June 22, 2012 by Brian
If you visit any bookstore, you will find rows and rows of books on how to be a better dad. There are just as many books on how to be a better husband. Self help books, too, are plentiful.
There are no books on how to be a better son. We started writing one together this week. Not surprisingly, the conversation was a lot more deliberative. Guys weren’t sharing their pre-packaged life philosophies with the group. Truthfully, none of us has ever spent much time on this subject. We really were scratching our heads on what it means to be good son.
We started out by watching a video on how NOT to be a good son. It’s only a couple minutes long. And, each of us was guilty of doing some/all of these things to our parents.
As I reviewed my notes in preparation to write this blog, I was struck by how much great material we created in just two hours. Each of us have action items and new approaches to relationships, even if the parents are no longer living, or if the relationship with parents is non-existent or dysfunctional. A couple guys have had similar comments about the evening. “The conversation was a little slower paced than normal, but I left there changed in more ways than most other weeks.”
The conversation started by answering the question “What is our role as a son?” It might be support of some kind – financial, emotional. The things our parents need vary depending on their age and abilities, or if one parent is living alone as a result of death, or divorce?
It was pointed out that only once we have our own children do we begin to recognize the struggles and challenges our parents dealt with raising us. Thankfully, they didn’t keep score!
An important role we can play is to break generational curses. What is a grenerational curse? It is a way of thinking and acting that is common in one generation, and abandoned by the next because new thinking emerged and improvement was made. Racism, anti-semitism, sexism are words we use today to describe the very normal attitudes of previous generations. Unemotional, unaffectionate, non-communicative are words we use today to describe the normal man of previous generation. The challenge is that these old attitudes and ways of interacting can actually drive a wedge between our aging parents and the modern society – maybe even between them and us. If we want to be better sons, we can help break those generational curses by introducing them to the new thinking. Many guys have never heard their dad say “I love you,” never gotten a hug from their dads. It isn’t because their not loved, it is because that’s not what men did back in the day. We teach our parents how to use technology to keep up with the times. We should probably keep them current with life, too.
The question was changed to “What do parents need or appreciate from their kids?” We all recognized that at some point in life the roles tend to reverse, with the kids becoming “responsible” for the parents. This transition, recognizing it, and how to handle it is probably worth a session of its own. We did determine that for all of their life, they see themselves as parents and we should make a concerted effort to give them parenting opportunities.
Many guys admitted to not seeking their parents advice on very much in life. Almost none of us really think much about feeding mom’s nurturing instinct. We should create opportunities for them to be our parents, and not just peers (or worse yet, has-beens). Ask for advice. Get their opinion on important things. Give mom a chance to take care of you every once in a while, maybe make you breakfast or dinner, or offer relationship advice. I bet she knows what to do with that unruly child of yours!
Many of us in our group are parents (and some are grandparents) themselves. When we changed the question to “What do our kids do for us that really make us feel good?” the answers were quicker and easier.
“Thank me for anything. Thanks for paying for college. Thanks for helping me start my business. Thanks for dinner last night. It all feels the same – great.”
“When my kids tell me that something I taught them has helped them somehow.”
“Third party validation. When someone tells me something great about my kids. That has to be one of the highs of being a parent, having someone say what a great job you have done as a parent, because of how great/well behaved / respectful / whatever your kids are.” **** This is one of the most powerful ideas to come out of the evening, because ALL of us can do it – be third party validators. We decided to be the people that make the effort to compliment other parents on a job well done.
We finished up for the evening talking about the concept presented in the image that headlines this blog. As people age, society’s image of them changes. Their perception of themselves is often very different than what people assume about them. Most people see this lady as just an old woman in a wheelchair. She sees herself as a ballet dancer; she probably was. When people are young, working, and in the game, there is a real sense of relevance and contribution. Our parents, depending on their age and situation in life, might be slowly losing their opportunity to be as relevant as they once were, using the skills and talents they spent their whole life developing. If we want to be better sons, we need to remember to see our parents (and other seniors) the way they see themselves, and create genuine chances for them to be relevant.
When we explored the biblical instruction to “honor you mother and father,” we determined the word honor to mean “enrich their lives.” Someone phrased it that we should “create wins” for them. Being part of keeping them active and relevant will surely help to create wins.
Toward the end, we watched another video that makes you realize how short our time is with our parents, and gives us a sense of urgency to act today. This is a must watch:
As we went around the room, asking guys for what will be different in their lives as a result of this week, here is what a few of them said:
“I’m going to break generational curses.”
“By this time next week, I will have purchased my plane tickets to go see my parents. I’m good at planning dive trips, but have totally missed being intentional about visiting my mom and dad.”
“one of the ways to be a better son, is to get along with our brothers and sisters. I have some work to do there.”
“Treat mom with more respect. Reassuring her relevance. I still rely on her. I need to engage mom’s nurturing instincts.”
“Both of my parent are dead, but I’m going to treat elderly folks different.”
“I’m going to give my parents ideas they might not have. Talking to my mom only once a week is pathetic.”
“I think I take advantage of mom because she will always be around. I treat mom worse than one of my friends or a stranger.”
“My dad and I are close. I need to do a better job of communicating with Mom. She probably feels pushed aside.”
“I need to pray for my family more.”
“I am going to do the things that would generate third party validation.”
“I am going to write mom a letter. And I won’t be impatient with old people in publix.” – How about driving on Granada?
“I need to be more forthcoming in expressing my gratitude up to this point. I want to help mom live the life she envisions for herself.”