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?

Letting them Go

Have you ever struggled to let your child do something on their own?

My youngest son had his first overnight trip without family. His fourth grade class took an overnight trip to a school in the woods (a nature school). His older brother went when he was in the fourth grade and loved it so much he didn’t want to come back. We were excited for our younger son, but knew he was a little apprehensive, which in turn made me a little apprehensive. My fears: will he have fun? Is he going to be and feel included? Is he going to be okay? My son’s fears (though not confirmed by him) are likely more around no screen time (no TV, no YouTube, no Internet — oh my!).

The morning of his trip he teared up at the breakfast table. “I’m going to miss you so much,” he said. “I know, and we’ll miss you too,” I responded, “but this is good practice for growing up.” He gave me an eye-roll suggesting my response wasn’t what he hoped for (think he was looking for a “we don’t want you to go either…please stay!”). I hugged him and tried to reassure him. “You’re going with people who care about you. Most kids say this trip is the highlight of their elementary school, and now you get to go on it! Most kids (including your brother) would do anything to go back to this camp.” That seemed to help. He wiped his eyes and got ready to go.

It’s hard to let your kids grow up, do things on their own, and help them to be independent. It’s easy to think that if they are independent they don’t need you. But I want my boys to be independent, and to have confidence they have the skills to navigate this life. I want my boys, as they grow into adults, to want to talk and engage with my husband and I because they choose to, not because they have to. It’s still hard to experience the transition as they go from childhood into early adulthood. It’s hard letting them g(r)o(w).

How are you helping your child be independent?

I will be away for the next few weeks and back in July.

 

Fireside Chat

Where do you have your best conversations with your child?

On a camping trip my husband and my older son decided they wanted to hike a trail not far from our camping site. We had just finished a different hike and my younger son and I were happy to sit by the fire and relax. After sitting by the fire for a few minutes, I could see my son was thinking about something. “What are you thinking about?” I asked. I thought he might reply, “nothing” or that he was reflecting on the day. Instead he said, “I’m thinking about life.” He paused, “And what the point of it is.”

Our earlier hike had taken us to a military cemetery where service and family members were buried. There was a large section of infants and young children in the cemetery and I had wondered, as we’d looked at some of the headstones, how the kids might be impacted by seeing so many lives lost so young. The experience reminded my son of two of his peers who have passed. A classmate from pre-school who died of cancer, and an elementary classmate who died from drowning. As a parent, both of these children’s deaths had shaken me to my core and reminded me how fragile life is. In both cases, I grieved desperately for the parents and what they must be going through, and was so grateful my boys were healthy and alive. I never knew if my son really grasped the finality of either death and the feelings that go along with it.

My son continued, “I think of my friends. They didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t understand why what happened to them had to happen to them.” He was tearing up. “They didn’t do anything wrong,” I said. “It’s one of the hardest things to understand in life — why bad things happen. Especially when it’s to good people or small children who haven’t had a chance to even truly experience life.” I paused. “You’ll never be able to make sense when these things happen. Life’s just that way. Sometimes bad things happen. I think their deaths are reminders of the gift we’ve been given — life. It’s a reminder to not take it for granted. To recognize the beauty around us, and to help others see it too.” I’d gotten his attention. “I miss them,” he said. “I know,” I said, “You’ll never forget them. They’ll always be with you. The hardest part is knowing they’re not here and that you won’t have new memories with them. But you can live for them and the lives they didn’t get to live. You just have to see what’s around you and appreciate it for however long you have on this Earth.” I knew what I was saying was a bit heavy, but he seemed to take it in and embrace it. Being in a nature setting while having this discussion really helped. I finished my thought with my son, “You know you show beauty often to others in how you treat them. You’re gift is kindness and happiness. You accept people as they are, where they are. That’s a gift. I hope you always remember that. Lots of people need people like you in their life. You might be the beauty in life they need to see.” He smiled. I used to smile too, when my father gave me insights about myself. There was something magical about being able to carry on the tradition with my son. “Life is hard sometimes. Life can be confusing and sometimes make you sad or angry, but the happiness will return. Just keep remembering to appreciate it, and treat it for what it is — a gift.”

My husband and older son walked into the campsite around this time. My younger son and I just sat there. “What have you been up to?” my husband asked. My younger son piped in, “We’ve been having a very important conversation. VERY IMPORTANT!” He gave me a knowing look. My husband caught my eye and I could almost read his mind — what exactly did you all talk about while we were away? In a way, I wish my husband had been there for the conversation, and my older son — it would have been a good conversation for us to have as a family — but if they had been there, maybe the conversation wouldn’t have happened, and I’m glad that it did.

Where do have your most meaningful conversations with your child?

 

Object vs. Equal

How do you experience your value?

As a child, I would tell you I experienced my personal worth or value when I did something I was proud of — worked hard to accomplish a difficult task, tried something I was afraid of, or pushed myself to get even better at something I was already skilled at. While I was personally proud, being acknowledge by others, particularly my parents and peers, went a long way in how I saw myself and what I had to offer others. Another way I was valued was by conversations I used to have with my father as I got older. He would often pull me aside to help me through a difficult situation. He would talk to me, give me his perspective and then remind me what I brought to the situation. He told me how he “saw” me and the value I had to offer, the value I didn’t necessarily see in myself.

My oldest son questions his value. He feels this particularly as it applies to the opposite sex. As we encourage him to explore being friends with girls, maybe even test the waters of having a relationship, he is vehemently against it. He isn’t willing to reach out because he concretely believes he will be rejected. As he puts it, “what do I have to offer?”, “I not good enough for them,” so “what could they possibly see in me?” I don’t know that I was able to verbalize these sentiments until I was much older and after much therapy. This got me asking myself when do we start viewing ourselves as objects vs. equals? Things vs. beings that have value. I was acknowledged by my parents, I believe I had experiences where they tried to get me to understand my value outside of my physical self. Yet, here is my son, a smart, nature-loving, athletic kid that struggles with his self-worth.

I felt the spotlight that others assigned a value to my outward exterior most intensely in middle school. My weight fluctuated as I entered puberty. Growth spurts, moving from one state to another, and the loss of a familiar summer sport (I moved to a city that was small and didn’t have a swim team) contributed to my weight struggle. I didn’t know why I wasn’t thin like my siblings. I would have done anything to be. Diet, shame and self-hate never seemed to produce the body that I wanted. It was a burden I carried for decades and only in recent years have I begun to unravel and loosen its grip on me. I would do anything, and I mean anything to help my children avoid this. I’m not sure how to do this, other than diets are a no-go for my kids (healthy eating and getting them moving/exercising — check, putting them on a diet — not gonna happen), to continue to expose them to object vs. equal type thinking of themselves and others — the trappings and how easy they are to fall into; and how to recognize them, avoid them and choose a more enlightened and less self-defeating path.

I have to be on the lookout for opportunities to talk to my sons about these things. I caught my sons recently when they mentioned how “hot” a TV personality was. Thankfully we were in our house without anyone outside our family around. “That is a person playing a role,” I chided. “How do you think they would feel if they knew you only thought about them in how they look on the outside?” My boys didn’t like that I had ‘caught’ them in object thinking. “Well, Mom, lots of people think she looks hot, it’s not just us,” one son replied. “That’s the problem,” I continued, “if you don’t realize you’re doing it, you’ll continue to do so. This causes damage when people only see their worth based on what others see on the outside and don’t spend time to get to know what’s on the inside. Do you understand?” “Yes,” they chimed in unison.

This isn’t an easy lesson to teach. We are bombarded with messages that we are only as good as our outward appearance, there are industries built on us buying into this. It’s our job as parents to be aware of these pervasive and consistent untruths that are being told. And help our children combat them.

How are you combating object messaging your child receives? How are you combating messaging that values only your or your child’s outside appearance?

One Day At A Time

How do you handle stressful situations?

This year has been off to a somewhat stressful start for our family. My job has evolved and I’ve taken on more responsibility. My oldest picked up new classes and is feeling the stress of higher demands on his abilities and performance. And we got a cat (but you already know that).

Early in January, I was having moments where the new responsibilities were too many and coming at me too fast. In those moments I’d feel overwhelmed, and experience a wide range of emotion from fear–can I handle everything that is being given to me? to anger–why is this happening me? to hope — okay, I think I can do this; only to find myself repeating this loop over and over. It was exhausting.

My oldest was going through the same. Taking on assignments that were pushing his comfort level. Due dates that seemed aggressive. Grades hanging in the balance. He too was dealing with a range of emotion from fear — how am I doing to do this? to anger — why are they asking me/making me do this? to hope — okay, maybe I can figure this out. The same loop repeating over and over, and just like his mom, he was finding it exhausting.

In moments of stress, we seek out coping mechanisms. All my former coping mechanisms were not having the intended affect. Food — no thanks, no appetite — I’m too stressed. Meditation — okay I’m meditating, but I’m only slightly less tense after doing so. Giving myself a break — too tense and overwhelmed to even consider it. I had a moment of clarity when I was discussing my situation with a peer. “I’ve got to just take it one day at a time,” I said. I don’t know where it came from, but it was like a light turned on. Part of my struggle was that I kept jumbling everything I had to do today, tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. into the ‘have-to-do’ compartment of my brain which was setting off my ‘help-I’m-overwhelmed’ alarm bells. When I said it outloud, I could almost immediately feel the stress diminishing. One day at a time. I can handle this. Just focus on today. Not tomorrow or the day after that. Just today.

After having this ephiphany I shared it with my son. When he next shared how stressed he was, I asked him what he had to get done that day — not the next or the following, just that day. When he replied with items he had to do he had a similar reaction. He even smiled and said, “I can do that, mom.”

His relief matched mine. I’ve heard the phrase “one day at a time” a million times, but never really took it to heart, until now…when I had to.

How do you cope with stressful situations? How do you help your child cope when they are stressed?

No Sugar Coating

When I sat down to write this, I intended to write something light-hearted, maybe even something inspired by the newly released Beauty and the Beast movie, but I couldn’t after my son shared a story about his friend experiencing racism.

It’s not an easy topic to discuss, but the conversation I’ve had with my son has stayed with me since we had it, and I need to get this out.

Have you talked to your child about racism?

I’ve never felt equipped to talk about racism to my children because I’ve experienced very little racism myself.  Gender inequality and sexism I can speak volumes to, but I’m no expert on racism. I can remember when my oldest son first learned about Rosa Parks in kindergarten and became obsessed with understanding why African-Americans were treated so unfairly. “Why did black people have to sit in the back of the bus in the first place?” he asked. I’d respond with something along the lines of “People were small minded”, “People were ignorant”, or “It’s complicated, but know that it was wrong and horribly unfair.”

Both my boys have questioned racism over the years, particularly anytime they’ve overheard a news report. “Why did the police officer shoot that man who was running away from him?” “What’s going on in Ferguson?” “Why don’t some people like Obama?” Each time, my husband and I have attempted to answer their questions, but I’ve never felt like we gave adequate responses. For me, the hardest thing I’ve had to try to explain to my children as their parent is why adults behave badly. And when I hear (or see) another adult being visibly racist its the epitome of adults behaving badly in my book. Children learn from adults, so as teachers of our children we are all responsible for racism continuing (whether we are the ones perpetrating it or standing by and letting it happen). Now, I know there are many reasons why many of us aren’t more vocal or willing to take action when we see it: we fear retaliation, we think it’s none of our business, or because we’re complacent and/or complicit; but what does that teach our kids?

Earlier this week, my son came home from school and asked “why are people still so racist?” I asked him what he was talking about, as he was clearly upset. “Shawn (who is a black friend of his) told me he was playing outside with his brothers over the weekend and a neighbor called the cops of them. They weren’t doing anything wrong, they were just playing. Why would someone do that?” he asked, then added, “He was pretty scared, but thankfully the cop told him that he wasn’t doing anything wrong and he wasn’t going to be arrested and not to worry about it.” I was stunned, and saddened. The only “crime” Shawn was guilty of was being black in a predominantly white part of town. I live in a liberal-minded, highly diverse city, and foolishly thought things like this didn’t still happen here. But it did. If my son had been doing the same thing his friend had, no one would have called the cops on him. I moved from sad to mad. I wanted to do something about it, but was at a loss. I had no idea who called the police. I couldn’t confront them. All I knew to do was talk to my son about what happened. I shared his anger in what happened, we talked about what Shawn must have gone through and how scary that must have been; and that what happened wasn’t right. I felt good that we acknowledged the injustice, but felt helpless to right this wrong.

I’m hate racism (the irony of this statement is not lost on me).  There’s no way to sugar coat this. It’s ugly. I don’t see the benefit in breaking each other down and holding each other back. How do we get through the hate (or fear or whatever is allowing this to continue) and get to the other side of understanding and acceptance? How do we become a culture that wants to help each other not hurt each other. I feel ill-equipped to address this beyond my family. But starting at home is exactly where it should begin, right? It starts with me as my kids’ parent. It starts with you.

How are you teaching your child to accept and care for others that are different from them?

Are You Ready for Some Football?

While the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos are preparing for the Super Bowl, my family is preparing for the game in our own way. No, we’re not preparing for a party, we’re preparing ourselves emotionally.

My oldest son is really excited for the game, and we’re trying to prepare ourselves for how to handle things should the game not go the way he hopes. I was the same way when I was his age: so hopeful my team would win the game, and inconsolable when my team was behind (and eventually lost).  The emotions would be so intense, the only way I knew to ease the pain was to leave the room, or turn the TV off.

We’re trying to show our son a different way to experience sports. Losing isn’t fun, and it can be painful to experience and hard to watch when you feel a connection with the team you’re rooting for. I suggested to my husband that we might have to turn the game off if it started going the wrong way, and my husband stopped me. “It will be a good opportunity for us to explain that what he’s feeling, although difficult, is something he needs to learn how to experience.”

He was right. Experiencing pain is difficult, and the game could present an opportunity for us to help our son start to learn how to work through the emotional pain of disappoint. I can’t say I’m thrilled at the prospect of this, only because this is an area I need to get more experience in myself.  We’re taught to avoid pain, particularly emotional pain by any means necessary.

Teaching children how to work through negative emotions isn’t easy. No one ever taught me as a child how to work through emotional pain and get to the other side. It’s taken much effort and personal reflection to understand this, and determine I want my child to have tools I only learned as an adult.

I have to admit, I’m not good at watching games where my team is losing, but I have an incentive to do it now: to show my child how to work through the pain that can come with disappointment. I might get a ‘hail mary’ on Sunday, with my son’s team winning and get to delay this discussion until we watch the next big game, but I’m not going to risk it. Just like the Seahawks and the Broncos are ready, I need to be ready to.

Are you ready for some football? I am.

The Sex Talk

Being a parent has it’s challenges. One my husband and I have been trying to prepare ourselves for years for is “the sex talk.” This came front and center recently when my boys and I were visiting the zoo. We were at the tortoise exhibit when when my youngest son and I saw some movement. I made an innocent comment to my son when one tortoise nudged the other near her rear legs. “He’s saying, ‘hey, get a move on.'” I thought it was funny, and my son also recognized the silliness of my words. I walked away for a minute to check on my other son who was across the aisle looking at a snake enclosure. When I came back to my youngest son, he was laughing in full hysterics…”Look Mom, the tortoise is trying to climb over the other one.” Ah oh, I thought. Sounds like some mating might be taking place. Sure enough I looked into the dwelling and my suspicions were confirmed. What made it worse was the family that was standing next to my son. The husband who had a baby strapped onto his front was giggling nervously and saying, “um, (insert nervous giggle), I, um, don’t think he’s trying to climb over (insert another nervous giggle).” The wife couldn’t take her eyes off what the turtles were doing. My anxiety went from zero to very high very quickly. My mind started to race. Should I just tell my son the truth, that the tortoises are mating? What questions will that bring up? Is having this discussion appropriate to do in public? Thankfully my oldest son, who had no idea what was going on, rescued me by instructing his brother and I to come over and check out what he was looking at. While I continued to ask myself these questions, and fearing I might be missing a teaching moment, I kept quiet. Give yourself time to think about how to respond on this one, I told myself. My younger son never made another reference to what he’d seen.

This experience prompted my husband and I to revisit how we are educating our children on their bodies and sex. Our boys are six and eight and curiosity about their bodies is happening. While we’d like to think that we are comfortable having these discussions, the truth is they can make us a bit uncomfortable. How much do you share? When?

Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to see Dr. Laura Berman on an Oprah episode several years ago, when she helped parents and their children understand their body’s and the realities of sex. It went beyond the birds and the bees discussion. The two episodes I saw taught kids about how their body works, and talked to teens honestly about sex: covering the mechanics while important, is only the beginning, the heart of the discussion was to help teens understand the reality (emotional and relational) and the potential consequences (positive and negative). Both episodes made me cry. Not because I was disturbed at what was discussed, but because I wished so badly that my parents had had this same discussion with me. My parent’s generation for the most part, didn’t talk to their children in this level of detail, and my peers and I were left to figure most of “it” out on our own. I grateful that I managed to navigate it so well on my own, though sometimes it felt like luck played a bigger role in that than my personal knowledge.

I’m determined to help educate my kids, like I wish I was, on their bodies and sex, even though it won’t be easy. I picked up Dr. Laura Berman’s book “Talking to Your Kids about Sex” and “The Boys Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up You” by Kelli Dunham. Dr. Laura Berman’s book is to help my husband and I. The Boys Body Book is to provide my boys with a reference they can read through as needed.

What resources have helped you? How have you navigated the sex talk with your children? How did you work through any discomfort (your own, your partner’s, or your child’s)?

New Day, New Year

I was recently catching up with a friend who was sharing some of the challenges her family faced  throughout 2013 including illness and death of several loved ones. She shared, “I can’t wait to have this year behind me,” and with the year she had, I can understand her sentiment.

Talking to my friend reminding me of conversations I have with my children, about starting anew each day and the possibilities that it brings. On days where my boys experience being upset about something and seem unable to control how their emotions manifest: crying, tantrum-ing, fist throwing, kicking, etc., I talk to my children about alternate ways they can express their feelings: ways that will allow them to feel the emotion and work through it, without having to deal with negative consequences (e.g. losing a privilege). It’s not easy–sometimes for them, sometimes for me, sometimes for us both. I continue that while they may lose a privilege that particular day (to help reinforce their need to embrace other ways of handling themselves) that get to start fresh the next day. I do this because it helps my kids understand their are immediate consequences for their actions, and that the punishment won’t drag on indefinitely. There are times when a behavior warrants a multiple day punishment, which we sometimes implement, but my husband and I most often offer ways for our children to earn their privilege back sooner, particularly if our child can demonstrate they are making progress towards mastering a desired behavior.

As we go into the 2014, there is an opportunity for each of us to start anew: in our relationships, in our interactions, and in our responses.

How do you help your children work through their emotions? How do you help them start anew?

Super Powers

My youngest son entered kindergarten this year, and my husband and I felt it was time he learned to tie his shoelaces. We started with our older son when he was about six months younger than our youngest is now. It took six months to teach him how to do it, so we figured waiting until he was older might help our younger son, though we anticipated it would still take many months of training.

We started practicing about a month ago, having him untie his shoelaces. Then we moved to showing him how to tie them. We took baby steps in showing him how to do it being methodical in our approach. First you make an “x” with the laces, then put one lace over the other and pull it through. I wrestled with whether to continue with the bunny-ears-finding-the-bunny-hole method, or wrapping one lace around your finger and pushing the shoelace with your thumb, to complete the knot. I was trying to figure out what would be easiest for my son to learn. I thought he might struggle and wanted to ease him into this new task.

It took my son about three weeks to master tying his shoelaces. After my attempts to teach him the bunny ear method were unsuccessful, I shared my struggles with his teacher. She listened to what I said, and then took my son aside. She showed him to wrap the lace around his thumb and index finger using a cleaver method. She said, “Superman has to orbit the Earth to get Lex Luthor.” She pointed to my son’s thumb and said, “Where is Lex Luthor?” to which my son responded by pointing to his thumb. She continued, “In order for Superman to get Lex Luthor, he is going to have to push his way to him.” She showed him how to push the lace through to make a bow. He proceeded to mimic her exact instructions, and presto my son is now an expert shoelace tier. He was so proud of himself. It was great to see my son gain confidence in his own capabilities.

As I thought about this, I realized my son was more capable than I was giving him credit for, and I also was reminded that there are many other parents out there that have really creative ways to teach kids. I’m glad I was there to see this and learn from my son’s teacher. I was also glad to learn about my son’s super power (him gaining confidence in his own abilities is a super power to me). I know he has great potential like any child does, and I need to help him discover his.

What are your child’s super powers? How are you helping them discover theirs?