So here we are. My son turns 18 very soon. EIGHTEEN! It feels bitter sweet, but mostly bitter.
I see him there, this child about to be thrust into adulthood. He is six foot six, broad and big boned – incontestably a total unit. Larger than life and full of unstoppable charisma, this boy-man is a charming force who has woven himself into the hearts of so many.
He’s smart and stubborn, creative and cautious, social yet not. Like all of us, he’s everything all at once.
As I watch him dip his toe into the man he is to become, it’s hard not to reflect on the river we have taken to get here. Such a rapid-filled, sudden-drop, heavy-undertow stream of endless battles, but oh, what a rush. You could ride that river forever.
Fortunately, that’s true, because isn’t that what we sign up for when we become a parent? We are here to build them a raft, then a boat, then a bridge and lift them again and again across that river.
They’ve become so heavy, haven’t they? These teen years feel like lifting a dead-weight for days.
So many times these past few years I have felt broken and unable to keep going. It’s one of the reasons I don’t write here so much these days (although writing this now has sparked a little something in me, so perhaps I’m back).
I remember a wise owl telling me many years ago that “some kids are just more difficult to parent than others“, and it has been my mantra ever since. Well, that and my new “trust the process“, of course.
Some kids simply are more difficult to parent than others. It doesn’t mean they are “bad” kids, or even make them “difficult” people for life. It just means they are more resistant to being guided in life than other kids.
I know this because my Max is a very difficult kid to parent, but he’s a very good person, too. He’s a bold, fun, clever, kind-inside, insightful person who has basically resisted every parenting move we’ve ever tried to make since the day he was born. He simply will not be guided in any way, shape or form. It’s taken me a long time, but I accept that now.
It’s bloody hard (as bloody as my head from beating it against a brick wall all these years), but I accept it.
I have learned (and only just, this is all new and tender) to just let go. To allow him to decide for himself what kind of person he wants to be. What matters to him and where he chooses to put his energy on any given day. Despite feeling like he is half-cooked at best and definitely raw on the inside, I have stepped back.
People often tell us that it isn’t entirely up to the parent to teach a child everything. And if you’re unlucky you’ll hear many people say things like “don’t worry, the world will teach him a lesson”. Which is pretty much the most terrifying thing you could ever say to a mother. The last thing I want is for the world to teach my son the lessons he wouldn’t hear from me. The very thought is the thing that terrifies me awake in the middle of the night.
Anything, please, but that.
Yet, it isn’t in my mum superpowers to change that particular course for my children. If for all the reasons they won’t listen and accept and learn and respect the life’s lessons their parents have accrued over our many thoughtful and thoughtless years, then there will always be ends dangling for someone else to tie. All we can do is keep parenting, keep sharing, keep advising and living and maybe, by some miracle, it’s actually going in there somewhere (despite all evidence to the contrary).
Like all things, there has been a big positive to this rather negative situation. Just as he cares not a jot what his parents think, this boy is not the kind of teen whose head or heart is ever swayed by what his peers think of him either. He lays down his own path, my boy, with roadwork signs and heavy machinery and thick bitumen. Not once has he been trouble in that regard – if Max is doing something it’s because he’s chosen to do it and not for any other reason. He’s thought about it, worked it through and he’s doing it.
How remarkable is that for a teenager? And so refreshing to not have to worry about him in this regard. I have two other teens, so I know what a deep favour from the universe this is. Stand strong and proud, my boy, because if you don’t mind the back-breaking work of laying down your own path in life, I think you’re going to be okay one way or another.
Here’s the thing, I’m rambling, I know it. I’m usually so careful to construct a well-thought out piece of writing because that’s what I do! But our kids make us ramble, don’t you think? They’re like slippery eels, flashing rainbows in the sunlight and so difficult to grab hold of. We can only watch and wonder.
I do want to say this before I let you go: I’m not there yet. This push through year 12 and beyond feels like the final hurdle of this particular tough mudder (there will be so many other races to get through after, but let me just be here for now). There’s this one last big push and I just feel so tired. I feel like I’ve been running alongside this boy his whole life thus far and he is young and I am old and I’m done.
So, my wish for both of us as his 18th birthday nears is this: please don’t let me fall at the final hurdle. Please let me have the fortitude and stamina to keep on running beside him and the energy to lift us both across. Please let love carry us through.
Feature image: my – gasp – 18 year old.