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Photographer and electrician Sean Harvey took this photo of a supercell thunderstorm near Glasgow, MT, in July 2010. (It went viral online after winning a National Geographic photo contest.)

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:)

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Reader Comments (13)

As a mom you would have not liked to live with me my last year at home. I was 18 and in college and working and pissed. How I did not end up out on the street is still a mystery. Shawn was my favorite target and we fought hard. It all works out in the end and oldest son is just preparing himself to go out into the big scary world by himself and leaving you not so hard. All three of you are doing a wonderful job.

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSDA

Send him out here. We have miles of fencing for a studly young brute to do, and while I don't know what an x-box is, I'm pretty sure we don't have any.

No, what I think is going on is this: he's 18. Adult. Supposed to have a clue, a future, a career in mind, all kinds of things. What he actually has, most likely, is an enormous amount of anxiety, fear, self-doubt -- and I think he's addressing his anxieties by projecting the destiny he fears onto his sibling.

Here's a speech you might modify for your own use: Dear Son. Last night wasn't about you. It was about an attack on one of my cubs, complicated by the attacker being another of my cubs. But listen, Son, the world is scary and you are sliding into adulthood in that world, and you will make mistakes over and over. Of course, I never made any, but you will, and I want you to know I understand, I'm on your side, I trust you to do your best, and if it gets really tough out there you can come home and live in the basement in your boxers (for no longer than ten days at a time). But I don't really think you will. I trust your heart and your smarts. It's normal to be anxious, but don't forget to be kind as well. Try not to take out your anxieties on someone else. Like I do sometimes. And I'm on your side, every time. I'm your own loving mom, forever.

You're so brave, Megan. I hide my conflicts and confusion, and I work hard to make the world think I've got my crap in a sack. I want to be like you if I ever grow up.

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterniceladywithdog

NLWD: can I print that message out (minus the Mom parts) and look at it, oh, every fifteen minutes or so?

And Megan, good to know where to go for a great breakfast. I am so there. 7:30 good for you? I take my coffee black, thanks.

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSavannah

This is a great post, honestly. To write such a tender post about conflict requires a lot of "bigness".
I could borrow nicelady's last paragraph. (my crap in a sack! I love that! I am stealing that)

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPooknelle

My kids are now in their 40s (ouch!) and not a day goes by that I don't regret some of the ridiculous shouting matches we endured in their teen years. The nagging doubts about being a good mother, the what-ifs, my dreams for them versus theirs. Yes, mothers and their children will always argue, no matter how old they get. As mothers we forget that we raised them to have their own dreams, ideas, needs and beliefs. We just tend to forget that sometimes.

You're doing great so far. Look, they sit down to dinner together, they enjoy activities together and, from what I gather from reading your blog, no blood has been drawn yet.

Most of all, your kids love and respect you.

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDad's Cousin

aside to Savannah: hey, when it gets scary you can come live in our basement for weeks on end, any old time. In fact, you can have upstairs privileges, although with my housekeeping, I'm not sure how that would seem like a privilege.
I forgot to tell you how much I like the poetry you sent for the last post. I'd love to be your friend, but I'm afraid I'd get pretty shallow and tiresome soon. But let's pretend, and it will make me feel good, ok?

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterniceladywithdog

A lot of times kids mimic their parents because they too are trying to figure out how to be adults. Perhaps now that he feels that he's an adult, because we tell them that they are when they turn 18, he felt it was his duty, as well, to try to steer his brother in the right direction by being on your side as one of the adults in the house. It's just that diplomacy might not necessarily be there yet, since he's still sort of technically one of the kids in the house. Kind of a confusing "on the fence" thing at that age. Maybe sit down with him and chat about responsibility as an adult older brother and perhaps actually map out the line that he can and can't cross. It just might be a bit blurry for him. ??? Dunno.

Parenting would be so much easier if each of them had popped out with a manual about how to exactly raise them!

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie

"Roostered up" – Eunice with her bobby pins and wig – emotions in the fetal position – how do you write like this? You're astounding. And you've got a remarkable husband.

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterniceladywithdog

There is a lot of joy that comes with raising children, but well written cautionary tales like this one really get me to scratching my head about how we, as a species, can be having population explosion issues. Somewhere back when we decided we shouldn't eat our young like some animals, it all just went down hill!

There is some pretty excellent advice to be found in the post and subsequent comments. If nobody minds, I'd like to reserve the right to make notes of all of this and put it to good use...likely right after having a big argument-to-nowhere with one of the kids.

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSexy Beast

Gordon Neufeld is so my go-to guy on stuff like this, but I think I just elbowed him out for Nice Lady with Dog.

God, it's easy to go for the biggness, the respect, the I-know-better with the kids. But coming alongside them and yourself is the ticket. Being brave enough to be vulnerable, like you do here, gets everyone to soften, and then the pathway to healing begins.

Thank heaven you're teaching him that even while stumbling. It matters.

If there's a way to channel NLWD during situations like these, I'm a-gonna start working on it.

January 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBliss Chick

SDA: Yeah, in hindsight I remember thinking/saying the same thing as Oldest Son to my own parents...Thanks for your encouragement:)

NLw/D: That's it. I know I've mentioned this before, but we need to start some minor catastrophes laminated "cue cards." Sexy Beast (a.k.a Jerry) gets one made from his Your Turn answer on how men should approach getting out of the dog house, and I'm making one from your script on speaking to Oldest Son about now being an adult...

Savannah: Come on over. You know what's inside my smoothies. Shawn says, "Where I come from that's called silage. We feed it to animals Megan, not humans." Whatever. I think it tastes great. (I'll have black coffee for you, too.)

Pooknelle: I know! Crap in a sack? I'm stealing that, too.

Dad's Cousin: Hey! You're still out there! Thanks for reading me:) And thanks for your encouragement, especially as someone who's been there, done that.

Laurie: Yeah, I read lots of parenting books when the boys were little. Some of them helped, but then I really had to set them all aside and trust my intuition. Most days I feel like that works, but then occasionally I surprise myself and accidentally channel Medusa...Lesson learned here: It's always better to communicate what's working and what isn't when emotions aren't flaring. I thought I already knew that, but it's pasted across my forehead now.

Sexy Beast: Oh, those big arguments to nowhere are just precious. Too bad we weren't recorded -- could've maybe sent it in as a reality show tryout video. Monetize these younguns', I say.

Bliss Chick: I'm a Gordon Neufeld fan as well. (Can't you tell?:) Don't know about your three boys, but mine are all so different. Despite that, they all respond well to me keeping my shit together and speaking to them in a way that seems fair and makes sense. The other bit of sage parenting advice I'm trying to internalize: occasionally you must forgive yourself and move on.

January 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterMegan Ault Regnerus

NLwD: A basement of my own? How cool is that? But before I crash land at your place, you are free to rescind the offer because after reading my profile on Your Turn maybe you will decide I'm a bore. Actually, I'm one of those geeks who never reads social cues right, so I thought, oh, should I respond because she seems really cool and grounded and wonderful or is this one of those funny things to say that people aren't really supposed to acknowledge--but pretend friends are in my oeuvre of making shit up, so welcome to the circle. . . all that meandering aside, a friend of mine is operations manager for American Prairie Foundation. I tell her to hire me as a blogger so I could live up there and just watch the skies change and write about it. . . sounds like heaven to me, except that I'd be all worked up about the issues at stake. Sigh.

January 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSavannah

Savannah: So it's not just me that hyperventilates a bit when somebody responds to my occasional normal moment, and then I turn too odd to hang out with for very long. It's encouraging to find real people who are like twin sisters of my imaginary friends. I'm adding a couch by the fire and a blanket for Sasha to the basement deal.

Megan: Channeling Medusa! Been there, done that, didn’t know what it was called.

January 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNice Lady with Dog

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