When my sons came home from Ethiopia in 2009, they were four and five years old, thus they had years to learn to speak, listen, and communicate. Immediately, we jumped into the challenges of parenting children who literally cannot understand what you are saying. Quickly, I discovered that I had to simplify my language – I learned a few words in Amharic, but really, I began communicating through my arms and gestures and pointing at things. One of the first things I remember is “ow, house owie” when trying to explain why “hurting the house” (i.e. coloring on walls, picking off paint, setting curtains on fire) is bad. Messi acquired English quickly, Bolt a little longer. Within the next 18 months or so, I could effectively communicate with my sons. However, I still found myself speaking “simply” just to avoid trying to explain terms that are hard to define.
Fast forward to 2017. My sons are in middle school, we are hurting, grieving, and surviving. However, I feel the emotional “language” of our family never really caught up with the developmental stages of my sons. We still use a lot of “happy, sad, mad, frustrated” when we all know that emotions are much more complex than that. What appears happy may actually be confused or what appears angry may reflect sadness.
Over the past few months, as I have sat in both the therapist of my son and of myself, I find myself thinking about the language I use to communicate with my sons. It is still simple, which can be useful, but the problem is that the language of being part of a family is not simple. Families are messy and involve love, hate, grief, joy, contentment, safety, anger, frustration, and so many other feelings and ideas. I have been trying to make a conscious effort to expand the language of our family to reflect on its complexities.
Of all the language I use, the one term that comes out daily is GRACE. Give each other grace to grieve, grace to be angry, grace to laugh, grace to be annoying, and grace to walk in the moment. As I tucked my son in tonight, on his first day of school, and he was being a punk, I had to take a step back and verbalize that “it looks like you need a little grace tonight”. Of all the language, I use with my sons, grace is the one I want them to remember when they think of our family.