Bye-bye baby, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Bye-bye baby


December 29, 2010

Closing a phone conversation by saying “I love you” is important business.

Movies generally get this scene spot-on. Picture the new lovers speaking on the phone. The man is at work or among a bunch of guy friends. The woman says, “Good bye, I love you.” And suddenly the man is faced with a huge decision to make. Does he unabashedly commit to the romantic relationship and publicly declare his love, or does he capitulate to his circumstances and privately snub his lover?

Pause for effect, then he says, “mm-hm… you, too.”

Being married 12 years, I have no qualms whatsoever about saying “I love you” to Stacey on the phone. But I have gotten out of the habit of doing so lately and this came up in a really funny exchange yesterday.

Some years ago, I had occasional contact with a woman over the phone for some parish business. She always signed off by saying, “Bye-bye.” Having young children at the time, I was familiar with this as a way to say farewell to youngsters. I found it rather funny that this grown woman used this send-off without a trace of irony.

Amused, I decided to start using it myself, but with a good bit of irony.

So, whenever I spoke with Stacey and she said “I love you” to sign off, I would respond (with a great deal of comic irony in my own mind) “Bye-bye.”

I give Stacey a lot of credit for putting up with this. Formal, public acknowledgments of relationship are very important to her. She simply saw my farewell as another example of her silly husband, whom she loves because of his silliness.

This is a great comfort to me—knowing that I am known through and through and loved because of what is known, not in spite of it. It makes me feel free to be who I am.

Yesterday, though, as we finished a phone conversation, she asked me if I could say, “I love you” to close a conversation. She said that if one of us were to die in an accident, she would need the assurance that the last words we exchanged were words of love.

I realized I may have never explained why I said, “Bye-bye” in the first place, and simply told her the history and that I find it silly. She said that’s what she thought, but that she needs to hear “I love you.” I said okay and then hung up by saying “bye-bye.”

Mind you, all of this is taking place, from my end, in the office and in the presence of a student worker.

She called back immediately and said, “You did it again.” We clarified a bit more, both laughing pretty hard by now, and then agreed that I would say “I love you, too” sometime in the process of signing off, but that it would be okay to still use my silly “Bye-bye” at the end. I said “Okay, thanks,” she said “I love you” and I said “Bye-bye” and hung up.

15 seconds later she called back and we laughed some more, and by this time, I’m laughing with our student worker as well.

We’ve been finding a lot of humor with one another lately, which is fun. I’m grateful we can laugh with one another, and I’m grateful for a wife who loves me so well.

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Parenting the “Now More Than Ever” Teen

Parenting the “Now More Than Ever” Teen

I feel like a war-worn, battle-tested survivor today after parenting the kids alone while Stacey is away. In one day, two of the three children abruptly outgrew their school uniforms—their pants just all of a sudden didn’t fit. Next, I held lines with a hormonal, irrational, and emotional teenager over an utterly nonsense issue without escalating. Finally, I had to break out the sewing kit to make repairs to two non-clothing items, once during breakfast and then again during dinner.

The key to it all, looking back from a comfortable distance, was holding lines and boundaries and avoiding escalation. Escalation is how we describe what happens when a conversation continually rises in intensity and then boils over.

I usually have the line-holding thing locked down. That part is easy for me. It is just that I easily escalate as I hold those lines because I become offended if they are crossed.

For example, Oscar began a conversation just before bed by saying this, “Daddy, I feel like you outright lied to me…” I called a time out right there and had him go back to his room and think about a better way to begin that thought. I told him that I did not intentionally deceive him, and accusing someone of lying is a big step. He consulted a dictionary and held his line—he felt like I lied to him.

Understanding that he had come to this conclusion thoughtfully, I let him proceed with his statement. He was talking about something utterly insane—he felt like I was preventing him from going to bed sooner—so I called a second time out and told him to hit the sack because the conversation was not going to be productive.

Now, if it was still an issue in the morning, we could talk about it then, I told him. He was miffed in the moment, but I’m pretty confident he got over it in 15 minutes. Our poor son has hormones raging through him and he just isn’t himself sometimes. In some ways, he literally is becoming someone else—his voice is changing and his body is transforming into an adult’s.

There is an old saying that is ringing more and more true to me the older I get: the boy is the father of the man. The line means that the habits and proclivities we cultivate in our youth shape the adult we become. Looking back, I see this as true in my own life. Looking ahead, I see that we have a responsibility to help Oscar cultivate the man he will become one day.

That lens changes what lines I hold with him and why. I used to hold lines about respectfulness because I felt like children should honor their parents (which they should, of course). Now I hold those lines with Oscar because I want him to become a respectful man who communicates thoughtfully when he matures.

Oscar is changing, and his changes are transforming our family, and asking more out of us as parents. As a teenager, he is highly sensitive to anything that even smells hypocritical, and this is calling us to more integrity and honesty in our parenting. We have to be able to hold lines in a firm, but loving manner, and to absorb escalating emotions without making him feel distanced. We can clearly see that he absolutely needs firm boundaries now (more than ever), but that he also desperately needs to feel heard now (more than ever).

On top of all this, we must maintain and perhaps even increase our physical affection for him. Touch is one of the ways Oscar receives love—he has always responded to physical affection, whether a rub on the back or a sudden hug. As he grows into his teenage body, which starts to resemble an adult body, it seems natural to give him more space and privacy. While he does need those, he also continues to need bodily expressions of love.

So in many ways, he is asking us for that which is most difficult to give right now—parenting him is like swimming upstream. Balancing all of that is not easy, but true growth never is, and it will make us stronger swimmers in the end. We are taking another step in the way family life is calling us to grow towards perfection.

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