The conversation went something like this…
L: "What are you doing to develop mutual interests with your boys?"
Me: "What do you mean? I really love watching them play soccer.
I don't love driving them around but I really love watching them play."
L: "Have you ever thought about tennis? It is 1:1 or 2:2.
You can play with them without a whole team".
Then I get it. There are times when I get hit with a question that really flips me upside down and I mentally scramble to answer in such a way as to make it seem like I am smarter than I really am. This was one of those times. I don't want to say what I said next but I had to say it.
Me: "Wow. I had never thought about that."
So I asked her to tell me about raising her three sons and what she did to really develop in them an interest that she also had. The mutual interests served as a bond sustaining them when their relationship was both strong and weak. For instance, she would ride the light rail with one of them and look at architecture. They didn't have much money but they would buy a coke and look at a specific building at the end of the line.
I thought back to my dad and brother. They rebuilt a car together when my brother was a teen. They went hunting and fishing and backpacking. As a young adult, my brother learned much about home remodeling from my father and even now they work on projects together. They had similar interests. They DID stuff together. My dad developed in my brother some of their shared interests and they still share those interest today. It didn't happen on accident. It wasn't 'child lead' willy-nilly. It was purposeful and intentional and wise.
I have spent a great deal of time thinking of what sports and activities are a good and natural fit for each of my kids, then given them the space to make some of their own choices. I spent a lot of time watching t-ball (yawn!) and praying that Anthony found a more exciting sport. It never occurred to me to gently move him towards things that he and I both enjoy.
Often lonely mothers complain (me too!) that we feel like we are loosing ourselves in pursuit of bringing happiness to our kids. That is why buying a mini-van is so hard. We can however indulge some of our own passions while stirring up a love for those passions in the lives of our kids, and we will be better mothers for doing so.
This is particularly important for our sons. At various points in their development, boys pull away from their mothers. They stop wanting the kisses on the head or to hold our hands while we walk side by side. That is okay and actually healthy to some extend, but we need to find ways to continue to connect. Our sons need to know that is it always okay for us to love them, because we will love them forever. They will outgrow a lot of shoes but never will be too big for our love. Most sons will understand that, but that doesn't mean they will want to do what we are doing. Shopping or reading or what ever we do in our spare time (what is that?) won't necessarily be something that they find interesting. So find something that you both have in common and introduce it. This isn't self-indulgent. This is really about making a connection that will last because it is a connection that is authentic to both your passions. Finding something that you share, and being purposeful about fostering that interest, will keep you bonded as you both age.
People are fond of the saying "A daughter is a daughter for life, a son is a son until he takes a wife". I think that is crap. I understand the sentiment, and a young man should be raised to put his wife above all other people in his life, but that does not mean that you can't have strong bonds with your sons as they grow into men. You may just need to be more intentional about doing it.
What are your special interests that you could share with your kids (sons and daughters)? What interests you? Do you even know? How do you want to spend your free time? Do you love doing jigsaw puzzles or sewing or cooking or drawing? What about history or art or poetry or music or photography? Do any of your kids seem to be remotely interested in these? What do you long to do, but have given up because there just isn't enough time in the day? Can you bring back some of those passions and use them to boost your parenting?
Post Script: The conversation I had above was the first conversation I ever had with this woman. She is twice my age, but we are both a part of Our Lady Sodality. We both have summer birthdays and struck up a conversation because of that. Wisdom and confidence surrounded her and just 10 minutes with her has given me a new tool for my parenting tool box. Who are your resources for your own parenting growth? Can you find away to bring in new resources and forge new friendships that will help you as you develop your parenting craft?