Raising the New Generation of Men

I’m a mom of boys. #boymomlife? It’s never boring. I spend more time using plates and cups that aren’t glass, not because I don’t have them or am too lazy to do the dishes. It’s because they break things. I don’t subscribe to boys being boys, but boys can kinda be monsters. They wrestle and nut shot each other. They hit each other to the point that I just let them as long as they don’t kill each other. Honestly, that’s my motto. If everyone comes out relatively okay at the end of the day, I didn’t fail.

I always say that we are responsible for raising the next generation of adults. It’s an important job being a parent because you really are shaping the future. It’s a heavy burden when you really think about it. I have made all of my parenting decisions on that premise of I’m not raising kids; I’m raising future adults. Adults that could be the next president or working the beat as police officers or teachers that help mold their next generation. Sure, you could do everything right and your kid still ends up a serial killer as an adult. But, that’s not something to dwell on.

I also always point out about how my parents didn’t really stick too much to those “gender roles” that so many people force on their children. Sure, I can cook, knit, sew, and other “domestic” things, but I’m also able to do minor repairs around the home, and various other “men” things. I was raised to be a strong, badass Irish woman. My boys spend a lot of time learning from both myself and my husband. I teach the boys how to do laundry and lately, how to cook. My oldest even cooked a pretty awesome pot of curry. My youngest wants to start learning how to cook. I don’t want my boys to rely on their wives to take care of them. I want them to be able to take care of themselves, or their partners, or me when I’m old and unable to do anything for myself.

The old-fashioned people would tell you that letting boys play with dolls is bad. It isn’t. Worst case, they end up becoming compassionate and caring fathers. When I bought my youngest a kitchen set, there were people even mentioning that this was me teaching my son to be a girl, to be gay. It was a bit shocking. There’s nothing negative about a man cooking. (Then again, there’s nothing wrong with a man being gay either.) Men cook. My husband was even in the kitchen last night teaching our 17-year-old how to make the perfect runny egg. It was a bonding experience that they enjoyed as they talk about anime and comics and current events.

Food brings people together. I appreciate that my boys want to learn my family recipes to cook for their families. We should encourage our men to be compassionate and caring. We should be teaching our daughters to be strong and independent. Maybe the flaw isn’t that we aren’t teaching our children their “roles”; it’s that we are. The fact is, there are no definitive roles anymore. Men stay at home with kids while moms work. Men help out around the house. They are more active in the child rearing. These aren’t negatives. This is the way it should be.

Mommy’s Little Monsters

Anytime someone talks about how easy parenting is, I wonder how much they pay for a nanny every month. I have pretty awesome kids and I have it much easier than some parents, but I don’t think I’ve ever once said “This is easy. I’ve got this.” Usually, I don’t. Usually I’m taking a “hope for the best approach”. People tend to think that I’m a terrible mother because I have a more “sink or swim” approach to raising my children. As much as I want to control every aspect of their life to make sure that they don’t make the wrong choices, they have to learn accountability. Maybe if I regained control, I could have an “easy time” too.

For instance, I will help some with their homework sometimes. But they need to work through the things themselves. I won’t babysit them to make sure they do everything, because I can’t be there all the time. If they don’t finish their work properly because they wanted to speed through it or not do something at all, then they should face the consequences of that. Some people view this as harsh, but kids need to learn consequences or they never learn to be accountable for themselves. For my own sanity and their own level of responsibility, I can really only do so much.

The thing that we have to remember is that no matter how hard we think it is to raise them, imagine how much harder it is for them to grow up. They have those struggles of wanting independence, but still wanting their mommy to give them a hug or have brownies waiting for them. They want to do well, but they also want to hear you say how proud you are of them. Sometimes they forget that we love them unconditionally. Sometimes they forget that even if they get a bad grade or have a bad behavior report that we are still going to love and accept them. My youngest son got his first “yellow” card of the year a little bit ago after doing so well, and he was convinced that he was going to be punished forever for it. Some of it could be my own failings as a mother. Some of that is just your normal anxiety that young children have.

Kids think that they need to do 10000 activities to make us proud. That they need to be perfect and excel at everything. We may be well-intentioned in trying to keep them busy, but we may also be setting them up to burn the candle at both ends too much. My kids have the choice if they want to do an activity or not, but they need to something aside from screen time for a little bit each day. My oldest does sports in winter and spring, taking the fall and summer to relax. He does well in school and I think this is a perfect balance for him. Plus as a junior with 2 AP classes, CCD, volunteering, and college stuff, he shouldn’t take on much more than that. My youngest doesn’t really have any interests in those things. He prefers to play games or work on building/drawing something. That’s who he is. Rather than change that, I ensure he gets plenty of exercise, he goes out and has experiences, and get him to play puzzle games that are meant for critical thinking and not just fun. That works for him. Every kid is different. Plus, I think I’d go insane trying to juggle all those activities. This is as much for my sanity as it is for theirs.

My boys are Mommy’s little monsters. They fight with each other, they destroy my house, and eat everything in sight. But every time I want to yell at them for how hard they make things or because I’ve gone insane by 5pm, I just image what they are going through. Maybe my oldest had a bad day but because he’s a teenager, he doesn’t want to talk about it until he wants to or never. Maybe my youngest had an anxiety attack at school and he’s got his second wind of energy. Those boys are struggling as much as I am some days, and that’s something we can often forget.

And It Just Breaks My Heart

I wasn’t the best student. Teachers would probably point out how bright they thought I was, but they would also probably point out that I was wasted potential. Some people would probably agree with that statement still today. Maybe they are right. Maybe not. But I understand it now, as a parent.

I worked hard to get into a good college, though it took me a couple of years to get back on the college track that I realistically was never on. I didn’t have any real goals. Then I was pregnant at 18 and my only goals became preventing my child to turn out like me. I was determined that he was going to be better. He watched me work hard every day at my hotel job. I know I worked a lot and it seemed I barely saw him. But he deserved the world and I wanted to give him everything. When I went back to school, I made sure he saw how hard I worked. I wanted him to have goals. I knew he was smart. But I didn’t want him to waste it like I did.

Things always came easy to him. When they didn’t, he became easily flustered. He was a perfectionist. I didn’t care about perfection; I cared that he did his best. I would never punish him for doing his best. If he needed help, I would make sure he got the help. He never needed it before but I would do anything to make sure he got what he needed.

Then, I saw him struggle with his homework. Homework in a subject he has always been fascinated in, despite never actually taking a course. He spent all the time he had on the assignment, and he kept getting one question wrong over and over again. He grew more frustrated. He began to get himself worked up. He snapped when I tried to help or told him to take a deep breath. He called himself “dumb”…

And it broke my heart. As adult as these kids think they are, they are just hormonal kids struggling and too afraid to ask for help. He knows he’s not dumb. I hope, anyways. I told him that he should ask his teacher for help. That was what he’s there for after all. He was determined to figure it out, even after the deadline that his homework was due. I saw him unravel and it just breaks my heart.

Junior year isn’t for the faint of heart. This is when things get real. The classes get harder. The expectations are raised. They have the added stresses of SATs and college fairs, driving school, the acknowledgement that adulthood is sneaking up on them. It isn’t easy for the parents, but it’s even harder for the kids. I’m hoping that we both make it out in one piece. But I’m worried that if he cracks this much now, it’s only going to get worse. And I only have myself to blame for that.

I see so much of myself in him. There was a time where I worked hard in middle school until I realized that I was a nothing that was getting bullied relentlessly. When you see your homework get tossed out a window and no one cares, you start to not care too. It’s easier to fail when you detach yourself than to fail when you tried so hard. But when you put everything you have into something and fall short, it’s hard. It’s how you deal with this failure that can determine your success in life. You can get flustered, but as long as you keep trying to succeed, that’s what matters. But sometimes, admitting defeat and asking for help is what the strongest person will do. This help could be exactly what you need to get to that next level. By getting stuck on the basics, you won’t have the building blocks that you need to stay on track.

I hope this was just a moment of being tired. That he burned the candle at both ends and needs to realize that you can’t do it all. Maybe now that driving school is done, he can refocus. But what happens when swimming starts? It’s hard to teach balance when you struggle with balance yourself. I hope this is a passing phase. I hope he realizes that life will get harder and that taking it too sensitively will only make things harder. That you have to accept that you aren’t a natural at everything just because it has been so easy so far. But most of all, I hope he realizes that he is loved and supported and that we are so very proud.

They Are Only Shoes Little One

While I generally just buy clothes for both the boys for back to school, I let them pick their own shoes. I know their styles enough to know what they like to wear. Both like skinny jeans. My oldest one loves simple t-shirts, video game/novelty tees, and long sleeved thermal shirts/those 2-tone baseball shirts. My younger son is a bit pickier than that, but he rarely complains about what he gets. He especially loves Gap and Nike shirts. The only shirt he really hates wearing is his “I Know I’m In Trouble When They Use My Full Name” shirt. It was appropriate for him and it was funny.

Shoes are all up to them. I won’t buy shoes without them because A) I want to make sure they fit right; and B) They know what they find comfortable. Before going out to get shoes, I asked them what they wanted so I knew where to go to buy them. My oldest knew that he wanted a pair of Chucks, then a custom pair for his birthday. Easy enough. My youngest, first Googled “Cool Sneakers” and decided he wanted a pair that were $900. Nope. That’s not happening. Eventually he decided that he really liked his Skechers GoRuns because they made him “run super fast”. So he wanted a new pair of those.

We took them shopping. My oldest went to a couple of stores before he went back to the first store to buy a pair of blue Chucks, which were hilariously enough the same color as his school’s color and his championship swim coat that he lives in. We went to another store, allowing the younger son to wander around until he found a pair of shoes that he loved. They were a cool pair of blue/neon green GoRuns and he thought they were the coolest shoes he had ever seen. He loved those shoes.

….Until he didn’t. My younger one complained about his new shoes, how he now hated them. “Well, you liked them when you bought them. You’re not getting a new pair.” My son started to get anxious about them. Finally, with tears in his eyes, he mentioned about how his friends were making fun of his shoes because he didn’t have the “right” shoes. He’s 7. I carefully tried to explain to him about how it didn’t matter what they said. That they are only shoes. That he was a person and that shoes didn’t matter. The shoes didn’t make you a better person. They didn’t make you any cooler or more likable. That it didn’t matter what these kids were saying.

I lied. Things like that do matter to other people. They do matter to make people more likable because kids judge other kids on things like that. I know I lied. He knows I lied. But I was right; they were just shoes and he was awesome no matter what shoes he wore. Those weren’t cheap shoes. They were nice, name brand shoes. Mostly because we’ve tried getting shoes from stores like Target and Walmart, and he tears through them in a month. At least the name brand shoes last him a few months before he destroys them.

I told my husband about this. My approach was to just let him wear the shoes, to try building up his self-confidence in standing up for himself. My husband’s approach was “what shoes do the kids say are the right shoes?” I wasn’t surprised. He told me before that he grew up being laughed at for being Asian, because his mom was “different” from the other moms, because he didn’t have the “right brands on”. I was bullied pretty brutally myself growing up. My husband felt that he was going to give them one less thing to bully his son about. He couldn’t change the fact that our youngest has anxiety or was “too Asian” or that he needs to wear noise-cancelling headphones to function sometimes. But he could change those shoes.

So he did. We went and got him a new pair of sneakers. He considered it a birthday present. Throughout the ride home, we kept trying to reinforce the idea that what other people think doesn’t matter. If you like your shoes, then they can buzz off. That it only matters if he’s a good person, a kind friend, and a compassionate individual. He didn’t care. He could only talk about how no one was going to make fun of him for his shoes now…

We’re guilty of spoiling our children. We know that. But I’d like to think my children never rub that in someone else’s face. We try to make sure that they appreciate the nice things that they have, but how they are lucky to have it. That not everyone is that lucky. That doesn’t make them better than anyone else. And when you have more, you are supposed to give back more. I see my oldest one taking these lessons, slipping money into donation bins or asking to buy things from a shopping list for donating to charities. We make sure that we donate grocery bags to charities during the holidays or donating here and there for various causes, and putting our kid’s names on the paper. This way they can feel proud that they helped.

It’s hard to be a mother when something like that happens. It’s hard not to want to be petty and buy the most expensive pair of shoes that you can to help your kid one up the ones making fun of them. It’s hard not to let your kids see how angry you are when these things happen. It’s hard not to do everything that you can to prevent bullying from affecting your children. But at some point, you need to realize a couple of things. One is that you need to do what you can to help their self-confidence. The other thing is that you can’t control the fact that other kids are going to bully your kid. It sucks and there’s only so much that you can do about it. They are only shoes, after all.

Kids Learn More Than You Think

My oldest child is at that fascinating age of almost 17. There are so many things that make this age interesting. This is where they start doing their driving school thing. But even more interesting than the shift to adulthood as far as physical growth, is the other aspects of it. It’s the watching them learn to navigate through life. It’s watching them carefully think and form their own opinions. It’s watching their struggle as they try to break away from you while still understanding there is a lot that they have to learn in the world.

For as long as I can remember, my son wanted to be a forensic scientist. Eventually this grew into a want of being like Abby from NCIS: a forensic chemist but also a cyber forensic specialist. His goal has long been to work for the FBI to help solve crimes and make a difference in the world. I never told him what to be. But, apparently my fondness for crime shows rubbed off on him. Though now he is also wondering if he should be more like Spencer Reid, boy genius. It’s his life. I’m just here to offer support and advice as he asks.

That’s another fascinating thing about this age: your shifting role as a parent. With my younger son, it’s all about teaching right from wrong. It’s doling out punishments for not going to bed on time. It’s picking out their clothes until they learn that stripes and camo is not a great look. You give 6/7 year old choices, but you are still the one making their decisions for them. They don’t know any better yet. At 17, you’re done with that. Sure, you still make them take out the trash and do their chores, but now it’s about them. You give them a curfew of 12am, and remind them that this means they need to be walking in the door before the click hits that number. But you aren’t there to run their life anymore. Now, you let go and hope to whatever entity that you believe in that you did a passable job.

You’re not going to be there when they are at that party where they are offered a beer or drugs. You have to hope that they hear your voice of disapproval in their ear. You have to hope that if they did make the wrong decision in that moment that you were compassionate enough so that they call you instead of getting in the car with someone who is under the influence. I always told my son “my 10 minute lecture the next day is better than not having a next day”. I won’t lie and say that I won’t be disappointed in his decision, but I’d rather him alive than dead because he was too afraid to call me. I’d like to think that my child is always going to make the right choices, but I’m a realist. He’s going to screw up. I just hope that he knows I’m here to help pick him up afterwards. With my judgement of his situation to come later.

But what’s even more fascinating is the things they learn. My son reads the news, and like me doesn’t trust anything he reads. So he reads more until he’s down a rabbit hole where he feels like he has a good grasp on it. He talks about social justice, asking why things aren’t this way. Then I explain the logistics of “it may sound like a great idea, but like most great ideas, people ruin them”. He doesn’t like that answer. Even more recently, he has become fascinated by cold cases from watching crime shows with me and fascinated with things like false convictions. It turns out, these are things that have further inspired him to follow his current dreams. He doesn’t want good guys to get locked up because someone didn’t do their job in the crime lab. He doesn’t want families to not get justice for their loved ones. So much to the point of when he read “The Lovely Bones” for summer reading, he got so mad that he read the end of the book before he could move on because he couldn’t stand the fact the bad guy got away with it.

I say this a lot in these blogs, but you are not raising kids: you’re raising adults. Whether you realize it or not, your every action can impact your kid and this will either set them on the right path or the wrong one. It’s a big responsibility raising the next generation, but that’s what you signed up for when you made the decision to become a parent. Somewhere along the line, parents stopped remembering that and look where we are now because of that. Kids bully others because they see adults bully. They show kindness because they saw kindness. They work hard because they grew up with a work ethic. If we don’t teach these kids properly, other people will. And that usually never ends well.

Let the Summer Games Begin

The summer games in my house include “How much work can mommy accomplish in a day while the kids are home?” and “When does mommy’s sanity leave the house?” The first day didn’t count, as I was attending a funeral. That was when my husband stepped up to take over the first day of the summer games, the practice day for when mommy is actually home. (For the record, my husband was home with our youngest while I attended the funeral with my oldest. Due to his high energy and anxiety issues, attending a funeral was not the best idea.)

Today, was not a great start. My blog being published late today is evidence of that. My to-do list that was supposed to be accomplished by lunch time, including this blog, was stalled. Because working from home is a very difficult thing when you are also managing your children. Especially my youngest. My daily schedule over the summer is now supposed to include the time where I enforce “school time”; doing more reading (including my oldest son’s AP reading list), working on my youngest son’s handwriting skills so that he doesn’t require OT next year as well, and various other things that will keep my boys fresh over the summer. I’m basically juggling a summer camp, summer school, and my profession every day.

There’s a careful balance that needs to take place over the summertime. Children should have fun and play. They should be free and relax. But, this is also the time to work on some of their shortcomings over the year. For instance, my youngest had struggles with his anxiety, focusing, handwriting, and listening skills. My oldest will be doing his summer reading journals over the summer, as well as test prep for his AP history, AP English, and PSATs. The balance needs to be there otherwise you create school burnout before school even begins.

So what’s my approach this summer? I do give a week break before I wean them into anything educational. However, we’re still doing the Mightier program for our youngest child’s anxiety, and we are getting more strict about our listening expectations for him. I trust my oldest to do what he needs to without too much supervision, though that doesn’t mean he’s entirely going to left alone without my nagging. That’s just how I do.

School is more complicated than ever these days, so it’s especially important for parents to make sure they get this balance. I like to do a 1/2 and 1/2 split. Their fun time occurs while I’m working and when I’m done, it’s time to get down to business. Sure, I won’t be as strict as it is at school. If my oldest wants to listen to his music or podcasts while doing what he needs to, as long as it gets done right I’m not too picky. They are kids and we need to let them be kids without putting too much pressure on them.

When Your Little One Has Anxiety

As a parent, you go into it realizing that you’re going to have to make some hard choices. Where are you going to live to ensure they get the best education? Private, public, or charter schools? Religion or no? How strict are you going to be? Anytime a parent tells me about a plan that they have for their child, I do chuckle to myself in judgement. A friend mentioned to me about their birth plan as if that plan was going to be a reality for their process. I half jokingly told her that her birthing plan would be better tossed in the trash, because the real reality is that things with children hardly ever go as planned. Did I plan to have a baby over 2 weeks overdue in the middle of what seemed like the hottest summer/fall ever? Nope. Did I plan on an induction? Nope. Is that what ended up happening? Abso-freaking-lutely.

One of those things that parents rarely plan for are those “what-ifs” that seem impossible. Did I think that anxiety in children displayed at such a young age? No way. Did I understand that my child having anxiety was a real reality that may come to life? Yes. But I didn’t plan for an approach other than “I don’t want to medicate my child unless it’s absolutely necessary”. This isn’t a debate about whether I think a parent is wrong for choosing another approach; everyone’s different. I’m not there yet and that’s my choice of what I think is right for my child. Should a time come where I have exhausted every other approach, this will become more of an option. But I’m not there yet.

That was when my husband came across this program called Mightier, which apparently is a program that was created at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. Expensive? Yes, but when you factor how much the co-pay would probably be for the medications, it probably equals out to the same amount. Plus, it teaches coping mechanisms and ways to ease the anxiety rather than just giving medicine to cover it up. Yes, these are medical issues. But if I have to choose a painkiller over physical therapy to find relief rather than just mask the problem, I would rather deal with the cause and not just the effect.

It’s only been a few days, but I can definitely see it started to sink in for him. When he starts to get into his “anxious episodes”, we calmly tell him to do his “Mightier breathing”. The program comes with a heart monitor and it stops the game on the tablet and pops up a meter with a breathing exercise, making it a game for the child to get their heart rate from the red to the blue. It’s training him how to do these breathing exercises in a way that I have failed. If this has been my experience after only a couple days, I can’t wait to see his progress grow. But so far, I’m taking these little wins.

I don’t expect to cure his anxiety. I still suffer my own anxiety issues. But it’s not about curing it; it’s about finding ways to manage it. I manage mine by exercising, music, knitting, art, and writing. Does that work for everyone? Absolutely not. Are there people who do benefit from having these life-saving medicines? Absolutely. Medications for anxiety and depression are not a crutch or a weakness; they are the same as taking medication to keep your heart beating properly. They can be essential to life. Mental illness is just an illness, and you treat illnesses in the way that you feel is the best for you while taking a medically practical approach.