When my boys were small, a mom I didn’t know told me something I will never forget.
I was in a knitting shop when she came in with her two teenage boys. They wandered around with her as she perused the colorful skeins of cashmere and cotton. We chatted a bit and it came up that I also had two boys, much younger than hers. I was surprised when she said, in a whisper, “You’re going to love it; teenage boys are so sweet.”
Her words went against everything I had been led to believe. I figured she was either lucky or some kind of supermom, and sincerely hoped I could pull off whatever magic she had managed.
In the fourteen years since that conversation, I have spent a LOT of time agonizing about my parenting: was my response too strict, or not strict enough? Appropriately compassionate or overly permissive? Did I really just nag him… again? How much screen time do I allow? When’s the right time to talk with them about (fill in the blank)…? Will they be ok despite my mistakes? And on and on…
I’ve had an extra challenging time with my elder son, G, from the start.
He’s the one upon whom I placed my deepest parenting wishes; a totally unfair position for any child. He’s also the one who knows just how to push all my buttons.
There have been times I’ve been disturbed by what I perceived as a lack of empathy in his interactions. There have been times I’ve been concerned about his defiance. And there have been times when I’ve questioned my ability to parent him effectively.
Thankfully, we have an incredibly supportive community. Between a wonderful school, loving family, and steadfast friends, we have made it through some extremely difficult times. Some days, I didn’t even want to get out of bed to face parenting.
But, I did it anyway.
When G turned twelve, I started to notice a change.
By age thirteen it was clear; he seemed to be more concerned about his developing relationships with his peers than stirring things up at home, an age-appropriate shift. But one side-effect was truly unexpected: he was becoming more pleasant to be around.
You might even say he was a sweet kid.
Even so, one thing weighed on me (there’s always something…) Had I done enough to solidify our relationship, to give him solid ground from which to launch himself into his adolescent years? I honestly wasn’t sure.
Then an opportunity landed in our lap.
A local nonprofit organization was launching a new initiative to illustrate how adults can be approachable for the kids in their lives. They were looking for kids who have an adult they feel comfortable asking questions. These kids and adults would have a conversation, which would be recorded, telling some of their stories.
I saw an announcement about the project, which was offering compensation to any kid who participated. Curious about it myself and knowing my boys are always looking for ways to earn money, I shared it with them, not sure whether they’d be interested or not. They both said yes immediately. My younger son chose his father as his “askable adult” and to my surprise, G chose me.
As the day of the event approached, they both asked me about it several times, wanting to be sure I had registered. I was surprised at how much they seemed to be looking forward to it!
On the evening of the event, we joined a small group of other teens and adults to learn more about the initiative and how to structure our story for recording. We were given a number of questions to ask each other and some time to practice.
G identified the story he wanted to tell. It recalled a time when he slept at a friend’s house and called me in the wee hours of the morning to pick him up because he was uncomfortable, and knew I would come without question. We explored a bit about what led him to know that, and talked more generally about how we handle challenges in our relationship. I could feel our connection strengthening as he took the lead in determining the direction of the story, with me asking questions as we went.
When we were done, both the recording engineer and another member of the team who was in the room with us had tears in their eyes. Seems we hit the mark.
Afterward, we had about 10 minutes to reflect as we waited for his brother and dad to be done with their recording session. G said he had really enjoyed doing it; that it was good to take a step back and think about our relationship in a way we wouldn’t do otherwise. He was glad we had done it. I agreed completely.
The next morning he mentioned again how good it was that we had the chance to talk the way we did. I was surprised that he was still thinking about it.
I think this will mark a turning point in our relationship. I can see now that the foundation of trust was there, but before this exercise, we simply didn’t have a context to see it. The experience was invaluable, and I will always be grateful for it.