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Adult Son
Photo: Constantin Kammerer
I just got an email from my son’s office with his name and title at the end. My heart swells with pride. Knowing that he has a good place to use his abilities and that he has married a smart, kind woman, puts my heart at peace. Yet I’m still faced with the question that started to niggle at my brain and emotions when he turned 18. How does a woman mother a grown man?

I can still remember when the width of my outstretched hand covered the distance across his small back. He loved to have his back scratched, and that was always a way that I could connect with him. For just a few minutes, he would stop squirming, chattering, or moving and slowly melt with delight into that focused attention.

I seemed to understand my role when it was clear that I was needed to bath, nurse, clothe and play with him. We developed little rituals for mealtimes, bath times, and bedtimes. I cheered him on to attempt crawling, witnessed his first power-drunken steps, entered into conversation about dinosaurs, and was his first dance partner in the living room. He loved music, picture books, pre-school workbooks, science shows, cartoons, food and talking. He attacked life with a vigor and interest that left me breathless, tired, and amazed.

I remember my feelings of loss when he spent his first full day at school. It seemed that my influence would be diminishing and yet I was relieved that someone else could share the challenges. As he got older, I searched for new ways to stay connected. I took him to libraries and parks, and pitched soft balls to him in the yard. I made a cardboard village for him so he could drive his Matchbox cars on something interesting. I knew that he had great potential. He would grow up to do something important, or loving or special. And I was nurturing that.

As he grew, it got more difficult to figure out where I fit into his day. When he was nine years old, he offered to get up a little early each day so that I could read books to him. So we started a tradition and commitment that saw us through volumes at early hours of the days—with him dozing on the couch while I held his growing feet in my lap and read for 15 minutes. We kept going, finally sputtering to a halt when he entered his second year in high school.

During his college years, I wondered how to relate to my son, the Man. Inevitably it revolved around making him some food, which he always seemed to appreciate. Beyond favorite recipes, I wanted to maintain a deep connection that offered him respect and me with the love and affection I desired from my only son. When we moved away and he shared apartments with friends, I would visit to buy him groceries, watch his ball games or cut his hair. When he and friends visited our new home, I cooked for them and cut his hair. Several times, we had intense talks about his relationships with women, and I felt privileged that he would share with me. Since then I have sometimes wondered about what I have left undone and unsaid for his life.

One year, I sent him a handful of survey forms and some McDonald’s certificates for some of his friends so that I could better understand young men and their relationship to their mothers. The guys were ages 19 and 20 at a Christian campus, and they all responded that their mothers had been a strong spiritual influence in their lives.

Other revelations included:

  • What they needed from their mothers: friendship, support for relationships, interest and council, an abiding presence, and a spiritual sister for their life journey.

  • They were embarrassed by such things as: reminders in public for good manners, her wearing funny clothes, her singing in public, impatience with his friends, or telling others about embarrassing things he had done.

  • In the area of male/female relationships: they wished their mothers had talked more about how crazy girls can be, her own dating experiences, how to meet girls and tell if they like a guy, more about sex issues instead of just saying it’s all bad, or nothing at all.

  • They wished their mothers would: cook, visit, send money, do something enjoyable, not work, or relax more often.

  • Activities they enjoyed with their mothers: shopping, playing games, traveling, discussing, backpacking and camping, cooking and eating.

  • They worried most about their mothers: being lonely, not being a strong-willed disciplinarian, her relationship with Dad, her worrying over small things, being disappointed in her son, and being stressed.

  • They were most proud of their mom when: she accomplished something at work, went out of her way for others, stood up for her beliefs to her husband, humbled herself and asked for forgiveness, was nice to his friends, coped well with kids in her classroom, was finishing her education, and overhearing someone make a nice comment about her.

  • They wished their mothers had taught them: to cook, to be more patient, to know more about the world, play the guitar, put Jesus first, understand Dad better, and to be tougher.

  • The things they missed most about their moms: her caring about all parts of his life, talking with her, her smile and hugs, her care giving and cooking, deep talks about understanding women, and her interest in his life and her sensitivity. All but one said that they would feel responsible to care for an elderly mother, or with siblings, if their fathers died.
Eight years later, I enjoy talking to my son about his job while I cut his hair—yes, I’m still cutting his hair. He attends a Bible study class that his wife and I help teach. I like going places with them as a couple. He does a great job of instructing me in computer or T.V. remote technology problems. I am enjoying watching his life unfold yet I want to make him proud too. I don’t want to worry him too much, intrude too much or lean on him too much. Most all, I want him to be a strong spiritual leader in his home and community. Someone that Jesus and others would like to have as a friend. I can always pray about those things.

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By Karen Spruill. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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