“Mama, you’re so pretty, you could be a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.” My six-year-old son and I were nestled together on the couch, watching snow fall from mid-December’s sky and our favorite football team vie for a win. With his sweet adoration and heartfelt expression of love, he won my heart and gifted me all I could want for Christmas, too.
In stark contrast, these days I mostly just get grunted at by the teenage version of my son. My questions are typically answered with one-word sentences, if at all. When I utter more than a few words worth of dialogue to him, he’ll spout “LECTURE!” and promptly leave the room. In fact, today he rarely even enters a room while I’m in it. At his abrupt departures and frequent absences I’m sometimes left sorrowfully shaking my head, feeling the sting of piercing comparison between our then and our now.
When he was but wee and didn’t want to make a Lego move without me, I had no way of knowing this indifferent kind of day was coming. Before the double-digit ages descended, we held hands. Snuggled. Read together. We explored caves and parks and trails, hot on each other’s tails. We enjoyed meals together. Sat in the same chair around campfires. Rode in the same car. We were salt and pepper, ketchup and mustard, milk and cookies; a matched set in so many ways and while I didn’t always relish the constant close proximity and lack of alone time, that closeness felt so much better than our current reality does today.
When your young son looks at you with doe eyes and speaks sweet nothings to you straight from his uncensored soul, you feel like you’re killing it as a mom. You know you have got to be slaying it to earn that kind of praise and worship. Even the Russian judge would give you a 9.0. It’s easy to tell when you’re doing well by your little because they don’t hesitate to tell you so.
Conversely, when the teen years begin to creep in so does your child’s criticism and cynical view of your parenting. As per the teen code of conduct, your kid comes to the realization they no longer want to be parented beyond being fed and provided for. And this puts you at odds with each other because you still feel like you will always want to parent in all the ways.
You could argue to your teen these last few years of rearing them count the most, citing they need your guidance and direction, rules and boundaries, love and patience now more than ever. But I wouldn’t advise wasting your time trying to convince them of this. I’d use that energy to keep up your resolve to keep parenting the way you believe in during the years it’s least appreciated.
Expressions of big kid love and respect will appear on the horizon, though. Your teen just needs you to hold steady. They need you to impersonate a stalwart and sturdy lighthouse on a weather-beaten shore. They need you to keep shining reliable beams of love they can make their way back to you by when they’re ready. They still need your constant show of support, but they won’t often offer up praise in return for receiving it during their dark and stormy teenage years. They don’t want constant close proximity to you in the squall of it all, either.
My son doesn’t ask me to pick him up and hold him anymore. He doesn’t even cheer for the Dallas Cowboys along with me these days and that is really hard to take. Nor does he profess his adoration or worship for me any longer. And well he shouldn’t, that’s the stuff of little boys and it would be out of place and awkward between a teenage boy and his mom. And that’s how I know I’m killing it as his.
He’s not dependent upon me for everything anymore and he’s interested in forging new relationships in the world. With peers and teachers, coaches and employers, girlfriends and their parents. This means I’ve done my job well. He just won’t tell me I have because right now he doesn’t know how and it’s not for me to teach him. Learning new ways to appropriately express his new form of love and appreciation for his parents will come, just not today. His biggest gains in this regard will be born from his own children being born, and for that I can wait for quite some time.
Until then, I’ll count the times he comes round asking me for help filling out a W4 or to sew up a ripped shirt as a form of nuzzling up in love. The times he asks me to make him a smoothie, purchase more deodorant, or help word a text to another adult as proof we’re still connected and still close, just in a new way. While these requests don’t stroke my ego or puff up my chest like little boy compliments of old, they do indicate I’m doing my job and doing it well. For when he asks for help, he’s asking for love. And that’s enough for now.