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Thirteen: Reflections from the mother of a teen

Thirteen years into this unimaginable, consuming parenting experience, I find myself living with a whole new incarnation of the little boy that I knew. There seemed to be a link between the baby, toddler, preschooler, infant, junior phases – a transition that was seemingly gradual. The skins kept shedding to reveal the next version of the one before but this most recent phase is a shock to the system.

I suddenly realised one day when Louie was 12 that we were at eye level – I was no longer looking down towards him or had to bend to hug him. And then one day, very soon after, I was looking up to him. And I cried. It dramatically changed the dynamics between us. It’s been just Louie and me since he was four and despite the changes, I knew my place with him and he, I felt, knew his with me and this physical change momentarily shook the confidence that I have always felt in my general ability to effectively parent him.

It’s as if the little chap I knew so well has dissolved and there is this startlingly different version in his place. I must admit there is an element of the confused mind, that so loves things to stay the same, wondering where that little one went to. It's a kind of death. I will never see him again, never hold him again and as with death there is grief. I suppose it’s a compounded grief for all those phases that passed before and this stark difference is a wake up call to the final departure of the infant and junior and the simultaneous celebratory arrival and emergence of the teenager.

That dreamy notion to have a baby bears no resemblance to this. This is something else entirely.

I’m aware that those with older teens will say, ‘Just you wait, you have no idea.’ And its true, we do have no idea about the challenges of any phase, until it's actually happening, and all we can do is continue to commit to the role that we agreed to take on, digging ever deeper into our unknown repertoire of parenting skills and talents that seemingly can’t be fully discovered until we fail, make so called mistakes and behave badly. Hopefully, not just me?

This, right now, for me, is the most challenging to date as I’m constantly shifting the balance of being there for him, with him and backing off depending on what is happening and how much I feel he silently needs me and how much he wants space just to be who he is becoming without me.

The independent one needs me to both let him go but also to be right there. To fight his corner, yet be unbiased. I feel like I am being called upon to step right up to the plate, to show all I have got as a mother so he never doubts my love for him even as my passion to raise a decent human turns to exasperation with the tediously repetitive foibles and occasional more serious incidents and I lose it. Often spectacularly.

Even as I wonder who this lanky youth is, that I share my home with and that replaced my little boy, I still give thanks every day. I like being around this guy, I like knowing him and I’m so privileged to be the one that is having the experience of being his mum. He makes me laugh hysterically and smile broadly. His current antics and questionable behaviour bring a nervous nausea and sometimes the hot tears of frustration and upset fall uncontrollably.

But the love! Oh the love. That’s when I remember he’s the same one. Despite the outward change, the deep voice, the surprising insecurity, and the need for privacy and space to explore without me, it’s the unseen gossamer thread between us containing the strength of power of the universe that arrived with that baby that remains constant.

Unconditional love.

It can withstand anything.

Lesley Hughes, Teen Years facilitator - The Secret Life of Mothers

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