I grew up the youngest of a three-child family and automatically assumed I would also have three children when I married. But I was blessed with just one son. I had planned to wait a couple of years before giving birth, to give my husband and I time to work on our relationship before embarking on the challenge of parenting. But I got pregnant just four months into our married life, and had to face a milestone for which I was not yet mentally prepared. Life has a way of sweeping us along with the current, often at a speed we are completely unable to control.
I was rather naive when I wed and entered the world of international marriage, and now, thirty-two years later, have a heavy basketful of experiences I carry around in my heart and mind. I'd like to share some of the reflections I've had recently as the parent of an adult 'only child.'
My son grew up in Japan in an era when seeing a foreign resident in a city the size of Chicago caused people to stare, point their fingers and whisper "Gaijin!" (foreigner) to whomever they were walking with. When my husband and I moved to the suburbs when my son was one and a half, it got much worse, since I was only the fourth westerner to reside in our rural town of 70,000 people. (Now there are over 1200 foreign residents, 30 years later.) I spent a lot of energy as a young mother, feeling defensive and desperate about being an outsider just trying to find her own niche in her new environment. I volunteered at my son's daycare to try to help acclimate the children to a foreign mom. I taught conversational English as much as I could, to try and build (or at least promote) a community of internationally-tolerant citizens, as well as my own group of friends.
My son was a sensitive child, and the victim of ostracization at times. He had difficulty bonding with children his own age, and tended to prefer shepherding younger playmates who were easy to lead. As a result, I became his best friend and confidante as he was growing up, in addition to my role as parent. In comparison to most people's experiences parenting a young teenage boy, I had it rather easy, since my son didn't rebel or treat me very disrespectfully during that period. This was partly due to my tireless efforts to instill respect for one's parents in my son, which was a natural part of the religious education he received. But at the time it just felt like a normal component of our relationship.
So imagine my surprise when after moving out at 21 and going to America to live and pursue his dreams, we embarked on a ten-year journey of Delayed Rebellion Against The Mom, a period in which parental advice, suggestions and lifestyle choices were no longer welcome or acceptable. Phone or video calls inevitably resulted in our pushing each others' buttons and squabbling over semantics. He kept drawing lines which I was strictly forbidden to cross; becoming independent clearly meant: 'I am no longer obliged to endure your take on the matter!'
Of course there were times when he asked for prayer or encouragement in facing a difficulty (particularly in the first year abroad), and my skills as a referee were needed in the early stages of his own journey in international marriage (when at the tender age of 25 he secretly married a Thai beauty and didn't tell us about it for two months), but basically I felt like I had gone from feast to famine in relation to my importance as a confidante in my son's life. I was delegated as Head Cheerleader Only (unnecessary commentary automatically rejected).
So the result of ten years living apart has created a sense of caution in the words I choose when speaking with my son, the forced absence of expectation that he will patiently 'hear me out' or value anything I say (beyond "I love you" or "I'm proud of you"), and a redefinition of my role as his mom. Which brings me to the one thing I really wanted to say today, that popped into my head upon waking up this morning and inspired me to write this post in the first place: being the mom of an adult child has its perks. Let me elaborate...
After years of no letters, one-sentence replies to my emailed comments and questions, and a phone call once every two or three months, my son has begun calling me almost once a week. He usually chooses to call during his drive home from closing the entertainment facility he manages in California. The call comes around 8:30pm my time on a Sunday night, which is roughly 3:30am on his Sunday morning. Last night he admitted one of the reasons he calls is to combat the sleepiness that comes while driving so late at night. This admission helped put his calls in perspective, since I was beginning to feel really flattered by all the attention! (lol)
But the past month or two of relatively regular contact has somewhat shifted our conversation fodder from "major updates regarding work" to more detailed accounts of meetings with bigwigs, admissions of mistakes or goof ups made after promotions, the freedom to ask questions and get legitimate answers, and a nostalgic sense of being his confidante again! (Will lightening strike me for making such a statement, I wonder??) We seldom get angry with each other, and I rarely need to exercise patience or caution, even in my wording! My son feels all grown up. Of course, at the age of 31, he certainly is a grown up! But I assume for most parents, their kids always feel like kids--green around the edges and naturally lacking the wisdom that comes with a LOT more living. So when he exhibits a particularly mature attitude, I take note!
Recently I've been delighted to discover things about my son I never knew. Last night he told me about receiving a warning from his supervisor. He mentioned that he believes such feedback is a good opportunity to make improvements so that he can become more flawless in his job. Such an upbeat and positive attitude coming out of my son's mouth felt like winning an award! I am not directly responsible for his optimism at all; this was purely an expression of his own work ethic, but being allowed to hear it from the horse's mouth felt like such an honor!
I'm sure our relationship will continue to change and grow as time marches on. I hope to record my discoveries in future posts as well. Thank you for sharing this journey with me.