In Train-ing

How will you get to your holiday destination(s) this year?

Our youngest is a huge fan of public transit and rail. My husband first introduced our boys to riding the bus when they were younger to get around town for their activities. Our youngest learned to get to middle school via light rail and bus when he entered sixth grade. That’s when we think the bug hit. He loved transit, the paths it takes, how it moves people around with relative ease. He was hooked.

You can say he’s a bit of an expert as he spends hours researching about metro and light rail lines around the world. Our summer vacation we used public transportation most of the time because of him. He planned it out for us — where to go, what line to take, knew the time tables — it was impressive. For his birthday, he took his friends on the train to the next city over to explore and celebrate (thank goodness the teens fare was free!😊).

His comfort with transit, and love for it, is infectious. I rarely took public transit before my son became so enthralled. He’s helped even his old mom learn a new trick. 😄

When we plan trips or go anywhere using transit is now part of the equation. Pluses of transit — it saves you money (no airport or downtown parking), is less stressful (you don’t have to deal with traffic), and for our son gives him greater independence (replaces what a bike did for me in my childhood); downsides — sometimes it can be unpredictable (running behind) and riding with others.

While we have no near term plans to travel I know many do. While my son is bummed he’s not mapping out a journey for us, he’s continuing to learn as much as he can on light rail and other public transit around the world so he can guide us on future trips. You could say he’s in training for his future (whether it manifests into a job, or just remains a passion). He makes me see travel in a different way. Holiday travel doesn’t have to be running around to catch your flight, or stuck on the interstate with everyone else. You have another option, the train. Depending on your destination, it might take longer but with way less stress, interesting scenery, and an opportunity to actually enjoy the ride.

How will you get to your holiday gatherings? What would make your holiday travel with your child or teen less stressful?

I will be away next weekend celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends and will return in December. Happy Thanksgiving!

Preparation

How prepared is your child to be independent?

My teens are opposites in many ways. One showers, wears deodorant, brushes and flosses without being asked. The other has to be prompted, reminded, nagged more often than not. They will take proactive action only in more extreme situations (e.g., they recognize they smell pretty bad too).

One teen can get around on public transit, without complaint. The other one prefers to be driven and picked up, and complains when these options aren’t available. 😉

Neither’s room is clean per se, but one child does put their clothes in their dresser drawers, and has made their bed more days than not. The other uses their room (more exact-their floor) as their dresser, and rarely makes their bed.

Our oldest is getting closer to the day he’ll be on his own, and my husband and I have discussed the need to get him better prepared—to live in a space he (and others) can tolerate, maybe even be proud of (that means being tidier and cleaning up after himself), getting himself to and from places without the help of mom and dad, and putting more care into his hygiene (I don’t know anyone who enjoys being around unpleasant smells).

We decided since football season has finished and our son can decide what he does after school (workout or come home), he can figure out how to get himself home — walk or public transit. The situation presented itself for us to get him doing this when my husband was tied up and I was across town when our son reached out to get a ride home. He’d have to figure out how to get home on his own (keep in mind he was about a mile away from our house). He was frustrated that we couldn’t get him but became really unhappy when we told him he’d need to start getting himself around without our help. “You can’t just change things!,” he said, “this is so unfair.” He continued to share how upsetting this change was for him. We gave him some space to calm down.

I went to talk to him after a while. He doubled-down on how ‘dumb’ and ‘unfair’ the change is. I doubled-down on the importance of us better preparing him to live on his own, and his need to demonstrate not only to us, but more importantly to himself, that he’s ready. That means he’ll need to navigate public transit sometimes, take ownership of his space (room) and personal cleanliness. He resisted. I reminded him no one likes change, it hard, and I understood he didn’t like it. He told me he was done talking to me and get out of his room. Power struggle ensues?🙃 I tell him I won’t leave until he can calm himself down. He resists (of course, trying to flex his independence). I stayed and made him show me a few deep breaths. His facial expression read I hate you so much. I get it. I had those moments with my parents too. Before I left his room, I reminded him his father and I weren’t helping him by helping him (cleaning up after him, doing his laundry, nagging him about personal hygiene, etc.). He was old enough and needs to take full ownership.

It’s tough making change, especially when resistance is high. It’s harder when it’s with someone you love. Its easier knowing it’s for my son’s benefit. He loses if we don’t allow him to grow and learn what he’s capable of.

How prepared is your child? What challenging situations have you encountered trying to help them and how did you overcome their resistance?

Strength vs. Weakness

How do you show your emotions to others?

I have to admit I struggled showing mine when I was younger. I didn’t allow myself to feel or experience my feelings as I thought they’d show weakness or an inability for me to solve problems on my own.

My oldest struggles experiencing his for similar reasons. He came home after sports practice, was mumbling under his breath, saying little to us, and closing his door in a way you knew he didn’t want it opened. He came out briefly to get dinner. When asked how he was, he looked at me incredulously and said, “practice sucked. I’m just so over it!” He’d had practices before he hated, but this felt like something more. You could tell from his body language he felt tense. I attempted to engage. He said something to the effect of “leave me alone, I’m about to blow a gasket.” My husband attempted to engage. Our son resisted. We decided we needed to let him cool down, and then revisit.

The next morning, before we needed to leave for school, I went to talk to him again. “What was going on last night?” I asked. He grumbled and shared he’d had a hard practice. I asked what made it tougher than usual. Turns out it was the wet and cold, I knew he was holding back. “What else?” I pressed. He sighed and said, “okay, when I was driving home and turning onto our street I thought I was clear, but noticed a car, at the last minute, who’s headlight was out.” I could tell they must have almost hit each other and it scared and angered him. I shared as much. “Anytime the unexpected happens, especially in the car, a normal reaction is fear — am I’m okay are they okay? — and then anger — how dare you scare me!” He looked like he was taking this in though we’ve talked about this before. I continued, “what I’m more concerned about is you being unwilling to talk about your feelings when you got home last night. What you were feeling seemed disproportionate to what you were sharing. “Mom, I don’t need a spotlight on me every time I’m upset.” “It’s not a spotlight,” I said, “it’s helping you work through your emotions. If you don’t talk to someone about your feelings and you hold them in, eventually they will come out in an explosive way that others won’t understand. You’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favors when you don’t work to understand your feelings and find a healthy release for them. Talking to others is one of the easiest ways. I’m here. You’re dad is here. Talk to your friends if needed, just talk to someone.”

He appeared to be considering our conversation. He’s becoming more independent and wants to handle things more on his own. I can appreciate that, but desperately want him to avoid the all-too-common pitfall that keeping your emotions to yourself and not experiencing and working through them is a sign of strength instead of what it truly is, a sign of weakness. I learned this when I talked to a therapist for the first time later in life. Learning how powerful and cathartic it could be to talk and work through emotions lifted my confidence in navigating life and armed me to better deal with challenges as they come my way. My hope is that my son sees how sharing and working through his feelings can benefit him too.

How do you work through and express your feelings? How are you helping your kid work through and express theirs?

Audition

Ever get stage fright?

That’s not exactly what happened with my son, but it was pretty close. My youngest started high school and has been looking forward to getting back into theatre. Being his first year, he wasn’t sure what he’d need to do to join the drama club. He learned they’d have auditions and he’d need to come, bring his paperwork, and read a script.

He was a bit nervous about going (naturally), but worked through his nerves and stayed until it was his turn. They called him to the stage and said, “Okay, you can start.” My son was confused and overwhelmed. He didn’t know what they wanted him to do and he broke down in tears. Thankfully, the adults realized they needed to give him more direction, gave him a minute to compose himself and handed him a script to read from. He regained his composure and redid his audition, this time feeling more confident in his effort. I met him in the parking lot following. He broke down in tears again talking about how embarrassing it was that he didn’t know what to do, and admitting that afterwards he realized he hadn’t read the paperwork completely and at the bottom it referenced coming with a monologue prepared.

We talked about this being a growing experience. That life will sometimes through unexpected things our way, and how we respond matters. He might not have liked how he responded, but recognized he was so overwhelmed that his emotions burst through. I reminded him that the good news was he survived and everything was fine after all. He appeared to take some solace in this. We talked about how he might handle the situation differently next time – be it an audition or something else. “I guess I’ll read the paperwork more closely,” he said. I told him that was a good way to avoid getting caught off guard, but the unknown can happen regardless of how well you plan. While he couldn’t come up with what he’d do differently, we discussed recognizing the feeling if/when it happens again and if possible take some deep breaths to give himself a chance to respond in a way he feels better about. It’s a start.

I’m proud of my son for trying and not giving up. I’m more proud of how in tune he is with his emotions and his understanding of his need to feel them, counter to how many of us who will do anything not to.

The drama season officially kicks off soon and the school has several plays. Whether he has a speaking role or plays Tree#3 😊 I’m grateful he’s sticking with it, as it proves even when we fall/fail/didn’t-realize-we-were-supposed-to-have-memorized-a-monologue there is always the opportunity to dust yourself off (regroup), and try again.

How do you handle the unexpected? How are you helping your child navigate a perceived failure?

Transitioning

Parenthood is all about dealing with transitions, right?

The transitions came fast and furious when my sons were babies. The transitions slowed and felt more manageable as they aged, but there is always that period of time, at least for me, at the beginning of a new phase of their life, that I am uncomfortable because I’m learning how to adjust to the newness as well.

After several challenging moments with my oldest, I started googling for books on ‘my son hates me’. I’ve always been okay with my kids being unhappy with me especially in times where I’m trying to impart a lesson, or teach a moral or value, but lately with my oldest it seems I can do nothing right, it’s embarrassing that I exist, and I’m clearly the most annoying person in the world. It’s the plight of many teenage parents, I know. 😬 I stumbled upon the book “He’s Not Lazy: Empowering Your Son to Believe In Himself,” by Adam Price. The reviews were high so I gave it a shot. What was I missing in my interactions and communications with my son?

I read the book while our family was together for a weekend away. The context of the book is focused on boys who’ve checked out of school, but I found you can easily apply what your son is ‘checking out of’ to almost anything. For my son, he’s fine in school (we’ve taken a pretty hands off approach) with the exception of having him show us progress/reports cards online periodically. We’ve been way more involved/vocal on his activities and have tried to motivate/prompt/threaten (lost privileges) for not being more proactive. In reading the book, I took away the following—I need to give my son more space, even in his activities. He still needs guidance/guardrails, but essentially he’s capable enough and needs to take more ownership. I need (along with my husband), to step back, give him room, and let him show us who he is. This is soooo hard. My son is capable and does need room to grow. He needs to build confidence in himself and his capabilities, but oh how I still want to be able to help him navigate things with ease, and remove obstacles where I can. I’m not helping him by helping him. The age-old trap us parents can fall into. I have to tell myself to zip it (when I want to give coaching or advice), and let him g(r)o(w). Soooo hard.

How are you helping your child grow their confidence? If you have a teen, how are you helping them transition into adulthood?

Teen Travel

Oh, I should have seen this coming. Finally able to travel post pandemic-✔️, have itinerary-✔️, have tickets-✔️, have everything packed-✔️. Everyone excited (pause for effect) — sort of???

Three out of four of us were really excited about getting away for our vacation, except for my oldest. There were complaints at every turn. The flight is going to be too long. This is going to be so boring. I’m going to make sure you understand how much I’m not ‘feeling’ this. 😂😭😬

He earned the nickname ‘sour puss’ at one point in the trip because there was no pleasing him. For those of you who have children that are grateful and can find the joy in things, consider yourself fortunate. Our youngest is wired this way. Our oldest isn’t. We’re aware of his need to be more independent and not hang out with mom, dad, and his kid brother, but during our trip it got to a point we had to have an impromptu family meeting in a hotel room to address it.

As a human, I was angry, frustrated, and angry (yes, I meant to say it twice). The planning, and investment, and all the wonderful venues and activities we had lined up weren’t appreciated (which as a human I thought—what am I doing so wrong that I’m raising an ingrate?). In fact, we were getting a lot of ‘why do we have to do this?’, ‘this is dumb,’ etc. As a mom, I had to remind myself to bite my tongue and not say something I might regret. I was the adult and I needed to act like it, but it was so infuriating.

When my husband and I had some time alone, we discussed the situation. I can remember trips as a kid where we were going non-stop all the time and the trip seemed more like a chore (at times) than a vacation. I could relate to how my son was feeling, but still irked at his behavior.

We sat as a family and discussed how the trip was going. We discussed how when one person complains and acts like they don’t want to be there, it negatively impacts all of our experience. “Just because you aren’t having the best time, doesn’t mean you have to ruin it for the rest of us.” Ruin might have been a dramatic word to use, but it had the intended effect. I can’t say my son ‘snapped out of it’, but definitely tempered himself.

We gave him some free time to go on runs, or explore around the neighborhood where we were staying. He even got into finding energy drinks they don’t sell here to bring home to a friend. It became part of a game, where he’d find a convenient store near whatever touristy thing we were doing, and see if he could find a new beverage. It was a compromise, and for the most part it worked.

We’re planning another dream trip (one we’d hope to do many years ago, but we’re unable to) next year. While we’re well into the planning stage we’re asking our kids for more feedback and involvement in the planning so we can all have the best experience possible (if that is possible???😂😭😬).

For me, this trip was about having a once in a lifetime experience with my family. Was it a great trip?✔️ Did we see and do a lot of new things? ✔️ Was it all sunshine and rainbows – absolutely not. Did we learn more about each other and grow as a family? ✔️✔️✔️

How is traveling with your family? What resistance have you had from your child (or teen), and how did you address?

Independence Day

As we get ready to celebrate July 4th, independence is top of mind.

We ventured to the east coast over Spring Break and visited Washington, D.C., Gettysburg, and Philadelphia, PA. It was a trip my husband and I had always wanted to take our kids on, to allow our kids to get a better understanding of our country’s founding, and see historical and iconic sites.

I’ve talked about my teens starting to embrace their budding independence. Going to these sites made me better appreciate what it took for us (as a country) to become free, and the guts it took to do so. Though youth emerging to adulthood isn’t revolutionary, it can be a battle — trying to figure out who you are and who you want to be — maybe pushing against others (parents, teachers, coaches, friends?) who are trying to tell (or influence) who you are — to be you.

This Independence Day, I am in awe of those that helped paved the way for us to live in this wonderful (though not perfect) country. I’m also in awe of my boys as they fight through the trials and tribulations of becoming the men they will be as there is courage, bravery, and strength, in being uniquely you.

How are you helping your child embrace who they are? How are you encouraging their independence?

I will be taking time off to celebrate the holiday weekend with friends and family, and will return in July.

Report Card

How would you grade yourself as a parent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crossroads

My oldest has asked to play football since he was very young. We were against tackle (due to brain injury concern, and the potential for him being exposed and potentially embracing toxic masculinity), but relented following our son being in flag football for many years, COVID isolating us all, and his need to see his dream through.

His first year, it was a shortened season—only four games, but they won most, and he had fun. The second year was a bit more eye-opening for him. He’d get overly anxious before each game — being unable to eat and/or keep anything down. He’d have no energy during the games (you don’t play optimally when you’re tired), and would be starving. All distractions. Workouts were more intense, but that didn’t bother him—he likes pushing himself to be fitter. His teammates were all over the place. Seniors making the season as if it were life and death, and his peers goofing off half the time. It’s left him questioning ‘do I really want to keep doing this?’

My oldest shared with his father he was considering walking away from the game. My husband was taken aback and needed a few minutes to let it sync in. My husband shared what he’d heard when I got home later that evening. “He said he has an important decision to make here in a few weeks about whether he’ll play football or not next year.” We we’re both caught by surprise. I wanted to talk to my son and see if I could understand more of what was driving this.

Thankfully he was willing to talk. I asked him why his was questioning playing with the team. He had clearly been putting some thought into it as he’d put a pros and cons list together mental which he recited. He shared that he loves the team and preparing for the game (though grueling). He hated how anxious he got, and it not allowing him to perform to his ability. He hated the range of attitudes by the players—overly serious (this is life and death), or immaturity, and some toxic masculinity (let’s hit something, pound chests, etc.). I could see how conflicted he was — loving the game, not loving all the comes with it. He was at a crossroads.

I started by telling him that playing, or not playing, was his decision but wanted to give him some things to consider before making the call. I started by talking about his teammates and the effect the pandemic had (which we all don’t fully understand yet) on younger people. “The seniors were overly serious because they got gypped out of two regular seasons due to the virus. They had a brief taste in the shortened season in the Spring of last year and wanted to see what they were capable of. Regarding your peers, studies have already shown maturity lacking in teen age groups due to the virus. Give tour peers through the summer and I’d guess they’ll act more age-appropriate.” I let that sink in for a minute then continued, “Regarding pre-game nerves. We can get you help with that through the doctor and bring in others like a sports psychologist to give you tools. The coach talked to you already about the leadership potential he sees in you, right?” My son nodded his head. “You have the opportunity to lean into being a leader. You followed last year because you thought that was your place, but you are growing and others see the potential in you. You have the opportunity to lead, people respect and listen to what you have to say.” This seemed to get him thinking based on his facial expression. “The last thing I’d like you to think about is not having regrets. You need to think through would you regret not playing sometime down the road, and if the answer is yes, than reconsider.” I shared a story with him about my own high school sports experience. I’d played on the golf team. The game was mentally taxing. I was good, but not great. I took it seriously, but not life or death. I recall questioning myself each year, but particularly before my senior year if I really wanted to subject myself to all the mental stress again. I ultimately decided I would regret it if I didn’t see it through, and I’m so glad I did. I have great memories, continued to improve my game, and got to be a mentor/roll model to the younger players. It was very satisfying.

My son is at a crossroads. My husband and I can only guide him at this point. I don’t want him making a decision he’ll wish he hadn’t later. As a parent, I feel the need to step back and let him make up his mind, and show that we trust him to make decisions that are right for him. He’s becoming an adult after all and needs to learn how to make ‘big’ decisions he can live with. It’s a bit unsettling as a parent to start letting go, but that’s the only way he’ll grow.

What crossroads has your child faced? How are you helping them make decisions for themselves that they feel good about?

Reluctantly Independent

My oldest has his license and can drive where he needs to most of the time (as he shares my car). With this independence, my husband and I expected him to want to do more driving and be out on his own, and he has sort of.

My son normally spends much of his free time with his best friend, who lives a few miles away. They often go to local parks to workout, and hang out with other friends. He and his friend where planning to go to a baseball game they had gotten free tickets to. My son decided he no longer wanted to drive. He asked if I would drop him off at his friends. “What’s going on?,” I asked,”why don’t you just drive yourself over?” He seemed aggravated that I didn’t just agree to drive him. Shaking his head (oh, teens! 😊) he said, “well, I’m not sure where I’m going to park for the game, and I might get too close to something and get a ticket.” I could feel his discomfort but knew I needed him to drive himself to his destination, for no other reason than for him to gain more confidence in his abilities. I needed him to know for himself that he could do this ‘new’ thing (park somewhere new where the rules might be a little bit different) and regardless of the outcome he could figure it out. When my son saw I wouldn’t budge from my position, he looked at my husband who’d been standing nearby and my husband confirmed with a simple ”nope” that he wouldn’t drive him either. My son, clearly unhappy, went to his room.

My husband and I discussed what happened. Why was our son suddenly wanting us to drive him? What was behind this? We know he has a bit of an anxious undercurrent going, it rises to the surface when he tries new things. Learning how to drive is about the most scary new thing you can do, yet my son knows how to drive and the new situation was getting him to challenge his independence and some of the uncertainty (growing, making mistakes, learning) that come with the territory. We agreed we had to hold firm, and if our son wanted to go, he’d have to drive himself.

When it was time for my son to leave, he exited his room, grabbed the car key, and went out the door. No “I’m leaving,” he just went. I knew in his quiet exit he was trying to convey “fine, I’ll do it (or I’ll show you!), but I’m not going to like it.” It felt familiar to me, and thinking I had likely handled situations similar when I was his age with my parents. 😊 Of course, he went to the game, had a great time, and had no issue with parking. I was grateful. While reluctant, by simply driving to a game, my son was growing in his comfort with his independence.

How do you help your child gain the confidence they need to do something that is new(er) or they aren’t comfortable with? How are you helping them gain an appreciation for what they are capable of?