I remember holding my firstborn infant, swaddled in one of about twenty pink receiving blankets we were gifted upon her arrival. My mother said with some mix of authority and wistfulness, “It’s good you had a girl. Boys grow up and leave their moms but girls always stick around.”
Breaking the Expectations
As an only child and a daughter myself, I knew my mother wasn’t talking about her own experience. But she explained that as a nurse at a geriatric home, she noticed that the daughters always visited their parents.
“Sons move on to take care of their wife’s family,” she said, “but girls will always take care of you.”
I immediately rejected my mother’s “wisdom” as a gender-stereotyped wives’ tale. I would not buy dolls for a girl who preferred trucks. Nor would I buy trucks for a boy who preferred dolls. I was a modern woman who would not be trapped by such illogical musings. I didn’t need different expectations for sons and daughters.
The Hide and Seek of Raising Sons
Yet, the memory has stuck with me, and as I’ve watched my daughter and now my son grow up, much like the old fable of “the monkey’s paw,” her line keeps revealing itself in new, unexpected and unsettling ways.
As a toddler, my son had a strong preference for the company of men. He was happy to have me feed him, but he longed to leave my lap too quickly and join my husband or whichever uncles or male friends were available. Deep voices, loud play and action were his comfort. I was patient and, quite frankly, busy as a working mom of two, so I determined I would wait him out.
Eventually, he entered a phase in elementary school as a professional snuggler. I could always count on him to curl up on the couch with me under a blanket. This, I relished, was my reward for being such an uncomplicated mother who could let my child be who he was, despite my mother’s voice warning me of his impending departure.
What I’ve learned since is that raising sons feels more like a game of hide and seek. He reveals himself when he’s ready but he’s quick to tuck back away with no notice. What my mother’s adage didn’t reflect, though, is that he can always be counted on to reappear.
Patience Pays Off
Now a middle schooler, my son had his first girlfriend this year. I assumed he would want to confide in me. What fun! But our conversation seemed to begin and end with the sentence, “I have a girlfriend but I don’t want to talk about it.” He was gone again. And when they broke up three months later, he went to his dad. “We broke up but I don’t want to talk about it.”
During the three months of their relationship, I watched him shower daily, text constantly, and become increasingly annoyed by me. I listened to that whisper of my mother’s voice.
Watching my son grow up is sometimes heart-wrenching, especially when he walls me out. I don’t know if it’s my unique heartache, an over-reaction to an old wives’ tale or a universal truth, but I find these moments unsettling. The best approach I know is being patient. And, so far, the payoffs are extremely good however long they may take.
My most recent reward came on my birthday, driving home from a basketball game with my son while my husband and daughter took another car. Ten minutes from home, my son turned to me and said, “For your birthday, ask me anything you want. You get unlimited free questions until we get home.”
I remembered my mother’s voice, and I tucked it away for the rest of the car ride. And hopefully much longer.