I remember how worried I was a few years ago about surviving life with three teenage boys. Teen pregnancy, meth ads showing ghoulish-looking strung-out adolescents, kids going through puberty who won’t even speak to their parents — I know enough to know these things happen even in “good” families. So I entered this chapter when Oldest Son started high school four years ago somewhat braced.
But guess what? So far, it’s been great.
I enjoy my relationship with all three boys, which their dad and Shawn would say they share as well. We eat dinner together most nights as a family, the boys generally stay out of trouble, their grades are reasonable, and sometimes we even have real conversations. I figure somewhere between the explanation that I’m wonder mom and just darn lucky lies the truth as to why it’s been this smooth so far. Fights or arguments are rare.
Except for last Sunday night.
I got in a nasty argument with Oldest Son. Like a tornado, it appeared out of nowhere, escalating from 0 to 150 mph in seconds.
He’d been needling Middle Son about his X-Box usage, which has been going on for weeks. (“Oh hey, I see you’re still working on becoming a professional X-box player. Except guess what? Professional X-Box players don’t make any money. They live in their mom’s basements and sit around in their boxers all day.”) I’ve mostly let is slide, except on this particular day, Middle Son had put in eight hours of studying getting ready for finals, and just endured a heated family meeting with all three parents about tightening X-box regulations. So Middle Son was already unhappy when Oldest Son came after him with his digs.
It ignited my mama grizzly, and I followed Oldest Son to the bathroom: “I don’t want you talking to him like that anymore. You’re not his parent, and you need to leave it alone.”
And somehow, from there, we were off. Oldest Son roostered up, drew his shoulders back and looked down at me, glaring at him from 8 inches below. He replied that he certainly would still give his brother crap about the X-Box whenever he wanted.
Then Eunice stepped in, and she was PISSED, right down to the bobby pins holding her wig in place. Suddenly the yelling was about respect, and deferring to your parent.
Oldest Son reminded Eunice and me that he was 18 now, an adult.
Eunice reminded Oldest Son that as long as he lives at home, parents are still in charge.
At some point, when things were clearly going nowhere, Shawn stepped in and told Oldest Son to be respectful, then said, “Hey you two, this really isn’t going anywhere.”
Then Shawn followed me into the bathroom and tried to wrap his arms around me.
“I don’t want a hug,” I said. “I’m not ready for hugs.”
“You’re a good mom,” he whispered in my ear.
Whatever, I thought, responding with a shrug.
I felt physically ugly, my emotions stuck in fetal position, and everyone tip-toed around the house until bedtime. That night I didn’t sleep well. Then the next morning I greeted Oldest Son with a box of cereal instead of the omelets and smoothies I like to start the boys’ days with. “I think you should start setting your own alarm in the morning and making your own breakfast since you’re an adult now.”
Strangely that didn’t inspire the desired apology from him, or motivate him to beg my forgiveness. Instead he barely answered “OK,” went to school, and I sat there, feeling like a giant pile of terrible-mom shit.
I called my friend Grethe, whom I was certain would assure me I’d done everything right and instruct me on the next appropriate step in this parenting course titled, “Winning Power Struggles: Yell louder, kick their asses and MAKE them respect you, damnit!”
Except she didn’t do that. Not at all.
“Just take that boy in your arms and tell him, ‘Let’s put last night behind us. I don’t want to fight with you anymore; I love you,’” she advised me.
“But...but, what about respect?” I said, incredulous. “Do I just let that go?”
“He respects you,” Grethe said. “You guys just headed down the wrong path and things got out of hand.”
So, I waited, because I really wasn’t ready to be that big yet, or to model how to mend a situation.
But then after more hours than I’d like to admit, I finally found my own version of Grethe’s script and watched as my big boy melted and we made nice…Turns out once the storm passed, he was able to hear me just fine about not teasing his brother.
END NOTE: Stay tuned next week for another round of Your Turn:)