Saddling Him With My Baggage
September 8, 2009 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Parenting techniques, insight, and maturity needed before I completely ruin my kid's life.

I have a nine-year-old son that causes me great anxiety at times. I know it is not rational to feel this way. He is a healthy, intelligent, nice kid. He does very well academically. He is self-motivated. He can be very shy at times. He has a competitive streak. He enjoys getting good grades and doing well. Sometimes he believes he can't do things when I'm confident he can. His confidence suffers at times. He has friends and functions fine socially. I have been told numerous times that he is "goodhearted", "strong", "athletic", "fair", "calm", and "kind" by teachers and friends. His second-grade teacher called him "my absentminded professor". He is fairly athletic and participates in sports and other extra-curricular activities. He can do almost anything you ask him to do.

At times he has behaviors that annoy me and cause me great anxiety. Not your everyday kid things like leaving the refrigerator open or peeing on the toilet seat. The anxiety happens when he runs a certain way, or talks like a baby, or throws a certain way, or sits on my lap when we have company, or does anything that I deem "strange", "feminine", "babyish", or "annoying".

Even though he is very smart he is an airhead. I hate to label him this way and I would never call him an airhead to his face. It seems he is always daydreaming, spacey, and forgetful. I was the same way as a kid and I don't want to hold it against him but it still drives me crazy. An example: Sometimes I lash out when he is spacing out in the bathtub or shower and doing nothing but playing with himself and staring at the ceiling. I'll raise my voice and yell his name a few times and shout, "Get to work!" Sometimes I'll begin washing him and shampooing his hair and pull him out of the tub, throw the towel around him and bark more orders. I lose my patience quickly with him when he is acting spacey. It leaves me feeling like a terrible parent and does nothing to build our relationship, instill confidence, or bring harmony. Sometimes I have great anxiety when he is on the field playing various team sports. Sometimes when he is playing with friends I'll eavesdrop. There is one neighborhood boy that is always touching, hugging, and hanging on my kid and it causes me anxiety.

I have another younger son that does not annoy me. He can space out in the bathtub or throw the ball poorly but I don't seem to get that anxious feeling. He does do better when prompted and seems more "with it". He is also more "masculine" than the bigger kid. I hate myself for thinking this way and scrutinizing masculine vs. feminine behaviors. I know it is wrong, childish, and even hateful on so many levels. My spouse thinks I'm crazy when I brooch the subject and always says, "He's fine. Leave him alone. Give him a chance to succeed."

I compare him to other boys his age and always seem to think other boys his age are more "boyish" or "masculine".

I don't want to sound like I am constantly berating my kid. Mostly, I have the thoughts and fears and refrain from acting out on them. There are times when I do act on the anxiety and I know I am crushing his confidence and causing a lot of heartache on both ends. I wish I were one of those very confident parents that accept their children for who they are. I do accept him most of the time and I do love him dearly but I still have these fears that he is not behaving the way a nine-year-old should and I freak out.

I should note that I can go for weeks, even months, feeling fine and anxiety-free. I only seem to have anxiety about my kids. I have a pretty awesome, low-stress life, and if you want to call this a problem, this is the only one I have. The anxiety comes and goes (the beginning of a new sports season for instance) and I begin focusing on his behavior. When he was younger I had no such thoughts or problems with him. I have been in therapy in the past and I do constructive things to control my anxiety levels (exercise, yoga, meditation, friends, hobbies, etc.) I know my behavior and thoughts are wrong and destructive.

This is deeply embarrassing for me to ask. I feel like I should be more evolved and wise. I am not a monster. I desperately want to calm down and accept him for who he is, be proud of him (I am proud of him), and help build his confidence instead of crushing it.

Why am I acting like this? Why am I so frustrated? Am I afraid that my child might be gay? Do I feel like his behavior is a reflection on my parenting? Maybe. How can I stop or channel this anxiety in a more productive way and let him be and accept him for who he is? Any advice, anecdotes, or wisdom appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Am I afraid that my child might be gay?

I don't know. Are you? Maybe you need to speak to this. What if he is? What do you feel will happen (to you, to him)?
posted by philip-random at 10:36 AM on September 8, 2009

Step back and take a deep breath. Tell yourself he is only nine years old.

My suggestion is next time he tries your patience, think back to this long post you wrote. You say you want to calm down, so use your own words as an anchor.

I'm not sure anyone here can answer why you are behaving like you are. We don't know you, your beliefs/ideals, or your background. Ask your spouse to read this and see his/her reaction.
posted by royalsong at 10:37 AM on September 8, 2009

I'm not a parent, but I was so much like your kid when I was his age except for the baby-talk, sitting on laps and anything athletic. But I used to stare off into space all the time. I had an active imagination, and sometimes I just went somewhere else. My mother HATED this and jumped all over me if ever she saw me like that. She DID call me an airhead sometimes and berated me for not doing more even though I was always doing something. It's just that sometimes it wasn't visible to anyone outside my head. As a result, I was stressed out all the time, and I used to listen for her footsteps on the stairs so she wouldn't catch me daydreaming. Please don't do this to your kid.

Here's something positive to focus on: if your son really is anything like I was, all these little things that you don't understand now may be fueling all kinds of creativity that he'll carry with him as an adult. So let him, I say.

As for whether or not he's gay, just stop worrying about it if you can. These little signs he's exhibiting now may have nothing to do with his sexuality. It could just be the quirks of him being a nine-year-old. Or maybe he *is* gay. What's wrong with that? Just remind yourself that he's developing into his own person, and that person will probably be wonderful! As long as he's not hurting himself or others, let him be, and think about the positive, not the negative.

When it comes to his confidence issues, just continue to be there for him when it gets him down. It's GOOD that he has high standards for himself. As long as you're there to remind him to take it easy now and then, he'll probably be fine.
posted by katillathehun at 10:38 AM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

It sounds like this is about you, not your son. If you're not currently seeing a therapist for your anxiety, try meeting with one.

Maybe your son is at an age that was difficult for you. Parents sometimes have less patience and compassion for their kids' personalities, preferences, and behavior when their kids reach an age or grade or rite of passage that was emotionally hard for them when they were at that age. I don't know why this is, I just know that it happens and it's extremely hard for a child to understand why it's happening.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:39 AM on September 8, 2009 [9 favorites]

Your son is nine, and he sounds perfectly normal to me, which I'm sure you realize he is.

I also have two boys, one of whom is more compassionate and yes, more spacey than his brother. He may, at times, thus seem less traditionally masculine to you, based on what you write. He is not gay to my knowledge, but I have noticed the difference between my two boys.

The thing is, it doesn't bother me at all, and it seems to really prey on your mind.

I want you to think about this seriously. If your son were to come to you and say, "I'm gay, Dad," how would you react? Be honest.

If you really feel that you could not accept this, yes, I think you have a problem handling the reality of parenting a boy whom you feel does not meet your standard of "masculine." Please note: I don't know if your son has any issues at all with heterosexuality/homosexuality. The problem here is with your perception of masculinity, and I would suggest that you speak to someone about why this issue has taken on such significance for you that even the thought of your son not conforming to your standard is so disturbing to you.

I honestly feel a therapist could help you explore the reasons behind your own behavior.
posted by misha at 10:41 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I second meeting with a therapist to discuss your feelings - he or she can give you lots of helpful ways to manage your anxiety. Also, I would like to say that it is wonderful that you are aware of the issue and are actively taking steps to correct it! That in itself makes you a better, more thoughtful parent than many.
posted by bahama mama at 10:42 AM on September 8, 2009

You oh-so briefly mention your spouse. Clearly this is a very unsettling issue for you and you need the support and help of your spouse to get over it. Tell him or her to be especially vigilant and pull you aside when they notice this behavior.

Please note: I do not have kids. It seems to me, random person on the internet, that you are projecting a lot of yourself onto your oldest son. You have expectations that are completely off-base in relation to who your son actually is and how he actually behaves. Are all your male friends outgoing sports dudes who are super masculine? Maybe that is your ideal based on the men in your family? Perhaps if you can identify the source of your expectations you can start to diffuse them.

My friends and family range across the spectrum in terms of masculinity and smarts and sports ability ;) and I love them in different ways for different aspects of their character. Frankly, I am more endeared to people that step out of the mold than those who seem to be typecast or rigidly defined. Perhaps you can try to see your son as other people see him: as a normal little boy who is apparently sweet and bright. I bet there are other mothers out there with bruiser sons who look enviously at yours.

Also, honestly, talk to your doctor. You have some special situations which seem to be causing you special anxiety especially related to watching your kid do sports. Maybe a small anti-anxiety prescription just to take at the first few games will enable you to relax and have a good time and get a fresh perspective. Frankly, some of the parents I've seen at sporting events could use a little medication. But, a doctor can help you specifically with this wandering anxiety that seems to have no healthy outlet.

And, while I'm on a roll, do you have a healthy outlet? I think some parents can be too focused on their kids -- they need love, food, shelter, playtime but they also need a parent who is engaged with the world beyond them. Make sure you're getting enough grown-up time, some healthy you time, exercising and enjoying life.
posted by amanda at 10:46 AM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Am I afraid that my child might be gay?

Sexuality seems like a red-herring in this argument - gay men run the gamut of masculinity, and it seems from the above that it's the relative masculinity which is the issue for you. And, as the father, that'll be your masculinity which is presumably a problem for you. How are you getting on with the manliness?
posted by robself at 10:48 AM on September 8, 2009

Oh yeah, bahama mama makes a good point. Don't beat yourself up--you're doing something healthy and good by taking this anxiety on rather than being content to let it warp your relationship with your son.

This is deeply embarrassing for me to ask. I feel like I should be more evolved and wise. I am not a monster. I desperately want to calm down and accept him for who he is, be proud of him (I am proud of him), and help build his confidence instead of crushing it.

This is admirable. Your feelings aren't right or wrong, they just are. How you handle them is healthy or unhealthy, and it seems as if you're looking to handle them in a way that is healthy and loving for both your son and yourself.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:49 AM on September 8, 2009

I'm not a parent, so feel free to discount this advice in whatever way you deem appropriate, but I think it couldn't hurt to examine your feelings about him maybe being gay. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't, but it sounds like it concerns you. So just live with the idea for a week or two. Pretend that he is gay -- how does that play out for you? Do you stop loving him? (Almost assuredly not). Does he stop having the qualities you love about him? Would you be embarrassed to tell your friends? Are you upset that he won't get married and have kids? Let yourself really face the question and figure out what the true problems would be. They might not be so bad, or you might be able to resolve them ("Many gay people do get married these days, so there's no reason to think he won't find a partner, marry, and have children").

I also like playing, "What's the worst that can happen?" You come up with a ridiculously bad scenario that's vanishingly unlikely, and you begin to realize that what you fear isn't so bad after all. As an example from my own life, when dealing with a horrible graduate advisor, I imagined that she berated me, called me a moron who didn't deserve a college degree, and then paraded me up and down the halls telling everyone in the department how stupid I was and I deserved to be mocked. I realized that, even if she did that, I'd still be okay -- and on what planet was she actually going to do something that terrible? So, what's the worst that can happen if your boy is not as masculine or as tough as you'd like him to be? He'll still be climbing on your lap when he's thirty? He'll want to breastfeed at his wedding?

I think you're dealing with the fact that your child is not matching the image you had in your head when you had a baby boy. You have to mourn that loss, even if you end up with something better out of it. You've probably already had some level of that mourning before -- maybe one of the boys was brown haired when you wanted a blond, or a boy when you wanted a girl, or whatever. You got over it and love what you have, but you had expectations that caused some disappointment when they weren't met. Your fears about him not being masculine enough are related to the disappointment of him not meeting your expectations of how masculine a little boy should be. Accept that you're disappointed, but allow yourself to appreciate the sweet, strong, athletic boy you have.

Good luck. He sounds wonderful -- you must be doing something right so far.
posted by katemonster at 10:51 AM on September 8, 2009

I bet there are other mothers out there with bruiser sons who look enviously at yours.

I was trying not to make assumptions about your gender but clearly I did! Substitute "or fathers" in there. Frankly, the less parents compare their kids to other kids, the better.
posted by amanda at 10:51 AM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think you could address specific behaviors. I mean, if he is spacey he is spacey but that doesn't mean he has to run up the hot water bill. So, you could explain that shower shouldn't last more than X minutes and ask him to keep to that and if he still struggles then you could figure out together what would be the best way to help him take a shorter shower (timer? knock on the door?)

The point being, it might be better to sort out what is just his personality versus what are just annoying but fixable habits. It might give your dad-brain something to focus on without worrying about his personality/temperament so much.
posted by ian1977 at 10:54 AM on September 8, 2009

I was trying not to make assumptions about your gender but clearly I did!

Good grief, sign me up to that group too. How red is my face.
posted by robself at 10:56 AM on September 8, 2009

Meg_Murray hits on something very important. It sounds like you are projecting onto your son your own generalized fears and insecurities about not being accepted. All of the behaviors you have described are within the normal range of - the spaciness, the forgetfulness, daydreaming... he sounds like a very thoughtful kid. I bet he's sensitive, too. Don't crush this in him, PLEASE. Have some confidence in him that he can sort things out. He's already achieved a lot- school, sports, friends, teachers - the feedback has been POSITIVE. None of that will stand in him against a Dad who is critical and possibly ashamed- which he WILL detect.

He will learn soon enough from other boys what is acceptable/ unacceptable to them socially- as long as he has acceptance and nurturing at home, he'll navigate these situations with more confidence and more of an ability to stay true to himself.

If your anxiety and frustration get away from you- apologize to him! It goes a long way. And don't beat yourself up, either. Just take an honest look at where your worries are originating and stop burdening your son- he is OK! Just fine!
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 10:58 AM on September 8, 2009

(Odd, I unconsciously ASSumed we were responding to a Dad...)
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 11:05 AM on September 8, 2009

Slightly OT: Why do you have to give a nine year old a bath? I'm sure he can handle this on his own.

But like others have said, this sounds like your problem, not his. He sounds like a nice kid that any parent should be happy with. You need to lighten up and relax about all this.

And I don't know why you would care if your kid is "masculine". Why does it matter? Your job is to help him grow up to be the best adult he can be. Not whatever you think the best adult male is, but what his best is -- what makes him happy and successful is what you need to work to achieve.

That said, from what you're saying, he is thought of as a good kid by others as well, so you must be doing something right. I'm sure if you just lighten up and don't stress this that it'll work out fine.
posted by glider at 11:08 AM on September 8, 2009

We humans are selfish and hypocritical in that it is often easier for us to accept our own faults than to accept the faults of others--even others whom we love. Perhaps it may be easier for you accept your feelings and observations after you isolate what seems to be the only real “problem” in your story: Your selfish but understandable disappointment that your son is not more like you.
posted by applemeat at 11:09 AM on September 8, 2009

As a data point, I'm a lady, and my boyfriend is a total space cadet sometimes. He's also way more sensitive than I am, sometimes babytalks me more than I would like, and is not as masculine as some of the other dudes I know. But all those things also mean that he almost never exhibits alpha male dickishness, and I think that's awesome. I never have to worry about him bullying other guys in conversations, unlike the pissing contests some men get into, and it's pretty evident to the people around us that he's a sweet guy. He's smart, he's a good writer, and he consistently surprises me by taking up interests that I wouldn't expect.
posted by redsparkler at 11:24 AM on September 8, 2009

Realize that everyone loses it sometimes in irrational ways with their kids, and if you could listen to any parent's interior dialog about their kids it would sometimes sound horrible. From your description I think you definitely have issues you need to work on but the complete ruin of your son's life is not at stake from the behaviors you describe.

One thing I always try to do when I feel I have been unfair to my considerably younger child is to apologize and explain that I got upset and lost my temper. I don't know how much it helps him but it definitely reinforces to me that fact that when I lose my temper I have gone off track as a parent and the way I'm reacting is not helping. I feel like trying to be consistent about this has generally made me more likely to catch myself before I lose my temper.

It feels strongly to me like you're tapping into some sort of deep-set childhood guilt or fear or both. Sometimes you have to open up those memories and take a hard look at things that happened to you and how they made you feel to mitigate their impact on the present, as you probably know from prior therapy.

Stopping yourself doing something you know is wrong but which is motivated by a strong emotional reaction is very difficult, which is why questions like this come up here a lot.

I suffer from moderate anxiety in a family with some close history of pretty serious anxiety. After all is said and done and having had plenty of medication (eventually discontinued as not worth the downsides) and therapy (effective but eventually talking will only get you so far) and my number one tool against anxiety to this day is addressing the irrational in a calm, direct way. If I start to get lost imagining terrible things happening to my family I tell myself calmly and firmly "that's not happening now." I've noted this before, and every time I do it just seems simplistic and stupid, and yet there it is: I've drastically reduced the amount of time I spend brooding over terrible shit to a large degree thanks to those four words. There may be similar mantras you need to discover.

Stop feeding it. You do not have to eavesdrop on your child, he is old enough to play without supervision. Turn up the radio or go somewhere else. You do not need to monitor your child's bathing. If there needs to be a time limit, set a timer and go away. One of the important things I'm learning as a parent (and it has to be noted you have substantially more experience than I do) is to differentiate between being serious about something because it's important and getting mad about something because my kid is not obeying my will. Behaving is obviously important but I've come to think through what is worth going to the mat over a lot more seriously because forcing your kid to behave when what you're keyed up about is something trivial or irrational is to my mind actually a very negative lesson being taught.
posted by nanojath at 11:29 AM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

I agree that you need to ask for your spouse's support with this. The next time you feel the urge to interrupt your 9-year-old's bath (!), explain to your spouse that you are getting irritated, and that you need to focus on other things and can they manage getting the boy from bath to whatever is next on the agenda.

I think trying to reign yourself in is good--I think apologizing is also good. Sometimes we just can't help but get upset about things, and a heartfelt apology from a parent is a wonderful thing. Explain that you know that it's not his fault, and that it's wrong of you to get mad. Maybe he can learn to stick up for himself a little when you give him a hard time about that stuff-- "Parent, I should be able to take a long pointless bath if I want to without that bothering you. Leave me alone." It sounds like he is such a sweetie he doesn't really push back at you.

I also think the gay stuff is a red herring. There's something else bothering you about him. I kind of get it; it's like a lisp, a tick, or a habit that just drives you up a wall. Poor kid! Poor you! Good luck, anyway. I can tell you love him a lot and I hope you tell him that often.
posted by tk at 11:32 AM on September 8, 2009

Why am I acting like this? Why am I so frustrated?

Maybe your son reminds you of yourself at that age? Were you inattentive? How did your parents treat you? Maybe you are unconsciously reliving some childhood patterns.
posted by peep at 11:33 AM on September 8, 2009

I only seem to have anxiety about my kids.

Let me gently suggest that this is not the case, and that in fact, something else is bothering you. I'd look to see where other stressors might be motivating you to focus on non-existent "problems" with your children, instead of addressing problems in your own life. You might be surprised.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:38 AM on September 8, 2009

Maybe your son reminds you of yourself at that age?

I think peep might be on to something here. I don't have children myself, but I've observed among my friends and family that it isn't uncommon that the parents and children who are most alike are the ones who have the most challenges in their relationships - particularly if the parent is seeing things in their child that the parent doesn't particularly like in her/himself. It takes a strong self-awareness to recognize, in this case, when your reaction is about your child and when it's really more about you.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:02 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bravo on recognizing the problem is with you, not your child. Get yourself to a therapist; you likely have issues from your own childhood that you're projecting onto him. The sooner you get in touch with those issues, the quicker you'll be able to let him be himself without anxiety.

And do it soon; kids pick up on this stuff even though you haven't said anything outright.
posted by davejay at 1:33 PM on September 8, 2009

regarding the "spacing out" thing: my little sister used to do this all the time. turns out she has epilepsy, and they were absence (or petit mal) seizures. my father used to have these when he was young, too, but they went away--while she did eventually get the big old dramatic seizures once she was around 17 years old. now she takes medication that (mostly) controls it. you mentioned that you were the same way as a kid--it does have a genetic component. just an idea--maybe you can take him to a neurologist or ask your family doc about it.
posted by apostrophe at 2:28 PM on September 8, 2009

You are babying your child. You bathe him? He's nine. You seem to hover over his play time too. Kids who are treated like little kids act like little kids.

That being said, there's nothing to indicate that your son is gay or not. This is stupid. He isn't acting gay, straight, masculine or feminine. He's acting nine.

Stop monitoring your son's play so closely. He's nine. Tell him to stay in the block or whatever, and have him check in when appropriate.

And for Christ's sake, leave him alone in the shower. Nine is a little old to be charging in on a naked person. First of all, he needs to establish boundaries and the concept of privacy at this point. And, what if he's starting to discover masturbation- to sexy ladies? Do you want to teach him that's bad?

Just tell him showers should only last so long. When they go over limit, dock his allowance or video games or something. If he's not at school or doing his homework, daydreaming is fine. Kids are constantly in their own fantasies are stories; day to day life is pretty boring when you're nine. Most people celebrate a child's imagination.
posted by spaltavian at 2:51 PM on September 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

OMG! An older brother who suddenly had to share his parents with a new baby now sometimes uses babytalk and/or wants to sit on a lap? How unexpected and totally weird! Or maybe just normal? Particularly if the little brother and the way he behaves gets more affection or at least gets less of the screaming fury?

You must know all of the stuff about kids responding better to positive reinforcement of the behaviour you like, rather than attention paid to the behaviour you don't. Try applying it. Take @tk's advice about using your other half to cut down on your involvement in situations that you don't handle well.

And, as others have said, work out why you feel this way. Are you trying to protect him because you fear he will be bullied? "It's dangerous to act like that"? Or .....?

I think @amanda is right to suggest the kids may benefit from your having other priorities in your life. There are plenty of charities that could use your talents while you learned from them. Take a look around.
posted by Idcoytco at 3:59 PM on September 8, 2009

I'd just like to "me too" the following pieces of advice:

-He's probably not gay, and even if he was, why wouldn't that be okay?
-I was a space-case and a bit touch-y feel-y in elementary school. I turned out okay.
-A therapist may help you understand why you're feeling this way, and how to handle it in a way that doesn't hurt your kid.
-Your spouse may also be able to help with the same, depending on how your relationship works. Wouldn't hurt to communicate about it.
-Set rules to address the things, like the long showers, that are costing money. Explain why -- he's getting old enough to start understanding, now.
-Don't hover, and don't bathe your 9-yr-old kid. It's time to start letting him be his own man, a bit. I'm not a parent, but I really liked the idea of Tinkering School and similar camps, which teach kids how-to skills that are "dangerous," but awesome and useful, in a safe environment. (related: the founder gives a TED Talk).
-Remember it's okay not to be 100% okay with everything all the time. Try not to take it out on your kid, but don't worry about feeling a bit anxious.
posted by Alterscape at 4:13 PM on September 8, 2009

I admire your acknowledgment of an unhealthy thought pattern and your determination to change it.

I think part of this concern may be that you feel your son is opening himself up to "being a victim". Like you do not feel confident that sans your presence son would be able to 'look out for himself'. Perhaps you experienced being a victim from other children etc. when you were younger? Or loss of respect or friendship as a result of your perceived femininity/inattentiveness with regards to sports in particular?

I would say this: even the most hard core helicopter parent cannot be there 24/7 for their children. If the worst you have to worry about is a few bruises or being unco on the sports field then I would suggest both and you and son are doing fine.

Furthermore there are - for kids as adults - myriad ways in which you can lead a fulfilled, happy and supported life. The fey, spacey way can win just as many friends, accolades and protectors as the pragmatic, focussed way.
posted by smoke at 4:33 PM on September 8, 2009

If he's getting good grades, he might appear spacey because there's something going on inside his head that he's more interested in than showering. Yes, set a time limit to save your sanity and the water bill, but try to appreciate that the kid just might turn out to be an absent minded professor. Perhaps he sits on your lap because you make him feel it's OK to exhibit younger behaviour as you bathe him as you would a younger child. It's hard raising kids, esp when they bring back something from your childhood that you've forgotten until that moment. Any kid who's competitive and likes to get good grades is OK from where I sit. Like it or not, the role of men in modern society is changing and hyper masculine men have a challenge finding a place for themselves. Errol Flynn and John Wayne would not fit into modern life. Your boy could turn out better adapted to a life of not chopping wood and protecting the homestead, but competing on an intellectual level instead. And, btw, I've known gay men who are big, rugged hunter types and superstuds dressed in Italian silks.
posted by x46 at 4:56 PM on September 8, 2009

Build bridges with him instead of walls.

Next time he's 'spacing', stop and ask him, "Hey buddy, you look pretty deep in thought there, whatcha thinking about?" instead of raising your voice. Listen to him and eventually guide him back to the task at hand: "...that's a pretty cool story, but you know what will be pretty cool too? When you finish what you're doing, we can do X". You'll not only get to know him better and what goes on in his little head, but you'll help teach him to stay focused when necessary, but that it's still ok to be 'spacey'.

And this next bit is MUCH easier said then done, but do try to stop comparing him (or any child) to other kids. He is himself and will be no one else. Help him to be the best him he can be and give him the tools to be that.

I'm proud of you for asking for help. I really wish more parents were like you.
posted by NoraCharles at 5:27 PM on September 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm proud of you for asking for help. I really wish more parents were like you.

Nthing this sentiment.

To be honest, the kids I really worry about are the "perfect" ones. How can their futures be anything but disappointing?

All children are ongoing, ever fluctuating works-in-progress, and as such, it's their business to worry and annoy those who love them (and rest assured, each will do it in their own inimitable way). The easy adult mistake is to read these worries and annoyances as evidence of character flaws. They're not. Just symptoms of an extremely complicated life form organizing itself for the supreme challenge of maturity.
posted by philip-random at 6:38 PM on September 8, 2009

I wonder if indeed the fact he was a lot like you at that age is the trigger?

Now, what I am about to say might be totally off the wall-but did something traumatic happen to you when you were his age?

Whether or not my hunch has any validity, might not hurt to have a chat with a therapist. This obviously is causing you a lot of distress for some reason-and there IS a reason. It would be helpful to you to know what that reason is.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:06 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

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