A Mother’s Contradiction: Nurturing Independence in Teens

Teens independenceWhy is it that every step your teenager takes towards independence leaves you feeling that little bit emptier? Often the pride I feel in seeing my child’s milestones is tinged with a sense of loss.

Why does each new phase of growing up feel like a step further away from me?

Teenage Milestones

Last night I witnessed another Teenage First, my 14 year old son Berry cooked us dinner!

He’s cooked before, muffins and brownies, usually under my watchful eye and ‘just for fun’. But last night was different. I was rushed and had to get his brother to soccer training, his Dad was home but working and so cooking was about dividing the labour of family life.

Someone needed to cook, and the only someone available was him!

Coming back after a cold night at soccer the house was warm with the smell of dinner. Berry had cooked his first family meal – Brown Lentil and Chorizo Soup with warm crusty French stick. Delicious.

Full Belly: Empty Heart

It was as I was clearing up that I realised that my pride in his achievements was tinged with a note of sadness, of loss, almost.

Where was this coming from?

Mulling this over as I packed the dish washer, I realised that feeding him had been my job from the first moment I held him in my arms, 14 years ago. And now we’d shifted gear again. He could do it without me.

Like so many other achievements throughout the years, he was growing into wonderful and heart-breaking independence.

They’re changing and growing away from us everyday. And it’s true that this, in itself, is a wonderful thing.

Catherine Naja  The Grief in Growing Up

The Double Edged Sword of Independence

The move towards independence is inevitably a move away from dependence. It’s a spectrum along which all children are travelling, and one in which parents fluctuate between celebration and desperation.

I know that every step my children take towards independence is a good thing. But it’s a contradiction too;  I’m nurturing the very thing that I’m dreading; the day they don’t need me any more!

It’s a battle at times, wanting to hold them tight and make time stand still. A wise friend was able to sum up her feelings as her boy grew to adulthood:

I’m so proud of the young man you’re becoming, but I really miss the little boy that you were.

Anne Gates.

And it’s true.

I really miss that little boy who thought I was his whole world, who would snuggle up on my lap for stories and sleep in my arms.

But I love the young man who wraps me in his arms, who cooks me dinner and asks how my day has been.

That young man is here right now, and that little boy is just a memory.

So I’m cherishing the young man, reflecting on who he was whilst anticipating all that he will become.

A New Chapter

Each stage of growing up is amazing, each new milestone brings different connections, exciting opportunities and new adventures.

Growing to independence signals the close of a chapter.

But like any good story, a new chapter begins, enthralling us in the same way the previous one did.

independence in teens

8 comments

  1. Marie says:

    I expected that when my kids became teenagers I would matter less, but to my surprise, I have found that I matter more to them. Of course they don’t say that, but even better, they show me.
    Marie recently posted…The Big LieMy Profile

    • Lisa says:

      I think you’ve exactly nailed the anxiety many Mum’s feel about their kids growing up, the feeling that you will matter less. I love that you matter more not less!

  2. Judy says:

    Great blog post! Parenting is all about helping kids become independent adults. If we do our jobs well – our kids leave us in a way. 🙂

    • Lisa says:

      Judy, your spot on there! Preparing our children to grow to independence is literally writing yourself out of the equation! I hope that by building deep connections they’ll always have a reason to come back! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Susan Hoy says:

    Lovely to read Lisa. My youngest son turned 18 a couple of weeks ago, now has a car and is totally independent and wants to do his own thing. Have been having those feelings of something lost. Then yesterday I got a phone call, he was at Bakers Delight and wanted to know if I would like him to bring something back for me for lunch! Just a little gesture, but made my day to know that he was thinking of his mum!

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Susan, great to read you comment, thanks you! Isn’t it wonderful when the new stage of independence brings little unexpected joys too! My husband always thinks of the next stage as something to be excited about, because they will be enriching our lives with new perspectives and adventures! It’s a positive way to see the growth to independence and one which I strive to internalise!!

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Mac, thank you for your lovely response to my post. This area is such a pull on the heart strings, from the moment we hold our children we feel the subtle tug of growing up, and I know I have felt a bittersweet joy and pain with each new milestone.

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