posted in Parenting
This morning I ran into two mom friends. I talked to each of them for nearly half an hour. Our conversations could have gone on for days. The topic? Parenting teenagers.
I came away thinking, wow, we could really use a club or support group for mothers of teens in this town. Well, maybe I’m projecting.
Motherhood starts out seeming like such a romantic idea. I’m not saying this in a “Oh my God, I hate it” kind of way, but I am saying it in a “How did I not realize this was going to be so relentlessly emotionally demanding?” kind of way.
You get pregnant and you’re the center of attention. You connect with other pregnant women, seamlessly. You talk, you laugh about your new, all-natural boob job, you lament the weight gain, the gas, the fatigue. But you know there’s a baby coming, like a prize in the bottom of the cereal box, so the conversations are generally light.
You have the baby and you’re still the center of attention. Everyone wants to visit. Everyone wants to hold that baby. Everyone wants to hear your birth story and tell you how precious and magical being a mother is. You’ve brought a child into the world. You are a courageous goddess who can do anything. Baby care is hard, but your focus is clear: Food, comfort, love–survival.
Your baby turns into a toddler who becomes the center of attention. Opportunities, real or virtual, to get together with other moms and compare milestones and struggles abound. Online groups, Mommy and Me, story hour, it’s all so new, and everything you do, you do with a sense of infinite possibility. You could live on love and pride and the joy that’s in your curious, naughty child’s eyes alone. You need nothing else.
You have a school kid and your social circle becomes your child’s friends’ and teammates’ parents. There’s a ton of support all around you. Moms at school drop off, moms at ballet and recreational soccer games. Your world feels bigger and wilder, maybe a little bit meaner, but can always be made to feel small and friendly again by curling up with a picture book and reading together. You have each other.
Your kid becomes a tween. Things shift. Navigating social life and activities gets tricky. It’s busy, in a good way, mostly. There’s plenty of opportunity for talking with other moms. And there’s still that illusion of control, that sense that all these things you’re doing with and for your kid will somehow guarantee they’ll grow up to be happy, safe, healthy, and maybe even academically, athletically, or artistically accomplished. Sure, social media is a bit of a worry, yet they’re still so young and pliable and, if your lucky, cuddly. You’re still steering the ship, or so you think.
And then your kid’s in high school. While you weren’t sleeping, someone turned up the speed of the earth’s rotation. Time is flying. You try so hard to keep connected with your friends but everyone is so busy. Your relationship with your husband feels more like a tag-team wrestling match than a romantic partnership. There’s a hint of desperation in the air as we all come to the same revelation that these kids we’ve spent so much time on are not ours to keep. They’re growing up and away from us with each breath they take. We are no longer their go-to security blankets or wisdom dispensers.
They have inner worlds we cannot know. They have boyfriends and girlfriends. Maybe they have no friends. They have Instagram. They’ve got grownup body parts and grownup desires yet we know, oh how we know, their brains are unfinished. They spend an absurd amount of time in their rooms. You’re not sure who you should worry about more: your kids, yourself, your job, or your marriage — if you still have one.
And all that instinctual worrying about and doing for and doting on becomes an impediment to the mother-child relationship, if you still have one. They need you, yes, but they don’t want to need you. And you want them to need you but you also need to know they can handle themselves without you.
And you see them struggle and want to snatch them up and curl them back into you, and promise to keep them safe inside your arms. You want to make their world small again, like the ones in those beautiful picture books, because that small world seemed so easy to manage. But you can’t. So while you are trying to trust them and respect their need for independence, you are grieving. And you are petrified you haven’t armed them properly against the elements they are sure to face.
And that is why, when you see another mother of a teenager, you let loose at the very first mention of “How are you?” even if you don’t know them that well. And, most often, they say, “Same here. I know exactly what you’re talking about.” And thank Goodness for that.
Photos from iStock and Betsy Shaw
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