Why Our Love Must Change…

Angel

My Son aged 6 months. Image courtesy Katrina Crook Photography

You, my darling son, are now 14 years old. You sit on the cusp of manhood. Puberty is in full swing. You have hair growing everywhere, your voice is deep, your shoulders are broadening and you are at least 30 centimetres taller than me. You have become fiercely independent and private.

I am tremendously proud of who you are and who you are becoming. You are a thoughtful and engaged young man. You are confident, happy and a considered conversationalist. You can be incredibly tender and compassionate. You are loyal to your friends and your school community.

You are my first-born and my love for you is visceral and abiding.

But now, suddenly, I find I embarrass you by simply being.

Every other day you wound my heart with your disinterest and hurtful words. It is a physical pain. I imagine it is much how I would feel if you were no longer in my life. I feel nauseous knowing that you appear not to like me very much. Tears spring to my eyes when you give me yet another withering look for simply offering an opinion or asking about your day. I do my best to hold the tears at bay, knowing that my weeping will only serve to amplify your embarrassment of me.

angus and mummy on grassThere are occasional snippets of my beautiful, loving and tactile little boy but when I see them, it’s like I’m looking at you from the other side of a foggy mirror ~ not quite able to see, touch or capture them.

My head knows that you still love me deeply, but my heart aches for our lost relationship. And whilst this leaves me bewildered, it is OK.

IMG_2311It’s OK because I understand that you have reached a point in your life when being mothered and primarily guided by a female hand is not what’s required to help you continue your journey to becoming a fulfilled, inquisitive, balanced and loving man. It is OK, because deep down I understand that the next part of your journey requires me to take a back seat. It is OK because you have a loving father and other strong male role models to engage you and guide you more innately through the final stages of adolescence. I will still be an enormous part of your life, but it’s time for me to take a step back.

Celia Lashlie, author of the book, “He Will Be OK ~ Growing Good Boys into Gorgeous Men” believed that there is innate goodness in all boys. And of course she is right. She provided an analogy, which I subscribe to. This is my understanding of what she wished to impart.

Imagine a boy’s journey to adulthood is a road that goes over a bridge. The water that flows beneath this bridge is murky, fast flowing and unpredictable. It is generally the role of their mother to teach him firstly how to learn to get on to that road and head to the bridge. They must teach him how to walk, how to talk, how to eat, how to communicate effectively, show him joy and love, provide security and constancy, teach him resilience and keep his creativity sparked. They must instill in him a healthy dose of EQ, showing him how every action has a consequence. They must help him to begin to understand the ‘why’ of the water below the bridge**. Then, at the midpoint of that bridge, just when they could love him no more, they must let go of his hand and watch him disappear over the other side. Without them. But there, he should find his father***. Now it’s his father’s time to take the lead parenting role and guide him off the crest of the bridge, prevent him from falling into the water, continue the discussion on the ‘why’ of the water, travel down the other side and finally, give him a friendly shove into the world of adulthood.

The far side of that bridge is a place of deep mystery for many mothers. It’s a land rich in male tribalism and behaviours that confound and perplex us. There, they may well speak a language you fail to understand. But there, as Albert Einstein so eloquently wrote, hopefully his father will teach him not to strive to become a man of success, but rather, a man of value.

IMG_1839But, my son, I will still be here to set some boundaries and help you where I can and when you ask for me. That is, I will now walk beside the bridge, so that any time you call out for me, I will be there.

Although, I refuse to become invisible and nor should I. In our home certain rules will remain. You will not be able to eat with your fingers. If you want to fart, you will leave my general vicinity. You will treat your sister with respect and as an absolute equal. You will clean your teeth every night and I will not allow you to go to without washing to the point that you begin to smell like the back of my Grandfather’s old Corolla.

I will continue to steal into your room late at night, kiss your forehead and fluff your pillows. I will continue to drive you to Saturday sport and cheer on the sidelines even if you’d prefer I weren’t there. And, I will continue to put your first, precious stuffed toy on display at the top of your bookcase despite your best efforts to hide him. This last thing I do because I know one day you will want to pass him onto your own child.

IMG_6346I will also do everything I can to shift my behaviour to try and find a way to be more understanding of your changed needs and make our current relationship less confrontational. Because sometimes I know I’m too tough on you (and myself).

I cling to the advice of a dear friend with an (now) adult son who made it successfully down the other side of the bridge despite some serious obstacles and for a long time, no male role model. She says to me all the time, “Caro, it’s important that you get off that bridge now. When your son returns to you, and he surely will, the love and appreciation he will have for you will wash away the agony and longing you are currently experiencing. You will once again see the loving boy/man you raised and then know the heartache, tears and doubt were worth it.” She’s a wise chick, is my friend.

And so, whilst it runs counter to everything I thought I knew about how to parent, I will turn down the volume of my mothering and know that for the next little while I can no longer love you the same way.

Understand though, that my love is in no way diminished; just that the way I express it will change because it’s what you need.  And maybe, just maybe it’s what I need too.

SF Outdoors 44

Image courtesy of Katrina Crook Photography

 

 

Until next time….

I’d love to hear about your experiences. Do you have an adult son? Did you go through what I am experiencing? What structures did you put in place to help your teenage son navigate through puberty and beyond?  How did you manage your own emotions and alter your parenting to better support your son? Did you need to?

And if you have a teenage son, are you feeling a bit like me? Or am I simply losing my mind?

** If your son doesn’t have a father playing an active role in their life, try and find another significant male role model. There is much research that shows it is vitally important as they wade through the latter stages of adolescence.

*** This is an observation and reflection of my personal journey. I recognize that everyone’s circumstances are different and that not all family structures or parenting styles are the same.

 

Comments

  1. says

    Oh, thank you for sharing so honestly. I am nowhere near this stage but you have opened my eyes to it. You are still a wonderful part of his life but I think you are also wise to recognise the stages he is going through and the reality that we need different primary influences at different stages. He will always love you. You are always worthy of respect and love! It’s hard with little ones clinging to me, to imagine a day when they wont want to, lol…. but I know that time will come for me too. Keep being wonderful you, and he will indeed come around x

  2. says

    Oh Caro, tears! So many tears. I am now rushing over to sneak in a snuggle with my 3 year old son. Teenagers may seem like a long way off for me but time passes quickly and I will cling to every second I have of them wanting me there, wanting to hold my hand, sneaking extra kisses, lap snuggles and all the rest.

  3. Kate says

    Don’t stand for that bullshit. I don’t. I told my son that he needs to treat me with respect and that I will do the same to him. Sure the boundaries have changed but the attitude he hands out is optional and he has to understand that. This will make him a better adult.
    Also I find long car trips are terrific for creating conversation. I ask him to make a playlist and off we go. I learned more about him through his music than anything else. I also ask him questions about stuff in his world. Social media things, what does he think about XYZ. They sing like a bird on a car trip.
    I refuse to have him roll his eyes at me or diminish my role and as a result, he’s a better son and I’m a better mother.

    • Mish says

      Kate – tenderness is always better than being disciplined or strict. We’ve tried the latter two for generation upon generation,… the state of the world today should be enough evidence that our ways don’t work. It”s time for change, for tenderness, for empathy, love, and a society in which respect is earned, not just demanded from adults.

  4. says

    Oh this breaks my heart and gives me hope all at the same time… I guess that is what it is all about really.

    My big boy currently has my heart held in his hands, and while he is mostly very gentle and possessive of it, I know there will be a time when he is ready to set it aside for a while, and even thinking about it hurts…

    I’ll be trailing in your footsteps wise woman, willing you to get through this patch so that I know I can do the same.

    • Judi says

      I never had advice like this to get through those years, especially as a VERY single parent so this is what I made up: Trust trust trust every time I spoke or listened or saw or experienced the awful and scary bits of this stage, I tried to communicate or project in some way that I trust and expect and KNOW you will grow up to be a good person, (Or at least not not end up in jail) in spite of what horrible thing was happening. Also humor. Laughing at them and with them and at myself seemed to soothe the fear and anger. Who knows how we all got through it, but they both grew up to be amazing, loving men. Letting go is the greatest gift you can give to a child at the times when the next stage of independence demands it. Let go and trust and somehow communicate that they will be safe and good human beings some day even if they are rats at the moment.

  5. Lynn says

    what a beautiful piece. My sone is 5 and he can’t get enough cuddles kisses and the words ‘I love you mummy’ tumbles out of his mouth as often as ‘I’m hungry’. The realisation that this will change made me cry, but along with that the understanding that change is good for him, for me, and his dad, no matter how hard it might seem at the time. Thank you for this beautiful story. I will treasure every kiss a little more.

    • Caro&Co says

      Thank you Lynn. I still get “love you Mum” and cuddles, which are even more precious when they are somewhat infrequent or resemble more of a rugby tackle. Go hug your lovely son from me. x

  6. Maryann says

    I am well and truly out the other side; my son is 26. We have always shared a close relationship but there was certainly a time when he was around 15 that I had to let go and let my husband be the ‘one’ for him. I have to agree that music was and still is an equaliser and a bridge in itself in our parenting relationship with our son. Thanks to him, we have learned so much through our mutual love of music. Find some common ground with your teenagers and you will be OK. I’m happy to say that our adult son is also our friend, a comment that he readily agrees with. It’s a great place to be.
    BTW I too am also aproaching 50 (sadly from the wrong direction !) and menopausal. Menopause has a lot to answer for. Hang in there.

  7. Dianne Preston says

    Way at the other end but parts of this ring true. My first born and only son followed by two girls.
    Now a mid 30’s caring, competent, professional man. My little talkative man turned into a very silent, non sharing teenager – but all is great at the other end. A very wise teacher once told me ‘boys come good again at 25′.
    Mum is still there and Mum still matters and gets turned to if needed. Dad’s the mate, Mum’s MUM, and loved always.

  8. says

    Thanks Kate, this piece is so true. I remember reading somewhere that having a teenage son is like being in a relationship with someone who’s not that into you. Therefore if they show you any affection you grab it with all your life because it rarely shows anymore. Both my boys are in their 20’s and I must say they do come back to you, but things are never the same, but it’s ok. x

  9. says

    Reading this after Mrs Woog shared it. I have tears in my eyes because one day that will be me with my two boys, 3.5 and 5. Such a fabulous analogy about the bridge and I will remember it forever, thanks for sharing this amazing insight.

  10. jesalyn says

    I am a parent where this story seem to be somehow going through in my family. It is likewise a heart breaking but somehow challenging sitwasyon where we as a mom need to hold tight not to let go..Yeah we all go through this but it depend how we handle it where every situation need that so called “TOUGH LOVE”. That’s why don’t feel bad just do what you know best anyway it’s your kid and no one will love them as unconditional but us, as a “MOM”..

  11. melissa says

    We’ve had a very emotional, worrying week as my 14yr old son is fighting an illness in hospita (hopefully home this weekend), so Im not surprised i was crying through this. It feels like you took the words right out of my mouth. I had a friend once tell me one day I will get up and my boy will be my best friend again, untill then im sitting right where he can see me.

    • Caro&Co says

      Melissa I’m really sorry to hear of your son’s illness. I do hope he’s better soon. Such a dreadful time when you have sick babes. I feel for you. I love your friends advice too. x

  12. STC says

    Thank you for you article, it’s thought provoking.
    I don’t disagree, just come from a different perspective.
    I don’t change the love for my children. I adapt to their needs and the different stages they are going through; and respond accordingly. For example, when my 5 year old falls and hurts himself mum comes to the rescue bundles him up and kisses his sore knee better. If it’s a trip to the hospital I hold his little hand, distract him (silly songs favourite dvd) and reassure him. If my 14 year old does the same thing I walk up calmly, tell him it’s ok buddy we might get that checked at the hospital and sit with him. As he’s treated I ask him what he is going to ask the doctor and reassure him it will be ok. I find his favourite song which I’m hoping also distracts him (quietly preying I can work the itube thingy lol). The trip home for both boys probably results in a purchase of their favourite icecream or treat 😉 love is love

  13. Taddy3 says

    Sounds so familiar. My son is 13 and at such a difficult age. He’s always been a bit of a handful but now is rude most of the time. He is the middle child of two girls and I am separated from his father. He treats his father far better, yet resents me for making him go there to visit. He has rules to do with internet and resents me for those. He doesn’t see the point as however long he is on whatever device doesn’t effect my life so I should stay out of it… He also passed my height about a year ago and since then thinks he’s the man of the house and can do as he pleases. Daily home life can be quite stressing. I live with hope that one day it’ll get easier and just slowly work my way through it for the time being. It’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one with struggles.

  14. says

    Wow… I have three boys and know I will be the one struggling with them in the teen years. Thanks for the honest reality check

  15. Noela says

    Caro, my tears are flowing and I feel for you as this is exactly how I felt when my heart was breaking 10 years ago when my daughter treated me the same way. It was so hard to deal with these years on my own, but we are now through it. She is my best friend, she is amazing, mature, wise and is oblivious to my suffering through those years. Your son needs to ‘fly the nest’. It is the way of the universe. Try not to take it personally. If he was compliment with your wishes all the time, he would not grow to be a strong and independent man. The best advice I got at this time was ‘ be a parent, not a friend’. Stay strong and know that thus too shall pass xxx

  16. Ashley says

    I often think while I’m holding my 18 month old son in my arms, cuddling all day as I carry him around his cheery little life how soon it will be that his sweet little chubby cheeks will no longer be so soft and smooth. That one day I will hug him and hold him close and feel stubble, and his arms will be stronger than mine, and it makes me snuggle a little closer, and breathe in his sweet baby smell a little longer. But I’m so excited to see what kind of man he will become, just not yet 😉

    • Caro&Co says

      The cuddles (when I can get them) are just as beautiful as when I cuddled him as an 18month old. Everyone’s journey is different and I’m so looking forward to seeing the type of man he will become. Thanks for your lovely comment. x

  17. says

    Oh my Caro, this is so heartfelt. My little guy is now 9 and I’m not so far behind you as I know the time will fly by. Having read this, I will be sure to make the most and slow down life as much as I can in the coming years – stocking up on the love to get me through before we hit this.

  18. Kat says

    So true – Celia was a wise women. We are approaching the other side of the bridge now – I see more moments of the man- grown up articulate, funny and kind and less of the teenager I could happily strangle most days!
    I am still embarrassing but perhaps less so in his eyes at times- he is lucky that he has a strong wonderful father to guide him.
    Yes they are tall and their voices are deep but they are still just little boys deep inside – don’t give up it gets better – just be prepared to be sworn at on a daily basis and called every name under the sun – but give back as good as you get or better – its worth it just for the shocked looked on their faces!

  19. Angie says

    Thank you for writing this article. I appreciate your honesty and feel your pain. I wonder, though, are you really trying to do everything you can to shift your behavior if you won’t let him hide his stuffed toy away? If you honestly just want to save it for your grandkids, put it safely in a box in the closet, you’ll both be happy. But maybe you are using it as a visual reminder of what used to be?

  20. says

    Went thru the same with my daughter. Shes 32 and still makes me cry. Sit down with your son and read your book with him so he doesnt make the same mistake with a wife when hes old enough

  21. says

    A touching story. They all go through this phase. Thankfully they do come back and need our help at some point. Driving lessons, relationship advice (dare we go there) usually arise. It’s good that you realise your son still loves you.

  22. says

    Oh my heart!! Thank you for reading my journey over on brain, child. I am so happy I got to read yours. I do hope that you have found some moments where you and your son walk side by side on that bridge.

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