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?

Growing Pains

What was your middle school experience like?

My youngest is nearing the end of his middle school experience. When we asked how his school day was he made a face (something between resistance and relief), blew out an audible breath and said, “a lot of kids are getting physical in the hallways and parents are getting concerned.” Wait, I thought, I’m a parent and I’m not concerned — because I wasn’t aware anything was going on. I needed to learn more. “What exactly happened?” I asked. My son told us how there are a small group of kids that like to push each other, and use inappropriate language when moving between classrooms when no teachers or staff are present. It had gotten to a point where they had to sit each class down and talk to the students about what was going on because some kids were getting hurt. My son was upset, not because he had gotten caught up in this, but because what his classmates were doing were disappointing to him.

“It bothers me that some of these people are in my class,” he shared. His school is small, and most of the folks in his class he’s been with for years. “I don’t understand why they think this is funny or okay.” We talked about what was going on. My oldest thought the whole thing was humorous and shared stories of his middle school experience that was mirroring his brother’s. The difference was it didn’t seem to bother my oldest, but did my youngest.

My youngest made a comment indicating he still didn’t understand why his friends would engage in this behavior and find it okay. I offered a possible reason for the way the boys were behaving. “Think about when you were starting middle school. You were still more dependent on folks like mom and dad, and your teachers, and willing to listen and adhere. But, middle school is the transit period between being dependent and starting to be independent. Kids start to test boundaries and who they want to be.” My husband chimed in, “it’s like trying new clothes on. They try to see what fits.” We all agreed it’s a normal part of growing, and hoped our son wouldn’t judge his classmates too harshly, though we’re hopeful they’ll rethink their behavior and treat others more kindly going forward.

Growing up is hard. Seeing how others change can be painful, but it’s part of the process we all go through. I continue to appreciate that our son is letting us navigate this with him together.

What growing pains has your child encountered? How are you helping them navigate these changes?

Needs, Wants, and Priorities

When did your child last tell you they had a need that really wasn’t one?

My oldest loves sports, and has been excited to start training for the upcoming Fall season with his team in advance of school starting. He also is in Scouts and has had a outing planned that overlapped with practice. You can imagine what happened.

Because of COVID and the uncertainty of what play would be allowed and when, there was little communication to the families around practice and when it would take place. My son’s troop had booked their Summer trip in the Spring allowing for everyone to get vaccinated before the trip. The troop was very successful in 2020 selling pumpkins and Christmas trees, so they could afford to fly to their destination (which is a big deal. They’ve always driven before). My son was excited for the trip, but hated that it would overlap with his practice. “I’m letting my team down,” he said one evening. “Would you feel like another team member was letting the team down if they went on a scheduled trip and couldn’t go to practice?” I asked. “Yes, I would,” he said, paused then responded, “okay, no I wouldn’t.” He grimaced (he really doesn’t like it when my husband or I are right, or make a good point). 😊

As the trip neared, his desire to not let his team down (real or perceived) amplified. As the departure date neared following one practice he expressed his angst. “I’m just starting to get the rust off and playing good again. I want to stay for the entire practice before I leave but I can’t because the troop has to get to the airport four hours before the flight leaves. It’s ridiculous.” I asked, “have you talked to the Scout Master to see if we can bring you to the airport to meet them?” “I did,” he said, “but I got a ‘why don’t you just leave practice early’ response.” He continued. “I mean, the Scout Master just doesn’t get it. I have needs. I need to practice and be with my team, why can’t he think about my needs?” I had to suppress a chuckle. I gave him a minute to calm down. “You know the Scout Master has to coordinate everything for all you kids. There are a lot of logistics involved and if he starts bending to various needs it makes his job a whole lot harder. I get that you don’t want to miss practice, but your needs don’t go in front of what’s best for the troop. Everyone worked hard to go, practice will be there. You’ll get caught up. You should be looking forward to this. You were until practice started.” He sighed, “yea, l guess you’re right.” We drove in silence the rest of the way home.

Your wants and needs can feel intense when you’re a teen. You want your wants or needs met now, not later. Later is forever away. Helping our son understand true priorities and what matters is the opportunity my husband and I found in this experience. Knowing what is truly important, will have the greater impact (on you and others), and making choices/decisions you feel good about down the road.

Before my son left I tried to help him reframe the situation. “You won’t remember every practice, they’ll blend together, but you will remember taking this trip. It’s something special and will be memorable.” He shook his head in agreement. It also helped that he happened to twist his ankle in practice the day he had to leave early to catch his flight, and was going to need to rest it for a few days (coincidence or fate?) . 😊

What does your kid see as a need you disagree with? How are you helping them figure out what are their true priorities?

I’ll be away next week to spend time with friends and family for Labor Day and will be back in September.

Father and Son Conversations

Anyone stubborn in your household?

If we had a competition in my house for who was most stubborn, I think it would be a four-way tie. 😊 We all have our moments of digging in.

My husband and our oldest son do volunteer work in the community most weeks. My husband thought it would be nice if he and my son went out to dinner, just the two of them, following a volunteer event. He was excited by the idea and told my son the plan. It went over like a lead balloon. My oldest didn’t want to go out to eat, and when my husband pressed my son for why, my son could only respond with that he didn’t know. My husband came to the dinner table, deflated, hurt, and a little angry. My son went to his room. I inquired what happened, was told, and then let some time pass to see how my husband and son would resolve the situation.

I waited, then waited some more. Nothing happened. I finally told my husband I was going to talk to our son.

When I went into my son’s room. I told him I understood he and his father had a conversation and it hadn’t gone so well. He explained, “You know I love you guys, but, I don’t know, (he paused as if trying to pick his words carefully), I don’t want to go out with you by myself, it just feels weird. You know?” I knew what he was talking about and shared, “I do understand what you are talking about. You know why it feels weird, right?” I paused. He looked a little puzzled. “Because you are becoming more…” I trailed off. “Independent,” he said. I could tell this was an aha moment for him. “This is part of growing up,” I continued, “it’s normal for you to want to do more on your own, with your friends, and start to pull away from parents. But guess how Mom and Dad look at this time. We see how quickly you are growing and know it won’t be too long before you’re off on your own. We’ll be lucky to get to spend any time with you. The time we have now is precious and special to us, and while I get you don’t want to be seen with us, you might throw us a bone now and then and have a meal out with us (though any activity will do). We love you kiddo.” He smiled while trying not to smile.

I asked my son to go talk to my husband, who was sitting out in our backyard. He resisted but then went outside. I stayed inside and tried to give them some privacy. My son came in a few minutes later and returned to his room. I figured all had been resolved.

My husband came in a while later. “Did you all talk and get things resolved?” I asked. “No,” my husband replied. “But I saw him go outside. Didn’t you all talk?” “No,” my husband said, “he came outside, walked around a little bit and then went back in.” Ugh, I thought. This is crazy. First, why didn’t my son take to his father, and second, why hadn’t my husband talked to my son? Their stubbornness was shining through.

Not long after, my son walked in the living room, saw my husband was there and started to turn back towards his room. I told my son, “stay right there,” then I looked at my husband, “now you, go into your son’s room and talk this out.” It felt a little ridiculous that I had to instigate this, but I couldn’t take them not talking any longer.

My husband came out of my son’s room after a while. “All good?” I inquired. “Yes, all good.” He later thanked me for intervening, and agreeing they were both being stubborn. I could tell he felt better, my son felt better, which, of course, made me feel better.

How do you handle when you (or your child is) are being stubborn? How do you help your child communicate more effectively?

Discord over Discord

If you have a tween or teen you’ve probably heard of Discord. For those unfamiliar, Discord is an application that allows friends to communicate while playing games online. My youngest asked if he could get an account for his last birthday. We agreed but with rules — he can only talk with people he knows, and if his father and I ever have any concerns, we can take privileges away.

During Covid my son has benefited greatly from being able to connect with his friends through online gaming. After getting a Discord account he was enjoying it on another level. While I’ve been reluctant to let my son get really into gaming, I was glad he had this outlet.

Discord has been a positive experience for my son for the most part. My son sighs loudly (to maybe get me it my husband’s attention?) when he’s frustrated or upset. He sighed like this and I asked him what was going on. He shared he was frustrated because one of his friends via Discord chat was blaming him for something he didn’t do. He was upset that he was falsely being accused, but more upset that his friend did it publicly to his friend group versus messaging him directly. He was struggling with the situation. I sat down next to him at the computer and asked him to walk me through what happened. I could see the dialogue in Discord and could see what my son was saying. What shocked me was what the friend wrote — Who changed me from being the moderator? f u [insert my son’s gaming name]. I saw how my son had replied online. It wasn’t me. I don’t know who it was. Reply from friend: well then who did it? My son: I don’t know but it’s not okay what you said. Friend: get over it. My son: uncool man, uncool.

I asked my son, “Why don’t you block him?” My son at first thought it might make the situation worse, but after we discussed, he determined blocking this “friend” would make his Discord/chatting with his friends way more enjoyable, so he blocked him and breathed a sigh of relief as his “friend’s” messages disappeared from his feed.

Afterwards, we discussed friendship and the fact that we don’t really know why his friend was acting the way he was or saying what he did, but that healthy relationships require respect and his friend needs to earn my son’s respect and trust back. I want my son to get comfortable holding firm on how he’ll allow himself to be treated by others. It’s not always easy, but so important.

How are you teaching your child about friendship and what a good friend is? How are you helping your child set boundaries around how they’ll let others treat them?

Teen Distancing

If you have a teen, do you notice them wanting more space?

My oldest is definitely covets alone time. It’s not uncommon for him to disappear for hours to listen to music, exercise, text or talk with his friends, or just have time away from the rest of us. I get it. I can recall being a teen and spending hours on end in my room listening to music, and just enjoying having time to myself.

We’ve needed a change of scenery from being cooped up due to Covid, and went to a neighboring county for respite. This county has many hiking trails. I had been feeling my son’s distance and asked if he’d go on a mother-son hike with me. My hope was that we could take a leisurely walk and just reconnect. I could better understand what he is feeling — being separated from friends, school being over, the summer and upcoming plans changed or cancelled — and see how (or if) I could help. My son reluctantly agreed. He was suspicious that I had an ulterior motive than just talking (such as wanting to talk to him about something specific), but I assured him I just wanted to connect with no agenda to talk about anything specific.

We went for our hike, or should I say jog? We did walk but you would have thought we were having a race to see how fast we could complete the hike. I had to ask my son to slow down repeatedly. We didn’t have to be too concerned with social/physical distancing because he was always 20 feet in front of me. I started shouting my questions to him (thankfully we had the hiking trail to ourselves), “I just want to check-in with you. How are you doing?” I asked. His response, “Fine.” I tried again, “How are you feeling about things? School being over, and not being able to see your friends?” “Fine,” he responded again. Huff, huff, huff. Image me speed walking up and down inclines trying to get my son to engage in a meaningful dialogue. I’m sure it was quite a sight. “Please, slow down. It’s not a race. I just want to talk, you have been more distant lately, and I just want to make sure you’re okay. That you and I are okay.” “Mom,” he slowed down (hallelujah!), “We’re fine. I just want space. I’m a teenager. I’d prefer not to be cooped up, but what are you going to do? We have to until this is over. It sucks, but it’s just the way it is.”

He continued his slightly slower cadence so I was able to get in a few more questions and get more answers before we finished. He went off on his own once we rejoined his younger brother and my husband.

I remember being his age and seeking more independence from my parents. It’s bittersweet. Amazing to see him grow tinged with sadness with just how soon he’ll be off on his own. While he may want me to give him some teen distance now, I hope he’ll periodically slow down and allow for us to be closer.

How are you bridging any distancing that may be going on with you and your child? How are you keeping them close during this time of distancing?