Welcome, Mamma Crew, to another chaotic, exciting, but always beautiful day of a mom like you!
So, we think that we know what’s coming our way as our children hit their teen years, right? We are expecting rebellion. We are expecting unreasonable children. This is what the media has been telling us is going to happen. This is what TV is telling us is going to happen. But there are some things that they don’t explain to us. So as moms, we are caught unaware. And that is that our children begin to leave us emotionally before they leave us physically.
Just recently, my husband and I had to travel back to our home in the Caribbean, and what I found out was that I had done my parenting job way too well. My kids were totally okay without me. And I was proud of the fact that they were okay without me, that they were being independent. They are still working on the self-sufficiency part. Still, the independent part was definitely present, and I could feel it. I could feel them detaching from me in a way I had never felt before.
And as I sat in the Caribbean thinking, I’ve done my job too well, too soon. My kiddos are getting an A on Adulting 101, and I’m failing Adulting for Older Moms because I’m not okay with how well they’re doing! I’m not okay at all. I felt hurt. I felt abandoned. I felt miserable. And it reminded me of my mother. Do you know how we often promise ourselves that we’re not going to become our mothers?
I was remembering being thirteen years old (at that time, and my mother was thirty-seven). My girls are thirteen, but I’m fifty-four. Think about it—that is a seventeen-year difference between my mother and me dealing with this problem. So, I was expecting to be fully equipped for what was coming. But just like my mother, it caught me by surprise.
Back to my story, I remember having my first little boyfriend. Most we did back then was hold hands. We didn’t even do pecks on the cheek or the mouth. I know today’s generation is totally different, but I was a late bloomer. I wasn’t in a hurry to experience things. And there came a time when I decided that my boyfriend (his name was Chris) was too demanding. Too demanding of my time. Too demanding of my affection. Too demanding of things moving forward, more rapidly than I was comfortable. So I decided to break up with him.
I never expected my mother’s reaction, which she was completely against. She loved this boy. She loved hearing about my exploits with this boy. And she wasn’t ready for me to break up with him, but I was ready. Not only was I ready, but something inside of me told me something was happening with this boy, and I really needed to break it off. My mother wouldn’t listen to me. Every day when I came home from school, she would nag me about getting back with this boy.
I remember one day when I was sitting in the living room, and I was tired. I was tired of the same sing-song. This had been going on for about two months. And I said, “You know, there’s another boy that I like. His name is Johnny.”
My mother got furious, “I don’t want to hear about him. I don’t want to listen to this. This is nonsense. You couldn’t have been liking one boy two months ago and like another boy this month.”
And now that I have teenage daughters, I don’t know what my mother was thinking because they can go from liking a boy to not liking a boy and liking a new boy in twenty-four hours or less! So, two months? Hey! As I said, I was a late bloomer. I took my time.
So, my mother really got angry, and I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand what was going on with my mother other than I thought she was being immature and selfish. The next day, she comes in, and she asks me how Chris was doing. This was after school, and once again, I was sitting in the living room, and I said, “I don’t want to talk about Chris. I don’t have anything to say about Chris. I’m not hanging out with him. I don’t talk to him. And when he continues to bother me, I tell a teacher, ‘I don’t want this boy around me.’”
And boy, let me tell you, he was persistent!
I told my mother, “As long as that’s all you wanted to talk about, I don’t have anything to say to you.” My mother picked up my favorite book of all time—The Persian Boy by Mary Renault. She picked it up and threw it at me. She would have gotten me full-face were it not for the fact I had just turned my face. She hit me on the side. This was really shocking. My mother had only ever laid a hand on me once before this. When I was, like, five years old, I was pouring dirty water into clean water for storage to do our laundry. And she had whacked my bottom, and that was it.
The fact that she had hit me like this with a book really threw me for a loop. And I looked at her (didn’t say anything), I got up, and I walked out of the room. I didn’t cry. She had thrown the book from far enough that it really didn’t hurt. It hurt me emotionally. It didn’t hurt me physically, and I didn’t say anything else to her. I didn’t feel there’s a need to say anything else to her, and she knew she had messed up.
A day went by, another day, and another day, and I didn’t talk to her. Yes, I said things like, “Please pass the salt,” and if she called me and asked me to do something, I did it. If she asked me a direct question like, “How was your day?” I’d answer, “My day was fine.” But if she asked me, “How was Chris? How was Johnny?” I would just smile and say “I don’t want to talk about it,” and walk away.
My mother broke our relationship that day that she threw the book at me. I never really communicated with her ever again. Ever. I thought she would support me, and I had thought she was going to be proud of the fact that I was making the right decision. I wasn’t really becoming attached to a boy at thirteen. I knew that something was going on with this boy, and I got away. In fact, I was correct because I learned, later on, was that he became physically violent with his subsequent girlfriends.
So, right around the time when Chris was dating me, he was at the cusp of something. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I knew enough to walk away. But my mother didn’t give me credit for that, and I never understood it. I never understood it until the two weeks that I spent alone in the Caribbean (well, I wasn’t alone. I was with my husband. But my kids were staying with a family member).
And I understood what my mother had done even though I still don’t condone it. Which is that she and I had developed a really strong connection talking about this boy. Undoubtedly, she was concerned that once I pulled away from this boy, the connection between her and I would be lost. She didn’t realize that the connection was not the boy. The connection was between her and me. And when I dropped the boy, not only was she afraid of losing that connection, but she felt me pulling away because I had not turned to her for help.
I didn’t ask for her opinion. I never told her that this boy made me increasingly uncomfortable, and I didn’t consult her when it came time to make a decision. It was hard for her, just like it was hard for me to realize that my daughters were being completely independent. The big difference was that as an older mom with teens, I had more maturity than my mother did to deal with it.
I understood that this was a healthy thing. I didn’t like it, but I understood I had done my job well. That isn’t to say that my emotions agreed with my mind because they didn’t. They just didn’t. My emotions were all over the place. I felt hurt. I felt angry. I felt scared. The whole time I was thinking, I’m not ready for this. I’m not ready for this! I wasn’t thinking my children were not ready for it. I was thinking I was not ready for it. And the whole time, I was listening to myself, thinking, “You’re acting crazy! This isn’t right. This isn’t okay. Be proud of the fact that you’ve done a good job.”
But those emotions were there, and they were bubbling. And I could feel the old fear that I had felt with my own family. The way that we had all left each other at different times. And I could feel myself acting like the child of an abusive alcoholic and a distant, co-dependent mother that was always depressed. My initial thought, my jerk reaction, was that I needed to leave this relationship first. This is hurting. I need to leave it first.
But it’s ridiculous! I’m their mother. I can’t leave, not emotionally, not physically, not logically. So then I was swamped with guilt. Oh, you know, as a mom, the guilt just comes in so quickly! I felt guilty because here I have thought I should leave my relationship with my children. And then I stopped, and I said to myself, “Okay. Where is this paranoia, this guilt coming from? What’s the source of it? Pain! Where’s the pain coming from?”
Well. It’s from my damaged relationship with my mother. But this isn’t me. It’s the little girl inside of me that was so hurt by her mother that’s lashing out today. So, I actually had to sit down and tell that inner little girl, “It’s okay. This is normal. This is natural. We want the girls to be independent. We want the girls to become self-sufficient. And just because they become their own person, doesn’t mean they don’t need us and doesn’t mean that they are leaving us behind. It just means that our relationship is changing. It’s going to be okay.”
And once that little girl inside me had the opportunity to calm down, the grown woman that is my children’s mother was able to handle the situation better. To tell the girls, I was proud of how well they had done. I was happy that they didn’t need to call me fifty times a day. But I was a little hurt that they didn’t tell me that they missed me. That they didn’t call me once in a while just to say, “I love you, Mom.”
My girls apologized for that. They tried to make it up because independence doesn’t mean we don’t love people. And we need to let people know that we love them, not just from daughter to mother, from mother to daughter, but in all of our relationships. We always need to know that we are loved. We shouldn’t always be needed, and it’s not healthy to be needed. But it is healthy to be loved. Right?
So, my take away from these teenage years is it’s not always easy being a mom. It’s especially hard when we’re carrying internal baggage from our own childhood or our own experiences before we became mothers. So, we have to acknowledge that hurt to allow ourselves to grow again. For me, it’s learning to be vulnerable. I still have a problem with that. And children make you really vulnerable. No one can hurt you like your child, and your teenagers are going to hurt you on a regular basis. They don’t mean to, but they do it. But if you understand that it’s part of that individuating process, it makes the pain a little bit easier to take. You don’t have to like it. In fact, I hate going through that. But it’s a part of adulting for older moms, right?
We need to be the adults in the relationship with our children. We need to understand that this individuating process is not going to last forever. I started liking my mom and trying to get close to her again in my early twenties. Now, my mom was so broken that she couldn’t be there for me. Not in my 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s…
But you know what? I’m not that broken. In fact, I have spent a lot of my twenties, and thirties, and forties, and the fifties working on the issues that were created by my dysfunctional family, becoming healthier and healthier. And while these teenage years are not going to be fun, I still look for the positive in them, and I still know that it’s just a period in my girls’ lives. It’s not going to last forever. We’re going to come out the other side, and when we do, I want to be able to have a healthy relationship with them.
After understanding my reaction, has it been easier? Yes.
Do I like it? No.
Am I okay with it? Yes. Yes. I know everything is going to be fine.
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If you share an imperfect journey to motherhood, welcome to the Mamma Crew! Till next time! Enjoy and embrace the joys of imperfection. Toodles!
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