On Sunday my baby turned 17. Those 17 years have brought me much joy and much angst, but most of all they have brought me much love. I love both my boys with all my heart, there is no favourite. However, there are always people who you connect with in life and it is almost like you can see into their soul. My baby is one of these people.
For most of his life he has been extremely loving. I have many love notes and cards and he has always been able to express his love through hugs and kisses, (other than a period of time during his early teens when most boys don't show affection). He is also very good at expressing his feelings verbally. He senses things about me and others that I don't even realise. We have had conversations that I would have with a friend of my own age. He is so very knowing, so very intuitive and so very caring.
As you know from my Mum I'm stuck on the Grass post, my baby has had some problems recently which totally broke my heart. Watching him suffer through this difficult time was so painful.
We are now into a new year, his 18th year, and I am so happy to say that he is no longer abusing substances. He is working out, caring about his health, caring about his body, eating healthily and exercising daily. He has a fulltime job and never misses a day and is never late. He is a different person. His moods are more stable (well as stable as a 17 year old can be) and he has joy in his eyes, again, finally. After many months of trying to give up his "habit" (he didn't go cold turkey) and many months of him questioning why he wanted to give up, he has finally discovered that a life with a clear head and healthy body is a win for him. It has taken time and it hasn't been easy - for him or I. However I am so proud that he has persevered and is now where he should be.
Many of his friends from that time are unfortunately still stuck on the grass, and he wishes they could feel how he does now. He told me this morning, after we saw one of them at the bus stop in his school uniform totally stoned, that he is so glad he doesn't feel that way any longer. He said that when you are stoned all the time you have to pretend to look happy because you don't really feel anything other than stoned. I asked him if he misses it. I got the "are you serious?" look. I guess not.
I still worry that he can easily slip back into this life. He has an addictive personality, which he is also aware of. As a mum I feel it is my responsibility to keep a close eye on him, but not fence him in. To constrain his freedom and time spent with friends would do him more harm that letting him go out and learn to live life without giving in to the temptation. It has now been 1 month since he has had any substance at all and this is a huge win. I absolutely know he is being honest with me because as he was weaning himself off it he would tell me when he had it. He knows if he does slip up, he can tell me and I won't go postal. Sure I'll be disappointed, but the fact he will be honest with me means I can help him and be there for him. I've had to trust he was doing this the best way he could. I went with my instincts and am so glad I did. He has done this on his own, but with my support. Now that he has achieved his goal, he is so happy with himself. His self esteem has risen and he feels a sense of achievement. Something he was sadly lacking before. He also knows how much this means to me and he now knows how much better life is when he's not stoned.
I don't doubt that as he makes his way through his life he will be lured by other temptations, we all are. However, for a 17 year old, he has the emotional intelligence of someone much older and understands his personality type. When he senses he is becoming addicted to something, be it chocolate, coffee or a playstation game, he stops. He goes cold turkey and walks away. He is determined not to let addictions rule his life. I truly hope he succeeds.
I've learnt a lot about parenting teenagers throughout this experience and if I look back to the mother I was when my boys were little, to the mother I am now - I am chalk and cheese. The way I believed I would be when my boys grew up back then is nothing like my reality. Those lovely innocent babies I had who were so compliant and reliant on me for direction one day grew up and all bets were suddenly off.
I am not a perfect mother and I'm sure I could have done so many things differently, however I did learn some important lessons from this experience. They are:
- Teenagers will always do things you don't like (you did the same to your parents). Keep the communication lines open by not judging and yelling at them when they do something wrong. They are no longer little children. Talk to them and tell them how you feel but understand that sometimes you need to let your teenagers do things their way. If you do this, they will allow you into their life.
- Dropping out of school does not make your child a failure. For some teenagers school can contribute to problems. I am not advocating dropping out of school to bum around - there should be a clear choice of school or work. Let them make the decision. It makes such a difference.
- Don't wait for the "standard" things to happen to show your children how proud you are of them - life is more than sporting and academic achievements - showing your teenagers how proud you are of them just for making good decisions and for being themselves goes a long way.
- Some teenagers go off the rails despite how they have been raised. It isn't your fault, it just happens. I believe that whatever is meant to happen in life always does. It's how you deal with it when it happens that affects the outcome.
- No matter what is going on - tell your teenager every single day that you love them and mean it.