There’s little question that if you ask me what my job is, I’ll answer “parent.” That doesn’t preclude the fact that I am a writer, and many other things; that my professional endeavors predated my maternal duties by more than a decade. But my primary job these days – as it has been for years now – is guiding, teaching, and supporting my teenage son as he finishes out high school, and goes on to pursue dreams of his own, and a life of his own.
I write about my 17-year old often, not only because I love him, but because the lessons I learn from him are as plentiful as the ones I offer; he is an active part of each day – at times a joy, at others, a source of worry.
Currently, he is both – and I imagine other parents of teenagers will find nothing unusual in that.
As in any relationship of loving and giving, what is seen by friends – and perhaps the ones we love – is only the tip of the iceberg. A great deal of thinking and doing churns beneath the surface. Any full-time mother or father knows exactly what I’m speaking of.
And when the roles begin to reverse? When the parent becomes the child? Is that the measure of how well we’ve done our job?
As we grow older, bit by bit, our children step in and exhibit their independence. Moreover, they try their hand at taking care of us. Their parents.
Women Raising Sons
My older son, now 19, has been a little man from the time he could talk, which was very early. I believe I’ve always exercised the role of parent over friend, and not expected my children to bear my problems. Have I done that flawlessly? Surely not. There were periods when my own angst spilled over, and I hope those times are tiny fragments of a broader, more positive performance as a parent.
And yet, my first-born was my rock and my companion on more than one occasion. When he was six and seven, I was ill for a number of months. My husband traveled on a regular basis. It was my son, tiny though he was, who helped me across the room when I was too weak to make it on my own. It was my son who sat and talked with me about anything and everything, keeping me upbeat and engaged. He may never realize the extent to which he kept me going during a very dark time.
My ex, on more than one occasion, was afraid that the amount of time my sons spent with me, not to mention the fact that many of their friends were girls, would result in their becoming “sissies.” Even now, the word makes me shake my head; my approach was to raise physically and emotionally healthy children who would own themselves, while facing the world with curiosity and caring.
That said, I regret that I was never able to provide a wonderful male role model while raising my sons – here, with me, as a positive influence on their lives, every day.
My younger son
My younger son has been a different sort of challenge than his brother – more sensitive, less communicative, lower maintenance in some ways, and higher in others. Maturity came later for him, but when it came – it did so with insistence.
The pressures on him these days are staggering; supporting him (behind the scenes) is no easy task. Being “the wheels” as well as the sole sounding board are responsibilities that weigh heavily. And there is so much he never shares, so much going on in his mind that I cannot possibly know, so much that I can only observe, guess at, or inquire about. But I must respect his privacy. He is no longer a child.
This weekend, I got a preview of his capacity to be caring. The role reversal that comes to all of us if we are fortunate – fortunate to live long enough, fortunate to have healthy sons and daughters, fortunate in their understanding of responsibility. I had a touch of flu, and not only did he check on me and cook for me, but his concern was more than lip service.
It isn’t the first time my son has shown he can take charge and also nurture; there have been increasing instances of both in the past year. But somehow, this was different. Perhaps because we are down to the wire in a marathon of school-related activities. Perhaps because we are both so stressed – chasing a common goal – his options, in pursuit of his dreams.
While I have loosened the apron strings increasingly in recent months, I recognize there is much still to teach – and I am running out of time, out of energy, out of patience, and of course, money. I question whether I will have done my job of parenting sons as well as possible, hoping they will be capable of commitment, compassion, and judgment. I wonder if I have raised them to be too independent, and what that will mean in their lives, and in mine.
As for the resources still required to get through these next grueling months, what keeps me going – doing the best I can for my son – is love. Those stores remain full, and somehow, self-replenishing.
© D A Wolf