My teenager has been independent from the start. When I was pregnant, he would stretch and extend himself so much that it felt like my belly would tear apart at the seams. It was as if he was desperately trying to escape because he was already too old and big for the sacred space I was holding for him.
I never produced enough breastmilk during infancy to satisfy my baby boy or his by-the-book pediatrician. When I introduced formula supplements, my son would push away from nursing once he realized he was more satisfied with something better. While other one-year-olds sat quietly and comfortably between their mothers’ legs, snacking on Cheerios at bookstore storytimes, my early walker would wander everywhere, looking for escape routes and more exciting scenes. Always a “Daddy’s boy,” my toddler would grunt and push me out of the room if I tried to check on his special evening playtime with his father. In the depths of the long, dark nights when he was sick or scared, it was Daddy he called for, never me.
He was ready for preschool and even more so for kindergarten, as he excitedly assimilated to playdates with friends rather than spending time with Mom. He dove head-first into enriching extracurricular activities where he’d spend hours away from us parents, socializing and thriving without fear or needing us. As he grew up and entered middle childhood, my son never looked back as he confidently strode into each new and exciting phase of life.
As a young mother, I didn’t know then that raising such a fiercely independent son was preparing me for now – the ugly emotional push and pull of these teenage years when he must reject me so roughly to evolve into an independent young man. But even though I should be used to this dynamic, I must admit that nothing that has come before has taught me what it would feel like to be rejected by him now.
It is never easy to be pushed away by your child. It was hard when my son broke away from me to explore the world as a toddler. But it’s even more difficult now as I feel the deep emotional rip of my teen letting go. It stings and feels like a gaping hole in my heart where our bond once was. It feels like I’m breaking up with my teen son.
Having married my one and only boyfriend, I have never experienced a breakup before. I don’t know what it’s like to have your heart broken by a boy you love so much. As my teenager pulls away, the feelings of rejection are so new and raw that I grapple with understanding them while going through it all for the first time.
But as I fumble through this heart-wrenching season of motherhood, I realize that it may be just as difficult for my son to break away from me. After all, this journey is new to him too, and despite his knack for needing his independence, deep down, he knows I’ve always been there as a steady landing spot just in case he needs me. And perhaps that is why the necessary rejection feels so harsh – he has to rip away so strongly because we’re bound tighter than I’ve always believed. It feels like duct tape tearing away at my tender flesh rather than a flimsy Band-Aid. No matter the illusion of his self-sufficiency, I’ve realized that he and I are so close. And perhaps it is scarier for him than for me.
So, no matter how difficult my feelings of rejection can be, I must remain strong and steady for my teen. During these years, our kids will experience the emotional waves that fuel their need to push away from their parents. Those strong currents can be new and scary for them. That’s why I want my love for my son to be constant and calm, an ever-present steady heartbeat in the face of everything that feels uncertain to him during this rocky time. I have to put my emotions aside to focus on keeping my love steady, dependable, reliable, and visible. Love is the lighthouse we can offer our kids in the storm of adolescence, even when it’s painful and hard for us parents. And I know that when the push and pull of rejection eventually subside in our family, my love will still be solid and secure.