For the past few frigid days I have been driving Owen (now 14 and almost 6 feet tall) to the end of the street to wait for the bus in my car so he isn’t walking and standing in the below freezing cold air. As we sit there we often have conversations about relationships and how people respond to each other in different situations. He told me something he noticed about a boy from his school. He had witnessed the young man being very disrespectful to his mother, and had written him off as a disrespectful person. Later he saw him talking to another boy’s mom, he heard him answer her questions politely with the good southern tag of “yes ma’am” at the end of his response. Owen was questioning why this boy was obviously able to be respectful, but wouldn’t use that respect to honor his own mother.
My response in the short time we had was to explain that a lot of teenage boys feel the need act like men and they tend to respond harshly to female authority (and often male authority too) in order to feel that they are achieving that manhood. This is flawed of course and is certainly not true of all teenage males.
There is, however some truth to it, and a certain logic in the idea that boys are without a doubt becoming men, which is a creature very different than their current state of soft skin and small frames. These adolescent boys are seeing their future with each change in their physical make-up and change is difficult. They can react in a lot of different ways, but it is not uncommon for that man-child to see his mother as a threat. He still depends on her deeply, but cannot allow her to keep him from his independence. What is a boy to do, but lash out in confusion? It is a regrettably understandable response.
As a mom then, what are we to do? I am by no means an expert, but I do have a 14 year old boy who treats me with a lot of love and respect, and I am often drawn to tears of thanksgiving for his behavior. He’s a good boy. I now have a 12 year old and a 10 year old following him and I am hopeful that we will navigate this sea of changes well. I have no guarantees, but I will do a few things to better secure our vessel:
1. I will give them freedom.
I do not wish them to have an unending buffet of anything they desire, but I want them to have the freedom to become an adult. I see a lot of parents offer freedom to be selfish in order to win back their child’s favorable mood. This is not what I’m talking about. Freedom should come with the idea that they are making their own choices, in order to realize their own circumstances (their own wins and losses), in order to gain better decision making ability and better skills for adulthood. When Owen is 15 he will have the freedom to get a job, so he has the freedom to spend his own money, so he has the joy of seeing what earning power feels like. I will gladly drive him to this job, but I will not drive him to all other things he wants to do. My will is still important in this freedom, but he is gaining his right to chip away at my governance and gain more and more of his independence.
2. I will give them laughter
As I sat with Owen this morning, I made him laugh by being extremely uncool. I have never cared enough about my cool stature, so it’s been easy for me to truly goof off with my kids and then threaten to embarrass them as the school bus is approaching. I was very polite though, and simply waved at the driver without my eyes crossed or my gray hair in pigtails. I told him a silly story about one of my uncles just before he left the car and he was laughing as he jumped out. Our conversation this morning was about this silliness. I suggested that some moms won’t let their hair down and be silly, and their kids don’t respect them because of it. He thoughtfully argued that it seems like the opposite would be true. I agreed, but explained that being silly (which should be translated “real, honest, and humble” because lets just be honest, not everyone is funny when they’re silly), takes down the walls of misunderstanding and opens all the doors and windows to be honest with one another. Honesty produces respect, one way or another, honesty will always grow respect.
3. I will give them respect.
When Ivan tells me something he’s considering a viable business idea to sell to our neighbors, I listen. When Aron is sure that the joke he just read from a book will bring us to our knees with laughter I give him a sincere look of anticipation. I give them a reason to believe that they are interesting, intelligent, funny, and worth my time. This is simply following the idea of sowing and reaping. If I show them what it is to be respectful, they will grow in their understanding of the importance of showing respect to others. Respect breeds respect. It’s simple, but it isn’t easy. How often I am pained by their need to be heard again, and again, and again in a story, joke, or idea? I already know it isn’t something I need to hear. I can tell you within seconds of their stuttering beginning that I won’t laugh and it won’t change my life for the better, but it might change theirs. These dark holes of uninteresting drivel are the birth places of significance in many ways. I will face them, I will listen, and I will give them a response that makes them feel safe. How often have I heard the tale of a mother who complains that her teenager won’t talk to her. I wonder if she ever convinced him or her that she was really listening. I give respect now, in the small and insignificant, so that when that day comes that they need to talk, they know I’m going to face them, listen and give them a response they can feel safe in.
Respect breeds respect.
4. I will give them wisdom
I can’t always offer my kids a perfect answer. I don’t know everything, and they know it. I’ve so often answered their questions with “I really don’t know” that they sometimes begin their questions with “you’re probably going to tell me to ask dad about this, but…” and then they still ask the question. Not knowing the answer isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Never helping them find the answer is shameful. There are multitudes of definitions for wisdom, but the one I stand most steadily on is “acknowledging God.” When I acknowledge God, I’m saying that He has the answer to everything and He knows the most beneficial way to achieve whatever needs achieving. This in itself doesn’t produce respect, I can just hear a pompous parent’s voice patronizing their teen with admonitions to seek God in prayer, when they ask to borrow the car. That is unhelpful and frustrating. I remember being a teen myself and the respect I had for my mother was very real. I wasn’t conditioned or brainwashed to believe she knew everything, I always thought my dad was more intelligent than she was, but if I wanted advice I still went to her, because wisdom isn’t intelligence, it’s an application of understanding, resources, and prayer. She didn’t force the Bible on me, she didn’t force her opinion on me, she simply let me know she understood and then offered me resources. Granted most of her resources were Scriptures, but sometimes she had a story, example or anecdote that helped me understand the repercussions of my decisions more clearly. Not every parent is intelligent or even considered wise, but we can still gain respect by offering the wisdom available to us.
5. I will give them their daddy
As I have raised these boys I have been their first responder their entire lives. I’ve been the one to nurse their wounds, run to their side in the middle of the night, and nourish their hearts, minds and body each day. Yet, they are not becoming like me, they are becoming more and more like their dad. No matter how much nurture I sow into them, they will never become mothers. This is one of the most difficult things I must resign myself to, because my instincts tell me to rush in and offer my solutions in every trying circumstance they find themselves in. I am seeing more and more that they are changing their gravitational pull. They no longer lean on me as they once did, but they lean toward the example they are following into manhood. I have to step aside in this. I cannot be a man for them. I can be available, I can be strong, I can be wise, I can be a leader, a mentor and even a coach, but I will never be a man. I have embraced my gender and have great pride in the distaff side of my heritage. I mourn the idea that I will never have a girl child to follow that calling of feminine strength behind me, but I am grateful to have married a man who has no qualms in leading them to man leadership, man strength, and even man nurture. It’s not that we don’t have overlapping roles in all this, but we certainly flavor those roles differently, and my boys have chosen their daddy. When I can step back and allow them to take on manhood from an unhindered position, I gain their respect. They will see that their dad respects me and refers to my input and they will very likely choose to do the same.
Raising teens is a somewhat scary prospect. It is this dividing ground between childhood and adulthood that seems to make or break a lot of individuals. What they choose as teens is so often crucial to the producer or consumer outcome they embody as adults. My desire for their respect is not so I have an easy few years raising teens. Not at all. My desire for their respect is so that I have influence. I want to have these years to continue to sow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control into their potentially fruitful lives. I have this short time, and I can best accomplish my desire of seeing them achieve their own dreams, if they are giving me the respect that allows me influence.