As I watch my three year old and six month old play, the teeter totter of nature vs. nurture arguments gets to creaking along in my head and I find myself playing a game of best guesses. How many people are the same as they were when they were a toddler, or a squeaky little babe? I feel like I know who they are now but who will they become? So many mothers make the mistake of cementing their understanding of their child at a certain age and refusing to move forward from that. It’s hard to grow when those around you insist that you’re the person that you used to be. That’s a good way to drive your children away, escaping your expectations just so they can thrive in the way that they need to grow.
I look at my boys making each other laugh, and worries of drug dependencies, predatory adults, teen suicide and every other nightmare this world has on menu seize the air in the room. I can knock myself out trying to create a stable, safe and loving home environment for them and it’s still no guarantee that they won’t be touched by those terrors. So much of their lives will be, and are already, outside of my control, and I have a hard time with that. Yet where do we draw the line in this age of fear so that they can have the room to develop into thoughtful, responsible adults according to the paths that their personalities will need to take? This is what I wish to tell them, should these subjects ever come up:
You Will Be Many Versions of Yourself
I can summarize the key aspects of my sons’ personalities as babies; that feature which set(s) them apart as unique above all else. My first born was (and this still describes him well) Empathy. There were signs of his compassion and sense of the needs of others even when he was only weeks old. My second son is Joy. He finds every opportunity to smile and laugh, even through sickness, shots, you name it. If this world took a page from either of their books, we’d all be living in a better place. Now, there are other aspects to their personalities at each stage of development and already I see adults around them talking about what kind of people they are. This never stops. People sum other people up so that they feel that they understand them.
What I hope to teach my boys is that they will continue to grow, which means that it’s okay to continue on even if your actions don’t match the words that others put on you. There will be times when you’ll be at peace with who you are and there will be times when you see disappointment looking back from the mirror. Every moment of every day is exactly the right moment to decide to be the person you want to become.
The Opinion That Matters is Yours
Yesterday I took my three year old to the playground. He was wearing a green jacket with airplane related patches on it. We overheard a boy comment on my son’s jacket to his brother, asking what it was. The brother guessed, “I think he’s a cub scout.” Not knowing what this meant, my son came to me with worried wet eyes.
“Mama, I’m not a coy scout,” he said.
“No you’re not,” I told him, “but being a cub scout is a good thing, so it would be okay even if you were. I think they might like your jacket. Do you like it?”
Satisfied, and agreeing that he still liked his jacket, he continued to play and even ended up following those boys around in an attempt to play with them. Meanwhile I thought about how quickly he had picked up on the idea that he was being insulted. Being a survivor of bullying, I’m keen to give my boys every tool possible to combat the effects of careless or hurtful words. Inevitably, somebody out there won’t like your jacket. A lot of other people will. None of that matters as much as your thoughts on the subject.
I’m going to do my best to provide a safe space for them to learn and grow. I firmly believe that it’s our responsibility as parents to give our boys the tools they’ll need to make good decisions for themselves as adults, and as citizens of a larger community. That means we won’t always be the “good guys” in their eyes, but it’s my sincere hope that the results will be worth it. It’s difficult right now, while they both depend on me for so much and my life is filled with love and snuggles, to imagine a day when they’ll step away from me on their own paths. Being a mother of “advanced maternal age,” I also understand how quickly years slip by. I know it’s going to feel like I blinked and they were suddenly men. Hopefully there will still be room for those wonderful “I love you mama” hugs.