conversations with my son
You can’t swing a mismatched sock without hitting someone giving you parenting advice. Talk shows and books, blogs and social media, teachers, therapists, other parents, your parents — it’s everywhere and it’s constant. And as we’re a year into a pandemic, lord knows we need all the advice we can get. But I also know I’m not always ready to digest it.
Speaking of parenting advice, I recently sat in on a conversation with Jessica Lahey. Her book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, is a New York Times bestseller. She’s also a teacher and a mom, and chock full of delicious parenting know-how.
Jessica crammed a lot of wisdom, feedback and advice into our hour-long chat, sponsored by Responsibility.org. And while a lot of what she shared rang true, I found myself terribly overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with good and helpful information, but overwhelmed, nonetheless.
Quarantine life has been taking its toll on me lately, and most days I feel like I’m just getting by. I was tempted to give in to my anxiety, chuck all this info out the window, and hope for the best (a common defense mechanism for me). But this time I took a different approach.
As parents, we’ve had to have a lifetime of difficult conversations with our kids, all within the last 12 months. Few of these are talks we’d ever expected to have, much less in such a short time span. Luckily, kids can be amazingly resilient.
Yet this resiliency doesn’t happen on its own. It comes from having those hard discussion with authenticity. It comes from creating a safe space for children to express and experience their emotions, and then helping them find their way past.
If you’re like me, you’re making things up as you go — extreme on-the-job training. Yet modeling authenticity is vital to both ourselves and our kids. Whether it’s peer pressure to drink or watching a rage-filled mob overrun the US Capitol, teaching our children how to respond to life — regardless of what it throws at us — is one of the most important jobs we have.
Around this time four years ago, there was a barrage of articles, posts and memes declaring 2016 the “Worst Year Ever.” Between Trump getting elected, Brexit, Orlando, Zika and an inordinate amount of celebrity deaths, we thought it couldn’t get any worse than that.
But then 2020 came along.
Alright… this is where I’m supposed to impart some wisdom. To share valuable life lessons I’ve learned during this never, ever ending pandemic. To give you pointers on ways to talk to your kids about responsibility and resilience. Unfortunately, I got nothin’.
Luckily, I know someone chock full of wisdom and pointers. I recently sat in on a chat hosted by Responsibility.org, featuring parent coach, Washington Post columnist, author and hilarious human, Meghan Leahy. To give you an idea of why I enjoyed Meghan’s talk so much, I’ll be sharing my favorite quotes from the conversation throughout this post. First up, my absolute favorite:
“Everyone is a hot, hot mess.”
If you can’t relate to that even a little bit, you’re in a state of deep, blissful denial.
Lest you think I and my family have all our shit together, guess again. In between the cute IG pics and the occasional informative blog posts, our life is a series of bumps, mishaps and near catastrophes. Several times a week, I apologize for yelling at my kid. School is a source of constant stress; ADHD is a sonofabitch and not at ALL suited to distance learning. Screen time is through the roof. We almost never eat dinner together. We order takeout multiple times a week — often from more than one restaurant. My hermit-like husband works ’round the clock. My projects have slowed to a crawl, leaving me frustrated and hopeless at times. I’ve fed my insecurities by keeping Amazon in business, perfecting my margarita, and with much too much actual food.
As a gay dad of a 10 year-old boy, it’s important that I raise my son to be both educated and open-minded about sex, sexuality and gender. One resource that has helped me out with this is Amaze.
Amaze.org is a terrific place for parents and kids to learn about sex and relationships in an honest, positive way. Their videos are funny without being too silly; smart without being too clinical. They address the “mechanics” (like puberty), as well as more complex topics like gender identity, coming out, consent, etc.
Below are my top five most amazing Amaze videos. It was hard to narrow it down — they have so much great content!
Transitioning from school year to summertime can be a pretty challenging process. Throw in a global pandemic with ever-changing levels of quarantine, and it can be downright traumatic. So, what’s a parent to do?
Even under typical circumstances, families are dealing with a looser schedule and fewer restrictions. While kids might think that’s an amazing set of problems to have, the truth is we could all probably use some guidance.
I recently sat in on a conversation with 2019’s School Counselor of the Year, Brian Coleman, hosted by the helpful folks at Responsibility.org. Brian had a lot of great tips for parents and caregivers for navigating this exceptionally uncharted journey. Below are some of the tips he shared as we embark on a summer with so many unknowns.
When we told our 10-year-old we wanted to attend a local Black Lives Matter protest, his initial reaction was one of anxiety and fear. His questions and concerns were numerous: “Will the police be there?” “Will they use rubber bullets?” “Can you die from teargas?”
Like many other families, we’d already been having discussions about the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent, worldwide reaction to it. So I was honestly a bit surprised by my son’s response to attending the protest. He’s always been such an eager activist, whether related to racism, the environment or LGBTQ rights.
Maybe we’d had the news on too often, or allowed him too much YouTube time. Questions and concerns came to my own mind: Was it okay that our child had heard about police firing rubber bullets point blank at protestors? Or that he’d learned of kids being teargassed? Or seen a man his Grandpa’s age being pushed to the ground, bleeding from the head, as dozens of cops passed him by?
Sometimes I forget how lucky I am. For example, how many parents can say their kids are excited to go back to school? Okay, so I loved going back to school as a kid — but all my favorite activities involved air conditioning. My kid LIVES for summer, but he’s hyped for back-to-school as well.
Maybe he’s excited because he’s an only child and misses being around other kids. Or perhaps it’s that his classroom is in a newly-built wing. Or he’s just pumped to use his new Black Panther backpack.
It’s likely all those things. But it’s also a genuine love of learning. And as a parent, I can’t imagine how I could be more lucky.
A couple of weeks ago, Jon initiated this conversation.
“Daddy, this year at school I have some goals,” he began.
“Oh yeah? Like what?” I asked.
He begins to list them. “I want to be a better listener in class. I want to not talk in class unless I raise my hand or it’s my turn. I want to be a better helper. I want to stand up to bullies…”
The original plans for our long-planned, one-and-only summer vacation fell through at the last minute due to bad weather at our destination. It would have been a long-planned but oft-postponed visit with Jon’s birthparents. We’ll make the trip up later this year, wildfires permitting. While it was a disappointment for our son (and a pain in the ass for the hubby and me), perhaps the universe needed us to get away — just our family — just one weekend near the end of the swiftly-passing summer.
Not wanting to brave the masses at an amusement park or one of those water park/hotel behemoths, I remembered a friend recommending the small town of Cambridge, Maryland. It sits on the Choptank River that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. It was a two-hour drive, but felt worlds away from work, housework, and the looming schoolyear. Thanks, universe.
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To give you a taste of our weekend, a conversation between my husband and son, while looking out over the balcony of our hotel room.
Jon: Papa, what is that?
Papa: It’s an Indian wedding.
J: Why are they having it here?
P: Well they rented the area and it’s a pretty place for a wedding.
J: Cool! Can we rent it?
P: For what?
J: (thinks) … for a hug party!
This gives my heart all the smiles. 🙂 Also, who wants to come?!?
Not nearly long enough ago, our 7-year-old shared a conversation he’d had with a friend… about sex. It was retold with a mixture of curiosity, amazement, and giggling. And was alarmingly detailed.
I have to admit it took me off guard. I thought we had a little longer before all this! I’d done my duty as a progressive, gay dad to teach my son to be proud of his “different” family, not to tease or exclude anyone for how they look or who they were, and that Donald Trump is a horrible example of humanity.
But now it was time to step up and have “The Talk.” Or more accurately, “The Ongoing Conversation.” We’ve had lots of practice sharing the important stuff at the appropriate age regarding Jon’s adoption, so this should be easy, right?