Two days before my oldest son’s twelfth birthday, he woke up grouchy. This was unusual, for this child had always woken up with a smile, ready to conquer the world. He slumped on the couch and grumbled good morning. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I’m bored.” He replied. “How can you be bored? You just woke up!” He then proceeded with a long list of complaints, spoken in a voice that beseeched his minimal tolerance for this day. “This house sucks. My room sucks. I don’t want to have a shower. Showering sucks.” To which I calmly replied, “Maybe you should try to get some more sleep.” “Sleeping sucks!” he countered. “It is such a waste of my time!”
I didn’t know whether to laugh at the absurdity of the situation or to be horrified at this sudden attitude change. Up until that point, people had always commented how bright, friendly and charming this boy was. Where did that kid go? Who is this new child, with his body draped over my couch, hating life? It was two days before his twelfth birthday. Yep, it’s like clockwork. Adolescence had arrived.
The lovely and kind version of my son reappeared eventually, (hallelujah!) but I sensed a pending change in our relationship lingering not so far on the horizon. So I rushed to the bookstore and immersed myself in parenting books that discussed this strange new phenomenon: adolescence. Yikes! While everything I read made sense, in the logical part of my brain, the emotional side began to panic. I’m not ready for this!
The resounding advice was this: You have dedicated 12 years of parenting and have provided your child with guidance, values and life skills. Now it is time to step back and let him practice everything you have instilled.
Step back? Loosen control? Let him walk through life without me right beside him? Terrifying.
Let me elaborate. I have taught my son to be kind. To work hard. To show respect. I have encouraged him to have an opinion and to solve problems with fairness. I have taught him to own his actions, to learn from his mistakes and to apologize, when necessary. I have taught him to look both ways before crossing the road. To include others. To reserve judgment. Now, I need to trust in those skills, in my good parenting, and in my son. I need to provide independence and autonomy.
“Parent” may not even be the right word for my current role. For you, my son, I am a guide, here to support and offer direction, when needed. I am a safe haven, someone who will listen and tell you that everything will be alright. I am a boundary, when you need one. I am a sounding board. I am someone who will have your back and help you when you need. I am the beacon of light who will always bring you back to the right path when you have strayed. And, I am still your chauffeur. (A driver’s license seems like the next big perk, for both of us!) It is not my job to solve all of your problems anymore. It is not my job to make your decisions. I cannot make your choices. However, I will always be your mom.
Truthfully, I struggle with this new role, from time to time. Sometimes, I feel irrelevant, rejected when you don’t want to spend time with me. (But that’s my journey to travel, not yours.) We are both learning and changing. Growing together.
My son fluctuates between moments of pure adolescence and moments when I still see the child in him. He will tune out the world by putting in his earbuds and jamming on his guitar. Then, in the next minute, he will be playing with Hotwheels cars on the floor with his younger brother. He will venture farther into the world, having adventures without me. Then he will ask me to kiss him and tuck him into bed at night. For now, he is a wonderfully strange juxtaposition of man and child. I am proud of the man he is becoming and I cherish the boy who still resides in my heart.