My son just turned 15 and can be loud and selfish like all teens can be. He struggles with showing emotion and is drawn to big, muscular men who, to him, embody what he should be – tough, masculine with the absence of talking about feelings. I know him well enough to see he doesn’t think he is allowed to have any soft edges, make mistakes, or appear to be vulnerable.
He feels like it’s not okay to show emotion. He struggles with showing compassion.
His father and I recognized this in him when he was 11 and he changed from being a sweet, thoughtful boy who noticed when someone was upset before anyone else did, to a young man who closed up so tight we didn’t know how to pry him open again. I had no idea puberty could do this to my child but here we are.
We’ve put the work in as parents do when they see something that disturbs them in their child. We are not sure how this manifested as his father and I aren’t like this.
I’ve vocalized (over and over) how it’s okay to be vulnerable and not act tough all the time. But, for now, this is what is making him feel safe, this is how he is, which tells me I still have lots of work to do so I plug away and will continue to be his safe place whether he wants that from me or not.
This year we’ve turned a corner, though. And to me, it feels like a big one. I drive him to school every day, and because he’s in high school, I get his younger sister and brother to junior high school first so we can have a few minutes alone in the morning,
On the first day of school, and every morning since then, he breaks his long, morning silence as his siblings exit the car, pulls out an ear bud and says, “Mom, what are you doing today?”
We’ve done this long enough so he knows my answer will almost always be the same: I tell him I’m going for a run, then I’m working on this essay or that story, but he never fails to ask.
He still seems interested even though I know the life of a 43-year-old working- from- home- mom is the definition of a huge snooze fest to him.
He does it because he wants me to know he cares and thinks about me and wants me to feel valued. He’d never say this in that way but as his mother, I know.
He doesn’t put his ear buds back in. He sits and talks with me. He looks straight into my eyes as he opens the car door grabbing his backpack, and tells me he loves me. He says it fast, he always says it first, but he wants me to hear him and I do, man, I do.
A few years ago, I would have given anything to have him see me as a human who has feelings, wants to have a relationship with him, and only wants the best for my son.
The young man who takes the time every day to tell me he loves me and show some interest in my life never would have done that a year or two ago, never.
He’d pull away when I’d reach out to give him a hug. He’d mumble when I’d ask about his friends. And removing his ear buds to talk to engage with his mom and ask about her day? Not in a million.
So, while it seems small and normal to some parents, it is huge for me, for us.
My son is trying to figure out who he is and there were a few years there where I felt like we were both walking on a crumbling foundation. I was frustrated and mad and hurt and wanted to hang myself by my toenails some days.
But now, now he knows he needs his mom and I need him and we are just better together.