At a barbecue the other evening, a friend commented on how gentle and sweet my nine year-old was with her three year-old twins. I may have snorted. It’s possible I rolled my eyes. I may have even started to debate the point with her, because after all, the only younger person I see him interact with on a regular basis is his younger brother and let’s be honest, that interaction usually takes the form of in-your-face-screaming, torturous teasing, WWF wresting moves and generalized ass-like behavior. But before I could crack wise, before I could launch into a hundred stories of the way he makes his brother’s life the 8th circle of kindergarten hell, a funny thing happened. I took a step back and looked at my son through my friend’s eyes.
As parents, we often get the worst of our kids. The tired, hungry, cranky, frustrated, bored, pain in the ass bits. There are long stretches when it feels like all we get is the worst of our kids; when from sun up to sundown it is endless negotiation tactics, refereeing, moderating, cajoling, bribing, pleading, and counting down the minutes until bedtime. But as my friend’s casual statement showed, others see our children through a different lens, from a different perspective. Is the image our children present to us as parents more accurate? Or is the reflection they present to the rest of the world the one to be trusted?
They’re both valid of course, mirror images of the same object. While my eldest son is a typical older brother toward his sibling, pushing boundaries and learning how much he can poke and prod a six year-old before he is on the receiving end of a frustrated six-year-old wallop, he is gentle and kind with his twin cousins and the younger siblings of his friends. While he screams at me when things don’t go the way he wants, I hear constantly from his teachers that he has a role as peacemaker among his peers, soothing potentially volatile situations with his even handedness. The same holds true for my younger son. I see him as a loather of mornings, hater of Lego tidying, someone who goes to great lengths to let you know how much he disdains being told what to do. His teachers see him as reflective and responsible, others see him as generous and compromising. What to me comes across as stubbornness is seen to others as independence and capability.
It’s easy to get stuck in a holding pattern with your children, to get sidetracked by the negative. It is easy to start to see the annoying, bratty, hair pulling, aggressive behavior as the norm and lose sight of the whole picture. We get so caught up in negative traits, the ones they unleash upon us as parents with such ferocity, that we sometimes forget that children are more than just a single trait. We fall into a habit of parenting with our eyes wide shut.
It was nice to watch my son play with my friend’s twins, to see him through her eyes. It was nice to see him outside the framework of our own home and family. It was nice to be reminded that he is more than just the pain-in-the-ass big brother I get to see. It was good for me to open my eyes a little wider, to let my pupils expand and take in a bit more of what my son has to offer. It was a good reminder to keep my eyes wide open, because only when they are open will I be able to appreciate the kaleidoscope of images that he presents to both me and the world.