What does love look like ?
When our eldest son was two years old we discovered he needed glasses. “Honey, go get your tricycle and join us for a walk,” we proposed. In addition to its three wheels, this machine boasted of bright and multiple colors. You could not miss it a mile away and we were barely standing 150 meters from it. Our son replied, “Where is it?” Oops. Even at his young age, he needed a correction of 5.5 (this is a BIG correction).
Lovingly we prepared him for the day his glasses would finally arrive. “You’ll see so much better!” we exclaimed and he smiled in response. It was not until those little glasses were propped on nose and he exclaimed, “C’est tout propre!” (“It’s all clean!”) that we realized we had been speaking a foreign language to him. He had no conception of seeing “better”. Why should he have? His only reference point is what he had experienced up to then.
Clean or Blurry?
How is your vision of love? Is blurry normal? I recently read Clayton Christensen’s excellent book, How Will You Measure Your Life? He repeatedly refers to the benefits of intimate relationships, true sharing among family members. Do we all know what that looks like, I wondered. Who among us can exclaim with confidence that family relationships help us keep going in our times (note the plural) of need? Hopefully many of you can. Yet some of us may find the opposite to be true.
The mere grind of daily pressure (métro, boulot, dodo) makes meaningful discussion difficult. We often focus on, “Get your elbows off the table!” and “Who’s going to Suzette’s recital when we’re both out of town for work?“ When did you last launch a discussion on finances with the kids during dinner? (“What do you think is A LOT of money? What happens when you spend more money than you have?”) When did you last sit down to eat together?!
Tree and Shade. Investment and Returns
The time to plant a tree is not when we need shade, Christensen reminds us. One of the challenges of investing in relationships, he adds, is that the payoff isn’t immediate. In practice, this means that instructions need to be repeated over and over again before they sink in. The patience that was put to test in “conversing” with a two then three then four year old finally paves the way for engaged debates on beliefs and purpose...a decade later.
When I wrote my first blog entry some eight years ago, my father proclaimed it might never be a business (it’s not) but that my family will surely benefit (it has). Investing in quality home life has been lonely and often discouraging. I am the only woman in our home with four boys within seven years. My husband and I come from different cultures and belief systems. (“I just don’t understand you...” ) My friends with MBA’s prioritized their careers...and many gave me a quaint (condescending) smile when I told them I applied business practices to the home. I kept to the path less taken because I had a vision for more...without necessarily knowing what that looked like.
This past year, in particular, I have been overwhelmed by the intimacy of this payback on my investment. May these glimpses of shade from the seeds planted in our family be an encouragement to you as you persevere.
Several Shades of Color
“Mom, you’ve got to be more flexible with my sex life...”
Like many of our U.S. bound summer vacation days, we were sunning by the local community poolside. “Dressed” in my French one-piece bathing suit which revealed more than the American two-pieces, I was feeling slightly self-conscious. That's the moment my handsome hulk of a teenage son chose to broach the subject of his sex life and to request greater permissiveness on my part.
My entire body blushed. And yet, I felt so honored that my son would trust me sufficiently to engage in such a mutually vulnerable exchange.
I believe there is good sex and great sex. Fantastic intimacy requires trust and is enjoyed within the context of a committed relationship. “Proof of commitment, my son, manifests itself in a sacrifice of some sorts. What have you given up for your girlfriend?” Not finances. Not friends, not even the numerous girls who seek out his company (“Just buddies, Mom.” “Honey, open up your eyes. They have the hots for you.” “Mom, you are so outdated!”) A little bit of time. Not much restraint!
My son presented sexual pleasures as a right. He and his girlfriend had been going out for sufficiently long (how long is enough?) and physical intimacy is what couples do. “Are you asking me to bless your sex in our home? With your brothers in the next room? While I am cooking your dinner?!!!”
We finally agreed to disagree. Compromise on my beliefs for his pleasure was not worth it. It’s a high view of God that enabled me to see my child as precious when others (the school principal, the police officer....) saw him as a problem. It is because Jesus Christ considers me so beautiful (when I know I don’t deserve it) that I am able to consistently see my son as a gift.
Did our discussion leave my son happy? No and yes. He would have liked to have had the house empty at his convenience for his fun. Who wants rain on his parade? And yet, he knew he was heard, respected, and also appreciated. He may not like my beliefs, but he knows they have value...they gave him value!
“What are my talents?”
Christmas was approaching and I had asked each of the boys for some ideas for presents. One evening, as I prepared dinner, one child came into the kitchen, sat down, and sputtered out: “Mom, do I have any talents?”
Again, I could not help smiling at God’s sense of humor at being caught off guard, at the “wrong” time. My hands were gooey from slicing raw chicken and I felt pressured to put the meal on the table before a hoard of famished men descended on me.
I was also so thankful for the habit we have instilled as a family to “pause and recap.” We regularly look back on our day or on a situation and remember what went well and what we learned. This discipline enabled me to navigate smoothly through the present, delicate moment.
Without skipping a beat or adoptiing a worried tone of voice (obviously something was up. This child was asking for assurance), I replied. “You have insight,” and I reminded him of the teachers’ comments regarding his infrequent-yet-always-relevant class participation. “You have leadership skills. People follow you,” and I brought up his performance on his sports team where, thanks largely to his efforts, the group pulled together for an unexpected winning season. “You are a quick thinker,” and I pointed out how he confidently and intelligently debates with his older siblings during family dinner conversations.
My son’s body language metamorphosed. He sat up taller in his chair. He raised his chin a notch. A Mona Lisa smile rested on his lips.
“Darling, what are my talents?” I pursued. Quick on his feet, he shared his insights. (Had I gotten his skills right? Did he fill in the shoes I described? Does it matter?!) He went on to tell me how I am courageous in sharing my faith, even when family members (himself included) make fun of me. “That’s a talent, Mom.” “Thank you.” “Thank you too, Mom.”
“Memories makes memories and the memories memories makes makes more memories.” (Paraphrase of a German proverb on money.)
I remember being surprised by how tough parenting could be. As I grow older (and wiser?!), I am dumbfounded by the opportunities to experience love through family.
Keep going. There is a precious payback to your parenting investment.