When my boys were little, I was blissfully ignorant of the teenage challenges that awaited me. Or perhaps I was vaguely aware, but too consumed with the immediate, pressing issues of the day to fret over what might be down the road and around the bend.
And then suddenly, I'm turning this parenting corner and the future is here.
In the last few months, I have watched my boys begin to tread into new territory as they seek out relationships that offer more than male camaraderie and xBox live companionship. And, in playing witness to this process, I am the most uncomfortable I have ever been as a parent. As my children open up their fledgling souls to the mercy of others, it's all I can do not to run to the top of the mountain and shout to any girl within earshot:
Please just love them! Recognize them for what good boys they are! Choose them and be good and gentle with their hearts!
But I don't do that. Instead I casually ask my guys, "So how was your day?" hoping for some insight as to their latest conquest or relationship. They play along with me about half the time; the other half is left to my imagination (which is never good for a Jewish mom).
Up until now, it has been convenient to believe that Dave and I could offer all the love and support our sons would ever require. Our shoulders were broad enough, our hearts plentiful, and it was our job numero uno to love them. Why would they ever need more?
If only it could be that easy.
I feel foolish to admit that I have been blindsided by the sudden reality that my love is not enough for my boys. Of course, I realized way back when I was pregnant that my children would someday grow up and seek love on their own -- that they would develop meaningful relationships outside of the ones that we were destined to forge with each other. But parenting is an endless stream of hypotheticals, and it's easy to push off the future until it is staring you in the face.
Like most moms and dads, I've learned a few things about love along the way. Most high school relationships don't last. The most popular kids will not always be that way. One is far better off connecting with someone who is super kind than someone who is super hot. And that my sons -- and everyone's sons and daughters -- are incredibly worthy of love; it will find them, but it's going to sting, at times, along the way.
Unfortunately, none of these lessons are teachable to my boys right now. They certainly weren't to me when I was a teenager and my Mom gave sound but unwelcome advice. My guidance, though well-intentioned, is not easily digested by kids who highly doubt I was ever in their shoes. So I watch, and suffer silently as missteps are made, feelings are hurt and (at some point, though not yet) hearts are broken.
The differences between parenting little ones and raising teenagers have never felt more distinct or more poignant.
As you transition from the first phase into the second, your efforts and energy move from the physical to the emotional. Lugging around babies, toddlers and all their accoutrements is exhausting. You lift, you pull, you push, you tug, you drag most of your way through age 6. At some point around then, it may seem like the effort is subsiding; but it's not. It's shifting. You no longer carry your children around physically; but you begin to bear their psychological burdens which, by the way, are far weightier.
The other major shift occurs within ourselves. Certainty about our parental guidance becomes... well, more uncertain. When my children were little, I could tell them with conviction that sticking a fork in the electrical outlet was bad. So was biting their brother. And eating only food that was yellow. I knew that looking both ways before they crossed the street, saying please and going to bed on time was sound advice. No questions asked. But gradually the situations in which my children found themselves became less clear and parental fog set in. It's hard to know what the right counsel actually is.
Do you ask the girl who your friend liked last year to go to the dance? Is it advisable to court an upperclassman who will be off to college in the Fall. How do you know if someone really likes you without putting yourself out there to be rejected?
Oh, the very thought of these questions brings me back to a place I really don't want to go again. But here we are -- and I'm not leaving my sons to run this gauntlet alone.
Each Valentine's Day, rather than Dave and I rushing out to a fancy meal, we always celebrate as a family. If there is time in the schedule, we cook together or go out just the four of us for a casual bite. In years past, I would remind my sons that they were indeed my Valentines -- and there was no one else in the entire world I loved more.
Still true. For me.
But it won't always be true for them. At some point down the road, there will be a girl they love more than me. Or maybe just differently. And over the next few years, my job as a parent is to shepherd them through that process, all the while with my heart tethered to theirs.
So I now find myself asking the Universe for something new:
May someday, someone love my boys as much as I do.