I flipped my wall calendar over to February this past week and experienced one of those brief moments of sheer parenting panic as I realized my son, and youngest child, will be graduating from high school in a mere three more calendar flips. So much to do before launch, with so few days to get it all done. I feel somewhat prepared in a few ways, as a Been There, Done That Mom, but I’m finding it’s a little different when it’s your baby, and unlike last time – it’s a son, rather than a daughter.
On certain days, in the right light and with enough caffeine, I feel like I’ve done a decently good job so far in raising a young man who is kind and polite and generally fun to be around. He exhibits moments of pure and unsolicited gratitude that utterly surprise and delight me. Yet, minutes later, his typical teenage boy behavior can make me want to lock him out of the house for an extended timeout with no snacks and no “toys” – his phone and car keys, at this stage of the game.
There is something about nearing the take-off phase of the launch process that feels very uneven with a boy versus a girl. The common wisdom that boys mature more slowly than girls has mostly rung true in my experience as a parent. As my daughter finished up her high school senior year, I felt like she just kind of “got it” more – with regards to life and people in general – as far as an 18-year-old really can. I do not yet feel like my son owns this same level of “get”.
My panic begins to bubble up at the thought of how many things I still want to tell him. All of the discussions that I want to have with him, while knowing full well he will never want to sit long enough and listen to all I hope to say. I realize that there are so many things in life that must be personally experienced to fully understand, and that he needs to move out into the world to completely grasp some lessons, but the Mom in me holds out a tiny shred of colorful hope that I still can help him move further into the “gets it” zone of being, before he is left at the dorm curb with shiny eyes, holding the sweatshirt he had left in the car.
Is it possible to cram for Mom 101 success in three months? And why do I suddenly feel like my son being off at college will be the equivalent of Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney, stranded alone on Mars – only being able to communicate with NASA via typed messages? Probably because I have heard far too many Mom horror stories of college sons who never call or even text, unless of course, they need money. I fear my boy will become The Martian this August.
So after a few days of contemplating what exactly I hope my son will understand as he leaves our home, here is the boiled-down, Big Picture conclusion I have come up with:
That as an adult, out in the real world, I will never hear my son declare “I can’t understand why anyone would do/say/believe that.”
I will consider myself a successful parent if my son truly understands that humans are complicated.
That humans are hypocritical.
That humans are not always rational, but make most decisions within a swirling head space of emotions.
That humans are a product of their genetics and environment, and are oftentimes affected by forces that they have little control over, or even memory of.
That humans are … human.
I will consider myself a successful parent if my son takes the time and effort to listen and research if he doesn’t initially understand why someone holds a viewpoint that is the exact opposite of his.
If he seeks out and spends time with people who disagree with him, and have very different life experiences than he has had thus far.
If he does not fear “the other”, but appreciates the opportunity to learn from and have respect for each unique journey that a fellow human is taking during their time on this earth. It is easy and comfortable to spend time with people just like you – frankly, I want my kid to be uncomfortable often.
If we’ve made it this far as parents, we all know that during each stage of our life we are faced with people who do things differently, who make choices that go against what we believe, and who are quite happy telling us we’re doing it wrong. We can choose to ignore or demonize “the other side”. But I hope that I will have shown my child that there is another path to take – the open road of empathy and consideration. The end goal does not always have to be agreement, but at the very least there needs to be some small measure of understanding.
I will know I have reached a decent level of parenting success when I hear my son say “Help me to understand why you feel that way.”
And, spoiler alert – if you haven’t seen The Martian: Watney, the stranded botanist-astronaut, does eventually make it safely back to planet Earth, after learning some very difficult lessons. He comes to understand why his crew left without him and why NASA struggled with the decision to rescue him – he gets the reality of the opposing perspectives. And he also fully acknowledges that two-way, verbal communication with wise ones and loved ones, is vital to his well-being. There is indeed hope for Moms of distant sons!