“Welcome to teen years! Good luck!,” they said. That just didn’t sit well with me when my son turned 13. As with any season of parenting, this was new, so new I was floundering. He was floundering. I wondered if we would come out alive. Then, I realized neither of us would survive with that mentality.
With school specifically, my son’s normal had been straight As and no discipline problems. The beginning of this school year brought a lot of detention, emails from teachers, not turning in work, and bombing tests.
Controlling the situation can be my gut reaction with uncertainty, and I was in unknown territory. “I don’t know how to help my kid,” was the first realization. So while I heard the voices scream at the horror stories of their kids’ teen years, I wanted to just fix it. Homeschool seemed like a nice idea to bring him home, but does he really need more of me right now? Probably not.
I knew that everything in his world had changed in a year. His Dad and I divorced, school was closed, sports cancelled, and friendships became distant. Seeing the changes through his eyes gave me strength and compassion to help him rise above circumstances.
I didn’t expect him to be performing at the top like he normally did, but I also knew my kid’s potential and I didn’t want him to lose that. It was heartbreaking, so I reached out to some moms that had raised kids who were now amazing men. “How did you do it?,” I asked. I also reached out to some men in my life and asked, “What motivated you as a middle school boy? What can I do?”
When needed, glean from the wisdom of moms who have gone before you. Are we as Moms products of how our kids turned out? No, and that wasn’t the goal. I just went to the sources that were more on the positive side. This is why community is so needed. I refuse to listen to any parent that says, “Just try to make it through the teen years!” Nope.
I choose to help my son thrive and this is what I did:
- Pray. I leaned heavily into my faith to get to the root of what I couldn’t control. This looked like me going into his room at night after devotions with all three kids and praying out loud so he could hear my heart.
- Tap into their hobbies and don’t take those away as a discipline. That was new! You would think, “Completely take away their favorite things to get their attention!” But teen boys don’t need you to get their attention. They are realizing the consequences. Preventative discipline tactics worked way better: cooking, reading, airsoft, and basketball were the things I encouraged him to do. Even buying ingredients for a meal he wanted to cook or going to the library when I didn’t want to or playing horse in the driveway was showing love.
- Lots of praise words. Growing into a man, appearance is now important. Being strong and an independent thinker are too. It’s going to be weird to say, “Wow, your muscles are growing!” to your baby boy, but their smile shows it all.
- Sit and listen to them talk. Men need to feel safe to express emotions with women, and this starts early and will impact their future relationships.
- Carve out intentional time together outside the house. His Dad is so good with this. I will stay up late with him and watch basketball.
- Be consistent when you do need to step in with some self-regulating discipline. Video game time went away during the school week. With two homes, we had to agree as parents how things would go when one parent did something and agreed to back each other up.
- Money is motivating. No longer are sticker charts for pooping on the potty appealing. I knew my son was an “A” student, but backing that with money each report card ($10 for an A and $5 for a B) had him checking his grades and deciding when he would go to tutoring. Isn’t it the same in the real world too? If your boss says, “You do xyz and you’ll get a bonus!,” that’s motivating!
- Connect with the teachers. I sent the same, very long email to each teacher telling them how his year had been with family adjustments. Basically asking, “How can I help you help him and you help me help him together?”
- Reach out for help. My son spends a lot less time around me nowadays as his wings and interests are stretching. It’s nice to call a friend or my Dad and say, “So, you want to hang out with my son?” These moments of being away are rejuvenating for us both.
- Let them work. Some of my most definitive moments of growing into an adult were working early on. Finding some older people that needed yard work done, my son got doted on by Grandma and had some cash to buy whatever new style he was trying to dress for.
It’s not easy to admit, but there were days I just wanted to throw in the towel and just be like, “He can just go live with his dad, because he hates me! He rejects my hugs! Where’s my baby boy that I used to play Thomas the Train with?!” You might be looking at your young son now and think, “I would never give up on him.” But you’re going to need to know that someday you’re not the only one! These years will pass just like the troubles with taking naps and getting peed on every time you changed a diaper. But don’t just “survive.” This time isn’t all about you, Momma.
The encouragement I got from the moms was to give grace, pick your battles, show up constantly, laugh things off, and don’t take it personally. And to those nice men who told me, “I yelled at my mom! I was very mean to my mom, and I don’t know why I was mean to my mom during middle school years. I was awful!,” thank you! It was encouraging to hear them say that they now had a great relationship with their Mom because she hung in there.