One day my husband came home from work while our 5-year-old son was playing video games. Our son completely ignored his father and told him he was too busy to stop his game to see Papa. Now, my husband is sensitive, and I knew this hurt his feelings deeply, even though he didn’t show it. My husband said it was no big deal and went outside to work on a project. I told our son off for ignoring his father. I don’t remember what I said, but apparently our son’s interpretation of the message and reaction to it was “I’m really sad because Papa won’t love me anymore!” No, baby, it’s not that.
I explained how what was happening was that Papa felt really bad about himself right now. That Papa thought our son loved video games more than him. “And you don’t want Papa to feel bad about himself, do you?” He agreed that he did not want that. “You want him to know you love him, right?” Yes, he did. “Okay, then you have to go and apologize.” My son thought for a few seconds and then said, “I have to go say sorry so Papa won’t feel bad about himself?” “No,” I replied, “you have to go apologize because you really are sorry. Because you really love Papa more than video games, not just because you want him to feel better. Got it?” Wiping away tears, our son said, “Yeah—but when I’m done eating, okay?”
The hardest part of this for me, as a mom, was waiting and letting them go through this process on their own. I wanted to help, to fix, to make them get along again. But I knew that it had to be real, and they had to go through the process by themselves, or it wouldn’t count and wouldn’t last. My son slowly finished eating by himself—thinking about what he had done. When he was ready he went outside to talk to Papa.
When he came back in he yelled to me, “I went and told Papa what I should!” I asked him how it went. Did our son feel better? Did Papa feel better? They did. Good. Mommy mission accomplished. I didn’t need to know anything else about it. It was their business. Our son went back out to “help” my husband with his project.
As moms, we can’t heal our husband’s emotional wounds or prevent our sons from becoming wounded. But we can provide our sons with the tools to do both. If we force the healing, then it won’t stick: We have to let our men and boys build those bridges on their own, together.
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