I am the mom of five sons: three adults, one 10-year-old, and one intellectually disabled 9-year-old. This does not make me an expert; it means I am experienced and tired and middle-aged. We started young. I was just 22 when we had our firstborn. In my 20's and 30's, I possessed boundless energy for the parenting of the three little boys who soon shared our home, and I loved being the mom of those exuberant, funny, and often plain-crazy boys.
Life was pretty simple. The floors were strewn with Legos, the appetites were boy-sized, and there were varying degrees of homeschool love and hate, depending on the boy, the subject, the weather, the mood, the time of year.
And Then They Became Teens
Then something unexpected happened. I mean, not totally unexpected; I had been a teen and had teen brothers and had oft been warned by strangers in the grocery check-out line, "Just wait until they're teeeeeenagers." But this undetectable switch was flipped in their brains and suddenly the boys who were interested in historical war stories and world domination through Minecraft and seeing who could eat the most jalapeños, weren't.
It wasn't just the academic stuff, either. Laundry? Why? Clean teeth? What's the point? Video games? Well, yes. All day, every day, if given the option.
I began to see a lot of foot dragging, and because we homeschool, there began the season of pretending to do school work. “Is your math done?” — emphatic nodding — "Yep!" And then of course they'd bring me their math book and nothing had been done for weeks. (Before the homeschool naysayers load their guns, here's the deal: We'd gone through a period of excellent self-motivation prior to this 12-year-old transformation thing. I had no reason to doubt their integrity up to this point. Think: kid pretending to do homework. Same thing.)
They Had Exactly Zero Goals
I also noticed in one of our boys that there were absolutely no life goals, short term or long. Apparently, spending the rest of your life on a Nintendo is a perfectly viable goal. Rather, not having the goal of spending one's life doing anything was the goal. I think.
One afternoon I was driving down a long country road with our third son, Jack. By number three, I was a seasoned pro at this unmotivated teenage boy gig, and I was recognizing the signs. I thought maybe it was time to light a fire, at least mentally. "Hey Jack. What do you want to do with your life?” At the time, he had been learning to play golf and was out on the course at least once a week. "Do you want to be a professional golfer?" Whatever is pausier than a pause, that's how Jack responded. Dead silence. And then he spoke.
“Mom, I’m only 14. I don’t have to think about that.”
If he had been able to communicate what was really going through his brain at the time, it was likely more in line with "I don't know, I don't care. I get up, I eat breakfast, I go back to bed, I disappear. This is working for me."
I've learned now how to move through this season of a teen boy's life without destroying our mother/son relationship, and next time I'll share with you some things that I think can help yours, too. There's hope ahead!
What is a loving mom to do is this lackadaisical stage of teenage life?
1. Let him backslide.
Shocking? Perhaps. But stick with me, because this is going somewhere positive.
I know that encouraging a kid (or, at the very least, allowing a kid) to backslide sounds contrary to everything we responsible parents believe in, but I’ve learned to hone in on the most important things. For us, as home educators, the most important things looked a little like this:
The Most Important Things
Yes, son, you need to continue doing your math because we’ve got to stay on top of that during the high school years. Yes, you need to keep writing and reading and paying attention when I teach you about the Huns or he rise of Nationalism or the fall of the Roman Empire. Yes, you might look back and wonder what the heck all of that algebra was for, but you will be a better thinker and processor and guy for all that struggle. And yes, we want you involved in some sort of faith community.
But the things that weren’t imperative or core subjects, for the sake of relationships, I am willing to let go.
Hair styles? Not important enough to make an issue out of. Shoe choices? Nope. Sleeping until 11? Not if the required responsibilities are met. You can keep odd hours as long as you respect the rest of the family, but they don't have to be 9-5 around here.
A messy bedroom, some time on the computer, eating weird/unhealthy/vegetarian/gluten-filled/whatever just isn't important enough to me to jeopardize a relationship with my son. Even energy drinks, which in my opinion, are up there with arsenic. Yep. Even those. And, dare I say it? Even if you stop reading your Bible on your own time. I'm just not going to legislate your relationship with God, because that rather misses the whole point of you growing in your faith, doesn't it?
What Are the Most Important Things?
And so the question becomes: What are the hills you are willing to die on? What is of tantamount importance in your home? What is a life-changing, life-altering, earth-shattering precept upon which you will stand and require your son to stand in these early teen years?
For us, the guideline is that if it isn't illegal or unbiblical, it's allowable. That should give you a wide berth.
We majored on the most important things, and then something happened.
Then something happened: Around the age of 15, our oldest son discovered a love for filmmaking. He began by making short movies at home, studied filmmaking with his dad and online, and worked on his bachelor's degree in fits and starts.
He found his passion, and it drove his choices. Incidentally, guess how he makes his living as a 24-year-old? Yep. Filmmaking.
Around the age of 16, our second son discovered that he was extremely motivated by a lifeguarding job. He worked summers at that community pool and by the time he left for college, he was managing the pool and making good money. He is a hard worker, married, and making solid life choices.
What about our third son? The son who told me to back off the goals since he was "only 14 and didn't have to think about that yet"? When he was 16 he transferred to a high school that was just starting a basketball program, and because it was brand new, he got on the team as a junior. Basketball became the surprise sport that motivated the rest of his high school career. He's a self-proclaimed non-academic who has been promoted at his salaried job with full benefits, in a setting he loves in a city a state away from us. He's forged a life there and tells us he's exactly where God wants him to be.
What more could we ask for?
The idea is to get him to start thinking about his future, then stoke the fire.
2. Stoke the Fire
Your job is to stoke the fire. Help your son to hone his skills, even if they've lain dormant for a couple of years. Was he passionate about STEM subjects as a tween? Sports? Music? Serving others? What is it that can garner a risen eyebrow from your son if the topic comes up?
If you don't know where to begin or he, like one of our sons, declares that he has no idea what he likes or what he's good at, consider career assessment so he can begin to think about the options. We told our son that living at home indefinitely was not going to be a viable option, so he might start thinking now about what he wants to do with the rest of his life.
Give him the tools he needs.
Whether the fire for your son starts as a tiny ember barely burning or comes on like a forest blaze, be ready to give him all the tools and encouragement he needs. He will sense your support if you jump all in with him. What if his great burning passion dies out within a month or two? Well then, you've gained his trust that you are on his team and will alway be his number one fan.
Kendra Fletcher is the mother of 8, speaker for groups and conferences around the country, columnist for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, author of several books, and podcaster on HomeschoolingIRL. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including Crosswalk.com, Arizona Home Education Journal, and Washington Family Magazine. She blogs at www.kendrafletcher.com, www.homeschoolingIRL.com, and www.preschoolersandpeace.com. Find her on Twitter: @KendraEFletcher
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/bowdenimages