I am a mom to three teenage boys, ages 12, 16 and 19. You might be thinking, 12 isn’t technically a teenager, but let me tell you, puberty has already made its ugly appearance. In my book, he’s a full-blown teenager, equipped with all the hormones, smells, body hair, and attitude that comes with it.
There is a lot of testosterone floating around my house on the daily (even our dog is a dude). To make matters worse, we live outside of the US, away from our families and close friends, so my estrogen-rich relationships are via phone and Zoom. Then there was that thing last year, the pandemic, which resulted in all 5 of us being stuck together in the house. All day, every day – working from home and schooling from home. We live in Guatemala, where most houses do not have yards, so even the dog has been quarantined inside with us.
Again, So. Much. Testosterone.
I am not complaining about this, as I adjusted to being the only female a long time ago. I have acclimated to the vulgarity of most conversations being centered around specific male body parts, or at least the reference of them, spontaneous bursts of what smells like deadly gases, and the collection of 20+ Marvel superhero movies playing on a constant loop. I’m cool with all of this.
What has been difficult though, as we’ve entered the teenage years, is finding ways to stay connected with each of them. Let’s face it, there are certain topics that are just naturally easier for boys to talk about with their dad. I get that. And my husband? He is AMAZING at having these talks and has a knack for keeping the conversation casual, so that no one feels embarrassed or uncomfortable.
But it’s not just the awkward talks, it’s the everyday connection they have that I’m a bit envious of. When our sons were little, I was the twinkle in their eyes. It was easy to stay connected to them because they always wanted Mom. Now, they turn to their dad to talk about guy stuff, girls, video games, cars etc. And while I’m grateful that they have this amazing connection with their dad, I can’t help but feel a little left out and disconnected at times. Those feelings paired with my inability to accept that they are no longer babies, has been a struggle.
At least this is how I felt for a while. I wallowed in my own momma-pity for some time, mostly during the week of my period each month, when I’m super-duper emotional. I had talks (ugly cries) with my husband about how I felt, and I binged on chick-flicks when I had time off. I was seriously in a funk.
But then I decided to change my outlook, because frankly- it was getting to be a bit depressing. I was so caught up in my feelings about the boys getting bigger and not needing me as much, that I was missing out on the joys of their current life stages.
I decided to quit splashing around in my pool of tears and sentimental pity, and instead, I began embracing the present.
As far as connecting more with my sons, it is still possible; it just takes more work on my behalf. They are so overwhelmed with hormones and new challenges and body changes and new relationships, that they just don’t have the bandwidth to also go out of their way to try and connect with Mom, on a sentimental level. Not because they don’t want to or because they don’t need me anymore. They’re just teenagers. Their interests change and their priorities shift, AND they’re trying to figure out who the heck they are.
Once I came to this realization, everything changed, in a positive way.
If you’re struggling with the teenage years, here are a few tips that might help, they did for me.
1) Show interest. Even if it is something you aren’t interested in… try to be, for the sake of your child. Listen to their music. Watch their favorite movies. Play video games with them. Whatever their hobbies are, embrace them. Trust me, if you’re not interested, they’ll find someone else who is.
2) Be open. They’re teenagers, which means they have teenager problems and curiosities. Be open to talking about relationships, drugs, sex, fears, death- whatever is on their mind. Don’t make it awkward or turn it into a big deal. If you’re uncomfortable, then know that they are too. The more awkward you make the experience, the less they will seek you out for advice.
3) Trust them. Trust your parenting and trust that you’ve raised a well-rounded individual who can make the right decisions. Does this mean they always will? No, of course not, but you should start by giving them the benefit of the doubt. Example: our 16-year-old told us that he was offered alcohol by some older teen friends of his. We didn’t freak out. We didn’t condemn him. Instead, we listened and then asked him what he did; and guess what? He made the right decision on his own.
4) Give them space. Trust me, they need it. Respect their privacy and allow for them to have time alone. They’ve got a ton of things they’re trying to figure out.
5) Let them know they are loved unconditionally. Your love and support should come with no bounds. No matter how bad they might mess up, no matter how dark their thoughts may be, no matter what sexual preference they have, no matter what gender roles they identify with- you will always love them and be there for them, and they need to know that.
What a blessing it is to be able to watch our children grow up. Not everyone gets this opportunity, so make the extra effort when you can. I promise it will be worth it.