As I prepare for this great adventure, it’s not lost on me that the other side of this “mom”bbatical is the reality that my son’s father will be actively parenting our son full time for a year. It’s one thing to have your kid when he’s on vacation and free from the demands of school and friends and the other random stresses that befall a thirteen-year old boy. It’s another to manage his wants, needs, moods, messes and smells on a regular basis. Sometimes, a teenager can be nothing more than an annoying roommate who doesn’t pay any rent.
In the midst of confirming the plans for the “mom”bbatical, Emmanuel’s father texted me saying “If you have any thoughts, feelings, advice and/or experiences to share about him, the door is always open, Tara. I wish it was in a Zip drive that I could load in my brain. . .info to help me better support his growth.” I found it to be a very humble and gracious sentiment to communicate as he reflected on what he was about to undertake.
Of course, there is no way to download every experience, insight or challenge, but I did offer him this:
“My secret is that I parent out loud. I’m totally vulnerable and transparent with him in my process. . so he knows I’m not trying to front like I have all the answers. I think it has helped us to stay close…”
I’ve learned over the years that vulnerability in parenting has been so critical in my relationship with my son. It has opened deeper levels of authentic connection and trust between us and has provided the space for honest communication about everything. And let’s face it, kids can usually sniff out the BS anyway.
One of our most memorable exchanges came courtesy of his fifth grade health class. One day, Emmanuel walked in the door from school, dropped his backpack on the floor, looked at me and said, “We learned about oral sex in health class today.” That was his lead in. No “Hi Mom.”, no hug…just the words “oral sex.”
My response: “Uh, okay. Give me a minute, Emmanuel. I’m not quite sure what to do with this one.”–Poor kid had probably been thinking about this conversation his entire bus ride home.
Emmanuel: “Why would anyone want to do that?”
Me (sweating): “Well, it may not make sense to you now, but it’ll be something you’ll understand when you’re older.”–Oy vey.
I did my best to spare us both from some ridiculously uncomfortable lecture about sex, oral or otherwise, but I had to acknowledge it was a legitimate question and I was grateful he came to me with it, as opposed to going to Google.
But, I have had less refined authentic moments.
When the George Zimmerman verdict was announced, I went into a rage. I was on the phone with my mom, dropping the F-bomb here and there, completely oblivious to Emmanuel’s presence in the next room. I just couldn’t accept that this young man was harassed and murdered for walking in his neighborhood while Black and there would be no justice.
When I emerged from my room after my rant, Emmanuel looked at me and said, “You used a lot of really bad words, Mommy.”
I don’t remember my exact response to him and I’m certain I was raggedy as hell with it, but I owned up to it and I let him know that sometimes things happen that are so outrageous, those words just come out. And then the door was opened for us to have “the talk.” The “talk” that Black parents have to have with their children about racial injustice and how we are perceived in the world. We hate that we have to have “the talk”, but if my moment of unbridled anger helped my son see and understand my commitment to advocating for him and our own, then let the f-bombs fly.
Telling our kids who to be, what to believe, what to do or not to do only goes but so far. When they can see us as our authentic selves, we give them the space to be theirs as well. And when we have the courage to make mistakes and tell them that sometimes we have no idea what we are doing, we free them to become the beautiful, imperfect humans we all are.
I’m proud of Emmanuel’s father and of the humility he is bringing to this process. I know it will be a beautiful journey for both of them.