I’m the mother of a teenager.
Despite the fact that I was just a teenager myself about five minutes ago, I am now in charge of the care and feeding of a 13-year-old boy.
I’ve learned recently that’s about all I’m in charge of when it comes to said boy.
He came into existence – like, one moment he wasn’t and the next he was – inside my body, and now I am an onlooker to a life that is completely his own.
That is, to put it mildly, weird. Unnatural feeling. Surreal.
The transition from lifeline to coexistence has not been easy. Just this week I found myself literally afraid for his life because of a decision he’d made and executed all on his own. The aftermath left me wanting to lock him in a room and questioning everything his father and I had done since becoming parents 13 years ago. I reached out to my own mother for comfort, and in doing so I realized that what I needed most from my parent was something I’d been struggling to give to my own child.
In my eagerness to provide the proper support, structure and guidance that I assumed he needed to Succeed In Life – a tendency of parents that I now realize is borne more out of fear and love than any desire for control – I have been stingy with the faith.
You see, Devin is brilliant, and I know he wants to grow up and do brilliant things. I want that for him because he wants it. I want him to enjoy an adulthood free of regrets, because I’m his mother and I don’t think about things like realistic expectations when it comes to my son. I want his life to be perfect, because that’s what he deserves.
I’ve been a bit vigilant lately about making sure he gets to have that life. I’ve pushed for better than As in school and leaped on every mistake as a “learning opportunity.” I’ve suggested. I’ve insisted. I’ve even played the guilt card a time or two and warned him of the dangers of not getting into college.
And it sounds insane as I write it, but I live in fear that he will turn to me someday and say “why didn’t you push me harder so that I could be successful?”
But the truth is, Devin hasn’t been turning to me for much of anything these days.
And I thought it was him and the age and the hormones you hear so much about.
In part, of course it is. But I suppose it’s also a natural reaction to someone whose every interaction with you is based on fear.
I turned to my mom this week when I was scared and confused because she has done such a great job of creating a safe place for me. She is encouraging and supportive, and I never once feared that she would judge my parenting.
That’s because I’m a successful adult, I thought, and she has no reason to worry about me now.
Except, she was also the person I called when my marriage fell apart, mostly by my own doing. I confessed all my sins to her and not once did she express disappointment in me. She showered me with love when I wasn’t sure I deserved it. And she showed faith in me, faith that I would figure things out and find my way.
It hasn’t always been like that, of course. She wasn’t near as certain that I’d be OK when I moved out of her house one night and into a one-bedroom apartment above a bar. We didn’t talk for almost two months because I refused to listen to all of her fears and doubts. I still did all of the things she was afraid of – and probably a few she hadn’t thought of – I just did them as far away from her as possible.
Before that, there were rules and groundings and appropriate limitations for a teenage girl. My mother was not at all a “hands off” or “everyone gets a trophy” type of mom. I’m not at all suggesting that I didn’t have – or that my own teenager shouldn’t have – a healthy set of boundaries.
But mostly, my mom has always believed in me, and that’s why I called her first when I was scared this week.
I think it’s time I start giving a little more of that kind of support to my son.
I think, perhaps, for his 13th birthday, the gift he most needs is proof that I have faith in him, that I trust him to handle life as well as we all do. That’s not to say that he’s on his own – none of us are – but he is a good, smart kid and he is growing into a good, smart man.
This “faith to figure out life” thing is something I have struggled to give in the past. I withheld it from my husband and hesitated to offer it to friends. My initial assumption is that most people need my help, wisdom and outside perspective. Of course, few us rarely learn from anyone else’s experience anyway, and we are much more likely to follow advice that we seek from people we trust. Coincidentally, I’ve found we tend to trust those who have trusted us. Funny how that works.
Anyway, my point is that this is as much about me and my fears and bad habits as it is about Devin. In my defense, it’s tricky to find the balance between having faith in your child and making sure they have the tools they need to thrive. He is not yet an adult, but he is at the age where my role is more facilitator than caretaker. (Again, bizarre.)
Devin is 13 today. He is smart, wise and compassionate. He believes in justice and equality. He is curious and creative. He is pragmatic and an independent thinker.
Still, his life will not be perfect. He will have disappointments, make mistakes, and suffer through moments of regret and self doubt. And when he does, I hope he will know that he can turn to his mom for a shot of unconditional love and encouragement.
And I hope that this year, regardless of his ability to handle anything, he has more happy times than not.
(I am still his mother.)