Sugary calorie rich junk food covers my kitchen counter this morning and pop-its litter the garage. Somewhere in the neighborhood 3, maybe 5 or 7 teenage boys are loose, celebrating the end of middle school while every other grade remains in class for two more days. That makes the freedom all the more vast: they are alone and independent (in the subdivision!)

The friends are good kids. Goofy and messy and irresponsible, but fun. I like them. And though my own son towers over me at a day shy of 14 and his shoe size has surpassed his father’s and high school football has already begun and the future is happening, I’m okay. I like where this is going. I like where he is going. I like who he is becoming.

We’re going to be okay. But I didn’t always feel this way.

Parenting adolescents is really a crappy job. It rivals the toddler years when it seems that the messes and tantrums have no end. In the in between, we’re blessed with inquisitive children who love school and call their teachers mom and make best friends in a day and have no weekend expectations and go to bed before 8. It is the season of recuperation. We’ve made it through sleepless baby months and exhausting toddler years and the diapers are gone and grunting and pointing has turned to reasoning (and arguing too, but it’s cute.) We don’t realize that something dark and murky takes over kids in their 10th -11th year passing and lurks for 3 more – the transition.

In my son’s “transition,” there were days I feared he would become a non-communicative secret pot-head; days when he was in such a dark hole, I couldn’t see him, couldn’t find him. Where did you go? Where are you? His own confusion mirrored rage and was directed at his sisters, me.

We questioned game consoles and then we agonized over games. We argued about clothes and expensive shoes. We suffered through phones and apps and usage. We begged for him to come out of the basement and then longed for him to return at 9:00. We don’t see you enough fluctuated with give us our space! And he and I? Lots of eye rolls and pursed lips and huffs. We struggled.

We struggled to become. He was shedding childhood in fits and sputters and I was shedding control.

How does a Mom connect with her hormone-fueled monster of a boy? While we have many more teen years before us, I can identify 4 things that helped us survive the transition years. These 4 things can help moms and sons become, together.

  1. Touch him. Wrestling, arm punches, and full on hugs. Boys need to be touched, especially when they don’t want to be! Many a scowl dissipated after a tickle attack or a head scratching. Many a day gone awry ended better after some affection. I measured the state of things between us by how close he got on the couch, if he walked into me on the street, and when he towered over me, if he draped his arm around my shoulders to talk.

As he grows and changes he needs even more the touch of Mom.

  1. Support his interests. At the beginning of 6th grade I feared my son would never develop an ambition. His imaginative future careers included one option – food critic. But when he began to obsess over colleges, dorms, and engineering programs in 7th grade, I tuned in closely. Coupled with some hero worship of his Naval Officer Uncle, these fantasies eventually turned into military plans. He wanted to join Sea Cadets (a junior version of ROTC.) He spent hours on the Naval Academy website. Having a brother in the Navy, deployed to Afghanistan during his wife’s pregnancy, and still holding secrets we’ll never hear, has affected me. I never dreamed our family would become a military one. We argued and I cried for months and then decided, I’m going to get behind this. I’m going to see where this lands. So we bought him combat boots. We drove him an hour and a half to Sea Cadet weekends each month. We crafted our Spring Break around a tour of the Naval Academy. I got behind his dream. And then, thank goodness, it changed.

I believe we have to go with the whims of our sons as they test their own courage, strength, and our relational fortitude.

  1. Set boundaries. As parents, we try to say “yes” a lot. As much as we can, we want to say yes. Sometimes we have to remind our son of all the yeses we’ve said when we’re challenged by a no. We’ve ended relationships we thought were bad. We’ve steered him away from certain friends. I consistently deny him the privilege of crossing the major intersection to get to 7 Eleven. And I refuse to buy Modern Warfare. I have reasons for all of these decisions which I seem to endlessly defend. My boundaries and limitations vary from his friends’ Moms. We just have to embrace that reality and stand firm.

What our sons need to know is that Mom (and Dad) are strong enough to contain his attempts at control and rebellion.

  1. Hold your breath. I am not counseling you to close your eyes and hold your breath and hope it all passes. Sticking your head in the sand for 3 years won’t usher you through the transition any easier. I am referring to all the times when it would behoove you to just hold your breath. Reframe from commenting on the stench in his room. Try not to nag him over every small detail. Find the fine (minuscule) line between training and nit-picking and then reevaluate every day. And again the next. Turn your head as he scales boulders, Parkours throughout town, and tries everything he can to prove his masculinity. He needs you to disapprove so he can feel even braver. Oh how I struggle with this!

Our sons need us to pause and hold our breath to give them space to become.

Fellow Mom, if you’ve been wondering where your adolescent son has gone, fear not. Chances are, he will return. Your son’s rejection is normal and good and right. He pushes Mom away so he can enter the company of men. He hasn’t forgotten you. And though he rarely shows it and you feel it even less, he loves you deeply. More than anything, he needs you deeply. In the great mercy of development stages, I believe a reprieve is coming. See you on the other side!

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