My son just started high school and he’s busier than ever. His social life has really picked up. He was always kind of quiet and shy before. I guess now that he’s with more kids in a bigger school and doing more activities, he’s coming out of his shell at school. Sounds great, right? The problem is he clams up again when he gets home. He used to talk to his dad and me, but now if I ask any questions, his answers are short and angry, like he’s mad at me for asking. Now that he’s hanging out with more kids, I don’t know any of the parents like I used to. I worry he’s getting in with bad kids. I’m happy for him, but how can I be sure he’s doing okay?
High School Stole My Son
Dear High School Stole My Son,
Sound familiar? 😉
We raised two girls, so I can’t speak from experience, but mothers of sons tell me that this is typical behavior in high school boys. They process a lot internally, or they’re exercising their new-found independence. Developmentally speaking, part of a boy’s job is to differentiate himself from his mother. So, the fact that he’s pulling away means he’s doing his work and individuating. The goal is his successful life navigation without your help, yes? Sounds like he’s right on schedule! And good for him for getting involved at school and making new friends. New schools are hard for a shy kid, so his stepping out is a wonderful sign that he wants to take advantage of new opportunities. He may even like the idea of starting fresh.
As our children get older, we have less and less control over their social circles, and we’re less likely to get to know their parents. One tactic you might try is encouraging your son to invite friends over. Create a space where they can hang out, if you don’t already have one. (We have a TV room in the basement, and this gave our girls enough privacy to feel comfortable, and we always knew who they were with.) He’s not driving yet, so a home base at your house could work well. Also, when you drive him to a friend’s house, especially for a party, walk him to the door and meet the parents/chaperones. This embarrassed our daughters, who just wanted to be dropped off in the driveway. Too bad. Part of the parent’s job is to be embarrassing sometimes. Whenever you have the opportunity to meet his friends, do it, and pay attention to how you feel about them. If they’re good kids, you can be proud and relieved that he’s making good choices. If you have doubts about anyone, keep asking questions and be brave in the awkward moments. To paraphrase a wise person, “My kids will have hundreds of friends, but only one mom.” They may push away from us, but deep down they want to know we’re looking out for them. So, in a roundabout way, his frustration with you is actually reassuring to him. He’s not conscious of that now, but he will understand as he matures and encounters “real life.”
There’s sadness in your letter, which may be hiding behind concern. Maybe you miss your little boy, just a wee bit? Passages like these are bittersweet for moms—happy he’s doing well, sad that he’s doing it without you. I love my young women, and miss my little girls. Here’s what gets me through: I cry when I need to, away from the girls. Though sometimes, my heart wells right up into my eyes. Again, it’s in the mom job description to embarrass them. When we’re together, I pay attention to all the ways they take care of themselves, and celebrate the tasks I no longer have to do for them. As mom to a boy, you may be tempted to keep doing things for him that he’s perfectly capable of doing for himself. Wean yourself and your son from all that! He’ll be a better roommate, husband, and father for it. Taking care of your boy fills the empty spot in your heart for now, but in the long run, it’s best to help him become the man you want him to be.
Since I linked to a beautiful Happy Chapin song a couple of columns ago, I won’t include “Cat’s in the Cradle” here. If you turn on an adult contemporary or oldies radio station, I bet you’ll hear it within 15 minutes. Instead, here’s a beauty from the musical, The Full Monty. “Breeze Off the River” is dad singing to his son, but mom could easily harmonize. Dad’s not sure about life these days, and he marvels at his son’s ability to shine a light that clarifies everything. “Everybody knows the secret/ Well, I don’t, and I never did/ I don’t know any secret/ All I know is I love you, kid.” Grab a tissue for this:
Your question, “How can I be sure he’s doing okay?” is one you’ll continue to ask and answer throughout his life. You’ll never not be his mom, but your role is ever-evolving. Enjoy your son as much as you can, celebrate his accomplishments, be a safety net when he falls, and help him stand on his own feet again. He’s better than okay; he’s doing great. And you’re doing great, too. Buckle up, it’s gonna be a quite a ride!
Mothers of sons: Please comment below and give us your thoughts and suggestions for this mom who’s missing her son.
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Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.