In a big family like ours one-on-one time with mom and dad can be tough to come by, so last week Alex and I took Henry out to dinner. It was a wonderful and much-needed evening for all three of us.
I’ll be the first to admit that in this whirlwind of caring for little people – feeding the baby, packing lunches, doing laundry, driving from one practice to the next, making dinner – its easy to get caught up in all that I have to do and miss out on opportunities to slow down and check-in with each child. When the boys were all little we tended to lump them into one big group. And sometimes, basically out of survival we parented them as a herd. Today, the younger children seem to urgently demand my time and attention, meanwhile our first-born is fighting to stretch his wings – separating himself from the herd – and needs our attention in new and more complex ways.
Of course I never handle this parenting thing as gracefully as I’d like. Nor are the answers always obvious. Even as their mother, I will never know exactly how my children are feeling or all the burdens they carry. I’ll never know the responsibility Henry feels as the oldest brother of four. Or understand what it’s like to have a brother with special needs. Or how he manages to almost always meets everyone’s high expectations.
We’ve never set our to burden our eldest son. His independent soul and strong will are characteristics we’re proud of. So is the way that he seemingly handles everything with ease. He’s so grown up. “Thank goodness for Henry” we say, “isn’t he amazing?” But as we all know even the lightest of expectations can begin to weigh you down.
What it all boils down to is this: I really, really, really want Henry to know without a doubt that we love him. Not as the oldest brother, the big helper, the good friend, or the great student. That we simply love him for who he is. No matter what he’s feeling, or how he’s behaving. Our love will remain constant.
Once again we are learning as we go. We pray everyday for grace and forgiveness as parents and I don’t think this will ever stop. We pray to find that sweet spot of encouragement and love and discipline. And we pray that we will always be there for each of our children, to help ease their burdens and join in their celebrations.