I was a single mother. I didn’t plan it that way, but it happens to a lot of us. We deal with it and rise to the occasion.
I worked hard and wanted everything for him, but I expected a lot in terms of his behavior. Maybe too much. The thing was, I saw the world as his oyster and wanted him to have what I did have not growing-up:
- a mother as an active presence in his life,
- the freedom to explore and make mistakes without retribution,
- and the chance to discover something he loved and could excel at to earn a living.
But more than anything, I wanted him to have confidence.
As a kid, I had zero. I was a geek with long red hair and glasses, a regular at Cousin It, as the kids at school nicknamed me. At home, I was one of five, or as I like to say “four of five.” Dad worked all day and sometimes at night, a teacher’s work is never done, and my mother was clinically depressed, so she didn’t see what was going on. Thankfully, I had older siblings, and siblings take care of one another.
I’m not blaming my mother. She did her best. You don’t know what a gift Prozac would have been to her.
I got to the point I didn’t talk much or even want to be seen. I wanted to disappear. Well, redheads don’t exactly blend. Suffice to say it was tough.
I vowed my kid was never going to feel like this about himself.
And he didn’t.
My son was over confident; smart, and handsome to boot, though never one of those mean kids. Cocky maybe, but not mean.
He was pretty much perfect until the age of 12. There was never a bad word about him from anyone. He got all A’s in school and his behavior was exemplary. (Note: I was happy with the grades, but a B would have been fine.)
When the hormone surge started, it all changed. I then had the perfect teenager, which is to say a rebellious, disrespectful, horny, snake. His goal was to be with his friends, sneak out of the house, he repelled down from the attic to the garage roof, and escape into the night to do whatever he wanted.
I had little or no support, so I became the quintessential shrew.
As I look back, I realize I could have done more to keep the peace, or some semblance of it, if I’d had the foresight. My wiser and older sister warned me many a time:
“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
She was right, though not all of it was small. Still, I should never have let his behavior dictate mine.
There’s only so much a parent can take, but sometimes you have to act the part even when you feel like you’re losing it. You are the adult, after all, and you need to control your reactions.
Here are few things I wish I’d done differently.
I should have:
Practiced more patience.
I worked full-time and went to school nights. I was tired. I wanted to have a few minutes to myself when I got home. Or just sit down and eat.These were unrealistic expectations. Enter rebellious kid and I’d snap at him.
A more proactive approach might have been to ask him to come back in 10 minutes or to have locked myself in the bathroom for some privacy, like a normal mother. Yes, you do need to lock the door. At that age you might want to invest in ear plugs as well.
Kept my cool.
I lost it often during those years. My silence would probably have scared him more than the volume of my voice or words. It wasn’t always what I said, but how I said it.
Driving was not without it its challenges. I chauffered him and his friends to hockey, baseball and the like, I had to bite my hand to keep from turning into a screaming banchee. As a resident Masshole, the term given to drivers from Massachusetts, I also had bouts of cursing, though I tried to keep it to a mutter. I’m still working on this.
Spoken more respectfully about other adults in front of my son.
This was a big one. How could I expect my son to respect people he didn’t like if I spoke badly about ones I didn’t like? When he reached adolescence,this hit me over the head. He didn’t like teachers, adults, or other parents, and where I bad mouthed, he acted out.
Kids mimic the adults in their lives and it’s not always a good thing.
Spoken more calmly to my son.
Even when I wasn’t mad, I was in a hurry and my tone had an air of impatience. A softer tone could have done a lot to keep the energy in my home calm.
Ignored the kid stuff, like forgetting things.
I arranged everything for him, physically, and still he’d forget. To say I flipped out over this is right on the money.
How did he not see something he tripped over going out the door? Because he was a kid? Had raging hormones? I’m sure I could do a whole other blog on the reasons.
Ignored the minor infractions.
He developed a habit of telling me I was wrong and asking why I couldn’t be like the other parents, who didn’t seem to care about things like I did. In retrospect, it might have been a fair question, though his friends lived in two parent homes.
Instead of calmly (GRRRR!) explaining this to him, again, I corrected him harshly and sent him go to his room. I made a big deal of something and created disharmony where it didn’t have to exist. Two of us contributing to the drama was not helpful.
I need to add, that the above was in addition to the adolescent behavior. In and of itself, this stuff is pretty minor, but not after a sleepless night of the phone ringing, cells phones were not the norm they are today, with girls on the other end or driving around looking for him.
Yes, the man-child years were horrific.
My son is now 32. I would say he didn’t really hit adulthood until he turned 30, and until then, we didn’t have much of a relationship. Thankfully, we have one now.
I see him with his own kids and I am happy to say he is patient, ignores a lot of the kid stuff, and teaches them how to take care of themselves.
During his last visit, I overheard him talking to his stepdaughter. She asked if she was smart enough to go to a particular college. My son replied:
“You can go to any college you want.”
I smiled to myself. I know that’s something I would’ve said. So although I’ve come to the conclusion that he learned what not to do because of me, he took away the one thing that was so important to me: to instill confidence.
I wish I’d displayed a bit more dignity in many situations, even though I was at my wits’ end.
I admit it. I did a lot wrong, but it’s nice to see evidence that I did right as well.
All you can ever do is your best, but your best shouldn’t be static, and hopefully it improves as time goes on.
I don’t envy any parent, single or otherwise, raising adolescents these days. The good news is,the years will go by and these budding human beings will turn into adults. What we say and do during these years will shape the adult they ultimately become.
I’m so happy those days are over.