“Are you telling me you’re upset because you have more time on your hands than you know what to do with?” questioned my husband, John. Tears welled up in my eyes as we sat and talked on the deck.
Ashamed and embarrassed to admit it, summer wasn’t turning out the way I’d envisioned. My boys were fifteen and twelve, soon to be thirteen, and they just didn’t seem to “need me” anymore. Joseph was shuffling from sports at the high school to his summer job at the snack bar to practice in the evenings. I barely saw him. Braeden was enjoying the freedom of his bicycle, happy to take off and see his friends, roam the neighborhood, and spend hours at other people’s houses or at the pool.
A Transition in Motherhood
I thought I would enjoy this stage of independence, but I was finding myself feeling lonely during the day. My kids and I used to go places together, like the zoo or the waterpark, or spend time playing games or building Legos.
That chapter of our life seemed over, and I found myself worried about them when they were gone, especially if they were late checking in or didn’t respond to my texts at all. I remember thinking when they were young, “I can’t wait until they get older, then I’ll have more time to myself to get things done.”
Now that their independence had arrived and I did have time to myself, I just didn’t like it!
Then it hit: mom guilt. This is a term my friend shared with me when I was a new mom. It had been hard for me to balance play time with the boys with keeping up with the house, work, and my husband. When I was playing with one boy, I felt like I was ignoring the other. Bam! Mom guilt.
It once again creeped into my life as my kids grew older. Here I was feeling sorry for myself when I was blessed with a loving husband, two healthy, happy sons, and much more. All of a sudden, I felt my loneliness turning into selfishness. A coworker’s daughter had recently been rushed to the hospital with a racing heart rate and dropping blood pressure stemming from a heart condition and many earlier surgeries. A former student was in ICU from a setback with cancer.
Why couldn’t I just be happy as a mom and enjoy each stage instead of looking forward to the next one?
My time with the boys was slipping through my fingertips before they headed to college. I prayed to God often:
Lord, please help me be the best parent I can be. Please help me lead Joseph and Braeden down the right path. Please forgive me for losing my patience (and for yelling) when they want to do something that I don’t feel is good for them. Please guide me and help me know what to do and what to say to get through this time. Amen.
Learning About Them Now that They’re Not Little
My prayers were soon answered as I searched for advice in books. I felt frustrated at times because my boys didn’t seem to want to talk. First-hand experience taught me that barraging the boys with a bunch of questions they didn’t seem to want to answer was often a futile practice.
I read that teens open up more when they get out of the house, so that’s what we did. Anything involving food seemed to be a hit. Ice cream, fast-food, or a pizza lunch brought us closer together (especially because I insisted on no cell-phones at the table). As far as food goes, making cookies, even if they were store-bought, was another winning strategy. As long as they got to lick the beaters, eat the leftover dough from the bowl, and gorge on the treats straight out of the oven, they were happy. And conversation naturally flowed.
Although it was often easier said than done, I sometimes had to make an attitude adjustment on days that seemed filled with parenting challenges. I learned that it’s ok to make decisions that are unpopular. I also learned that I need to have the right mindset when I am unpopular instead of letting their whining get to me when we disagree about expectations or their desire to push the limits of my comfort-zone.
Learning About Me Now that They’re Not Little
Instead of missing my little boys and the constant feeling of “being needed,” I’ve also tried to view my new-found free time as a blessing and a chance for new opportunities. Time to start my day with a cup of coffee and the daily Scriptures, reflections, and prayers while the boys sleep in. Time for date nights, walks with John, or talks on the deck. Time to volunteer at church and share my gifts with the Sunday School music program. Time to take care of myself with a morning run, taking in the beauty of God’s creation. Time to advance my career by taking online graduate classes. Time for visiting with my aging parents.
Even though it didn’t seem like it, my boys needed me now more than ever. I also read that teenage kids simply prefer the parent who’s just there, in proximity. I could do that! My boys will remember our time together and how I treated them regardless of whether we were at the zoo or sitting in the kitchen talking over a snack. Instead of feeling sorry for myself or worrying about their newly-found independence, I am learning to be present when they pop in from their excursions, meeting them where they are.
Letting Go of Mom Guilt and Control
Navigating this new stage of parenting with my teenagers reminds me to realize and appreciate God’s blessings and new-found opportunities, even though life seems different than what I expected. Summer wasn’t what I’d pictured at first, but I realized that’s how life is: unexpected. What mattered most was how I reacted to those changes and twists while enjoying these precious sons, my blessings and gifts from God.
Any moms out there in the same boat? How are you doing with the transition? Any advice to offer?
Carla Thomas is a wife, mom, and teacher of twenty-three years. She enjoys the sun, the lake, running, spending time with friends and family, and playing the piano for the Sunday School music program at Our Lady of the Presentation.