We were walking home from my eight year old's club. I had watched him make good contact with people he cares about, play hard and well, laugh uproariously. There was no question in my mind that it had been a good evening. So, when he asked, "You know what wasn't good, Mom?" I was caught by surprise. My heart sank, but I dutifully asked, "What wasn't good?" The answer was just as surprising. "We never got to play the game that I wanted to play."

This wasn't the first time he'd made a point of focusing on the one thing that hadn't gone right. As a matter of fact, it felt like all I was hearing from him these days was complaints. Was he saying that he hadn't had a good evening? Didn't he ever have a good time at anything, for goodness sake? Didn't anything ever go right? Sometimes I really didn't know. Maybe the time playing with a friend had indeed been totally rotten. But sometimes I was in the next room overhearing, or right there watching--watching him run and laugh and play and shout. How could he complain about a time like that?

When I find my children's behavior totally inexplicable and infuriating, I've finally learned to consult my own childhood experience. So--what was the complaining situation when I was a child? The answer, when I took the time to notice, was simple: I never, ever complained. It looked like no one wanted to hear. It looked like it was extremely important to my folks that things go well for me, and since I loved them, I did my best to look fine. And, after making an effort to refrain from complaining about the things that I hated, it would never have even occurred to me to consider complaining about those that really went pretty well. Hmmm. Maybe there was a reason why I found a child's petty complaints so hard to listen to.

What made it even harder was that I'd really tried to do well by him in this area. I'd always tried to give him space and permission to be upset when things weren't right--not to have to hold it all together quite as much as I had to. Given how much I was stretching on his behalf, wasn't this complaining about every little thing carrying it a bit too far?

Then I thought, what would it have been like for me to have someone to whom I could tell everything? Someone who really wanted to know every single thing I had to say about how I was. Someone who wouldn't get confused or worried if I told them all the bad things. Someone whom I didn't have to reassure about how well I was doing or how well they were doing, but who just knew that lots of things every day are less than what we had hoped. Someone who would listen and care and know that my life would go even better if I didn't have to hold back. That would have been a gift of value beyond words.

Maybe all this complaining from him is actually a vote of confidence in me. Maybe he's counting on me to know how good his life is and how well I'm doing as a parent. Maybe I'm the one he's chosen to tell every single thing to, knowing that I will listen and care and love and not get confused. Seen in this light, it all looks pretty different. It makes me interested in rising to the challenge, in deserving his vote of confidence. I'm not being burdened. I'm being honored--with a pretty special gift.