Sometimes this parenting thing gets tiresome. It feels like I’m giving giving giving, but not gettin’ any – if you know what I mean.

With the help of my husband, I keep the boys housed and fed. I read to them. Tuck them into bed and fill their hot water bottles if the night is cold. I help with homework, and drive them to the store when they can’t wait another day to spend their hard earned money on a new pair of jeans – “cool ones”. We go on hikes together, stay up late playing Rumikub, and do lots of Special Time where they’re free to turn our shampoo green, tape a coin to the bathroom faucet so that it sprays water over whoever turns it on, and engage in all sorts of borderline permissible behaviors.

But occasionally I stop and think to myself, “Am I doing a good job? Where are my dividends? What are these guys going to grow up to be like? Will they be kind, compassionate, thoughtful? Will they encounter a problem that irks them and work towards solving it – not leave it for someone else? I love them, but will they find partners who see their sweetness, who complement them, who hold their hands when the going gets tough – because there are times when life does get tough? Will one of them do something stupid (because they will), and will my work be trashed because of it?”

Last night was one of those times when I took a deep breath, got in bed, and thought to myself, “We’re doing well.”

It was Valentine’s Day, and we decided to have a make-your-own sushi dinner. The boys were all thrilled at the idea. I was teaching Raising Boys! from 5-7, so we decided ahead of time that we’d ditch the bedtimes and be relaxed about just hanging out together.

When I came into the kitchen after my class, the boys were all there, the table was set, and my husband was busily preparing us sushi rolls – his kind of sushi rolls, every one a beautiful art piece filled with just what he knows each of us loves. Each plate that he brought to the table was delivered with a piece of his heart and left an ear-to-ear smile on the face of whomever of us was the lucky recipient.

As we ate I started a ritual that the boys are all familiar with by now. We do it on birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day…and on Valentine’s Day. I began, “Z, one thing I love about you is…” And then I shared my love and appreciation of each of the other boys and my husband. Without even a prompt, my oldest began his turn. And then the younger ones. And lastly, my husband.

Here are some of things the boys said to one another:

“You’re kind.”

“I just know you’re going to grow up to be a really good guy.”

“I love that you don’t always show your feelings in public, but you show them to us at home. You cry. Because it’s not good to keep everything locked up inside.”

And here are some of the things the boys said to us:

“I love that you set limits for us, and that you’re not one of those moms who lets us do whatever we want. I wouldn’t want that. I know that too much electronics isn’t good, and that school is important.”

“I like that when you cook, you always serve others first, before you serve yourself.”

“I like that you always help us when things are hard.”

“I like that you think for yourself. That you do what you think is right.”

As I write this, I feel the tears swelling up in my eyes. Because day in and day out I stand center stage, making decisions about my behaviors and what to say. And as much as I try to be a wonderful mom to my boys, a loving wife, and a caring friend, I don’t always make good calls.

But what I realized last night is that both because of and despite me – and my husband – the kids are alright. They do learn from our actions, and our intentions. I know they don’t miss our mistakes, but they are forgiving, and they remember more about how we recover from them than what happened in the moment. When boys feel connected, know they’re loved, and have clear limits, and feel safe sharing their feelings, those dark parenting moments sting, but don’t stain.

So Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day to you all, and onward on this journey of parenting boys!

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