It was the Friday before Memorial Day. Just as we had in many years prior, my mom, stepdad, and I were planning a long weekend of camping and fishing along the beautiful Susquehanna River. Mom and I decided to start the weekend early, just the two of us.
As we put the boat in the water our hope was to catch a few fish—at least enough to keep us interested. That time of year, depending on the conditions, can be hit or miss for the smallmouth bass and walleye we typically fished. Mom and I decided the day together on the water was worth the shot, whether we caught anything or not.
Growing up, fishing with my mom wasn’t always a delight. My mom was not the epitome of patience when it came to my fishing and camping abilities. Putting myself in my mom’s shoes today, I can see why.
When I was eleven, I had a lure on my line with a triple hook. If you’re not familiar with a triple hook, they can be nasty on human flesh if not handled carefully. I had a lure similar to the one pictured. Imagine eleven-year-old Josh, drawing his fishing rod over his shoulder, ready to cast into the water with everything his scrawny arms could muster, and hearing my mom scream, “Josh! Don’t cast! Watch what you’re doing!”
As I looked back, that triple hook was literally caught on my stepdad’s nose. Having nearly performed reconstructive surgery on him that day, I can understand my mom’s suspicion of me with a fishing rod.
That same suspicion happened to find itself in much of what I did growing up. If mom erred, it was on the side of truth, not grace. She wasn’t a helicopter parent who coddled me. If I messed up, she didn’t rescue me. I felt consequences.
Her truth over grace approach, whether she realized it or not, became my moral compass. I think I was more concerned about what she thought of my actions than I was about what God thought of them.
Though this approach caused distance in our relationship for a period of time, especially through my teen years, that very Friday before Memorial Day is when I finally began to understand it all.
Sitting on the river, we caught more walleye in that day than in any before or after it. In fact, we caught nothing else the rest of the weekend.
Those fish were the catalyst for laughter, fun, and healing conversation that now marks the eve before that holiday weekend as one I’ll always celebrate. I sensed my mom’s pride in who I was more than ever that day.
While we were catching fish, grace was catching up.
From that day on, mother-son dates became a staple of our relationship. True to my mom, every one of them was centered on adventure. Rivers, mountains, and outdoor fires served as the backdrop to those memories.
Now that I have my own kids, I use the Friday before Memorial Day as a day to reflect on how well I’m passing along the lessons my mom taught me to her grandchildren.
1. Do my kids know I believe in them? I’m not sure mom consciously tried, but her truth approach to parenting eventually taught me that I had what it took to make it on my own. The more adventures we had, the more I knew she believed in me.
2. Do my kids value adventure? Our greatest memories are defined by all of the subsequent mother-son holidays we celebrated. Christi and I already have an ongoing bucket list of adventures we want to individually, and as a family, take our kids on. One adventure I can’t wait for once she’s old enough is to turn that specific day into our own daddy-daughter celebration day.
3. Do I allow my kids to fail? My mom, though rescuing me from throwing my stepdad’s face into the drink that day, didn’t coddle me. She made sure I felt the natural consequences of my behaviors. I’m grateful for that too. In doing so, she taught me the realities of the world we live in. As a dad who can err too much on the side of grace, this is a question I ask of myself quite often.
Mom, thank you for challenging me enough to allow me to fail, but for believing in me enough to help me succeed. Words cannot express my gratitude.
In honor of my mom, what’s your Friday before Memorial Day?
Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is voice to empower parents and marriages to live, love, and lead well. As a marriage and parenting coach, he loves coming alongside families to provide encouragement, support and practical counsel. He is the author of the upcoming release Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well (October 2015, Waterbrook Multnomah), and along with his wife Christi, is coauthor and producer of the video series and workbook, The Screen-Balanced Family: Six Secrets to a More Connected Family in the 21st Century. He wakes up each day striving to love others better, starting with his wife Christi and their two children, Landon and Kennedy.
For more encouragement and ideas on marriage and parenting in the 21st century you can join Josh and a growing tribe of awesome families at www.joshuastraub.com and follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.