For reasons I don’t entirely understand, my son hates his high chair. I mean, HATES it. When we put Isaac in his high chair, he acts as if we are strapping him in to a Medieval torture device . He planks his back, sticks out his bottom lip, cries uncontrollably, and works every last one of our heart strings. That is, until we feed him. Then, magically, he’s fine.
My son also hates having his diaper changed. He hates it with the fire of a thousand suns. It doesn’t matter what I do to distract him–singing, letting him hold my iPhone, letting him pull my hair out one strand at a time–nothing works. If he’s especially angry, he’ll kick his heel into a poopy diaper, flip onto his belly, and crawl away mid change.
And don’t get me started on suctioning out his snotty nose. You’d think we were sucking out his brain.
Isaac is a baby, so his reactions are not always appropriate for the situation. He’s still learning how to use his body and his feelings, and the emotion-regulation portion of his brain is still developing. I know all these things, and yet I still can’t help but roll my eyes when he despairs at the prospect of sitting in his car seat. I can’t help but mutter a sarcastic comment about how “bad he has it” whenever I wipe his mouth clean amidst sobbing wails.
To be sure, babies are funny and sometimes a little ridiculous, so it helps to have a sense of humor. In fact, laughter gets us through some of our crazier days. If we can chuckle about the fact that we’ve been peed on, pooped on, and thrown up on (the unholy trinity) all in one hour, then we’ll have a lot more fun. I’m all for chalking up the sleepless nights and back-of-the-car diaper changes to one big, crazy adventure.
However, I’ve also been thinking a lot about what it means to honor my son, even in these early days. What does it look like to laugh at his funny baby-ness, without crossing the line into ridicule? How do I ignore the melodrama of infant theatrics, while respecting his dignity and stage in development?
I first began to ask these questions after I started thinking about the future. As I imagined the kind of relationship I want to have with my some-day adult son, I began to notice families around me. I observed grown families with healthy parent-child relationships. I reflected on my own close relationship with my parents.
What I concluded from my observations of adult families is that the best parent-child relationship are, essentially, friendships. Case in point, my parents are two of my very best friends. I tell them almost everything, and some of my friends do the same with their parents. Although a parent will always be a parent, we all reach a point in adulthood when our parents are more like peers. At that point, if the relationship is healthy, our parents have the potential to become our friends and most trusted confidants. We want to spend time with them not only because they’re family, but because we genuinely like them.
That is the kind of relationship I hope to one day have with my son. When he becomes an adult, I hope we will be friends. And when I think of it that way, it strikes me that I am not just raising a child; I am raising a friend.
I guess this makes sense. After all, the first gesture I made toward Isaac was one of friendship. In John 15:13 Jesus says,
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
As a mother, I surrendered by body and my health to make space for my son to enter in. In a very real way, I laid myself down for him, and that is an act of friendship. Hopefully, the first of many.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we moms need to act all holier than thou and treat each poopy diaper like a spiritual moment. I bet that God laughs at baby food-spewing sneezes, just as He chuckled at my middle school pseudo-mullet.
But I also think it’s really beautiful, the idea that I am raising a friend. Like any friend, I must be patient and prayerful, giving him the space to grow in God’s timing, respecting the journey that God has him on, rather than mocking him in his immaturity. By honoring Isaac in this way, I create fertile soil out of which a loving friendship can spring, but I also model Christ, the perfect friend who gave his life for us all.
As a parent of kids 20 and 22, I can tell you that those friendship aspects are wonderful, Sharon. Just this morning at the gym my 22 year old son offered to show me a new lifting move he’d been doing, because he knew I was about to shift my workout at the start of July. A lot of kids would be mortified if anyone saw them at the gym with their parents, but not ours.
It’s little moments like these that give me a hint that perhaps we’ve done OK raising our kids.