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.
There 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.
It’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.
But, 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.
I 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.
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.