I never understood the purpose of marriage vows — not even when I was saying them at a courthouse. I saw them as a means to an end, as if they were something I had to recite in order to get my marriage certificate. (Romantic, I know. Did I mention the courthouse part?) I assumed that our promises were understood — spilled out through hundreds of 2 a.m. conversations, through an unspoken love language, through saying “yes” to his proposal. I assumed that defining and publicly declaring our vows was all about tradition and strange legal requirements.
And yet when the dark clouds recently rolled over my marriage (which they inevitably do), I surprisingly clung to those vows. I remembered promising to stick by him through sickness and hard times, and to accept the man in front of me as is. They echoed in my mind, reminding me that I subconsciously held onto those vows for a reason.
The vows helped maintain my perspective and remind me of my promises. My priorities.
And so I thought I’d do the same for my son.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the kind of mom I want to be and the kind of lessons I want to teach, so I figured I’d define and declare 15 promises to my son. I’ll make these motherhood vows as a reminder of what my heart really feels — especially for when stormy phases cloud my judgment.
Vows from a Mother to her Son 1 of 16
I promise to listen 2 of 16
And more than just listen, I promise to hear you. I promise to pay attention and validate your feelings and experiences, rather than belittle them. And even when I get the urge to lecture or jump in and "fix" a problem, I promise that I'll first listen and understand that sometimes that's all you need.
I promise to remember what it felt like 3 of 16
I hope I never forget what it felt like to be shy and uncomfortable in my 1st grade classroom, wanting nothing more than to be home with my mom. I hope I never forget what it's like to be a heartbroken teenager, or a lost and confused college student. I promise to do my best to remember what it felt like to be a kid, to better empathize and guide you. Because those feelings are important and real.
I promise to accept you for exactly who you are 4 of 16
I promise to be excited to see your face 5 of 16
My favorite part of the day is when I first see your face. You calmly stroll out of your bedroom with bed-head and puffy eyes, throw up a wave with a big smile, and I greet you with excitement. (Yay! Another day together! Good morning!) I've even started setting my alarm and working for an hour or so before you wake up, just to keep starting our morning that way. (It's way better than you waking up to my tired and grumpy grumbles.)
I promise to always be happy to see your face, and to never let you forget that.
I promise to let you explore and experience 6 of 16
It's easy (and instinctual) to want to keep you close and protected, but I also know that you're your own person. In order to grow and mature, you need to explore the good and the bad, and experience life away from me. Even when it scares me, I promise to encourage those experiences.
I promise to keep you "safe and healthy" 7 of 16
It's become somewhat of a mantra between us: "Why do I make these rules?" I ask. "To keep me safe and healthy," you reply with a pout. You know that I don't make arbitrary rules or requests — that they all have a purpose. And I promise to keep doing everything I can to keep you safe and healthy, even when it's unpopular.
I promise to believe in your passions and dreams 8 of 16
I promise to never insist that you follow a certain life path simply for money or power, or even for an idealistic "safe and secure" life. I promise to encourage your dreams and help you explore your passions, and to believe in you just as much as you believe in yourself.
I promise to let you make mistakes 9 of 16
This might be my hardest challenge as a parent. Intellectually I understand that it's important for you to fall and fail, because that's when we learn our limits and build character. But ughhhhh the thought of you hurting is unbearable. It's no wonder there are so many "helicopter parents" out there — my heart is right there with them. But I promise to put my own emotions aside and let you learn from your mistakes.
I promise to be a mother first, a friend second 10 of 16
I promise to do my best, and to apologize when I don’t 11 of 16
I know that I'm not perfect — that I lose my patience when I'm stressed and get cranky when I'm exhausted. I know that I do my best to make the right choices, and sometimes I fall short. I know that I'm human. And so I promise to apologize when I screw up, as all humans do.
I promise to respect your masculinity and prepare you for manhood, even when I can’t understand 12 of 16
I don't know what it's like to feel a surge of testosterone, or to have to defend myself from my peers, or to be physically stronger than the opposite gender. I don't share your obsession with superheroes or understand the whole remote-control helicopter affection. I understand the girl's perspective because that's the only perspective I could possibly know, and yet I promise to respect you for who you are. I'll accept your rough-and-tumble nature, and do my best to prepare you for manhood.
I promise to be honest 13 of 16
I promise to be nice to whomever you love 14 of 16
I promise to love you, unconditionally 15 of 16
I promise to let go 16 of 16
This line from Kahlil Gibran's poem about children struck me: "You may house their bodies but not their souls."
I once shared a body with you. Your heart used to beat inside of me, along with my own heart — which probably sounds creepy and weird, but it's an incredibly primal experience. The process of letting go is unfathomable to me, but I promise that I will. I promise that I'll let you leave, knowing that we did our best to prepare you for whatever you'll experience.
But I can't promise that I won't cry.