Spoiler Alert: I wrote this post after a beautiful moment of holding space for my son. I was learning how to be present with him during the most challenging of times. I grew from the experience as much or more as he did. To live in the moment with your loved ones it one of the best gifts you can ever give of yourself. Moms and sons – we are complicated. But simple tips like this – being present and learning to live in the moment – can not only strengthen your mother and son relationships, but it can profoundly impact the life of your young man.
I didn’t think I could ever do what I’m about to tell you I did. I swore I wouldn’t be the mother of the boy who does what I’m about to tell you my son did. But then the tween years came and I learned that moms and sons are…well, complicated.
And just like the arrival of a new baby – thoughts and promises didn’t mean much anymore. Sometimes, all you can do to keep from drowning is to be present in the moment at hand – and being present can be the last place you want to be…
Here’s how I did it.
I know it’s what they do. We feed them. They grow up. My present evolved brain understands that I’m raising them to leave me. But my primitive reptilian brain still can’t fathom the chronic sting of the daily “micro separations.” (I just made that up – but I think it’s working for me…)
“Hey, buddy – want to play cards?” “Nah. I’ll just read.”
“Hey buddy, want to help me with dinner?” “Meh. I’m building with LEGOs.”
“Hey buddy – want to come downstairs and [fill in the blank with anything in the whole wide world]?” “Nah. I’m good.”
How Sons View Love As They Grow Up
Then, the other day, I saw this video explaining how kids view love as they grow up. This was the part that hit home:
“Do you know how kids measure love? How attuned are you to them in the time that they get with you? See, children’s values up until the age of like 14 are very time based. His values are still time based, but they’re now also rooted in activities. And the only way you can communicate to him is through his values. So you need to be able to identify what are the values that are important to him. Does he love video games? Great, start playing video games with him.” – Kerwin Rae (below is the full video)
It reminded me where I’ve been falling short. In between the bottomless piles of laundry, schedules, and one physically and emotionally needy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – I’d been letting my son slip though the cracks. Because he said, “Nah,” I was letting him slip through the cracks.
I remember wishing my parents had been present engaging in activities that I enjoyed – not just wanting me to do their stuff. Why should I go to the opera with you if you won’t listen to Blondie’s “Rapture” with me?
And so I promised myself to go to him more often – even when I wasn’t invited. I vowed to go to him even when I was uninvited. I promised to be present for him more often.
My first opportunity came in spades the next day.
Mothering Tween & Teen Sons Is Filled With Drama!
After a particularly tough day between the two of us, my son stomped up the stairs at bedtime screaming “WHY DOES EVERYONE HATE ME????? I WANT TO BE ALONE!!!”
On other days, I would have giggled at the drama of it all and moved on. But this day had, in fact, been a trying one.
As I took a deep breath, I remembered that he isn’t giving me a hard time, he’s having a hard time.
That one small quote always changes my perspective from one of anger and frustration to one of empathy. It was a good first step. He’s not grown enough to have the emotional intelligence to deal with whatever emotions were raging through him.
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So I took another deep breath, and I remembered my promise to go to him more often. In this moment, I wasn’t going to play video games, but to reassure him that nobody hated him.
What I Found
My son had created a nest of blankets on the floor of the hallway upstairs and called it bed for the night. As I calmly climbed the stairs, his voice was strident, brash, and brimming with heartbreak as it shrieked that he wanted to be alone.
I offered to start reading a new book with him. He didn’t want me to read to him.
I offered him his kindle. He didn’t want to read; he just wanted to go to sleep. By himself.
Then I lay by him. We were head to head, feet facing in opposite directions, and I imagined our blonde hair puddling together on the floor as if Annie Leibovitz herself had posed us. My head barely touched his makeshift nest of a bed in the middle of the upstairs hallway.
I could feel him drowning in rage and sadness that he didn’t yet have the skills to process.
Since he couldn’t process this tsunami of raw feelings, he lashed out.
He wanted to be alone he yelled.
“Nobody loves me!” he yelled.
How could this beautiful, smart, and gentle child not know that my soul was created for the purpose of loving him?
Moms and sons sometimes don’t get one another.
How could he not know that he and his brother were my life’s purpose?
When I heard his words, I felt as if the last ten years of my life were a waste. In this moment, he had no idea.
And in this moment, when he believed that everyone hated him and he felt alone, lonely, and unloved, the tears streamed down my cheeks and neck into the pillow.
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What He Really Wanted
I felt the familiarity of this moment in my DNA. And I knew that my son didn’t really want to be alone.
What my son really wanted was to test the strength of my love and commitment to him.
What my son really wanted was to know whether I would stand by him at his most awful or whether I would leave him alone.
What my son really wanted to know was whether my love was unconditional.
It’s odd. In the most taxing of moments, when the force of so many emotions throughout the day left me feeling like there was nothing left of me, I was reduced to nothing but the purity of the love I had for my son.
Although the events of the day legitimized my feelings of frustration, rage, fear, sadness, loss, and grief, all I really deeply felt at the bottom of my otherwise empty well was the purity of my love for this gentle boy.
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Since I Could Be Present, I Gave Him What He Needed
He allowed me to lay with him, and I did nothing. I said nothing, except, “I am not leaving you. I won’t leave. We’ll just stay and sleep here together on the floor.” Often it’s enough to just be present. (Here are some great tips about how to practice presence and being in the present moment.)
That was it. No lectures or nagging. No yelling, tantrums (mine) or disgust.
I just held space for him.
Moms and sons. We need to learn to hold space for one another.
“I will be here with you. I am so sorry that you feel nobody loves you. I love you. Whether you want me or not, I will be here with you. I will not leave you.”
Moms and Sons Can Find Courage Together
And then slowly, this emotionally raw and vulnerable ten year old, peeked out of his self-imposed cocoon and asked, “Since you’re going to be here anyway – can you play me a lullaby?”
We lay in the quiet and listened to “All the Pretty Little Horses,” his favorite as a baby. Somehow, in this moment, it was easy to be present.
Slowly he extended another bit of himself – “since you’re going to be here anyway – I guess it would be ok for you to lay next to me.” “I could get you a blanket if you want.”
“No, thank you. I’ll be here. You take as much space as you need. I’m here.”
And then, the better judgment of my fifty-one year old shoulder and hips prevailed over the unforgiving hardwood floor that felt like a rock. “You know, if you’re ok laying with me, we’d probably be much more comfortable in my bed. Wanna’ try?”
And then, another moment of courage on his part. “Since I’m not alone any more and we’re here together – I guess it would be ok if you read a story to me.” We started The Island of Dr. Libris.
And we melted.
As we read, he snuggled into my arms and exhaled. The kind of long, satisfying exhale that gets rid of so much more than breath. He exhaled the grief and confusion of the day. He exhaled pain and frustration.
But when he inhaled, I knew that he was taking in my love. He inhaled the resiliency of centuries of mothers and sons and our special mother and son connection.
And our bond became stronger than it had ever been as we stepped through that moment together.
Moms and sons have a special bond that is simultaneously hard to break and hard to maintain. I will give my son space and know that I’ve added a tool to my teen mothering toolbox that helps us maintain our mother son relationship.
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