Last spring, someone took my charming, compliant Atticus and replaced him with a slightly less appealing version-- a version that bristled at instruction, gritted his teeth at simple tasks, and was otherwise not terribly fun to homeschool.
The change was physical, as well. Gone were the soft, rounded cheeks and my ability to lean down and kiss his forehead. In the course of a few short months, the child who came into this world at 8 lbs., 10 oz., had inched above my own 5'9" and was sporting the beginning wisps of (gasp!) facial hair.
I was dumbfounded--and, if I'm truly honest, a little scared. Atticus has always been my most cerebral child, and the one who most mirrors my own tendency to withdraw. How on earth to keep a strong connection with my son, help him navigate the waters of puberty, and still educate him without losing my cool?
We struggled for much of the summer. Many days felt like a wash, with me frustrated at Atticus' lack of willingness to go the extra mile and his clearly growing inability to hold whatever was eating at him in check. I dreaded the start of the new school year, and wondered how things would play out with a new baby on the horizon and my attention pulled in so many different directions.
It didn't dawn on me all at once, but as I began pondering his educational goals for this season, I realized that much of what was getting under Atticus' skin was simply this: he had outgrown my style of mothering him. Somewhere along the line, he had outpaced me. I was offering him the same level of guidance and oversight he had always had ... and he just didn't need it anymore.
Armed with this realization, I started consciously weighing our interactions, both negative and positive. Sure enough, my theory held up. If I offered my usual dose of "hey, let me give you some tips here" mothering, I would be rewarded with slightly raised shoulders and a boy who took little delight in the task. But if I handed Atticus a job and essentially walked away, I almost always saw straighter back and saw him hunker down happily to the challenge.
Words can't quite sum up how difficult this has been for me. Atticus has always seemed slightly less hardy than some of my other children, and my desire to be his umbrella from failure is huge. And while I have known from the time he was toddling that I cannot and should not fill that role forever, it still caught me off guard to have this growing time come so early on. He is only twelve years old. And yet ...
He is capable. And moreover, he desires to stretch his wings.
This experience has led me to embrace the following guidelines--and to put them in writing so that when Logan's ire begins to stir at my overbearing Momma-ing, I can recall the formula for our changing Mother/Son dynamic:
1. Let him own it. Atticus has taken on an ever-increasing share in what goes on his proverbial plate and how he goes about getting it done. He asked for a typing program to be added to his school offerings when he realized that his hunt and peck method was holding him back. Had I asked him to take up keyboard instruction, I am pretty sure he would have groaned. Since it was his idea, he has been flying through the course.
2. Let him do it his way. You know why guys don't ask for directions? Because they would rather try to figure it out on their own and be wrong than have you hand it to them on a silver platter and get it right. It's all about the ownership and the act of conquering. The same goes for young men. They would rather try and fall flat than have their Mommas hold their hand for a sure victory.
3. Give him meaningful work. Mr. Blandings has handed over several small household chores (like changing lightbulbs and doing small fix-it jobs) entirely, and has greatly expanded the scope of the projects he asks Atticus to do on his own. Right now, for example, Atticus is building a toddler bed for Seven from instructions on Ana-White.com. He thinks this is awesome.
4. Expect more. The flip side of greater privilege should always be greater responsibility. Making sure we both understood this parallel helped ease the transition.
5. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Just like their fully grown counterparts, young men need to feel like they are valued and that they measure up. Checking my tone and word choices to make sure that they convey the same amount of respect that I expect in return goes a long way towards furthering our relationship.
6. Trust him. All of that groundwork wasn't in vain. Atticus shows every sign of making good choices, following God's call on his life, and being able to handle life's curveballs. Building him up ("I know you've got this under control.") letting him know I have faith in his abilities makes him grown two inches taller, I swear.
7. Embrace--and don't cushion-- natural consequences. Simple enough, right?
8. Be available. While he no longer needs me for the physical stuff, I definitely find that teens need even more of my time and support than even preschoolers. Making sure he knows that I am interested, invested, and praying for him daily is vital.
Since I started employing these tactics, I've not only seen amazing growth in Atticus, but in myself as well. Is my sweet little guy back? No. He's gone for good. In his place, though, I am now witnessing the unfolding of a kind, responsible young man learning his way in the world. It's a trade I'm happy to make.