When he was a young child, my son’s body felt like an extension of mine. His nuzzling, nursing lips on my breast, his feel, his smell, his desires—all of it was an extension of me. Even now, as a teenager, his desires and motives are astonishingly transparent to me when I consider how hard it is to “read” other people in that same way. And yet, I no longer feel at home in my role as mother.
Two strangers seem to occupy these roles of mother and son. My disapproval used to mean my intervention, now it mostly means what it means with strangers, mere disapproval. A utilitarian social contract seems to have replaced my maternal role. It is time to let him be himself, not rush in to tinker with him. However, I struggle to release my grip, to hold him more loosely.
I am familiar with the struggle to release. I spent the first half of my life trying to understand my own mother’s story, and the second half of my life trying to release it. I recognize this struggle to release as an old friend.
It’s full-out ops tempo in our house now. The idea of a day of activity and a night of rest is so outré. Teenagers, it seems, are governed by a mysteriously free sense of a 24-hour day. We live together as if we occupy the multiverse, with his life running on a parallel plane to mine.
Shared pleasures and pains no longer create the fabric of familial life.
Something eludes me. The sense that I would do anything for this child is familiar, stabilizing; yet doing anything more and more often means doing nothing. Comfort, for example, using words that once would have helped. Support, for example, in the form of offering a fix. No. He makes it clear. What you say, how you try to make me feel, what you want to do for me, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t help.
Can I let a space open up here? Someone posted here a few weeks ago about learning to see her children’s glory rising in them. I love that way of phrasing it. Glory. That is what I want to see. The wild, erratic, brilliant, uncontained glory of the almost-grown.
Could I cultivate some curiosity here? In the not-knowing comes the opportunity to search. I find myself replacing my offers to him with the ever-so-much lighter offer of prayer on his behalf. Prayers that are as much an expression of my care as the things that I used to put into his childhood. Some would say more. I wonder whether the distinction between prayer and the world is as fixed as I have assumed—perhaps my prayers are just the reflection of all the “doing things” that mothering used to mean. As Marilynne Robinson’s character Reverend Ames says, “Family is a prayer. Wife is a prayer. Marriage is a prayer.” I would add, “Mother is a prayer.”
When we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness, the Lord remembers them no more. This we are told. I cherish that vision of passing from struggle to peace. I end my day by gathering up the pieces of the struggle to release and put them each in their place. God, keep this boy-man safe. Turn his heart to the good. Turn his heart to You. It is done—a blank slate on which another day can write itself.
Claudia Hauer teaches at the college level, and loves watching young people turning into adults. She had an overwhelming conversion experience 5 years ago and is just learning to tell her faith story. She lives under the Rocky Mountains and loves to hike, run, and cook, and can usually be found with a book in her hands and a cup of coffee nearby.
Claudia, I have twin eighteen year old daughters who have really been grappling with the different cultural dynamics that affect their peers. We are a single parent household with no father but a lot of years where he was present in body. Anyway, we have done the hard journey over the last three years after five years in Ethiopia as missionaries. Now living in Sydney, they have just discovered that families of their peers, don’t sit down together and eat a meal. This shocked all of us! The dinner table is a sacred place for our family and where conversations and lifes struggles are shared. I truly believe this art has been lost but it can still be regained. My daughters also encouraged me this week that when their younger brothers, who are still in their teens, say that they don’t want affection, they actually still do! I was encouraged to pursue them more and continue to do so till they do leave. While they do start to pull away and form their own personalities and lives, I still believe there is opportunity for more than just being mere strangers. Your role is important- more important than you know! I Have a 22 year old who has left home and had previously raised my siblings through their teen years too. You can still steward this age with a sense of connection. Be encouraged
Thank you for this raw and honest and so beautifully encouraging look at our release. I loved the way you described this difficult transition. I have 5 kids…but the parallel is to my middle 15 yr old son who is private and has a 24 hr schedule and a parallel and intense need for independence….an independence that I have feared would no longer include me at all…it’s been a difficult year and the only break through centered around me redefining this phase of what it means to be his mother as he defines himself and redefined what he will and will not receive…such a relief to hear this honesty, such a respite to me. Such a confirmation to me. It’s brilliantly written and for me was exquisitely felt. Sending you my gratitude for you gift and my ping back to you-target squired-you got me! This was for me….