A Family Affair

For all the talk about husbands and children, and the occasional grandparent or two on CocoaMamas, we don’t very often communicate about our extended family networks. I often brag that in my house growing up there was always an aunt, play cousin or godmom around to chew the fat with. Lately, my network is getting somewhat smaller. I still agree by the general spirit however that, “it takes a village, to raise a child.” Tonight, I was reminded of the constant role that my siblings (two brothers and one sister) play in the shaping and development of my new family’s future. Are CocoaMamas (at large) still resourced and supported by their “old” families?

In my paternal side’s “heyday,” we use to gather for family sing-a-longs; mainly we would sing spirituals, peppered with a Stevie Wonder or Bill Withers balad here and there. My children, regrettably, will never share in those memories. However, my family has continued its artistic impulses, working collaboratively on film and digital music projects. My daughter (1.5 years) proudly joined us tonight for a “business” pow-wow. She moderated the meeting, all loud and boisterous on the other end of my brother’s speaker phone.

I am grateful to have a ton of friends, female friends in particular, that have nutured their relationship with me over the years to the point where I have no doubt that we will always be cool. It is trickier for family sometimes though. You have to come up with common interests and be equally invested in maintaining traditions to keep relationships going. Isn’t it funny how with friends you embrace new experiences; a “girl’s trip” to this exotic location or a new movie? However, with family you tend to only sign yourself up for the “same old, same old.”

What are you doing to keep your relationship with your siblings going, and most importantly, how are you modeling the role of family for your children?

No Boy Is an Island

I tend to follow Benee’s and the other Cocoamamas’ pieces about raising boys closely, without really daring to interject. The fact is that my own relationship with my mother—with all its glorious and inglorious extremes—has driven me to form some very firm opinions about how to raise my own daughter, but I’ve given far less conscious thought to raising my boy. I know I want him to be respectful of women (and everyone really, but especially women) and kind and service-minded but beyond that, the canvas has largely been blank.

My boy is challenging in a different way than my girl. He’s loud and impulsive, can’t sit still and concentrate for long periods of time, tests boundaries constantly and can be found bouncing off walls quite often. I’ve generally shrugged at his behavior and observed: “It’s all that boy energy!”

An incident last week started an avalanche of questions and thoughts in my head, prompting me to rethink my strategy. We have observed for a while that while my girl (who is 5) can accept a no as a no, my boy (who is 4) thinks no is his cue to start a maddening crying and whining campaign to get whatever it is he wants. My husband and I have had a long-standing rule about whining: We don’t negotiate with whiners. And so when he begins whining, I walk away: no explanations, no sympathy, no begging and cajoling.

I thought our rule worked well until the other day when my four-year-old turned to me and said: “Mama, how come when Mina (his sister) cries, you be nice to Mina and when I cry, you get mad and be mean to me?” And two beats later, his sister chimed in: “Yeah, mama, I’ve noticed that too!”

Ladies (and gentlemen): This question stopped me cold in my tracks. My boy, my beloved boy, was hurt because he felt that he was being mistreated. That he was being treated unfairly. And, at 4, he is not necessarily connecting the dots of varied causation: that he gets no sympathy because he cries mostly when he’s whining whereas she gets sympathy because she cries mostly when she has hurt herself. All he knows is that when he cries, we get stern, and when his sister cries, she gets sympathy.

And we are not connecting those dots for him. We’re just expecting him to get it, to intuit the difference in treatment, and to be a boy and get over it. There is a lot of emotional nuance, most of which is not being explained in the way it needs to be.

I went in search of more information and found this blurb in Dan Kindlon’s Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, which really resonated with me:

There is plenty of reason to be concerned: a confused young boy grows into an angry, emotionally isolated teenager, and, predictably, into a lonely, middle-aged man at risk for depression … Boys need an emotional vocabulary that expands their ability to express themselves in ways other than anger or aggression. They need to experience empathy at home and at school and be encouraged to use it if they are to develop conscience.

All this is not to say that my boy is now going to be coddled and get his way when he whines. But I intend to be more expressive about why I’m not sympathetic to the whining, about how much he is loved, how sad I am when he is hurt, how much compassion I feel for him when he is frustrated or angry. He may still be one hyper bundle of pure boy energy, but surely he is just as deserving as his sister of the emotional exchanges that come with the childhood hurts and tantrums.

When did we sign this silent pact that our boys are to be islands, cut off from the same emotions and connections we provide so freely to our girls? I don’t know how and where it all got started but I, for one, am out.

Cocoa Sibling Love

Here at Cocoamamas we have a rotation for posting, so I hope I’m not stepping on anyone’s toes. But today is my birthday, and something came up that I just felt the need to post. My brother is just 11 months younger than me, and as children we were very close. Over the years we’ve drifted apart a bit, due to geography and interests and time, but the love is still very strong. And he is a person that never quite ceases to amaze me.

I’ve taken a bit of a facebook break lately, but I knew that facebook lets everybody know its your birthday, so I logged on. And of course, lots of birthday shout-outs. But there was also a little note that my brother had on his page, entitled “My Sister: Carrying the Torch.” I clicked to his webpage, and I found this:

My sister is 11 months older than I. And being that we are our parents’ only two children, one of us is bound to be the first (or only) to do lots of things. Thankfully, i have a sister who has been willing to carry the torch, so to speak, for the two of us.

My parents were very adamant about us kids acheiving highly in school. My mother checked our homework nightly. So on the nights when my sister’s work was unacceptable and she went crying back to her room, my mother’s sharp eye for schoolwork excellence had been — luckily for me — dulled before viewing my efforts.

Naturally, my sister skipped a grade in elementary; attended the most prestigious high school in Philadelphia (the same HS that rejected my application two years later despite my having a sister as a character reference); went to an Ivy League college on full scholarship; and is now working on a Master’s (or is it PhD… probably both). My last semester of formal education? I was still falling asleep in lectures.

My sister went and had her own kids first, relieving me of the burden of the “kids” questions at family gatherings. Every parent wants their kids to have kids — my sister went and took care of that for us.

Well, today is Latoya’s birthday. And even though she rarely returns my calls in a timely fashion (or my texts at all), I love her and want to send her a public BDay well-wish. Enjoy it!

Of course, I have some objection to the phone call and text message thing (my mom just told me that yesterday, that he said I don’t return his calls) but I otherwise can’t imagine getting something more beautiful for your birthday.