A rough-start tradition that turned into a priceless gift
In the ZagZig that is life raising teenagers and young adults – part of a species whose brains haven’t fully developed yet according to science – at least until their late 20’s – I have shared some downs and funny, vulnerable moments, but today I share a highlight. It came in the form of a present.
Years ago, we started a tradition that we say nice things about a family members on his/her birthday; it is one nice thing that is extra special and/or we love about the person for every year the person has been alive. When the kids were five years old, family members readily agreed to each say five things; however, when the kids reached double digits, siblings spent more time complaining about the tradition than relishing in it.
Number 3 used humor and his charm to say, “you are funny, and beautiful and you smell nice” – for everyone. At times, Number 2 took so long to think about the second or third nice thing to say that the birthday child began to frown, saddened by what seemed to be a lack of anything nice to say. Number 4 followed Number 3’s lead and did what he could to get family members laughing. Number 1 lost her patience with her siblings at times.
As mom, I persisted to push through the whining, the laughter, the jokes and sometimes even the crying to keep the tradition going. I am a big believer that it is a good exercise to reinforce the positive. There are many aspects in life when people face real or perceived shortcomings or other judgments; it is good to learn to accept positive feedback too. (A lesson I continue to learn today.)
When my husband and I hit our 40’s, the kids whined even more, and we compromised on the practice of saying at least 3-5 nice things about the birthday person. When friends have joined us for a celebration, we have invited them to join our birthday tradition too. I have to say, over they years, I have been pleasantly surprised by the observations people have. Usually the first round of comments are the more obvious ones, but after many compliments have been taken, there are usually one or two really thought-filled observations about the way a person handled a situation or a small gesture that the person thought went un-noticed.
The tradition has continued and by now the kids may groan at how many they have to say, but they do it, as they know it is part of an expectation and tradition. And, secretly, I think they enjoy it, as over-time, I hear the kids say thank you to their siblings for various compliments that are given. Even Number 3 uses much more descriptive behaviors, like, “I love the way that you helped me study for that test and taught me new trick to learn this or that.”
On Monday of this week, I celebrated a birthday. It wasn’t necessarily a milestone, but the years continue grow in number. The best part is that throughout the day, the kids sent me my present -- video clips of the things they love about me as their mom. They were heartfelt messages, each in their own style and really meaningful. I did not ask for them. They just showed up on my phone. I did not even ask my husband if he prompted the kids or not because it really did not matter. At this age, the kids hold up a mirror, and while I am far from a perfect mom, the reflections all made me smile.
After I listened, okay, maybe three or four times to each kid’s recording, I thought back to all those times I was at work or out of town for business and worried about the long-term effects of an absent, working professional mom. I spent countless hours of mom-guilt when I couldn’t be there to braid hair, help with a special assignment, or read a bedtime story. When I was home, I would stay up to bake cookies to make sure my child was not the one to bring store-bought treats (when you could still send homemade items to school). I wasted a lot of worry and guilt time.
Granted, I have a wonderful husband and dad to my kids that is very engaged with raising our children. From the title of our book (ZagZig Parenting: (Mis) Adventures of a Career-Driven Mom and Stay-At-Home Dad) and this Web site, you can even say, he was the primary parent from most of their upbringing. We are blessed.
Most importantly, the kids articulated expressions of compassion and love that were meaningful and observant.
It is not lost on me that my love language is words of affirmation and they were talking about me; however, my smile stretched beyond that. The gift that touched my heart is that these teen and young adult people had the ability to express their own thoughts and they chose kindness.
In a world where teens and young adults can test the parental limits, their ideas can defy logic and the focus seems to be on small circle that surrounds them, these same people are observing, evolving and demonstrating love. It is a beautiful thing that turns the ZagZig on its side and makes it the evolutionary path of highs and lows that gives us hope, that is until these teens and young adults, naturally really, truly like us again on a consistent basis.