I get it, I really do. Teenage boys are hard to love sometimes. They are loud, messy, eat ALL the food, become resident experts on anything and everything (note: the parent is always wrong), and spend extraordinary amounts of time in their own little worlds. This pulling away = growing up. And their presence sometimes dwindles in their parents’ social media platforms as we begin to respect their wishes, their privacy, and that widening space that they need to, well, grow up.
Sometimes, though, I don’t think we give our teenage boys enough credit.
Our expectations of them as a society have deteriorated to the point that they have become a caricature of what was once expected. And values such as virtue, hard work, and respect have fallen out of fashion. We worry about putting too much “pressure” on them, and look for ways to make their life easier and full of pleasure. I, too, have been guilty of this (we all are, to some extent I suppose). But any coddling of my boy came to a grinding halt when my husband left for an overseas deployment last May.
After his dad left, our boy changed and took on responsibilities that most newly minted 14-year olds don’t usually think about.
He climbed ladders, did outdoor maintenance, changed light bulbs in the (very tall) ceiling, fixed broken drawers, painted cabinets and did every BIT of the yard work. He did a distance bible study with his dad and kept up with the reading on his own. He set up a gym in the garage, saved his money (and worked for his Papa) to buy more equipment. He helped his sisters with homework when I couldn’t and was (is!) an amazing math tutor. He learned to cook “real” food and most mornings made himself a homemade breakfast with no help at all from me. He went to swim every day, practiced his guitar AND set a goal for himself to get straight A’s in all honors/AP classes in high school. And you know what? HE DID IT. All by himself.
For the first time in his short life, I didn’t pester, nag or bother. I was in the background, checking, watching and monitoring, but nothing more.
During this deployment, I was drowning in my own world of responsibility. And my expectations for him multiplied exponentially. I worried that he was under too much “pressure” and almost hired somebody to do the yard. But I stopped myself as he took great pride in the job he did (and as we initially assigned this to him as a character building chore). We could’ve hired someone to do all these things but made a conscious decision not to. And you know what? This child has risen to the occasion as we have raised the bar. Every time. He is more confident and sure of himself and has shattered the stereotype of the typical teenage boy because, well, he had to. It was definitely a sink or swim environment around here, and our boy flourished.
This is not to say all of this was without growing pains.
We (he) argued, had a typical teenaged wickedly smart mouth, and I lost my temper way more often than I’d like to admit. We’re definitely not perfect. Teenagers are funny creatures, though, and will make you laugh when you want to straight throttle them. They are witty and will surprise you with the flash of a smile and a hint of kindness when you least expect it. And it’s amazing to hear their opinions and perspective on the world and humanity when we take the time to simply listen.
One of my very favorite quotes (from the aptly titled “Do Hard Things” by Alex and Brett Harris) is:
“The teen years are not a vacation from responsibility, they are the training ground of future leaders who dare to be responsible.”
So moms, I want to issue a challenge to you today. Raise the bar with your children sometimes. Push them a bit and see what unfolds. See what it does for their confidence and performance. Expect excellence and watch what happens. I’m willing to bet they just might surprise you.