I am now officially the mother of two teenage sons! Yesterday my youngest turned 13, and there is no denying it now, not that I would necessarily try. I now have the slightest glimmer into the secret society for parents of teens. I remember feeling similarly when my children were little. I had taken my son to the mall to do a little shopping, and we had his stroller with us. I had previously been able to move freely through the mall traveling among the various floors by escalator and stairs but now I was in need of an elevator. When a salesperson directed me to the back corner of one of the department stores to the elevator there I came face-to-face with a legion of parents with strollers waiting for their ride. I remember thinking I had unofficially been inducted into the “secret society of stroller moms” that previously I had not known existed. There is a similar sense – being a parent of teens – though this time instead of a hidden elevator or a secret handshake – there is a nod, eye-rolling and sigh – as we recognize each other as part of the club. As if to say, “Yeah, me too, good luck with that!”
This is a challenging age, there is no denying that. As they get older, and begin to individuate our once pleasant children can become oppositional in their independence as they strive to make their own decisions and begin the transition into adulthood. It is amazing to observe and it is not without quite a bit of pride and wonder that I am able to watch my sons become the young men that they are, but the process can be difficult as I now have to confront my own issues with letting them go and easing up on their constraints. After all, I am not looking to raise to dependent individuals who are unable to make decisions on their own or who aim to live eternity under the roof of their mother. This is what it’s all about – isn’t it? Letting them go, watching them grow and develop and become happy, self-confident, fully functioning contributors to society – is the basic framework for what our goal is as parents(though I really could flesh that out quite a bit more, I believe you get the idea). That doesn’t make it easy however and yet I do not think any of us are best served by focusing on the difficulties.
So though I may be a member of the secret society, I choose to endeavor to do my best to focus on the positive aspects of this phase of their lives. Sure there will be plenty of sighing and eye-rolling – but there will also be many smiles and beams of pride. People love to unite around their shared misery – I choose to enjoy the wonder of seeing these two young men emerge into the world. In Appreciative Inquiry they call this “Fanning” (see: Jacqueline Bascobert Kelm, Appreciative Living; The Principles of Appreciative Inquiry in Personal Life, 2005) it is a simple method of positive reinforcement, focusing on and encouraging the behaviors you want rather than on trying to eradicate those you do not. I think we all might do better with that approach. So the next time someone ask me how old my kids are, the answer is “I have two teenage sons – and it’s great!”