Help my Teens need to socialize

I have stumbled across a few places in the world where parents are walking the impossible line of risk assessment in the midst of a pandemic with teens and young adults who naturally should be out in the world discovering who they are in relationships with their peers. We are the parents writing the manual of how to do this. No one has done it before us. Hopefully, no one will have to do it after us.

It might have been “fun” to embrace the challenge in the beginning but as time goes on and we all get weary it can start to feel easier to risk all the things in order to help lift the spirits of our young people who are struggling. Yet, it is still dangerous. It is not just a cold we are talking about. There isn’t a clear path of who survives this virus and who dies from it. We are all having more risk management discussions than we thought we ever would. So I wanted to come to this space and make a list of ways to keep those teens connected, building relationships and safe.

For research I turned to my resident experts, asking my own children how they were staying connected with their peer groups. I do feel like we have a bit of an advantage here as my boys have been staying in touch with far away friends for over a decade now. That’s not to say it is any easier just that they have had to exercise this muscle a little more frequently.

The first thing they said was “DISCORD!” I am hard pressed to believe there are parents of young adults out there who don’t know what Discord is but I did not realize how many things you could do in this simple application. Turns out you can use if for all kinds of connecting. Shared screens so you can all watch the same movie at the same time with additional ability to text chat or pause and audio chat to discuss plot twists, suspenseful moments and what just might happen next.

This ability to screen share also makes it the ideal space to do some skill sharing. Depending on the interest level of your Teens they could set up a weekly skill share passing around the leader role to whoever is ready to teach their friends something new. Along those same lines, they could to a craft kit or drawing kit together. Everyone orders the same candle making kit on line and when it arrives turn on those cameras and follow the directions together. Or maybe they have all wanted to learn how to build a birdhouse, watch a youtube video, screen share to create the blueprint together and take it away from there.

My sons both love to play video games so this has been an endless source of connection and joy with their peer groups. Here is a look at a few low cost options for those looking to get into some on line game play with their peer group. I am assured there are plenty of free on line cooperative games both through the App store on handheld devices, within Steam and with your own google search. In fact, my oldest just finished completing a jigsaw puzzles with his peers from three different states.

Jack Box Games have been a hit for us as a family and with friends. They are having a sale at the writing of this and could make great gifts for peer groups leading to lots of fun through the winter months. For a small fee as well you can purchase Table Top Simulator and then Steam offers plenty of free versions of classic board games that can be played with all sizes of groups. Again since this is an online digital purchase no holding your breath for the post to arrive in time for the holidays.

My youngest son reminded me of all the ways Minecraft can keep giving back to people. Whether it is just side by side play in a discord call or adding a mod pack and joining a server together the open world is endless in possibilities. I have seen peer groups replicate places they have visited together, creating their dream utopia or challenging each other to complete a list of tasks. Whatever they choose it is hours of conversation, decision making and creativity. That’s before we even begin to talk about the cooperation and team building skills. As a side note, getting involved as a parent is a bonus gift. The other day my nephew, I haven’t seen in almost a year, called to tell me all about his Minecraft adventures. He’s freshly five and it’s all brand new and I was able to keep the conversation going because of what I learned through gaming with my own boys!

I have also been told by my resident experts that Stardew Valley, available on multiple platforms, gives an open ended space for recreating farms, villages and even trying out new relationships. A way for peers to set up and test their skills at running a world with some creative life choices.

These free games are a for sure way to bring friends together to build cooperative thinking skills in high pressure situations. Apex Legends, CSGO and League of Legends all require players to work as a team toward a common goal. They are responsible for my boys building more skills than I can fit in this post!

I can not leave the gaming topic without mentioning Ultimate Chicken Horse which I have heard hours of laughter stemming from all the in-game cause and effect decisions that need to be made. And there is Among Us, a recent addition to the gaming world that has captured the hearts and attention of all age groups. Also, why not do some trial and error on those free games in the App store and compile their best most hilarious reviews of the positive and negatives of the game.

If you have readers, Discord can be the platform for your book club. Chefs host a night to teach your friends to make your favorite dish. Send out the recipe ahead of time so everyone can gather the resources they need. Or take it a step further and put packages together to safely drop on the porch to be used for the culinary adventures. Maybe they have neighbors that could use a home cooked meal or baked cookie surprise this holiday season.

What about pulling apart a favorite play and having each person record their lines. Someone can then take on the editing job and create season 1 of your own playhouse. This could even involve the mocking or remaking of favorite TV programs. Why not write a song together, someone gathers the tracks and puts the new hit together.

These times require an endless supply of out of the box thinking in order to keep connecting as our old familiar activities fall away. I like to think though of what it is my sons are learning in this time. They are learning a resiliency I never had to, they are taping into creativity I didn’t lean on at their age and they are adjusting goals and expectations to meet the changing world. It is sad some days and it is glorious others when we recognize these humans will one day be the leaders of our world and they’ve already thrived through their first pandemic with all kinds of survival skills.

I can’t end this post with out mentioning, to you parents out there reading, don’t forget to join in on these activities with your children. This time is affording us a chance to be together more often, to learn from each other and grow in directions you couldn’t even see a year ago.

Please fill the comments with all the ways I missed that the humans in your home are finding to stay connected.

It all starts at home

It’s been a while since I’ve turned to this space to spill out some words. I can find myself looking around the world and wondering if anything I have to say is worth it in comparison to the great pain that is being felt in the streets, in isolated hospital rooms and in abandoned businesses.

Can I really justify another post about the importance of loving our children just as they are and not as someone else’s idea of what they should be? And then I remember. That truly what I am hoping to do in the world is to remind parents that they can not tear down the systems of oppression in the world outside of their home if they are continuing to exercise a power over dynamic with their children. It’s shifting toward partnering with our children that creates the model of what they will look for and call for in the futures they are stepping into.

I remember years back coming across a bumper sticker that read “world peace begins at home be nicer to your kids” and instantly understanding the deep truth of the message. The reality that I can’t be a peace activist out in the world if I am a dictator at home. I had to start with myself first. A careful analysis of the places where I was already causing harm. Yelling at someone smaller than me, with less experience in the world who was simply experimenting with ways to get their needs met, was causing harm. Demanding a level of respect without handing back that same level of respect was causing harm. Ignoring requests for love and attention for reasons I had deemed to be of higher importance was causing harm. So I began the work of causing less harm right there in the space that I had the most control and influence, my home.

I had been raised on systems of oppression. Systems that wanted me seen but not heard. Systems that indoctrinated me into believe there was one right way to be in the world. Systems that had me believe my age and experience gave me power over those, younger with less experience. Systems that gave unearned privilege to those born into skin and bodies they had no choice over.

I’d like to say once I saw this I got to work right away at tearing it all down. But that would be lying. It has been an 18 years journey of questioning the entire world around me. It started with wanting to preserve the humans my children already were and to create a space for them to grow into that knowing. It has lead to continual, repeated deep reflection of the racist systems and structures that have shaped the spaces I walk in everyday.

When I began questioning how I was going to parent my children I had no idea I was opening the door to questioning everything else I had ever thought to be true. Yet, I can see it now. My children were given the freedom to question which they continue to liberally apply to every situation they encounter. I’ll never forget the first moment my eldest said to me “I think that’s a racist term mom,” and I learned another place where I had been causing harm. Being heard and valued in our family made him want a better space for us both. Calling me in for my ignorance was a necessary step in that process.

My friend Patti Digh reminded me years ago as I stepped into a more active roll in my community to start local, to understand what my neighbors and community needed and to influence change at that level. I am here today to say there is nothing more local than my own home. Influencing change starts in my home, by shifting the power dynamic away from power over to partnering with.

Resources for raising anti-racist children

There are headlines everywhere confirming what we have known to be true for a long time black bodies are not safe. As a white woman it is my job to understand my own racism and commit to an anti-racist plan. It is not enough to simply say I am not a racist. It is not enough to share articles on line and speak my outrage. This is an all hands on deck commitment to erasing white supremacy and all the nooks it exists within myself, my family and my community.

As a parent it is also my job to get my kids involved. As a mother to two males it feels even more crucial. I know my boys are committed to equality, I have seen it in the ease with which they ask about pronouns, point out my own blindspots and question what I think it true. Still I need to keep checking in and digging deeper into the actual work of being truly anti-racist.

There is the work I need to continue doing daily for the rest of my life. There is the work of helping my children to also understand in age appropriate ways. Stories have always been my way into understanding and a beautiful way to begin conversation with my children. Here is a collection of stories and writers that can support the raising of anti-racist children.

Children’s Books on police brutality

Books that celebrate Black Heroes

Recognizing Privilege

Mindfulness and coping with stress

A huge collection of resources to talk about race with children of all ages. It’s never too early.

This is a course I am about to take that I would love to see some of you in. Unwavering a vision for multi-generational anti-racism.

This is just the tip of the iceberg friends. Do you have resources you are using in your family? Let me know and I will add them to this building list. Are there BIPOC that you are following that are speaking out about parenting? Let’s give them our dollars, our likes, our follows, our ears, our support but mostly our commitment to the work required to create a just world for ALL children.

PEP Talk Number One

Welcome you fabulous human being tasked with raising up another human being. Is your heart about ready to burst with all that love? Or is it the fear that’s winning out today? Well this here is a little pep talk for you.

I know the world out there can set you up to believe someone else knows what’s best for your child. From diapers, to feeding, through nap schedules, school choices all the the way to the teen year transformations. I am here to remind you or perhaps even tell you for the first time, that you are the only expert their is on your child. You know their favorite sleep postitions, snacks and what outfit helps them shine brightest. You know what brings that special twinkle to their eyes and what will help mop up the tears. You know best.

So in today’s very first pep talk I am handing back to you all the parenting awesome that lives inside your heart space. Asking you to lean into your own wisdom to find the best way to show up for your unique child, especially when the world tries to hush that part of you. Go ahead love a little harder, laugh a little longer, trust a whole lot deeper your inner parenting rock star.

Time In

We all know what a time out is. It’s recommended all over the place. Isolate a child when they have done something wrong. Make them feel bad in hopes that they never do that again. Train that bad behavior clear out of them.

What if, in the goal to stay connected and LOVE your children just that little bit more we turn that around and do  a TIME IN. Children who are making big loud noises, whether literally or figuratively through their behaviors actually need more love. They are asking for our attention. And I know there are a whole host of people and theories in the world who think we should ignore this so it goes away. But if someone needs more love and you don’t give them the love they need all you are doing is creating distance. Which leads to an even emptier love tank,, building up steam of the next cry for attention. If your gas tank is empty and you decide to ignore that red glaring light on the dash and just keep driving, things aren’t about to get better for you. Think of a child’s love tank in the same way. The behavior in front of us is like that blinking light on the dash, a reminder to fill something up not to keep draining it.

Creating space for a Time In flips the whole thing around. We can hold a hand, create a space or simply sit in witness of what is unfolding. Put on our detective hat and consider what might be the best possible way to add more love and connection to the child in distress in front of us.  How can we see the child outside of the behavior and look for clues to what the under lying need might be? It is true that sometimes the need will never expose itself. The behavior with pass with out any insight or handy tools on how to avoid that from happening again. But if each time we choose time in with a child instead of time out, we are filling up that bank, and ensuring we stay connected in our relationship.

The how of all of this is going to depend on the individual child.  I have a child who needs me to make some sort of physical contact to bring him back to where he could see the world around him. I have another who needs me physically near by but not at all touching him. Both of which I only learned from trial and terrible error that involved the whole apologizing piece that I have shared before.  Sometimes all I can do was sit outside a locked bedroom door and say “I’m here if you need me” and hold the space. Other times, I can hold a hand, sit silently side by side, or hold a hand and walk in the opposite direction. I have been known to apply humor liberally in an attempt to shift an energy. Each time though I was tuning into my child, turning off the noise around us and finding a way to bring in love and connection to help us both in managing the overwhelm that had tossed things off corse.  I was noticing my child having trouble coping with the world and instead of withdrawing myself or my love, giving it. Handing over an abundance of love to my child no matter what their behavior looked like cause when the love tank gets filled up we can find our way back to calm and connection.

Next time the storm starts a brewing and those messages of withdrawing affection surge and go to your room dances on the tip of your tongue, maybe, just maybe, take an extra long deep breath. Ask is there a way I can turn this into a time in? I suspect it will feel awkward from time to time, as changing any behavior can, I also suspect you will see a connection, a strong fuller love tank bubbling up to help handle the next tricky behavior that comes your way.

You Can’t Spoil a Child

I just found this little nugget tucked away in some of my writing.

The world around us does not regularly offer support to meeting our children’s needs on a regular and immediate basis. Honestly, it might stretch in the opposite direction,  to some how convince us that interacting with our child over and over again in a way that meets there needs is some how spoiling them. But for something to spoil, to turn truly rotten, it needs to be neglected. Just think of that piece of fruit rolled under the backseat of the car, unattended to for days on end and you’ll understand what I am getting at. Things that are showered with love and affection do not become spoiled they grow, in both strength and understanding of love and compassion. Which is why your relationship with your child matters most.  It matters more than math, unpaid bills, dinner and that text that just came in.

So today, I hope you can find a way, to build up that love bank by taking an extra breath to meet your child eye to eye, heart to heart to take on whatever the world has placed in front of you.

Tie their laces

I could write a short novel on the troubles we have had with shoes in this house. They took a long time to feel good and when they did we wore them until they fell apart,  dreading the moment when they felt too small and a transition was required. For my oldest son his usual was crocs for the summer months and rubber boots (a specific brand) for the winter. Both styles were worn into the opposite season for longer than other folks because shoe transitions were hard.

So as you can imagine there was not a lot of time, practice or opportunity for the learning to tie laces. When they got older we did try some shoes that had the dreaded laces. And I always tied them without complaint (okay, I tried to always tie them without complaint I am human after all). When you are in a rush to get to playing with your friends the last thing on your mind is learning how to tie your laces. It’s not what one could or would call a teachable moment. This is a moment to show up with a dose of love and tie those laces. With the years and years of experience you have doing it you are going to be way faster and it’s truly hard to focus on learning something new when you have a burning need on the other side, to get going somewhere else. The loving thing to do to facilitate your child’s need in the moment is to willingly bend down and tie their laces.

This idea can be extended to include a lot of the little things we can do for our children throughout their growing up. It can be easy to buy into the idea that children are being lazy by asking for our help. Or that at some magic age decided by someone outside of your child they should be able to do these things on their own, without hesitation. I am here to assure you that your twenty-five year old son or daughter will not be driving across town to ask you to tie their shoelaces.

When our children turn to us and ask for help it is because they need help. That’s it. They are not trying to manipulate us. They are not spoiled. Truly, when our children turn to us and ask us to help them with something they can do for themselves, they are not being lazy, they are asking for a little extra love for reasons we probably can not see on the outside. I would much rather be that mom bending over and saying through my actions “I love you” than the one pushing her children away from her side with shaming comments about their age and ability.

I, even now with a teenaged son just shy of six feet tall,  willingly and happily bend down and ties his laces. Cause no matter how many times he ties them I am going to always have a few more years of experience on him.

Parenting is who I am

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On a recent road trip I fired up Shonda Rhymes book the Year of Yes on the stereo. Part way through the book she said something that made me start talking into my own recording device as a jumping off point for an idea that needed a little more of my attention. Her words “parenting is not a job it’s who we are.”  I had referred to parenting as my job on more than on occasion. Her assertion gave me pause for some serious reflection.

For many people a job is something that one regularly wants a break from. It’s laborious. It can suck from time to time. There is compensation for time and effort. Often their are complaints about hours, there can be overtime and maybe even sleepless nights. Co-workers can point out issues, you would rather not deal with. There is a chance for bonuses. There is a certain level of knowledge that is required to succeed in most cases. Writing these examples down I can most certainly drawn some parallels between parenting and the work force. I can understand how we as a world have come to consider parenting a job. However, jobs are often something we have to get through, struggle with, do when we’d rather not.

Alternatively, if I start to ask questions about who I am, the worlds that flow forward have a much more positive spin on them. I am kind, I am thoughtful, I am hard working, I am considerate, I am loving and the list goes on. The energy I bring to considering who I am as opposed to what job I do comes from a place much more grounded in the impact I hope to have in the world around me. It strips me back to my fundamental character and considers the values I hold dear..

When I turn this all around back to parenting I find myself nodding enthusiastically alongside Shonda. Yes, parenting is who I am. It is not what I do. It is who I am because it is wrapped up in my heart. It’s an action and response that comes from my core values. It is how I tend to the most fragile parts of who I am. This is not to say it isn’t challenging or exhausting or frustrating at many moments. It instead defines what I hold onto in those most desperate moments to pick me up again to meet myself with compassion in order to bring my best self forward.

Turning toward parenting as who I am and not a job I do affords me the freedom to be my best self at each turn of the journey. Responding to struggle with love because I want to be known as someone who can do hard things in the face of challenges. Choosing kindness because I want to be a trusted resource to those who are vulnerable. Providing compassion because I know at the heart of who I am that I want to be a hand up not a push down. Applying curiosity to all the situations that arrive because I want to be known as someone who could think way outside of the box to uncover the solution no one else considered that lifts each person to their highest potential. Persevering in the face of adversity over and over again to rise a stronger human being. Honestly, connecting with the humans in front of me to find the space between us that is our shared humanity. This, this list of who I am, is the parent I become when I see this one piece of my journey, as an extension of who I am and not a job I must do.