I’m a Mom Learning to Understand her Children

What does it mean that my son walks in shadow? Is it a middle child thing? Neither my husband nor I remember him being born. I mean…we both laugh about me putting my husband on patrol at the nursery to keep and eye on him, laughing about who passed down those ears to our son… But I don’t remember him being handed to me, like I think I should. It irks me and makes me pray: Jesus Christ, please show yourself in my mothering of the son you gave me!

I remember him walking by me one day and having the sense that he was actually draped in a dark cloak that muted everything about him. My son was entering our auditorium where my oldest and I were finishing up I Can Only Imagine. My youngest (so far; we’re expecting another girl in August) and my husband were with him, because their cartoon had finished up in another auditorium. I saw my husband’s face clearly; the baby of the crew jumped right into my lap for cuddles; and, I wanted to touch my son as he went by…but I didn’t.

My son rebels with passive aggression – pretending he can’t when he can. Pretending he can’t do it, understand you… But they’re short-lived rebellions. And I wonder if I don’t cause a lot of his rebellions or, prolong them – by my failure to express understanding for where he’s coming from. Sometimes I actually don’t understand the seed of his upset. 

It doesn’t feel good to realize you don’t understand your children. It feels like a genetic defect.

I try to parent honestly: I try to apologize when I mess up. I try to be transparent in a healthy way – sharing a little of my background as it seems appropriate, so they understand that I understand. I try to tell them why I do what I do – my thinking processes. But, of course, they don’t always understand your whys or your rules…

My current rule is: If there’s no blood, 1) talk to everyone involved about whatever hysterically shouted or tearful claims come before me, and 2) counsel with empathy. As parents, we have to lay out to children that our refusal to 100% accept hearsay will benefit them all at some point. And though it is an imperfect policy, it is more fair. Because our current rule arises from truth: Mommy and Daddy are imperfect and definitely NOT omnipresent or, all-knowing. That’s God’s resume.

As I was all twisted up about my relationship with my son, he turned to me in the way quiet people have – with sudden gravity – and told me: “I have 3 things that I really love to do: Coloring, singing… I’m okay with that… And cooking… So, maybe I’ll be a musician.” Then he looked at me, content, I think partly, because I had listened without checking my phone and, partly because he’d come to a conclusion. The singing part surprised me. And, when he swung from singing to musician on his mental monkey bars… I waited a minute and then said, “So do you want to take some art classes or lessons for an instrument?” I knew about some local cooking classes but an ex-friend of mine had recently mentioned she was investigating them and thinking of enrolling 2 of her 3 children in those, so I thought it best to steer clear of cooking lessons. My son looked like “lessons” had not been one of his next mental monkey bars, but he nodded thoughtfully, like, That might be nice… Without asking him, we’d already signed him up for tennis. Because he really enjoys our amateur pickleball matches on the driveway…

Just because he comes out of me doesn’t mean I understand him. We’re very different, and I have to be quiet, too, and learn him. My quiet son is teaching me that parenting isn’t just about making all the right decisions and structuring all the right procedures for child trials or, remembering every single moment of his birth day. It isn’t even about knowing every detail of who he is. It’s about looking at him when he talks and listening. Love is about that.