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

Beyond the Bunny

256px-The_Velveteen_Rabbit_pg_25Is There More To Easter Than Chocolate?

 

Shiny pink foil, glittering around a perfect oval shape. It’s appealing. Tearing the foil and cracking open the smooth surface of the egg reveals…nothing. It’s empty.

 

So what’s the message here? Aren’t eggs the promise of new life, new beginnings? The excitement of all that packaging only to find nothing at the centre of it all. Disappointing.

 

So what’s my point?  If you celebrate a secular Easter (as we do), what’s the message you’re sending to the kids?  Is there more to Easter than chocolate?

 

Beyond the Bunny

 

Now it’s always struck me as a strange accident of interbreeding that Bunnies deliver eggs, but I’m not going there today. I’m diving into the heart of why my Easter message has been different this year.

 

For one thing, my kids are no longer BELIEVERS – that is, they know that I hide their eggs and they are outsmarting me with their detective skills in finding them! This means that the Easter Egg Hunt is now a family tradition a bit like playing a boring lengthy game of Monopoly! It demands ruthless skill, unrivalled treachery and old-fashioned luck!

 

For another thing, one of my kids is on a health kick the other is chocoholic! So I agreed to a ‘trade back’ on eggs, because the choice not to eat chocolate for health has to be ENCOURAGED!! I traded eggs at $5 a piece even when I only paid $2!! (Now you can see why I’m such a failure at Monopoly!)

 

And finally, this Easter my kids can see that you CAN’T BUY HAPPINESS; another chocolate bunny might sweeten your life for a moment but it can’t fill an empty space in your heart.

 

Ripples in a Pond

 

This Easter my children are learning about loss.

They are witnessing first hand the pain of losing a parent. It’s not one of their parents, but it’s close enough.  Close enough to witness the ripples in the pond as their friends, family and school communities grieve.

Close enough to remind them that nothing is forever.

So this Easter my message has been about being REAL. To stop getting distracted by the sparkly packaging of life and to concentrate on the REAL stuff that matters.

The things we can’t live without.

Once you have witnessed the pain of living without the one you love, it’s easy to see what is real:

  • love
  • laughter
  • cuddles
  • warm touch
  • shared emotion
  • family

I read The Velveteen Rabbit again today and this is an extract from it:

 “Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. “it’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time…”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

 

The Velveteen Rabbit was a book that my Mum used to read to me, and I remember loving it, but we both felt a bit choked towards the end. I tried reading it to my kids but got too emotional to finish so I left the story for another day.

And another day has come.

TODAY.

This is the message I’m sending to my kids this Easter:

Love without heed of appearance, for those that love you will always see your beauty.

Love without fear of loss, because love will transform your life.

Love because you can, all things will pass and fade, but you can be made new through love.

We are all toys in the nursery of life, some of us are sharp and pointy, some of us boastful, but love can transform us all.

 

You

Autumn benchYou

 

You are the anchor that holds me tight

When I am adrift in the night.

Your are the harbour that shelters me,

When the storm rages, it’s you I see.

You are the light that pierces the dull day

My inspiration to find a way.

You are the warmth that curls over my skin,

Calming the tension that tightens within.

You are the roots that spread far from the tree,

Steadfast and strong, holding me.

You are the earth, moon and stars of my world,

Side by side out lives have unfurled.

You are the silence that is all around,

Filled with beauty waiting to be found.

The story behind this poem:

I wrote this while I was travelling in the Northern Territory in Australia in 2014. I had just received the devastating news that my friend’s husband had been diagnosed with incurable brain cancer. When I thought of them, I thought of his strength and how he was her rock; I couldn’t imagine how she would be strong enough to cope with the thought of losing him. As their journey progressed this poem took on a new significance, as she found courage and strength to become the ‘harbour’ that sheltered him.

He lost the fight with cancer on Saturday 28th March 2015. Rest in Peace my friend.

In loving memory of Gary Purmalis.

The Kiss Goodbye

Elephant on a bench in the skyI was so sad to hear the news that Phil Hughes had died yesterday. Seeing the weight of grief on all those close to him touches my heart.

In her shoes

The loss resonated deeply with me as I imagined myself in his mum’s shoes, watching her son proudly from the grounds. I imagined her shock at seeing him injured and the increasing worry when he did not get up. It is as if the universe unravels as the realisation descends that he will not be waking up again.

The fabric of our lives

News like this chills the hearts of all those parents who regularly support, encourage and deliver their children to the multitude of sporting activities around Australia every week. I am one of those parents, taking Biscuit and Berry to soccer and sailing week nights for training, and weekends for matches and racing. It is the fabric of our lives that weaves us together as we work for a common goal, championing our children to be the best they can be.

But this sort of news reminds me that all sport carries some risk, that no matter what protection is put in place, freak accidents do happen. And that scares me.

Small acts of sentiment

When I drop Biscuit at sailing I can’t leave without kissing him goodbye. It takes me a while to prise my eyes away from his busy little form setting up the boat. These small acts of maternal sentiment belie a darker fear; that I may not get to hold the warm animated boy again. That fear has just been realised for Virginia Hughes.

It is this knowledge that makes me want to hold my children tight, to wrap them up in cotton wool and protect them from the world. But that’s not living, it’s suffocating.

Life without risk is no life at all

So I encourage my kids to take risks (little well-managed ones) and experience the thrill of sport and adventure. I bury the fear that tightens my throat when they sail off into the unknown, and say a little prayer that they will come back brimful of stories that bubble over with laughter and excitement.

Life is for living so I let them live it to the full.