What do you do when your 15 year old son comes to you with a problem you can’t solve?
What do I do? I do mental backflips. As a mother, I’m always quietly (or sometimes not so quietly) delighted when my teenaged sons decide to confide their deepest thoughts, troubles, and the issues they’re currently wrestling with in me. It’s a rare treasure.
I grew up with two brothers, and surrounded by a hundred hundred adopted faux brothers, the children of my parents’ friends, my extended family in a foreign land. I lived the sullen, insular teen years over and over. So when my teenaged boys tell me the niggling worries, the rattling concerns that toss and turn through their minds, my heart trills and skips.
The car’s the place. Always. From when Godzilla and the TeenWolf were very small, bright-eyed and hopeful, going off to their first day of school without me in tow, the car has been the place where we’ve caught up on the day’s events, where we’ve discussed the issues, big and small. When they were four and five and six, I would demand a minute by minute recount of their day. I’m pretty sure I could teach interrogation techniques with the best of them.
I would guide them through the events from the moment I left them in the classroom, till the moment I scooped them up in my arms outside the door. They really were conversations of “…and then what happened?” “…and after Flossy did that, what did you do?” “…and when Blossom hit your friend, what did you say/do/think/feel?” I teased out the minutiae of their days, and asked them about everything. I don’t suppose I had any real plan in mind at the time. I was winging it. Parenting on the fly. Deeply interested in what they thought, felt, saw, heard, I would question them ad infinitum about the details. There was no scaffolded plan in place preparing us all for the silent years ahead.
When they were a little older, nine and ten and eleven and twelve, the questions started to change. We moved to “did you have a good day?” “what were three really great things that happened today? Things that made you happy or proud?” and “what was one negative thing that happened?”. There was always a balance of three positives and one negative. Life is not always sunshine and roses, and sweeping unpleasantness under the carpet rarely teaches us coping skills. Equally, not taking a moment to acknowledge the precious delights in each day, rarely teaches us to see them.
We would revel in the joys, the wins for themselves or their friends, the moments of mirth. Then we would turn our attentions to the negatives. They would be picked apart, all behaviours examined by all three of us. Each issue would have two fresh set of eyes, and two unbound opinions now. Sometimes there were solutions, sometimes it was an opportunity to air feelings and grievances. These teaching moments where when I guided them, talked about giving people chances to make mistakes and change behaviours. They were also moments when I could reflect on my own friendships and behaviours.
Now I’m grateful for my curiosity. We no longer dissect the events of the day in the same detail, though we do check in with each other. But there are quiet moments, snatched on the way to a music lesson, or a sporting event, when the issues that churn their stomachs come trickling out, and my heart sambas its delight.