Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reflections on Mothering my Son

I am so very lucky to have a son who is extremely loving and sensitive. He has always been this way. When he was a baby, he loved to be cuddled, but infant massage was too much for either hurt him because the pressure was too hard or it tickled him because the pressure was too soft. He loved to be held, but in very specific ways, so much so that Aaron often had to sleep sitting up with Andy resting tentatively on his chest. When we left him at preschool or Kindergarten, we needed to do so with very specific rituals, which included numerous kisses, love phrases, and squeezes. He is keenly aware of the energy and emotions of those around him. He can sense when someone is sad, and he is not just empathetic, he FEELS the same way. He is deeply and spiritually connected to dogs. He loves them with all his heart. He cannot handle it when a family member, especially a sister is hurt. He loves powerful things, because I think he can relate to them. Some people have experienced Andy as reactive, somewhat hyper, or even explosive. But this is his way of intensely responding and interacting with a situation.

In all of their endeavors, I hope for my children that they can learn new things about themselves and others, enjoy themselves, and expand their skills to the furthest extent they hope for. This is true for both sports and music, academics and art.

Our choice to use Attachment Parenting has been very important for Andy. When he is over-stimulated (emotionally or physically) he is calmed by close connection, empathy, reassurance, and a strong parental commitment to him, in whatever shape he is in. Of course we have struggled with many evenings of yelling and fighting, but generally with gentle and FIRM reassurance of our love, things get better. He has some difficulty regulating his emotions, and I truly believe that this is because he feels them deeper than others do in our family. People have varying pain tolerance, so doesn’t it also make sense for them to have varying emotional tolerance?

In sports, Andy has been fortunate to have two main coaches. The first was Aaron, who is a very skilled father, and very aware of Andy’s needs on and off the field. The second was our sweet friend Brad, who was also able to very gently encourage the best in Andy. Now we are faced with a hockey coach who is pushing him. Pushing him hard. Hard like making him cry. I try to explain to Andy that he is doing this because he wants to encourage Andy, that he wants Andy to get better, and he believes that Andy can get better. But he is humiliated, scared, and as a result, angry for the treatment he gets in training. This treatment spreads to the other members of the team, thus leaving Andy to feel more and more alienated. And then he gives up, not because he is “weak” but because he cannot stand the internal conflict it creates for him. In fact, this anger sometimes turns inward and becomes “I’m so stupid” and “Everybody hates me.”

I know that this is not the last experience we will have with coaches like this. I also know that this experience is far better than what could come in the future. I have seen coaches verbally abuse their children in inexcusable ways. So, how can I protect him from what he feels so deeply and intensely while preserving his ability to connect so intuitively with others? At the same time, how can I push him to be the best he can be without breaking part of his spirit that we hold so precious and true?

I often wonder how he will be able to make it in a world that values strong men, and even discourages sensitivity. I have seen him fight back tears in a group, try to prove himself adequately strong, and hide his true feelings about a situation. I am grateful that, despite machismo here, I have met very sweet and affectionate Colombian fathers, who seem to love deeply. I know these are models for him, as are his uncles and friends who understand him well. What more can we do to encourage him to be his real self, no matter how it may be received in society? What will we do when he falls in love? How can we protect him, but also give him the freedom to experience vulnerability and rise above it?

Andy is 10. In the coming years, we will celebrate his coming of age to manhood. I hope we can find some way to honor all of him, enough so that he will know that his powerful ability to love and connect to others is truly a gift, and not a curse. I want him to know that his investment in relationships and his intuitive emotional self has a welcomed place in this world.


  1. I don't know Andy, but this sounds very much like I have heard family recount how Ross was as a child. I can't speak to how to parent a powerfully emotional child, but I can say what a gift it is to know and to be married to an adult who used to be one. You know Ross - he is passionate about everything. He can connect to people whom others reject. He has a deep sense of justice, I think because he identifies so strongly with those who need it and feels intensely when he, or someone else, has been wronged. His depth of emotion is foreign to me, but I sincerely respect it. Perhaps Andy, like Ross, will endure challenges as a teenager from peers who expect him to be what he is not. Hopefully he will emerge on the other side knowing who he is and able to use his gifts.

  2. Maggie reacts in similar ways when pushed to her limits of ability and encouraged to stretch. I want to save her from pain, shield her from challenges to protect her from those feelings of inadequacy. We don't know the first thing about parenting; we don't know the recipe, we don't know the various types or processes. Neither our models, nor any of our training have prepared us for this. On one hand I am scared to death that you guys, who know human beings so well, who love so well, have questions that you're scared of, that you don't know how to address. On the other hand I recognize in your journey that LOVE is the root of this process; respect. I've decided that we model archetypes for our children. I think Andy will seek, and in this big world find, the people he needs around him. Not least of all because you've surrounded yourself with a beautiful village. The friends and family that you've brought with you into your creation have and will continue to nurture you and the children. I've seen much of your village--it's incredible. How lucky you are in love.

    Man. What a mess. Machismo, what a joke. Andy is lucky to be sensitive. He will carry some scars, but he will love deeply. There is no better man to be.

  3. Just think, if we had a world full of people like Andy, we would be in a much healthier and happier place.

  4. Thank you so much for this post, Jen. I think of a card I saw at Kristin's, "Celebrate the whole boy," the caption placed under a montage of boys in football gear, holding dolls, playing music, etc. I have thought about that a lot with regard to Henry. I don't have any answers to your questions, just similar questions regarding my own boy. I am glad you and Aaron are there for him. I like what you have to say, too, Toby.


  5. That Andy is going to know how to be an amazing parent, through example. He is going to have a passion for justice, through example. He is going to be a sensitive, loving, loyal friend, through example. He is going to change the world.

    That's my prediction.

    I think you're doing it right.

  6. A sincere thanks for all of these comments. It means so much to hear from you.

  7. good god...again.

    i want to get on a plane and be andy's shadow...a fierce one.

    he will make it and change the world.