Motherhood is a journey that does not end when your child turns 18. In some ways it is a new beginning all together.
Having had a child when I was 16 has constantly made me feel like I have always been a step behind; devoid of the life experiences that are required to help me navigate these waters. But I have a girlfriend who had her child much later in life, and it seems she feels the same way! I think it is just the process. It is like living on a volcano; things can erupt at any time and almost always at the most inconvenient times!
The boy who made me a mommy is not a boy anymore. At 6’2 and 20 years old, he towers over me and is very much a man. But somehow he will always be my baby.
I am starting to believe, having lived through the hell of teenage years, that the process may actually be harder on the children than it is on the parents. This was not a conclusion I thought I would ever come to while living in the midst of them. I basically think that being a teenager could be defined as the struggle to break free from everything your parents think you are and start over. And I think that process is an internally violent act. Since you were born, if you are lucky, your parents have spoon fed you your identity. Austin you are so creative. Austin you are strong. Austin you are smart. Austin you are a good friend. Austin you love people well etc.
But when you enter adolescence you aren’t sure if any of those adjectives actually apply to you. So you rip them all off and stand bare. Before yourself. And you start trying on other words for size, to see if they fit. You don’t care if your parents think they fit. Actually it’s better if they don’t think they fit. You care more about whether your friends think they fit.
As a teen you want to be your own person. You start to feel some autonomy over your choices and you feel everything pertaining to your life is within your rights, but you have parents who are still trying to govern them. And they feel equally as entitled, believing that you don’t know best. This is the struggle. As Austin’s mom I could often see areas in his life where he was making very poor choices. The once straight A student started to push back on taking the 30 level high school courses. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do as a career but he was pretty certain that whatever it was wouldn’t require those stupid courses and if I made him take them he would be putting in all the hard work for nothing. So I made him take them anyway. And he did just enough to pass so that I didn’t force him to take them again; and he was miserable. So he made it his goal to make me miserable too. The number of ways a teen can punish you is seemingly endless.
Anyone who has lived through their own teen years, eventually can see the wisdom their parents had, but in the midst of it is just feels like you are constantly being punished. You are in a cage your parent’s build that doesn’t fit you, until magically one day you see the cage was more like life preserver.
By nature I like to control things so it should have come as no surprise to me that I felt the need to control Austin. He has been an extension of me for over half my life. In a lot of ways he felt like my possession; the older he got, the more he understandably resented that.
Resent =teenage years. They resent you having any control of their life, and as a parent you resent that they can mess up their life. And the great tug of war begins. The rope is all they have and they will cling to it and pull on it with every ounce of their being. Pulling that rope feels like their only purpose and the only thing they can control and it has the added benefit of making you angry. The rope for a parent is the ability to leverage the teens freedom based on outcomes you are hoping for (ie: good marks in exchange for going out Friday). In a word it is manipulation. On both ends. And it doesn’t end until you as a parent decided to slowly let the rope go, put it down on the ground and back away slowly hands in the air.
I call this the shift. It is that moment that you realize that every horrible, unimaginable thing you are trying to keep your child from – drinking, sex, drugs, pornography – they can do all that from school and half of it from home right under your nose. It is that moment when you realize that your greatest job as a parent has been done in all the innocuous moments every day. It has been all those times when you taught your children that character is all about doing the right thing when no one is watching and it is hard. It is recognizing that all of those words of encouragement and identity that you spoke to them over their life – that they mattered. That the foundation of identity is made up of stories and good night kisses. It is that eye opening, breathtaking, agonizing moment when you realize that your job as a parent has moved into that of confidante.
Being a confidante means you have to be available; physically and emotionally. Your heart must be ready to hear things you sometimes wish you had never heard. You have to carve out time intentionally to be together, doing something they like. Austin and I have sushi dates. Sometimes we talk about funny things that have happened lately, sometimes we reminisce, sometimes he chooses to share with me things that are heavy, sometimes we say very little at all. But being together is something we both really look forward to. I try and not preach at him and give him my grocery list of things I think he should and shouldn’t do during this time, but more often that naught, he is asking my advice; not because he uses all of it, but because he is starting to be able to look at all the things I have done throughout his life, and he is seeing my character. And he is starting to realize that some of the labels I put on him fit. He has picked them up and put them back on and this time they stick. They were always his but until he knew they were his they were not a part of his identity. So I don’t have control of Austin’s life any longer, but I do have him as a friend. I think this is the biggest gift of all. In a life that is truly his own, and he makes time for him momma.