My friend knew her little boy was growing up when she dropped him off for an afternoon at the mall with his buddies. She picked the boys up at the prearranged time, and the smell of men’s cologne filled the back of the car. They’d been trying out new grownup smells.
She rolled down the window, bracing herself against the chilly Michigan air, and glanced back in the rearview mirror. Then she smiled as she saw the little boy still. He and his friends were gorging themselves on large bags of Jelly Bellies. He wasn’t ready to grow up quite yet.
Recently another mom needed my advice on teenage boys. “I don’t know my own son,” she lamented to me. The mother of a teenage son was not sure who this strange young man was. As her story continued, I began witnessing the same pattern I had seen countless times over nearly two decades of teaching teenagers.
The answer is pretty clear, but it is not easy. When young men reach that upper high school level, they begin to pull away. The boy is no longer little, but he’s trying to figure out how to become a man. That turmoil makes for some confusing changes, both for mom and son.
The boy who used to be organized and studious might become lazy and disordered. Or an unmotivated young man might suddenly come to life and find responsibility. He prefers to be alone or with friends instead of with parents. Any kind of change of personality may not be cause for alarm, but instead may evidence his confusion. He is trying to figure out what growing up looks like.
The mom wasn’t fully convinced when I assured her that her senior son was just trying to pull away and figure it all out. “Let him fail once or twice. Don’t rescue him,” I advised, as I have countless times to other moms. She admitted that her husband had said the same thing to her. She was still holding on, though, trying–in love–to protect him from his lack of motivation.
In fact, I had to admit, I’ve had to preach that lesson to myself a few times: let your child fail instead of trying to rescue him. It’s better that he learn a lesson while under your roof, while you can still advise him, than if you bail him out and he never learn the lesson.
As a new empty-nester, my memory is still fresh from having sent a daughter and two young men off into the world. My sons’ journeys from boys into men were not the same, but in their own ways they had to break away to grow up. It hurt, but it didn’t devastate, because I knew it was their route to maturity.
The biblical wisdom holds true. A young man leaves his mother, and a woman leaves her home, before marrying (Genesis 2:24). Leave his mother? Does it really have to be this way? But this wording is no accident. To be a strong, healthy, mature young man, he must depart from his childish ways and stop depending on his parents. But separating from his mommy is hard on her. It hurts. The journey from boy to man is also the journey from Mommy to Mom–a different way of relating to one another.
Wise parents allow this separation so that their son can be the man God intends him to be. Clinging to the little boy only leads to more pain: that little boy-turned-man may just stay away once he has departed.
How stunning the similarity to labor and childbirth. That act is so painful, but oh, the joy of the sweet newborn! The journey from little boy to man can at times be painful on other levels, but once that boy is grown and learning how to become a responsible young man, oh, the joy of relating to him as an adult!
Happy Mother’s Day!