Looking Again

Sometimes our kids require a double take. What at first presented as misbehavior, hyperactivity, or whining over nothing can often, in our case, turn out to be a symptom of earlier hurt feelings, hunger, or the need for an introduction or some extra explanation.

With each subsequent kid, we have realized we are less and less expert when it comes to parenting but also more and more here for it. Parenting is baptism by fire, every time! We know that we don’t know (whereas after the first one ate his veggies and went to bed so easily, we thought we likely KNEW), and that seems to be the key to keeping our sanity, give or take.

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As the kids grow up and sadly don insecurities and defense mechanisms, vegetable intake has taken a back seat in the world of things calling my attention. Their emotional languages couldn’t be more different and in a world of male privilege and emotional unintelligence, it’s so deeply important to me to raise these guys with some wherewithal when it comes to caring for others and knowing themselves. To me, emotions are not the bad guy. I’ve heard endless sermons and read enough that the modernist alienation of the heart and emotions is resilient and damaging, especially amongst Christians. I’ve told my kids, and my self, that feelings aren’t the boss. But they also aren’t the enemy.

When people experience personal grief for the first time, or are hurt in an abusive way, what does the message of alienating the heart and emotions do to us? It isolates and shames. It invalidates a real and true indicator light on the dash of our designed personhood. Some people have a great heart read on situations, and their memory is feeling-based AND accurate; some people are more oriented out of their heart and function best when there is no requirement for them to translate their wisdom into knowledge. Emotions aren’t the boss, but neither is rationality. Because while “being rational” seems like a trump card, it can be as laden with cultural blindspots and sinful motivations as any old heart. It is intertwined with a toxic masculinity that has hurt women and men. It’s not no nor or; it’s yes and both. In my beliefs and experience, Jesus shows concern for feelings and the heart; His redemption and example have as much to do with seeing and renewing our emotions as much as our minds. Western society likes to differentiate and categorize but I haven’t seen many lasting examples of that being for our good. Shalom is wholeness. Integrity is integration.

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In my line of work, it’s important to validate the heart. I know their assertiveness, intelligence and physical strength will be affirmed; I don’t know their sensitivity and emotional awareness will be valued.

When one of my kids mentions something he would like, for the next week, or the next year, he often says, “…but it’s okay if it doesn’t happen” in the same breath. He so rarely asserts a particular opinion, that when he does, he seems to at once try to bulwark against the disappointment of that opinion not being heard, or that hope not being fulfilled. While some part of this is a gift for gratefulness and adaptability, another part of this has alerted me to his disassociation with some of his feelings and need for emotional safety. He’s hardly ever said the words, “I feel…” so we have to hear them in other ways. And in a raucous household with a lot of needs, it’s easy to miss his particular feeling voice.

The other night he mentioned softly that he would like to dye his hair for Wacky Wednesday…followed of course by a quick forgiveness. We are run-of-the-mill people when it comes to these “holidays” that seem quite frequent to us old-fogies. It’s always about finding stuff around the house, making do, and celebrating that we even remembered the occasion. But that night it was different. We didn’t have anywhere we had to be. I asked him more about this hair dye, and he lit up talking about some ideas. I quick cleaned up dinner. And he and I stole away for a rare and special hunt for spray hair dye, just the two of us. At our second stop, we found the last can of red spray; he was elated. The specialness of going out and buying something was not lost on him. He said he’d share it with his brother. He couldn’t WAIT for tomorrow.

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It gives us such joy to see and respond to a child’s need or desire. This story is one of a silly wish that wasn’t formative to his emotional intelligence, but it sure meant something to him. It helped me too, to join his spontaneity, to say yes, your opinion is something we want to hear. I could’ve easily missed it.

This same kiddo mentions every couple of days a new piece of information surrounding the same subject: our dear next door neighbors are leaving town this month for a faraway state. He isn’t sharing feelings or emotional, but just mentioning, in the middle of homework or right before bed, “It will be before Easter,” or “It’s 20 more days after we do that.” I’m feeling this particular loss hard too, so it is helping me be more sensitive to his signals. I’m wrestling with how to help each of my kids on this countdown journey to saying goodbye to some lifetime friends. Sometimes it’s only in bed at night that I realize they’ve said something, or shown their grief. Each mention is an opening for a couple minutes before dancing to the next topic; each fact a window into the things on their young hearts and minds.

The double takes of our kids is a rhythm of parenting; these little creatures come coded and skinned in all sorts of maneuvers and languages and take on more because of us. It’s never too late to look again.

With each child, and each stage that goes by, the lesson of double-takes has been worthwhile and ever-evolving. It instructs me in grace towards other people’s kids, and other adults, and myself even. We all show these windows. And our reactions are interpretation. There’s more than what meets the eye, and what a gift to our hearts when someone looks again.

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