What is it about teenage boys? I’ve been in love with them since I was about twelve. They are, in general, insensitive, inarticulate, clunky, and smelly (even when they discover deodorant and cologne, because they don’t discover moderation until later). But they are all those things with a seemingly endless supply of charm. I’m in love with them.
Good thing, since we raised four. And, at one time or another, all of them broke my heart. I mended, though.
A Mama’s Boy
Let’s be honest; most moms secretly want a mama’s boy. A boy who will engage us, prefer us, unburden his very soul to us. All things teenage boys hardly ever do, in part because they don’t know how and in larger part because they don’t want to. And, I believe, because they aren’t meant to. I think most of us would agree that a true mama’s boy is a pathetic version of manhood. If given full reign, we mamas stunt growth and dampen courage. This little dream of ours is one of the most selfish desires a woman can harbor in her maternal heart. Because it is 100% what we want and 0% what a boy needs.
Stephen is our third child. Every rite of passage sneaks up on you with third children. The first time around you prepare for everything. But you prepare blind because you have no idea what’s up ahead. By the time you get to the third, you have a pretty accurate view of what’s in store, but you forget because life is so crazy. And so when important things happen, you get blindsided by these weird epiphanies.
Like the summer Stephen got his driver’s license. One rare day when he was at home and not out flexing his new found freedom, I took one look at him and started weeping. “Mom, what’s the matter?” Stephen had the decency to ask.
“Nothing,” I sobbed, “I just realized that you’re going to be gone from now on. You won’t be home much … ever again. It’s the beginning of your good-bye.”
He looked bewildered and asked me, “Do you want me to stay home more?”
I’m sure this was because crying is something I rarely do and he just wanted to make me stop, but it was sweet of him to offer. “No,” I said, “You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re supposed to do this. I’m just sad and I’ll get over it.”
Then there was the week before his wedding when I asked him if he would move home from the house about twenty minutes away where he’d been living with his brother and sister-in-law. “Mom,” he said emphatically, but not disrespectfully, “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. Why would I move all my stuff for just one week?”
He was right, of course. How could he know I was having my last meltdown over the unanticipated fact of his final good-bye, for real this time? He was getting married. He and Brittany were the ones getting special treatment, not me. Absolutely none of this was about me, even if human nature and menopause had conspired to convince me it was.
He was right, but it stung. For reasons that I attribute partly to the emotions of a wedding week, I felt cheated out of the only thing I thought I wanted. I had worked hard at being a wear-beige-and-butt-out mother of the groom, and this is what I got? He couldn’t give me this one little thing? I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I spent an afternoon obsessing over it.
The “Right” Thing
I am now going to share what I did then, because it has—over the years—become a pattern. Not a perfect pattern, but one of those semi-reflexive choices I’ve made over and over again that I call “right.” I do so few things right, but every single time this has been right.
I did not tell Stephen how this made me feel. I might have told my husband, but I’m pretty certain he doesn’t understand this mother-ache stuff, so I most likely didn’t. I didn’t tell Brittany, probably because she is so gracious and might have sided with me.
I decided to consider grace, so I told God. As solutions go, I know that can sound so ambiguous, but it is the foundation for everything, isn’t it?
My heart was broken, but not in the way I first thought. This break wasn’t inflicted externally; it was an internal condition. This moment allowed me to see a place in my heart that wasn’t whole, as in not healthy or strong or complete. I wanted to become a more complete woman, because that’s the best way to become other-centered rather than self-centered. When a teenage (or close to) boy breaks your heart, maybe it’s a chance for you to go straight to the problem, look at what’s happening inside of you, and allow your heart to be shaped further into what it’s meant to be in the first place.
Allow Your Broken Heart to be Shaped
One afternoon six months after the wedding, Stephen and Brittany came by our house for a quick visit during a rare Atlanta snowfall. They ended up staying for dinner. Stephen said, “Brittany, let’s spend the night here. We can get up and have breakfast with Mom and Dad.”
He said it with just a hint of a boy’s excitement in his voice. They stayed and we had, briefly, as it should be, a little reenactment of his childhood, shared and enjoyed by the woman whose heart he is more careful with than mine (again, as it should be). They stayed because they wanted to, not out of obligation. In fact, I’m learning that obligation is the murderer of genuine love.
When they left the next day I reveled in how grace allows the very thing that chips at our hearts, if we’ll let go of our hurt, to circle back and fill them so that they—our fragile, fragile hearts—are not just mended, they overflow. And I thought, if this is what happens when my heart breaks, I’ll take it.
For more on parenting adult children, start here:
For the Boy Mom, When He’s Grown
An Unexpected, Wonderful Moment on Your Son’s Wedding Day
A Little Encouragement When Motherhood is Disappointing
Parenting Adult Children—The Great Shift of Motherhood
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