Sunday, 24 January 2016

Growing (away) a Teenager

My husband is driving our son some 70 miles back to where he boards. Son had been asking to board since he was five, and nearly three years ago he made this wish come true by sitting some of the toughest exams to win a scholarship.

I look at Facebook photos of my friends and envy them. They all seem to have perfect families.

My 15-year-old, on the other hand, does not want to have anything to do with me.

It has not been very good for my mental health as such, thinking: I spent 13 years of my life as a full-time mother. When this one son reaches 15, he completely ignores me. In fact, he seemed to hate me.

Why did I bother?

If I had left him at four months old -- I attended an interview for a postdoctoral fellowship but decided that this wasn't something I wanted to do -- would I be a professor by now?

Instead I am unemployed, and worse, possibly unemployable.

This friction between mother and son was not unexpected. Some years ago, in anticipation of this phase, I read a well-known Christian writer who noted that teenage boys go through this as they are awakening to their own sexuality.

Yeah, sure, I was a teenager once and I never had that problem with my mum or dad.


When teenage boys first awaken to their sexuality, who is the female that he knows and loves best? Usually the mother. There is no need to bring in the Oedipus complex at this point. My son is not neurotic.

On the contrary, he wants most to grow AWAY from his mother. He needs the confidence to know that he is not in love with his mother. That is why teenage boys row with their mothers.

This also explains why he says "It feels weird" when I sometimes give him a hug.

I turn again, naturally, to studies in other people groups where young males undergo rites of passage. I conducted research amongst some teenage girls in secondary school many years ago. The main finding I had was that it was difficult to be neither child nor adult in your parents' eyes.

Sometimes they treat you like a child: Do this because I say so. At other times they expect you to be an adult: "Why did you not do that? It was your responsibility."

In anticipation of this period I talked to my son often, "Sometimes you would feel like you need to be a man. But sometimes you wish you are a child again. That's OK. We can occasionally do childish things together." (Like a bubble-wrap dance.)

Would it be easier if teenage children have a clear-cut status: You are an adult now. You make your decisions. You bear the consequences.

Even so he might still have issues about relating to mother. (So often, rites of passage involve taking the boys away from their mothers for a long period.)

I see my redundancy in this mothering role as being imminent. When my son was born I had set myself the objective of teaching him to be an independent person, to grow away from us eventually.

I watch his 'growing away' with some ambivalence. "It was so much easier when he was younger," I kept saying to husband. Those days are gone. While I treasure the memories of us mother and son together doing all sorts of silly things (cooking 'numbers curry', dancing madly to "Lovely Day", going for a 'shadow walk' around the block, etc)*, I don't particularly want to relive those moments.

I am pleased that he is growing up into a ... what?

Hopefully a well-adjusted, God-fearing, fully-functioning adult. Not asking for much there.

This past weekend was such a pleasant weekend. He was back on Friday for an 'exeat'. He gave me a hug when I came home. We went out for a meal and we had a lovely conversation. He hopes to get a summer job. 

Yesterday we had trouble ordering a pizza and he took over. (He does this a lot at boarding school, we learned.)

This morning he was up and showered in time to go to church. No arguing, although when we parked up he moaned, "O! We are 15 minutes early. Could have had an extra 15 minutes of sleep." (Husband who usually goes ahead to set up the AV rang to say there are temporary traffic lights on our route; start earlier. Which we did.)

I said to him just before he left how I had enjoyed his time at home. Not because he played Rachmaninoff on the piano as he thought, although to hear him play the piano is always a treat. I had enjoyed our discussions on philosophy, which he is thinking of reading at university. Together with Physics.

This was really special to me because I was a Philosophy major as well. After I was sacked by my son from bed-time reading when he was five, he occasionally said, "Mum, can we read Philosophy together?"

I had bought Philosophy for Kids (David White) and son enjoyed reading this with me because I could explain some unfamiliar concepts to him (but Dad could not). Hmmm. Maybe I had done something right after all.

Three months to go before he turns 16. Has he finally grown 'up and away'?

* Numbers curry: his Godmother gave him wooden blocks hand-carved into numbers 0 to 9. We used to put these in a pot, gave it a good stir and pick out a block from our numbers curry. We went, "Number five. Mmmm. Yummy." This was a play activity to help him recognize numbers.

We were given a free CD. Sometimes when I ran out of ideas while waiting for Dad to come home, we would play "Lovely day" (Bill Withers) because the last note went on forever, and we danced madly around the living room, repeating, "lovely day, lovely day, lovely lovely day". He used only to see Dad for a few minutes before he was put to bed.

Shadow walk: We noted which way our shadows fell and talked about how they change and why as we walked round a corner, or between lamp-posts (if we were out in the dark, as winter days are very short here).

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