My son is quickly growing older and our conversations are quickly moving into areas that are difficult. Often when I try to talk to him about certain topics, he clams up, blushes, and exasperatedly sighs, “Moo-oom!!”
B and I have always had a strong relationship. We have always been close. I want that to remain especially through this next phase of puberty and hormones and tweenage. I need him to have a safe place to ask questions that keep him safe.
I have bought him books to help him answer questions about his body and situations that he will find himself in that I have little knowledge of having the distinct problem of lacking a phallus. But there are issues that we need to flesh out. Issues that I need him to discuss with me. In order to make that happen, we have found two safe places for these deep discussions: the moments before he falls to sleep in the dark and long car rides.
B is an amazing child (I understand my bias, but this belief has been reinforced by everyone who has met him). He understands issues far beyond his years and is fiercely loyal to the concept of doing the right thing. I never want him to lose this. But the concept of Doing the Right Thing continues to get more convoluted as he grows up. The line between right and wrong is blurry.
At 8 the right thing is defending your friend. At 9 and 10, what if your friend is doing something really wrong. For example, he has a friend who has a crush on a little girl in class. But this friend is using some rather alarming ways of displaying this affection. He follows her around and takes notes on what she says and wears and how she wears her hair. B found out about this and said, “MOM! That is so weird and _______ is scared of him!” Yes, baby doll, that is a really frightening way to show someone your affection and I am so glad he recognized this. But it cannot end there. That conversation needs to extend. Which friend does he defend? How does he do this without hurting the other one’s feelings? Does it even matter if he hurts the other one’s feelings? What is a better way his friend could share his feelings? How do you make the women and girls in your life feel safe? What can he do to show his friend who is a girl that while she may not need his protection, he is there if she does? How will this same situation look as he gets older? How can he recognize this in the people he is around? This was our conversation last night.
Interestingly, I read an article earlier in the day by Glennon Doyle Melton about the conversation that you need to be having with your tweens and teens and shared it saying that these conversations cannot start too early. B is in a class with very few kids and that number will continue to shrink as they move up and some kids or their parents elect to move into different/easier/more aligned to the child’s learning classes. These are the children that he will likely have in his class into and through high school. he needs to know how to deal with this in a way that he can communicate to his friend who is a boy that this behavior is not acceptable and to communicate to his friend who is a girl that he is aware and does not agree with his friend who is a boy and will be there to help her feel safe should she need it.
I do make sure that B knows his role in different group situations. He has two children who are in one of his sports with him who are just starting at his school this year as third graders. We discussed how they might feel and I asked him ways that he can help make them feel more comfortable. He is not particularly close to these children, but he knows them and they are teammates and he wants to be sure that they feel welcome and that they have friends to sit with and play with during the most frightening times of the day for new kids – lunch and recess.
Growing older only brings on more situations that he needs to hash out with someone who can help give him perspective; someone who can help him work through his feelings; and someone who can help him to figure out HOW to get through situations in the best possible way. I give him these spaces to bring me those deepest, most frightening conversations that are too difficult face-to-face and in the light. I hope that he will always find solace there or at least understand that no topic is off limits. This is the entire meaning of, “Quiet as it’s kept . . . ” It is a place of conversation that remains where it lies – in the dark, in the backseat, eyes not needing to meet because our hearts are always there.