Yesterday, the Tigerboy turned 13, which means, some new appellation is probably in order. It’s a big date in a young person’s life, a moment of becoming something new, even though biologically speaking he’s been under way for a while – taller, hairier, sometimes grumpier, all the obvious things. Mostly still talking to us, which is encouraging.
What he needs from me has always been subject to change, and although there are a few years at the end of childhood with some stability, he’s never stopped testing the edges of what he can do, and he’s never stopped asking awkward questions. I hope this means I’m passably prepared for the next rounds of change as he moves towards taking more responsibility for himself, and wanting to be out there doing things on his terms.
This is, in some ways, going to be a test of my whole parenting theory, because a fair bit of what I’ve done along the way was with an eye to how things could play out at this point. It’s easy, with a smaller child, to tell them what to do, default to ‘because I said so’ and just keep things cheerfully and speedily moving along. I’ve not done that, except in emergencies or on days of extreme crankiness. Mostly, I have explained, and negotiated, and he’s always had room to be heard, and expects to be taken seriously. Not to get his own way all the time, but to have his preferences noted and respected. My hope is that as we head into teenager-hood, these habits will stick, and we’ll all keep negotiating about what works and what doesn’t.
I remember being a teen. I remember the intensity of my own emotions and not knowing whether to take them seriously. As I still have much the same range, I would be reluctant to write off any teenage experience as ‘just’ a phase. I remember how bewildering things were for me, I remember what I longed for and what I feared. At the time, I promised myself that I would remember all of these things – even the really embarrassing things – so that if I ever had to parent someone else through this time, I would know something about what was going on. Perhaps the worst thing for me as a teen was the sense of not being taken seriously.
I’ve never based my parenting on ideas of arbitrary authority. It will be interesting to see how many ‘that’s not fair’ conversations we have over the coming years. How much ‘you don’t understand’ he feels moved to say. There’s bound to be a bit, but hopefully not a lot. The young person who never has to say that, probably doesn’t have anyone watching their back and putting in boundaries for things where they really haven’t figured out the need for boundaries yet.
Hopefully it will be an adventure. And on the far side of this, the ultimate test of everything I’ve done as a parent: Whether his youth is something the young man will later need to recover from, or whether it just launches him into his adult life.