I’ve been demoted in my role as Mum by my teenage son now. Steve Biddulph warned me it would happen in his books, Raising Boys and The New Manhood, but I thought I would be the mother to prove him wrong.
Steve obviously knows what he’s talking about.
“Most men today live behind masks. They put them on in the morning and keep them on until they fall asleep at night, adopting the clichés of what they perceive a real man to be. The problem is, it’s all pretend.” (Steve Biddulph)
My son is creating his mask.
The rules have suddenly changed in our relationship. Where I was once a figure my son looked up to, his support, his role model, it feels as though I have become little more than a serf in his life these days, with about as much social standing as the servants in Downton Abbey. Actually less, because they are paid for their work.
My new status was made perfectly clear to me today when we went clothes shopping together in George Street. I had envisaged our trip as a potential bonding moment, but as I watched him plug in his earphones, I realised that I was little more than a cash enabler, and that communication would not be involved.
I traipsed behind him like Tiger Woods’ caddy, at least three metres behind at all times, while he sauntered off ahead and in control. Topman was full of weary mums like me, stalking outside the changing rooms, accepting this new place in their teenage boys’ lives, credit cards at the ready, newly aware that these last links are so tenuous and precious.
The only time he acquiesced to share the same square metre of space with me in public was when we met briefly at the paydesk. He did mumble a ‘thanks Mum’ as I handed over the dosh, but it was only coherent to those with either canine hearing or desperately holding on to the last morsel of what might still be considered a relationship.
I get it. I remember being embarrassed to have to shop with my parents. I get it; I’m just not really ready for it yet.
I’m worried he won’t ever come back to me again. That once he’s mature enough to reconsider our tie, some evil girl will steal him from under my nose. I remember my brother retreating to his bedroom at the age of twelve and not reappearing until he was eighteen. The only time we saw him during those six years was during flying visits on Christmas Day to inhale twenty-four roast potatoes and bid goodbye for another twelve months.
My boy is creating his man-shed, part of his transition from boy to man. He needs to be mentally strong in this new man-world and he is busy creating the emotional tools to face the challenge, while I scramble around pathetically, trying desperately to retain our old relationship. The more I try to stop the building process, the more determinedly he hammers in the nails.
I used to consider myself a strong, opinionated woman, yet in the presence of my teenage son these days I feel like a piece of putty at the mercy of his manipulation. I am Edward Cullen, helpless in the path of the evil powers of his alter-ego Jane, from Twilight. He holds the emotional power and I am a sad and powerless pawn, and I while I recognise and detest this feeling of subservience, I am powerless to prevent it. It is the power of love.
I am emotionally strung out at being ousted from his life so mercilessly. I try to please him all the time, to appease him, and I can see the disdain on his face as I compromise my own strength. I don’t know whether to accept the painful transition, grieve and move on, or fight it. Whatever happened to that gorgeous blonde vision of innocent chubbiness who used to worship me and tell me he loved me ‘this much’?
My love for him has always been unconditional; I thought that his would be the same for me.
He tolerates me now. I am his cook, bank and a sounding board when things get too hard, but he knows and I know that I can’t be his friend or pretend to understand anything that is going on in his life.
‘You don’t understand, Mum,’ is the common accusation when I try to carry on parenting the way I used to, before the bumfluff and baritone voice signalled the change.
We have to let them go. Our boys have to make the transition from boy to man and I have to continue to support and nourish him during his transition, no matter how painful I find his rejection.
In the hope that he will come back to me when he is ready.