My mother-in-law always told me that there was a special place in heaven for mothers of all boys. I laughed but wondered why she found having all boys so worthy of a special place in heaven. My boys were great. Not perfect. Not even close. But a special place in heaven–seemed superfluous to me. Today, sitting as a newly single mom of four boys, I am beginning to understand why God would grant us that special place.
In the early years, it was all about hearing “mommy” screamed from every corner of the house and the finely tuned ear which could easily differentiate between the” he just hit me, mommy” scream and the ” I just knocked a television on him, mommy” scream. The seemingly endless days of one crying to eat at 3 am, one crying because I gave him the wrong spoon for his cereal at 7 am, one crying because he didn’t want to go to school at 8 am and literally searching the house for the one who was apparently absent from school but was not anywhere to be found in the house at 11 am. And that was all before noon on an average day.
Those days included muffled swear words (which, I admit, sometimes, maybe too often, slipped out), the pounding of my heart as I ran to see what part of the TV made contact with which part of his body or trying to remain calm as I asked the woman from the school attendance office if she could please locate one of his friends to see if they had seen him on the bus that morning. It also included the terror I felt when the bump on his leg seemed seven shades of purple and growing in size every minute and, when the answer from the woman was “no, no one had seen him that morning”, the tears I held back as I raced around the house to find the phone, my car keys and the missing son
As they grew, they became louder, more physical, smellier and, of course, wildly inappropriate while discussing body parts or noises therefrom. But they were generally easy, few mood swings, pretty simple to please. Lots and lots of food, a computer and plenty of video games. Didn’t take much.
But now, with my sons at the ages of 23, 21, 17 and 10, I struggle to understand these four young men and how their minds work. The harder I try, the more complex it becomes and the more I feel their determined disassociation from me.
Perhaps an example might help. Last weekend, I paid for a flight for my son to go see his girlfriend at college. This is the same 21-year-old who often stays locked in his room, who leaves his toughly worn clothes all over the floor and who literally shudders at the thought of talking to me. I drive him to school on Friday so he will not have to worry about getting a spot to park his car. I pick him up from school two hours later and drive him to the airport so he will not have to pay for parking the car over the weekend. I tell him I will pick him up Sunday when he returns. Last words out of my mouth–please stay in touch. Well, I might as well have spit in the wind!
I get it. He is excited to be with her. He is busy, making memories. I love and want that for him. But by Saturday night, after trying to reach him on the phone I pay for and on which he refuses to set up his mailbox, I am forced to call his girlfriend to find out when his flight lands Sunday morning. He gets on the phone and grunts, “Dad is picking me up.” Annoyed by his lack of consideration for me, I say “So I do not need to be around tomorrow morning?” And the reply—“Well, Dad is on call so you may have to pick me up.” Yeah, I see why I deserve that special place in heaven.
And there is more. I tell my two boys who are with their dad one weekend that it would be great to hear from them just once while they are there. I explain that this is all new to me, that I miss them when they are not here and that a brief text or phone call just to say hi would make my day. Wind, meet spit. If I am lucky, and I mean really lucky, they might return a text with one word: “fine” or “good” and not a single syllable more.
I raised these four boys. They are amazing in so many ways. But the pain I experience when I feel like I don’t matter is big, huge in fact. The toughest part, however, and the part I presume reserves me this special place in heaven, is trying to understand the needs, desires and attitudes of these young men who clearly do, as John Gray said, come from a different planet.
I thought I was a good mom, a great one in fact. I fulfilled their needs oftentimes before they even knew they needed it. I taught them that love is a two-way street and that telling someone that you care about them is not the same thing as showing someone that you care about them. They just do not always behave that way. I know in my head it is not a failure, but my heart cannot understand or accept this misfire. It yearns for it. It gets broken every time it fails. I say words to these men and the words fall on deaf ears. Yes, I see the special place AND the reason we are provided that privilege.
The bigger question, however, is whether it is my job to change them? Am I supposed to fight for the women who are to come into their lives by explaining that this type of behavior is not appropriate, that women may have different needs than men and that they should begin their education about this with me, their mother? Or do I set them free, to make their own mistakes, get some broken hearts along the way because they fail to see or understand how to treat a woman?
Another example may help. I get a phone call from my oldest son. He is telling me about an argument he had with his girlfriend. She was getting dressed. As is usual for many women, no matter their size, she “felt fat” in everything she tried on. My son, not the most patient man, groaned and said “Are we going to have to go through this every time we go out?”
I reflected and said to him calmly, “Don’t you think a better approach might be to tell her she looked great in all the outfits, but that you liked the (fill in the blank) best. And when she puts it on, give her a kiss and tell her how beautiful she looks.”
This had never occurred to him. And I wasn’t asking him to lie. I was simply telling him to say what he truly thought; he did not care about which jeans she wore, he just wanted to go. Two weeks later, he called to tell me he tried it and it worked. Like a charm. I felt Mars and Venus inch closer that night.
Boys (at least mine) don’t have many intimate talks with their moms. So I don’t have many such stories to share. But you see my point. If my boys know what is right from wrong in how they treat their mom, maybe some of it could bleed through to their relationships. Call when you say you are going to call. Do your best to let her know where you are and what your plans may be. I am not promoting making them into momma’s boys. Absolutely not. But I am promoting respect, kindness, caring and sometimes putting her needs before your own.
Don’t take care OF her; she can do that herself. But care FOR her. Make her a priority, not an afterthought. Make her smile, laugh and yes, sometimes cry. But do it from a place of caring about her needs at least as much as you care about your own. And, expect the same in return. Insist on it! You must learn to riff off each other in a positive way so peace and honesty can be the core of your relationship. There is no better place to be at than that place of peace and understanding in a relationship. Oh yeah, and for all my efforts, I think I will reserve that special place in heaven right now!
Jill Carlin Schrager is the mother of four amazing sons, ages 26, 24, 20 and 14. Jill graduated New York University School of Law in June, 1986 and practiced at a litigation law firm in Philadelphia while her ex-husband completed medical school and surgical residency. She moved back home to New York in June, 1993 with two little ones and became a stay-at-home mom for her growing family. Jill wrote this essay shortly after her separation from her husband in 2011 and, in the last five years, has come to a much clearer understanding of why she deserves that special place in heaven. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.