My oldest, a 13-year-old boy who has decided he doesn’t want to be seen in public with his mom, is riding his bike. It’s new; he got it from a friend and has added some upgrades. It has been a labor of love and he is proud of it.
He is ripping up and down our driveway, trying to master the perfect 180° turn. He succeeds, and quickly looks in my direction to see if I caught it.
I did, of course. I am watching him like a hawk. I love seeing my kids doing something they love. But as soon as our eyes meet, he looks away; he caught himself caring if his mom witnessed his trick. I know what he’s doing; I feel the pull as he tries to break away from being the kid who wants mommy to watch. It makes him feel child-like. The opposite of what he wants.
I remember the days of his constant” Mommy, mommy, watch this, watch this. Did you see me?”
This doesn’t happen anymore, but watching him look up at me, reminds me he still cares if I approve of him. Of course he would never say that to me or anyone else. In his mind needing his mother’s approval is dumb. He is a know-it-all who is confident and acts like he has no desire for such nonsense. But that is only what he wants people to think– it’s just an act.
When he does something I don’t approve of, I start to believe he doesn’t care about what I think, but he really does, all kids care about what their parents think about them, it’s a common thread in all of us, no matter our age.
He can brush me off, act like he’s not listening, roll his eyes, and shrug his shoulders all he wants, but I know he is listening. And when he does something that makes me screaming mad, I am learning to show him my love has no limits, even if he doesn’t have my approval at the moment. Sometimes that looks like biting my tongue because inside I am fuming and want to yell, “Why would you do something so stupid?!” But I have come to the realization addressing situations this way are not helpful.
I need to remind him I’m here for him, even if I think he has made the wrong choice. He needs to know I have his back, and can help him right his wrong through support, but he has to do the work himself. Approval, like trust, has to be earned. Letting our kids know we still love them is hard when we don’t love what they are doing but it’s so important to let them know our love isn’t only for when we do approve.
The journey between parent and child is never over. They don’t realize it when they are younger– especially teenagers– but in their own way, kids will always crave their parents’ approval. It’s what will help them thrive, and give them confidence. We work hard to build these foundations for our kids.
It makes me happy when I catch my son looking to see if I am watching him. Not just because it reminds me of his younger years; it also shows me he still cares and he’s aware the world is bigger than him and his feelings.