Confession: My son is growing up…and I really, really hate it

There are two pivotal moments in your son’s life that will change your world forever. I don’t mean the moment he becomes a father or the moment he becomes a husband. Those are the moments that change HIS life. I’m talking about the ones that change yours.

It will hit you harder than your son’s father because he was a little boy once. He knew what was coming. Whereas a mommy wants her boy to never grow up, I think a lot of dads can’t wait for it. At the least, they don’t fear it. Much like with my daughter, I will miss having a baby, but I am okay with her growing up because as she grows, she grows closer to me. My daughter and I are both women. I am what she will become. But with my son, the closer he gets to being a man, the farther it feels like he gets from me. The bigger he gets, the smaller I feel, less useful, less needed, less relevant. And I was not at all prepared for this. And I really, really hate it.

The first moment came for me with Bubba about two years ago. He was on the tail end of being 10 years old, a few months away from starting middle school. It hit me that my little boy wasn’t so little anymore. He was becoming a young man. I went into mommy panic. I wanted to stall time, stop the growing-up process ASAP. I knew he’d grow up; of course I did. But not yet. I wasn’t ready. And it rocked my whole world.

He had moments of being my baby still, though they were few and far between, and he was still small enough, innocent enough for me to still consider him my little boy. I was lulled into a state of complacency. I was okay. He was transitioning. But he wasn’t there yet.

And now it’s two years later, 3 months until he will be a teenager, and I’m hit like a ton of bricks with that second moment: the moment you realize he’s not a little boy at all anymore. The transition is over. He is not little. He is not innocent. He is not a boy. He is, much too soon for my liking, a young man. My time with him as my baby are gone. And I’m never going to have it again.

Everyone tells you that you should enjoy your babies while they’re little, that they grow up so fast, that you can’t get the time back. Everyone is absolutely right. I savored the moments, drank him in. I don’t have any regrets about taking the time for granted or not spending enough with him. But all the same, my heart breaks to know it’s all over. I am so blessed to have so many years of amazing memories. I am grateful I got to be his mommy (something he never, ever calls me now) and watch him grow. But I’m not at all ready to let him go.

There was a night recently where he was playing with some old toys of his that we found. It almost felt like I was having one of those precious and sacred moments where he was my little boy again. Almost. I took pictures. Posted on insta. Got tears of bittersweet joy in my eyes. But then I realized: it was different that time. He wasn’t playing because the little boy in him wanted to play. He was playing for the nostalgia of it. He didn’t get sad about these toys that he’s too big for now (my Bubba is a softie; he gets sad and cries about a lot of things, even now). Within a few minutes, he lost interest. Stopped playing. Went back to his xbox or YouTube or whatever else would continue to entertain his adolescent self. He was done. Not just with the toy, but with that time of his life.

But I’m not.

When they’re babies, it feels like you have forever. They’re so small with their entire lives ahead of both of you. There’s something about a little boy that makes you feel like he’s gonna be a little boy for a long, long time. Their toys get bigger as they do, their LEGO sets get more complicated, they get better and fully understand the rules of the sports they’ve played since they were tiny. But they still feel like little boys. They get dirty and they break things and they play rough and they make messes. They still ask for mommy when they fall and scrape a knee. They still cry into your chest. They still fit into and fall asleep in your arms.

And then one day, they don’t. Without warning. Like a bolt of lightning. And there is no going back.

There is no more endless chatter about their day after school. There are no cars and LEGO pieces littering your living room floor. They no longer seek your approval, your opinion or your attention. Their voices are deeper, their bodies hairier (and they are proud of it; Bubba once announced he had grown “at least 4 new armpit hairs” right at the dinner table), and their lives are suddenly completely their own.

At the ripe age of 12, you are no longer the center of their universe. Their friends, the internet and social media are. They will sometimes (often) make choices that are questionable, guided by words that are not yours, by an influence you cannot control. All the time you spent trying to instill strong beliefs and good values in him seem to disappear in favor of whatever someone on YouTube or the cool kid in class has to say. Where he came from seems to bear no resemblance to where he’s going. In the process of finding themselves, they lose pieces of who they once were. Navigating the pathway between not a little boy and now a young man is treacherous. It will be heartbreaking and challenging. For both of you.

There are moments he will be unrecognizable, both in good and bad ways. There are times you will miss your little boy so much that it hurts and others that you will love the man he’s becoming more than anything on this earth. You’ll find yourself caught between wanting to just be his mommy, his safe place to land, and being his mother, preparing him to face the harsh world on his own. You have to figure out how to keep him soft enough to stay sweet but hard enough to be strong when the moments he allows you in, once so constant and steady, are now few and far between.

While you were once his safe haven, he will now find solace in his solitude. Where once he needed you, he will have the courage to stand on his own. He will be stronger than you never imagined and will have battles you can no longer fight for him. He lives in a world that you cannot save or protect him from. And while you are no longer at the center of it, you are at the heart of it. Because you are his heart. All those years you tried so hard to be the best mom you could be to make him the best him that he could be, every time you kissed his boo-boos, wiped his nose, dried his tears, held his hand, tucked him in, sang his lullaby, cheered him on, and loved him so hard you thought you’d explode, that is the foundation of his very soul. His boyhood is gone, but your little boy is not. It is in the moments when he scans a room with his eyes until he finds yours, or hugs you a little tighter or longer than he has to, and how, even when he’s much taller than you, he will still lay his head on your shoulder. Just as you and all you are to him live in his heart forever, so does your little boy live in yours.

So hold him tight whenever you can for as long as you can. And always remind him that no matter how big, how strong, how tough, how old he gets, you will always, always be his soft place to land anytime he needs it.

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