Something that I do from time to time is to look into my crystal ball. Once in a while, I’ll look into the future and imagine my life in 10 or 20 years, or beyond. I do this so that I can compare the idea of what I want, with what my actions are now, in the present.
The reason is simple. After comparing the two, the present with the future, I ask myself: Are things matching up? Am I going in the right direction? Am I doing the things I need to be doing now in order for me to have the things I want in the future? I do this with parenting too. I imagine my future relationship with my children and compare it with how I’m being with my kids in the present. Are things matching up? Am I treating them in a way that is going to result in a loving, mutually respectful relationship for years to come?
In fact, it was this one little exercise that shook me to my core. My imagination usually isn’t that good. But one day lying in bed, for some reason, it was. I could see the future. I imagined it all, and it was clear.
The future that I imagined was this. My wife was going to have a good relationship with my son. He would be close with Mom. He would talk with Mom. He would laugh with her. He would go to her for comfort. He would trust her. He would have all the time in the world for Mom. It all made sense. She was gentle with him. She had patience for him. She understood him. Without a doubt, I would one day be on the outside looking in. No one would say it. No one would point it out. No one would have to. It would just be understood. Of course, he’d never come out and say that he loved his mom more. No. But, their relationship would be richer and more fulfilling. This was inevitable. It would be the natural consequence for my own behaviour.
He would love me, yes. But he would love me in a way that a distant son would love his father, not deeply and connected at the heart. If I continued treating him in a way that prized obedience over relationship, then I could expect nothing else. I was shaping my own future without even realizing it. Maybe he would look to his Mom, or maybe, he would look to a group of friends to understand and accept him for who he was, because I was not. I was not accepting him for who he was. My focus wasn’t on understanding and helping him for who he was and where he was at. My focus was on getting him to do what I wanted him to do. I had various “good” reasons for my many expectations, my many “shoulds”. I look back on it now and it seems that rather than concerning myself with his true well-being, I was just overly stressed out and preoccupied with control. But, the need for control was my issue. And my focus, was indeed, on controlling him. You name it: Sleeping, eating, bathing, peeing, pooping, manners, sharing, getting dressed, cleaning up. Whatever it was I wanted him to do it better, quicker, tidier, and so on.
The tone that I was setting for the relationship with my son was that my love was conditional. This was the predominant message that I was communicating. “You will get love and acceptance from me when you do ABC. I will be angry with you and withdraw my love when you do XYZ.” Somehow, I think I expected to have a good relationship with him through all of this and then into the future. I was kidding myself in a big way. The look into the future told me this. There was no way I could have the relationship I actually wanted with my son if I continued to act the way I was acting. At some point his trust in me, his unconditional love for me would erode beyond repair. How could it not? After all, I was teaching him the very lesson that love was conditional. What a tragedy.
From a purely selfish standpoint, I knew that I had to change in order for me to have a better relationship with my son. This was clear.