Last Sunday I stood crying in the parking lot of Tim Horton’s over something my son said to me…oh yeah it was Mothers Day. In the moment, I called it an overreaction. But I now realize my eyes could no longer hold in the heartache. It wasn’t an overreaction, just a reaction. He said something he thought was mild, that I was “scaring his friends,” but to me it was the recognition that my son is not my little boy anymore. What he once thought of as my sparkle, is now an embarrassment to him.
In that moment my heart realized that this boy who I’ve poured myself into, can be a jerk. But drilling down further, I realized that this life I was clinging to, my role as his mother is no longer what it was. Somewhere when I wasn’t looking, it changed. And if I want to survive, I have to change too. This past weekend was a slap in the face to snap me out of my denial.
A boy’s first love is his mother, and you want it to be that way forever but that’s not what life is. Having a son involves letting go over and over and over again, like a thousand paper cuts that sting every single time. If I have to hear my husband say “it’s what you want, it’s a sign of success,” once more, I will punch him and it will feel good but only for a moment.
It really started when Jackson was ten years old. That was the first plateau where I saw a pulling away. But I hate to tell you twelve is worse. Middle School. There are days when I ask aloud, who am I now to my son? I’m not the same mom he needed at two or eight. He needs me to be the advocate, the keeper of wisdom to help him navigate social situations, relationships, and pressures of life. I can hardly handle those topics for my own life, and I’m supposed to give advice? I have to commit to be as open as I can and confront the awkwardness of adolescence head on. Because hiding, although tempting, is not the way to go.
There’s plenty in our world to distract us from our feelings. That’s why smartphones were invented. But I don’t want to be lulled and pacified. I want to find a solution, a direction for this pain so I can either help others or find peace. I am learning they are intricately tied.
The boys aren’t having a pleasant time of it either, mind you. Their struggle for independence is real. Nature is clashing with nurture. Since the beginning of time boys have been raised to go off and fight the good fight and leave their mothers behind. The outer landscape of our world looks different but the inner landscape is exactly the same. It’s in their DNA to leave the nest before their wings fully mature. And that process is rocky.
The way I see it, historically mothers have not properly processed this loss and the unfelt feelings create a cloud of sadness within their relationships. This cloud usually splits into two patterns of behavior-outward conflict or passive-aggressive tendencies. Both of these leave personal growth and a rewarding life on the table. The mother-in-law who outmaneuvers you is only trying to stay relevant, to matter in her son’s life. You give her son sex. The best she can do is give him the golf clubs he wants for his birthday knowing that the only thing he really wants for his birthday is sex.
I’ve chosen to pave a third way. I want the honest, open relationship with my son to continue. But it only can if he lets me. I have to be someone he wants to come to.
The best way to do that is to live my life joyfully. It is that joy that will draw him back as he gets older. I know it’s possible. I’ve seen it, this mystical unicorn mother, embodied in the beauty that is my cousin, Lisa. I’ve always wondered what it is that keeps her family so tight and her boys returning to their mother again and again, even after they’ve had families of their own. And I know the answer. She lights up a room with her laugh and her love of life, despite the hardships she’s been dealt since childhood. It’s that light that calls to her children to return to be nourished, no matter how old they are.
That is what my role is now, to be a different type of nourishment. I must cultivate the light within myself, and within my role as mother. It’s true, he will eventually seeks out that light in a partner. And that’s what I ultimately want for my son, to continue to be nourished by the light of love. For as much as a son taking a partner is nauseating, and will be the final cut that leaves me dead on the floor, no one truly wants their son to be alone their whole life. But hopefully, if I do it right, he will remember the light I gave him and he will demand someone that shines as brightly.
As you go forward, and your role as mother changes, be the light for your children, so they return to you, not out of obligation but because they want to be nourished by your love. That is what you want anyway, to be able to continue to give them your love, and have it be accepted.
Paving my future relationship with my son starts now. I must explore what my own joy looks like, and make it a priority between his rigorous sports and playdate schedules. I must make time for my own nourishment so I will be filled up enough to share my joy with my son and build on the foundation of love and light that he will draw on for years to come.