This week my mother turns 80.
Happy Birthday, Mom! I love you.
For the past 20 years of raising children with special needs, FASD and early trauma, I’ve been one very fortunate father and son. My mother consistently listens to me and offers support.
Through the incredible highs of my parenting journey – as well as the excruciating lows,
With 1500 miles separating my home in Indiana from her home in Montana, our communication had to be intentional. Otherwise, it would’ve never happened at all – or remained superficial at best.
At the same time, we entered unchartered territory. The traditional parenting techniques that she and my father used on my five siblings and me wouldn’t necessarily produce the same positive results with my six children. Within several hours of her first visit, she saw the challenges in real time.
You really have to choose your words carefully, don’t you? You’re on the the go from morning to night. Do you ever have time to yourself?
Finding common ground grew slowly over a three-year period. I had to be assertive yet diplomatic. Not too much all at once. And certainly not defensive or argumentative.
As I openly shared my daily experiences, frequent mistakes, ongoing research and new-and-improved parenting strategies, my mother didn’t say much one way or the other – probably because I was speaking a new language. Moreover, I was mindful to “connect the dots” so that she understood the reasoning for “going a new way.” Finally, she “got it” – much more than I expected.
From that day forward, I anticipate her support when initiating our weekly call – usually on Saturday or Sunday during a moment of calm. Best of all, she knows her role. She’s ready to listen.
By hanging on my every word and asking one clarifying question after another, my mother helps me sort through a myriad of emotions. She lets me think out loud about unresolved issues. In turn, she’s become my most trusted sounding board.
Most importantly, she never judges. She never assumes. She never oversteps boundaries. Yet she remains authentic.
If my stress comes through loud and clear during a phone call, she tells me to breathe.
Well into adulthood, many mothers still know their children best.
On several occasions she had to be blunt. You’re not making sense and need to take a step back.
No therapist could have been more sincere, accessible or effective.
If I go more than a week without calling my mother, she phones and leaves a brief message – knowing that I rarely answer amid the chaos. I haven’t heard from you. Just checking in to make sure everyone is doing ok.
More often than not, my mom understands without asking. One of my children must be in a bad space. She will lend an ear – again.
Although our dialogue routinely grows lopsided with my never-ending concerns, she doesn’t mention it. She doesn’t complain, even when I called daily during an extremely turbulent month. Whenever I do remember to ask about her day, she simply thanks me and responds accordingly – without any hint of shame.
Her empathetic approach is a subtle reminder. I, too, can weather the storm and maintain my composure in front of my children.
Over the years I’ve also gained a deeper perspective about family relationships. The loss that my mother felt at 45 when her own mother unexpectedly passed wasn’t easy to bear. Now I know.
Thankfully my mother enjoys good health and will be around many more years. Nevertheless, I wonder about the void when she’s gone.
Who will be my next best natural support? A sibling, aunt or uncle, longtime friend, new friend, neighbor, co-worker, church member?
Regardless of my need or readiness, the circle of life will continue.
Then I received an amazing sign.
While my mother listened to me week-in and week-out, my children were listening too. In their late teens, they eventually came to realize a valuable life lesson. Relationships with parents don’t suddenly end at 18. In fact, that bond will grow through their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and even 60s – if both sides continue to put forth an effort.
No doubt, the parent-adult child relationship can become a highly personalized source of security and validation throughout life. A natural support that’s hard to find in today’s fast-paced world – yet imperative for self-care.
Not surprisingly, my three oldest children who live away from home regularly reach out to me.
And each time I’m ready to listen to them. Just like my mother has always listened to me. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Athlete & Advocate