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Relating to My Son on His Terms

Relating to My Son on His Terms

Days at the Beach

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Broken shells cut into my bare feet as I follow my son down the beach to the rocky outposts on the sand dunes where it is rumored that baby crabs live. What we would do if we actually located a baby crab is uncertain, but I follow my son nonetheless. It is enough for me to follow his lead as the sun sinks slowly into the horizon, bringing the close of a day during which my son has been entirely happy.

During our vacation in a remote coastal beach town, it seems as if my son is on his own vacation as well. Normally wound so tight, and unable to accept changes to his routine, he has unexpectedly left behind the issues that make school life a struggle, and those that make finding and keeping friends so hard. He plays with his sister, catches tadpoles and befriends a stray dog. He catches jellyfish that have washed onto the sand, and buries them in individual unmarked graves.

Here on the quiet beach, our family finds solitude and togetherness. We find each other in the absence of others

For these few days, our lives are determined by sand and sea, by changing tides and the hunt for water creatures. Pale sand-colored salamanders delight us as they evade capture. Crabs retreat into the crevices of a rock, and a whole trout washes out of the sea with the waves.

Here on the quiet beach, our family finds solitude and togetherness. We find each other in the absence of others.

It is not until we return home on the third day that the heaviness descends again. This heaviness is the weight of his moods and his anger, resulting in our constant need to anticipate his reactions and plan everything according to his needs. “We didn’t need him to be anything other than who he is,” I explain to my husband in response to his silent query, as we rush past each other in the early morning bustle of getting dressed (“Don’t wear that! It doesn’t match”), and finding lost shoes (“Well, where did you put them last night?”) and arriving on time (“If you don’t hurry, we’ll be late for school”).

When my son is finally dressed and hurried out the door, I dream of building a school on the beach, a school filled with sand crabs and salamanders, and a blackboard in the sand. A school that the waves will wash clean each night, and erase all our struggles by morning.

When my daughter was born, I learned that parenting requires everything you have. From my son, I learned that parenting sometimes requires even more than that.

On a morning when I wake up with a migraine, blood pounding like drumbeats in my head, my daughter recognizes that Mommy is having a bad day. At nine years old, she is resilient and emotionally flexible enough to recognize the need to play quietly and tread carefully. She takes her cues from me and recognizes my need to be alone now. Yet my son simply cannot handle the smallest edge in my voice, or this inexplicable deviation from our routine.

By the time I emerge from my room, he has taken refuge under the dining room table, impossibly wounded by my request that he leave the room. It takes a long time to coax him to come out.

This type of parenting requires walking a tightrope. It requires perfect self-control and vigilance against the small slips of anger and impatience that accompany even the best parenting. It requires abundant giving with delayed returns.

This type of parenting requires walking a tightrope

It also requires frequent retreats into the quiet and hidden places that lurk on the outskirts of our civilized world. The healing power of nature is miraculous. A child so needy is freed from restraint; doubt and fear are abandoned in the pursuit of sea creatures.

After all the times I have been forced to lead him into places that terrified him to enter, like crowded and noisy classrooms, and testing rooms both innocent and strange, it is a blessing to follow his lead over rocks and dunes. We hunt with abandon for all those creatures that scuttle and crawl and slither and swim. In everything we find, we marvel over a unique and perfect life force.

For my son, who loves these creatures, it is enough for him that such creatures exist, even though they remain aloof to his existence. It is enough to love without his love being received or acknowledged.

I struggle to learn this lesson as I follow him through the dunes. For me, love has always been the beginning of a conversation. Yet this is exactly the challenge of loving this boy—to love him without needing a response. I want to love him as he himself loves, with a love that is not a question, but rather an immovable rock capable of withstanding the onslaught of high waves, shifting sands and unanswered questions.

Tzippora Price is a marital & family therapist who maintains a private practice in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. She is also an acclaimed mental health journalist, who has made significant contributions towards increasing public awareness of mental health and mental illness. She is the author of two books, Mother In Progress (Targum) and Into the Whirlwind (Lions’ Gate Press).
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Discussion (22)
July 4, 2013
b'tov hanir'ah vehanigle
Tzippora, I hope to read good news from you about your son as the years pass. May he give you much nachas and may he give much nachas to himself (a brachah the Rebbe would sometimes give).
Rishe Deitsch
Brooklyn
July 4, 2013
Great Article
Thanks, Tzippora, for another terrific article. You have a gift. You brought tears to my eyes. Probably because I see myself in you and my kids in yours.
Continued strength to us all in this super important job we have of bringing up mentchen and getting it "right".
Dena
Kiryat Sefer
July 3, 2013
Homeschool this child.
Anonymous
Windsor
July 3, 2013
my son was always a struggle for us as well there comes a time when we have to let go and accept them for who they are and love them unconditionally. all i can say is its been quite a trip!
rachel
July 3, 2013
"Beautiful writing. Wonderful parenting." and total BS...
I really cannot understand modern psychologist, instead of being a parent and a teacher, they want parents to be “understanding and gentle jellyfishes”. I have three children; my word is the LAW at home. My oldest son had some problems and he wanted me to be just with him; he could begin to cry just because I asked him to help me to put plates on the table. I was listening to the psychologists for TWO years, until I had a talk with my mother. She told me that a boy will become a man one day, and he MUST grow up a MAN. She told me stop listening to modern ideas, and make up rules. Rule #1: do not repeat any thing more then 3 times. Rule #2: if you repeated some thing 3 times and no one listens to you, count out loud: one, two, three. Rule #3: if it did not help, punishment is in order: no TV, no candy, or no play day. Pick one that your child likes the most and take it away FOR REAL. In two months I did not recognized my son. He began helping with out second reminder. He even began to teach his brother and sister, that mom is always right and they better to listen to her or they would be punished. Now we have wonderful time, we have belly laughs and runs around the hose. We have ice creams in the mom’s bed and the pillow wars; we have hugs and kisses all the time. And my young boy growing into a wonderful young man, who respects parents and knows that he is the center of the universe, but that the universe has many more centers and ALL OF THEM are important not just him.
Anonymous
Woodland Hills
June 30, 2013
thankyou
may your words both heal and bless those that like you parent similar boys of which I have two! both respond or rather react! in different ways and yet the fear of rejection and failure is the same for both when it comes ~ to the classroom, and affects not just one or the other but all four of us with quite a lot of negative emotion. however amongst our difficulties and when we hit rock bottom ~ there I found G-d ~ and i'll never forget how He changed not only my life but our entire Family's life chances. so thankyou again for your sharing because on the way down I thought ~ I was alone. G-d bless you and all the other Parents who struggle on sometimes ~ in silence and behind a closed door prepared not to listen any more to what the world and it's rules and regulations ~ shuts out, when one feels one is not worthy 'to fit' or belong or even have one Friend ~ a truly understands
Michelle
uk
November 18, 2011
Very Inspiring!
I tend to be the tough cop at home. THank you for sharing this inspiring read about your approach!
Anonymous
September 15, 2011
Special healing times
Thank you for sharing. It's fortunate that you've found a world in which your son can feel free from his fears and tensions, and his feelings of freedom give you room to feel free also. A lot of positive growth can happen in times like those. You see also that even with the sea animals and shore life, that he still wants to bring you along into his world. Children want our presence so very much. It affirms something very vital in their being. I imagine that even without the option of a trip to the shore, we can arrange "shore life" for our children - a quiet zoo or a quiet park. The quietness gives room for them and us to be ourselves, and to heal. Remember to bring along your presence. Remember too, on a day without sunshine, to bring along your own sunshine. And remember to bring Hashem with you.
Yehudis Feinstein
Tzfat, Israel
September 15, 2011
Well done!
Beautiful writing. Wonderful parenting.
Linda
WEST CHESTER, OH
September 14, 2011
Tzipporah,

I absolutely love this article and how you describe everything with so much compassion and love. This is exactly what I needed to hear and understand. Thank you so much for sharing your wise heart.
Rifka
Hadley, Massachusetts
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