People always talk about how children change your life, about how profound the experience of motherhood is.
People talk about how when we first see our children we instantaneously cannot imagine having lived a day without them. How their essence somehow demands our hearts get ripped out of our chest and stomped on at the mere thought of any worldly harm that may come to them. I am one of these people.
I am also a person who has come to a crossroad in motherhood that I haven’t yet encountered until now.
I teach adolescent psychology, and ironically, the United States is home to one of the only societies on the planet that even identifies with an adolescent period marked by rebellion, hormones and peer influence taking precedence over parental influence.
Naturally then, I don’t buy into the idea that my children will be a**holes just because they become teenagers. I never throw the “you have an attitude” comments out there or “wait until you’re a teenager” remarks, because I think they are unintentionally planting subconscious seeds of rebellion within my children. In other words, I don’t want to feed the idea that teenage years are hell to be the “norm” for my family.
But let’s back up for a moment: The individuation/separation process should naturally occur in toddlerhood. If a mother finds the strength within herself to let her child be his/her own person, there will be little enmeshment (liken it to codependency and unhealthy energetic attachment). By design, the child desires to separate to learn its own body, will, world.
No one ever told me that the same individuation/separation process plays itself out an infinite amount of times throughout motherhood—and that it doesn’t get any easier.
No one ever told me of the heartache—the same heart ripping out of your chest feeling from the moment you first see them and question how well you can protect them from the world—that sometimes manifests again when your children act like, well…a**holes.
My 11-year-old Mama’s Boy of a son left me for the weekend today in rare form. His goodbye was marked with a back turned to me topped off with a peace sign. It was marked by an “I’m acting cool because there is someone here who is cool that I must impress” audacity which annoyed the f*** out of me.
On any given goodbye before today, I receive warm, long and what feel like necessary-to-him hugs with an “I love you. Have a great weekend.” Today, I wanted to slap the attitude right out of him.
I stood silently as he walked out the door and instantly felt the dagger puncture my heart. Here he is, being himself. Here he is, individuating/separating from his need for dependence and as a mother I am required to be strong enough to let him do it while also guiding him to hold his roots in the most essential parts of himself. His essential parts are not that of an a**hole. But, here he was, being…an a**hole.
It’s in my nature to catch nuances. It’s also in my nature to want to nip a pattern in the bud out of fear that it will become the pattern forever. I rarely consider that this is simply “a moment” in these moments. I get scared that this behavior, this vibe, will become the new thing forever. So naturally, I want to control it.
But wait, I had to stop myself:
”When he acts like an a**hole you stare at him with a raised eyebrow wondering if he’s done yet.”
I recognize I’m in a moment just waiting for it to pass.
“You don’t think when he’s an a**hole that he’s always going to be an a**hole. You simply ride out the moment and viola, he stops being an a**hole eventually,right? What is so hard about riding out these moments as you watch your son go through his process from childhood to manhood?”
But, but, but (heart-wrenching whining)—he’s my son, I want him to stay the same. He’s my baby, I want him to be true to who he is and this is not who he truly is.
Then my rational side speaks in a super bitchy voice as if she’s interrupting something (and knows it):
“Plus, he’s acting disrespectful and no woman of strength should stand for that! If you start letting his behavior slip now, it’ll be out of control.”
Why do I even want him to perceive me as strong anyway? As an example of strength? So he feels safe with me? So he fears me? So he idolizes me? So I can control him? No really—why?!
For years, I viewed my mother as weak. Years! Then one day, I realized that the choice she made, which I perceived as her deepest weakness, actually required much more strength for a woman to withstand than any other way out.
This is one of those moments for me. As I watch my son act like an a** and let it break my heart in fear of losing my innocent child to an a**hole of a man overtaking his body, I am required to utilize a strength that I may have previously viewed as a weakness.
A strength that demands I stand in witness to his moments and feel grateful to be fortunate enough to watch him grow through it.
A strength that demands I trust the person I created to always come back to himself when he’s done being an a**hole, because that’s what I teach best.
A strength that requires me to practice ultimate self control by not A) Shooting him the “poison dart” look, or B) Manipulating him to change for my benefit.
A strength that requires me to silence my heartache when it feels so personal that my child desires his own position away from me. He is not responsible for my emotions, but in these moments, I want him to be so he can feel the heartache he’s responsible for throwing around.
A strength that turns to love when I want to fantasize about how much of a b**** I’m going to be to him the next time I see him.
It’s a quiet strength, but it’s powerful beyond measure. It’s a much more dedicated strength by containing itself as witness rather than spewing itself as a character in an emotional drama needing its fix.
I will not look at this as his “adolescent period,” or a teenage rebellion. I will look at this as my perfect moment to practice. This isn’t about him—he’s apparently got it all going on. This is about me.
I will practice compassion, unconditional love, not taking it personally, being witness. I will practice the art of watching my son act like an a**, feel the disrespect surrounding it and know that the only way I can teach him respect is to respect him. Which also means respecting his process of sometimes choosing to be disrespectful while he practices independence on his journey to manhood.
As challenging as it is to not breathe in until my chest is so full it touches my chin and jump out of my skin to teach a verbal lesson that clearly he needs, it takes a much, much greater strength to “let it be.”
Silently and lovingly, I’m practicing letting it be.
Contingent upon him not actually being an a**hole, of course.
That’s how he will come to know himself. By being allowed to practice multiple ways of being.
This is just a moment.
Author: Stacy Hoch
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photo: Alex Berger/Flickr