calmed down and we finished our meal. After some time passed, my husband and I broached the topic of immigration again — asking the kids what they understood about it, and asked them what questions they had. I’m hopeful that we’ve shed more light on the topic and our sons are more informed.

Part of growing up is making mistakes and having people who care — whether it’s your parents, a teacher, mentor, caregiver or coach — guide you along the way. You’re not always going to like what you hear, but if the advice or teaching helps you be kinder, wiser, more appreciative or just better, its worth listening to.

How do you respond when your child says something counter to how you are raising them? How do you guide them back to the person you want them to be?