We’re in the car, my husband is driving and my two kids are both sitting in the back seat, quietly listening to their music in their earbuds. We are heading to my in-law’s house for a rare and wonderful visit out on the farm.
I glance behind me to peek at my son, and I’m mesmerized once again. I stare at his broad shoulders, an enormous pimple on his nose, and what appears to be a shadow above his lips. He’s grown so much bigger now, he looks so much older and it astounds me. This baby boy of mine has been changing so fast recently, it’s as if his hormones decided it was time to ignite a thundering storm of fury through his body, forcing a fierce transformation from boy to man, and it’s been a fascinating thing to witness.
I’ve read about puberty in boys and I’ve seen it enter hundreds of them through my work and even in his friends. Mine has been impatiently waiting his turn and it’s finally arrived.
His demeanor is different; there’s a calm sense about him that has taken over his usual high energy. He sleeps more, he moves slower, and he talks lower with a voice that has gone down an octave, adding some scratchy squeaks that erupt when he laughs or yells or sings in the shower.
Everything about him is nothing like it used to be. But if I look really hard, I can still find my baby in those eyes, in that smile, and in the essence of his sweet nature that hides beneath his stoic guard. My boy is still in there, but he’s slowly disappearing into the man who is taking over with a powerful push.
I’m still learning how to love my teen son, this new person I’m meeting for the first time. The boy who always loved to snuggle and couldn’t get enough hugs now pushes me away more than he pulls me in.
Our snuggle time now looks like him lying on the couch with his big stinky feet on my lap, instead of his head, where it always used to be. What was once our normal nightly routine has slowly dwindled in exchange for him playing video games with his friends, which he often prefers. Now I wait for him to ask and gratefully accept the invitation to watch our shows together, allowing the space between us to be filled with cushions on the couch.
It’s now rare for my once lovable child to randomly wrap his arms around me like he used to do any chance he could get. But I’m thankful it still happens, even though it’s usually when I’ve done something for him or he wants something from me.
He’ll shyly reach his arms around me and I pull him in close, placing my head on his shoulder, and wrapping my arms tightly around his muscular back. Then somewhere in that melting moment, he often attempts to lift me up and I shriek with surprise and a loud rebuke of such an attempt.
“NO honey! You’ll…”
He grabs me lower with a firm hold of my hips and lifts me off the floor while I flail and fight to get back to the ground. We laugh and I tell him how strong he is and he tells me I’m shrinking. Both are probably true, as age reveals a bell curve where he’s clearly climbing up one side and I’m slipping down the other.
I pull him in once more, knowing this moment is fleeting, he will grow tired of our embrace and tell me so. But I hold on as long as I can because I’m not sure when I’ll feel his warm embrace again. I know that as he continues to grow older and more independent, this too will drift away with the rest of him. I can’t expect it like I used to, I can’t make him hug me anymore. I’ve tried. This is one of the hard lessons I’m learning as my teen son gets older. He needs more space now, there are barriers and boundaries I’m struggling to understand.
He needs me to let go more often than hold on. He needs me to not lean in when he’s near, but rather, stay put and let him take the lead. I’m trying to accept this shifting connection and new communication forming between us, but my hands still reach out and my heart still longs to hold him close for much longer than he’ll allow.
He’s teaching me how to best love him where he’s at. But I’m a slow learner, a stubborn student, and a mom who is still figuring out this new way to love, this new way to be a mom of this man-child of mine.
And this new way slowly strips all the layers of my heart and breaks apart the strong scaffolding I’ve built through all these years of parenting him. It’s now his turn to form the new framework of our relationship, as I surrender what I want and give him what he needs.
I knock on his door now. I respect that his bedroom has become his corner of the world that is his own secret sanctuary. I’ve watched him renovate his room from that of a child to that of a teen, throwing garbage bags of stuffed animals into our crawl space and setting up LED lights on his ceiling, and placing the new pc he bought with his own money on his desk.
I say goodnight, instead of crawl into his bed and hold him in my arms. His requests have stopped for our ritual of hugs and kisses before he sleeps. I miss this. I knew I would.
I’m still staring at him in the back seat of the car and he catches my eye and makes that uncomfortable, hardened face of rejection that always hurts my heart.
“Mom, please stop staring at me. That’s so weird.”
I’m trying to learn how to love my teen son and sometimes, no, oftentimes, I fail.
I stare too long, I talk too much, I cheer too loud, I hold too tight, I try too hard, I love too deeply. And most of all, I want more than he is willing to give.
He is becoming his own self, slowly separating from the entwined attachment we’ve tied together for so long.
I know this stage well, and yet, I’m still learning how to love him through it as I watch him grow into the man he is designed to be.
Growing pains can be painful.
For him. And for me.