Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Power of a Parent

I'm a sucker for feel-good videos. So when a Facebook friend posted a link to a singing audition of an  9-year-old boy -- Boy Breaks Down and Cries During Audition, Then Amazes Everyone -- I couldn't help but click on the link.

I'm so glad I did!

His voice is amazing. The look on Simon's face is priceless; anyone who can move Simon Cowell's face to softness is indeed amazing. But what impressed me most was the boy's mom.

When she saw that her son needed her, she was there. She didn't hesitate in the wings, letting all the "shoulds" and social proprieties and what-will-the-judges-think get in the way. She saw her boy in pain, and her mother heart responded immediately. Without asking anyone, without second-guessing herself, she went out to her son.

There's a lot of discussion today about helicopter parents and parents who impede their kids' development by handling problems for them. There's a long-standing school of thought that says moms can smother and inhibit their sons by being too close to them. And while experts and parents everywhere debate the merits of hands-on vs. hands-off parenting, individual parents are left to make the call. What's supporting? What's smothering? Where do we draw the line, and how do we know the difference?

I know this: the line is different for everyone. I have four children. Their needs are not the same. One may need to be pushed a bit in a certain situation, while even a subtle nudge for another in a similar situation might be enough to make him crumble. My kids are all individuals, and they need to be treated as such.

Enter the mother heart. Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of knowing your sons, of responding to your intuition. That's where your mother (or father) heart comes in handy. When you know your sons, your gut will also always tell you how to handle a situation. Your gut -- not any parenting book or blog -- will tell you what you need to do for that individual child at that particular moment.

Malaki's mom knew that he needed a hug, and she gave it to him, right then and there. She didn't hold herself back because some book or some expert says that she needs to teach her son resilence, or how to manage the world on his own. She trusted her heart, and hugged her son.

It worked.

Go back and rewatch the video. See that bit at the end, of Malaki and his mom walking off into the distance? See how he swings her arms and leans into her? That's the sight of a boy who is confident in his connection to his mom. He knows that she will always be there for him, and I don't think that's a dysfunctional thing at all. He's 9-years-old, and at 9, what he needs to know is that he's not alone. He needs to know that he is safe and secure. Later, from that secure base, he will explore and grow into the world.

The power of parenting never ceases to amaze me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why It Pays to Know Your Sons

Flickr photo by Thomªs'

I can't stop thinking about the blog post I read this morning on MOB (Mothers of Boys -- check it out).

The post, 4 Ways to Protect Your Sons From Abuse, was inspired, in part, by the sexual abuse of boys by Jerry Sandusky at Penn State University. Like my earlier post, Penn State & Sexual Abuse, it details steps parents can take to decrease the odds of their son being sexually (or otherwise) abused.

But the part that sticks in my head is this: One mom starting questioning her son (and others) after he came home from Penn State with wet hair.

Wet hair, friends.

This mom knew her son and his routines so well that she knew there was absolutely no reason for him to be coming home at that time, from that place, with wet hair. She was so in-tune with her son that she actually noticed his wet hair when he came home; she didn't just mutter a cursory "hi" without looking up from her computer or the dishes or whatever else she was doing at that moment. She saw her son, and she knew something was not right.

Now, I'm not saying that the other parents, those who didn't know about the abuse until later, were not in-tune with their sons, or that they didn't love them. What happened to these boys (now men) at the hands of Sandusky was reprehensible, and Sandusky is solely responsible for his acts. I don't mean to lay blame, at all, at the feet of the victimized.

But think about it. The warning signs of all kinds of things -- sexual abuse, physical abuse, bullying, trouble in school -- are subtle. And the only way to catch those signs to to know what "normal" is.

Normal varies from kid to kid. I've got one son who insists on wearing jeans and a certain baseball hat with his sunglasses perched atop just so, each and every day. My other three sons wear hats on occasion only, and it would be no big deal (and not at all unusual) for them to come home from somewhere without their hats. (Am I the only one whose boys have a tendency to leave things lay?) But if my jean-and-hat-wearing son suddenly came home without his hat, or with broken sunglasses, and didn't have a plausible story, I'd know something might be up.

The questioning mom was fully aware of her son's routine too. She knew he didn't normally take a shower or get wet while at Penn State. Do you know your boys' routines? It can be hard to keep up with all of the details, especially if you have more than one child. But when you know what usually happens at your sons' practices, or his usual after school routine, you're better able to communicate with him, and better equipped to notice when something is out of whack. If your son usually comes home from football practice all dirty and sweaty, and comes home with barely a streak on him one day, it's time to ask questions. The answer might be perfectly innocent and plausible: maybe the team watched and discussed video of their opponents before the big game. Ninety-nine percent of the time, in fact, variations in routine are just that: simple variations.

The only way to notice a variation, though, is to know the usual pattern. So pay attention to your boys. Know what they like, who they hang out with, and what they do in the course of a normal day. And then, be there for them, whenever possible. I know that it's not always possible to be home the moment your son arrives home, or to always be the one to pick him up from daycare or practice. That's OK. What's important is knowing your son, and sharing the information with others as needed. (Your childcare provider, for instance, should know all about your sons' likes and dislikes and regular routine.)

Know your son, and then act on your intuition. Some kids will come straight out and tell you when something is not right. Others will clam up. If your son refuses to tell you what's going on, or if something about his answer seems off, ask questions. Ask friends. Ask coaches. Ask teachers. If your intuition is nagging at you, keep going.

Odds are, you -- and your son -- will be glad you did.