Adolescence. It’s such a strange time—it’s difficult for the parents to navigate, but it’s also hard on the kid.
It’s the time for parents to take a step back while still being present. To become a copilot instead of the captain. To trust that your precious little one will make good decisions based on the upbringing you’ve given.
My own upbringing was super strict. Uncomfortably micromanaged. I wasn’t trusted, I wasn’t allowed to blossom. A narcissistic parent who intended, by all means, to keep me under her rule, no matter what it took.
Now I’m on the edge of adolescence once again, but this time I am the parent. I’ve made peace and overcome my past upbringing. I’ve grown into an adult I feel proud of (most of the time anyway). But now the warm, stable climate of my newfound confidence is changing.
As my firstborn approaches this stage with rapid speed, I’m suddenly thrown back into my own adolescence, my own teenage years. All the pain, distrust, feelings of hopelessness, and powerlessness at the lack of faith in me from my parents resurface as if they never went away.
I sit in my bedroom, staring at my son’s emergency-only phone, not liking what I just read. He’s no longer a boy, not quite a man, and at the edge of teenhood. Wise beyond his years, but it’s not showing in his online presence.
How do I handle this? My biggest fear is to become anything like my own mother. I don’t want to ever make my kids feel as if they cannot be trusted, as if they’re always going to be judged negatively no matter what. I don’t want to micromanage or invade their privacy, but at the same time, I need to keep them safe.
I could just lay down the law, my house my rules. I could cut everything I don’t like out of his life. He’s still young enough to have no choice but to obey.
But is that something I want for him? From my own experience, I know this way will work for a short time. But will it teach him anything? I remember how that felt. Is that feeling of despair, restrictiveness, and powerlessness something I want to cause?
And so I pray for guidance, wisdom, and tact. And I do my research on how best to handle these years of gently letting go. And I came to a realization . . .
Just as when you move to a new home, you have to figure out what furniture and items to place where, and more than likely, not everything will fit. And so you will let go of items that don’t fit. But you won’t let go of anything you view as precious—you will create space for these things if need be.
Similarly, my son is now in a situation where he’s preparing to “move” into adulthood. He is now packing and retaining the values he views as precious to take with him as he grows and becomes an independent man. It’s not up to me to tell him what he will view as precious, but I can hope he’ll take along with him the values I’ve tried to instill in him while he was a young child.
Mature people have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong. “Trained” is the keyword—training takes effort. It’ll take failures, missteps, and growth. It’ll take a coach at times to adjust the exercises and provide guidance as needed. While small children may acquire a knowledge of right and wrong, adolescents need to “become full-grown in powers of understanding.”
And so, I think back to the many talks I’ve had with him this year, all about this same issue. It keeps popping up like that pimple on your teenage chin that just won’t go away. I envision the look on his face. The eyes that want to roll but know better. And I decide to try a different route. I write him a letter.
Perhaps a written word will be less intimidating than peering into Mom’s eyes, eyes likely not able to hide the hurt and disappointment no matter how I try, and he may be able to hear my message better.
I put his phone down on the kitchen counter, deciding not to continue reading. And I tell him that I love him and will always love him. I hand him the letter and brace for impact as he’s off to read it.
As he emerges from his gamer-decor-filled bedroom, he wraps his arms around me in a hug, and I can’t help but notice he’s almost taller than me.
“Thanks, Mom. I’m glad you’re my mother. I’ll examine myself thoroughly, and take my time to decide by what principles I want to live my life. I will need your help when I’m unsure or stuck, and I’m grateful to know you’ll be there for me no matter what.”
This is adolescence, from the other side.