“Stop growing up already!” – A thought that crosses my mind a million times a day.
It seems like yesterday that I held my new born son in my arms, and today he is all of sixteen.
The sweet, adorable boy who clung to me and followed me around has been replaced by a giant size teenager, towering over me, who shaves, has a hoarse voice and is ever ready to contradict and challenge everything I say. He is the reason for all my grey hair, but he is also my never-ending source of information and amusement, the reason for my laughter lines and my happy heart… And my unaffordable facial bills!
Getting my relationship right with my half-grown kid was not easy. It took me a while to understand how his mind works and how different this generation is from ours. I did read somewhere- We can’t give our kids the same upbringing as us because they are not growing up in the same world as us. And it’s so true!
So here I go with what I learnt about bringing up a teenage boy!
Choose your battles
As a teenage son’s mother, we are challenged at every step, be it clothes, hygiene, friends, music, movies, videos, food, words or anything one can possibly imagine. They will have their views and a contrary opinion ready. It is very tempting to get into an argument immediately. My personal experience, Don’t. It’s not worth it and you will lose out on things that actually matter to both of you. We are grownups and we have to be the wiser one. Bother about thigs that are important and let go of the rest… And honestly, if you look at it objectively, if someone opposes everything you do, you would stop listening to that person too. I cannot specify enough, but really Choose your Battles!
Finding a common interest with a teenage boy seem like a challenge, but it’s really not all that difficult. I decided to watch a particular Netflix series with mine, and this taught me so much about him. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with you kid and sharing a laugh is a great way to connect. You will learn about his interests, about the topics that get under his skin, the books he like…Talking about these gets them comfortable with talking about other things too. Communication is the key!
A reminder- you are a mother of a teenage boy: your bathrooms will always be smelly, the strange music volume will always be loud and no matter how much you clean up, there will always be a lot of mess. All I can say is, the infinite love in your heart will help you cope with it. Every time I enter my son’s room, I am hit by a smell which can be chemically broken into cologne, stale food, smelly socks, sweat and smelly shoes. I swear I taught him hygiene and cleanliness and bathing and brushing teeth. Somehow, as he hit teens, they all became very low priority in his things to do. I am sure its true for most of this GEN Z. Don’t fret too much. They will grow into handsome, well turned out men, eventually.
Just because hygiene is not on their priority list, doesn’t mean their vanity is compromised too. They are extremely vain and conscious about their clothes and looks. I see my son wear sweatshirt hoodie in Mumbai humid weather, and I force myself to say, “Honey you look handsome.”. My secret wish- when he sweats like a pig in this weather, off will come out the hoodie and I can only pray that there is a nice shirt inside that. A compliment like, “You look super handsome love” goes a long way. As far as you venting about what your son is wearing, do it with your friends. They will understand. They are all going through the same thing. I do the same. My weekly lunch dates with my friends is all about ‘Venting’
When I. talk about vanity, its just not restricted to their appearance. It extends to their so-called ‘cool image.’ Don’t mess with that. Any advice or warning or a little shouting needs to be done in private and never in front of their ‘gang’.
Just as we need friends, these kids need them too and they do need a place to hang around. Let that place be your home. This mean a lot of noise, mess, teenage body odour and empty fridge. But this is a good way to monitor what they are up to and bond with them. Soon you will have them coming up to you with interesting stories. With my son, I realised, that his friends are a very crucial part of who he is and me opening our home to them, made him happier, gave him a sense of pride and a deeper sense of ownership when it came to his home. It also made him open up to me a bit more. Plus, he is not going to be around much longer. Another year and a half, and he leaves for higher studies, but I will have beautiful memories of him and his friends and the non-stop chatter and the huge piles of shoes outside the house. My advice, make those memories. You’ll be glad a few years from now that you did so, esp. when they all come back for holidays and your house will still be the place where they all hangout and you get that hug, not just from your son, but all from those gawky kids, you grew to love so much.
Ooh!! The angst of being replaced by another woman/man. A feeling, very real and equally illogical at the same time. Accept the new person in your son’s life. Remember, you are the mother and no one can take your place or wants to take your place. Be as accepting about this new person as you are about his other friends. Its tough, I know.
I still remember how uncomfortable I was, trying to talk to my kid about ‘the Birds and the Bees’. But i needed him to know that I am ok with any conversation regarding this. I had to empower him to evaluate risks and make the right judgement.
No means No:
Every teenage boy needs to know this, esp. as they start to date at this age. When a boy or a girl, says ‘NO’ it means ‘NO’’ and it’s not negotiable. It means you don’t continue to keep trying. While I say this, I also teach my son, that he has equal power to say ‘NO’ and demand the same respect for his choice from others. Respect your decision, respect others decision and follow your instinct that tells you to not continue with something.
Set the boundaries and teach them to respect those boundaries. But for them to do so, you have to respect their boundaries too. Be reasonable and realistic. If we expect them to be in bed at 9 and not party with friends, then none of our rules are ever going to be followed.
Always be ready to listen to what your son has to tell you. Whether you agree with them or not, doesn’t matter. Once they are done talking, encourage them to talk some more and then again you listen patiently. Once they are done talking, they will ask you your opinion. Remember you are their mother, their first pillar of strength. Keep that pillar strong. Ask “How can I help?” I learnt this from my experience and I realised the value when my son got into some trouble and he came to me first to help him sort it out. This meant, he did not get into as much mess as he would have otherwise.
These boys will make mistakes. They will fall flat on their faces, get hurt, lose out on things. Be there for them. What you will get in return is a deep-set faith and trust in your child for you. If ever you are proven right and your kid wrong, don’t gloat and rub it in. They are hurting as it is. Given them the confidence that you are always there to hold their hand and get them back on track. Give them the confidence to confide in you. There are too many temptations and distractions for them. This faith that they have in you will be their biggest strength.
Whether it’s a silly cricket match or a basketball game or a soccer game, or a play that you can’t make sense of, show up. Be there to cheer them. They love it and they can always do with a little bit of support. They will soon grow up to be successful men, but they will remember that you were there, sitting on that bench, cheering them.
Show your Love:
It’s heart breaking, when we try and hug our teenage boys and they move away. Well, that’s just them being teenagers and acting all mature and grownup. Get over it. They are still kids who have a whole load of growing up to do. With all the confused thoughts and emotions inside them and their raging hormones, they need a lot more of our love and support than before. Make them feel secure. Don’t let that cold shoulder fool you. They want you to reach out to them, be there for them and constantly remind them how precious they are. But all this needs to be done in a subtle way, without making them feel less macho. My son gets all uncomfortable when I hug him in front of his friends, so now I hug him when he is home. He is totally ok with it and I, very often, get hugs and cuddles without asking, esp. before he leaves for school and when he gets back. They need the love and affection from us as much as we do from them. All we need to do is find a ground where they are comfortable.
An advice to all moms, if we can make their life a little easier, then let’s do that. They are dealing with enough as it is.
Adjustment & compassion:
“I just don’t wanna” seems to be these teenagers favourite reply. Well, “At time you just got to wanna” is what I tell mine. I really feel they need to know that everything is not just about them. They might be the centre of our universe, but not so in the real world. They need to adjust and accept different people, situations and circumstances. There are people who are different than us, they look different, they live different and talk different and we need to be friends with them. They need to be taught to acknowledge a fellow being’s pain and difficulty and be compassionate. By doing this, we are simply making this world a better place.
I never thought I’ll ever have to compete with iPads, smart phones and laptops, let alone Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook, for any son’s attention. But here I was, doing the same. While I crib about these social media and smart gadgets, I do, love the fact that while on a school trip, my son sends me images of the pictures he has clicked and updates me about his whereabouts; I do love the fact that I can reach him very easily where ever he might be (If he keeps his phone charged!). Kids these days spend too much time on their gadgets and various apps, but then that’s how they communicate with each other. That’s how they talk and manage their social life, which is again very important. It’s not ok to take this away from them, but what can be done is, set a time limit, which needs to be followed or consequences happen.
Responsibility and independence:
Well, let’s be clear. Both go hand in hand. Their sudden desire for independence can be a little unnerving, but that’s the age. We all remember ourselves as teenagers, don’t we? Don’t fight their need for independence. Instead teach them that independence comes only if they take responsibility. It’s a simple equation- Show more responsibility, get more freedom. Be irresponsible, get your freedom curtailed. While I am on the topic of responsibility, I genuinely feel that teenagers need to be told that they are responsible for their life and they better pull up their socks and take responsibility for it. What they make out of their lives is in their hands and they need to stop blaming others. We as parents can only support them and help them.
On an off day from school, my son wakes up when its times for lunch. First, I thought he was up whole night but I was wrong. When this pattern continued to persist, I got a little worried and called my doctor, who informed me, that it was all normal. Growing up is exhausting and he is just getting the much-deserved rest.
Till recently, my son shared all his secrets with me. But now, out of the blue, I see father and son, going in a corner and whisperings to each other. I clearly felt left out and my territory invaded. But then, my husband explained to me that he is growing up and there are certain things he is more comfortable discussing with his father. Much as I disliked this, I did understand it. While growing up I too discussed a few things solely with my mother and that didn’t mean I was any less close to my dad. So, when this happens, try and give them their privacy. After all, dads need their moment of glory too!
I made sure I made both my kids comfortable with rejection. They know that rejection is a part of life. ‘Not everyone will like you and it’s ok. Also, you cannot force anyone to like you, nor should you let go of your self-respect and pride or compromise on your values and beliefs for anyone to like you.’ Teach them this. They are going to be out in the real world soon and they need this.
All teenage boys need to know that we trust them. If they break your trust (which they will), take a privilege away and make them earn it back. Never tell them you will not trust them anymore. They are still very fragile and need constant reminders of our faith in them. They will make their mistakes. Even we did at that age. Go easy on them.
Bringing up a teenage boy is mixture of tenderness, heartbreak, persistence, patience and a whole lot of ‘biting your tongue’. I do question myself very often, whether I am doing things right or not and I am sure, so do all of you reading this. All I can say is, we all do our best and in the end that’s what matters. Our boys will grow up into fine men who will fill our hearts with pride and happiness.
Soon these boys will leave their nests to go out into the world and they will leave a big boy shaped hole in our hearts. But we will have memories to get us by. Where ever they go, they will always come back to us and fill our home, hearts and our arms with love!
PS: To all the men/boys reading this, remember, for your mother, you will always be the one whom she loves the most. Today she is your pillar of strength, but she is getting older. Be her pillar of strength. A hug, a call, a smile and a simple ‘I love you’ means a lot more to her than anything in the world. She deserves your time and attention, for had it not been for her, you would not be the wonderful man you are now.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.