The Art Of Raising A Boyman
The first thing I noticed about adolescence is that it happens in fits and spurts. It is like a dripping faucet, just a little bit at a time. I could see it was coming, the changes. But the process was slow, then there would be a gush of changes, then drops again. A squeaking voice. A voracious appetite. A new pair of pants, again. Then, normalcy. Routine. Picky eating. Same clothes.
Until it escalated.
The next thing I knew, two years of fits and spurts later, there was a new gait. Almost overnight. The lanky arms and legs, the awkward stride. A boy had turned into a not-boy, not-man, a teen, a boyman. He is a novice in his new form. He stands hunched over, as if he hasn’t yet realized he has more height available in his spine. He looks to be a bit uncertain to take up his entire space. The form of him is different but this is not where the changes end.
There is a hardiness to his personality, something tough has externalized. There is more negativity and judgment toward others, but it is known to me as an attempt to separate, to differentiate. He rebels against my stance on emotions, “emotions are stupid, Mom.” I smile and breathe deeply. This too shall pass. I give him no walls or defenses, just acceptance and patience. “Who you are today is a beautiful and temporary boyman, and I want to greet all of this with acceptance and compassion.” My spiritual practice is to not worry, diagnose, fret, or fuss. He is a boyman and it is perfectly right. He rejects my kisses but snuggles in tight when we are watching tv. He erupts in tears of anger while simultaneously rejecting the validity of any emotion. He is engaged in the battle for his soul by a culture that commodifies human worth and conditions gender roles into expectations of performance and enough-ness. He is a walking contradiction; soft and hard, sweet and sour, silly and serious, hungry and not hungry, caring and cruel. He is a boyman.
When he was little, every day was an adventure. What will his next word be? How will he explore the world today? How will I remain calm when he tantrums? Today, it is a new adventure again. What does he want to talk about today? How is his appetite? What does he need from me? How is he feeling?
This time of the boyman is precious to me. The spiritual practice of parenting a teenager is to be patient. To be nonreactive. To be loving and kind. To hold a mirror carefully and sporadically because this boyman is racing through this section of the river; it’s temporary, it’s changing quickly, don’t get too reactive of this version here today, impermanence is the very nature of this boyman. Hold space. See him clearly. Accept him completely. Check him only when it is truly imperative. He is trying on his skin. He is seeing what will fit. He is wide open and highly sensitive to attack. He is hungry. He is tired. He is scared. He is angry. He is okay.
I learn to ask specific, open-ended questions. “How was science class? Who did you eat with at lunch?” I learn to put my computer down when he sits in the sitting room with me, all elbows and knees hanging off the chair. I engage him about politics, social problems, and religions, his favorite topics. I learn to challenge him sporadically but give him wide lanes to diatribe as he tries out his new ideas on his mother.
I answer his questions in detail as he scours internet tests about his personality, his character traits, the best career paths for himself. We dream together about colleges, majors, occupations. “Mom, what do you think would be a good career for me, this or that?” I carefully respond: “I can see you doing this, I can see you doing that.” I want him to stay open, swim wild and find a flow that will evolve him, not a path that he must be anchored to.
I learn to feed him warm foods when he’s emotional. I learn to hold his hand when he lets me, hug him close when he’s watching tv. I learn to avoid kissing him so much; though the top of the head is still allowed, the cheeks are not. I practice acceptance of this new boundary.
I learn to honor his needs. I learn to stay quiet when watching him get tossed around on the soccer field. I refrain from reacting when he is fouled and rolls three times, gets up limping, a grimace of pain on his face. He is two. He is nearly 15. At the same time, he is both to me.
I see a peek of him through the eyes of people who do not mother him. I sense their judgments of this awkward stage, his intense moods, his loud opinions about social problems and worldviews. I contract briefly, anxious for him. Then I step back into my mother heart and I expand, relax, this is okay. He is okay. It is okay that they do not see what I see. I am his mother. It is my spiritual practice to stay awake to all that he is, this boyman. My practice is to not judge him or defend him, but explain him to those who cannot see. “He is in the stage of life where he is exploring his ideas.” “He is differentiating from mom right now.” “He is really hungry.” “He is learning to live in his new body.”
I suppose my spiritual practice could evolve to a place where I do not need to explain this. Where I can simply be present for all of the misunderstandings of who he is and not react to these. I am a work in progress. I feel a primal need to protect my boyman’s heart and soul from being misunderstood, or even worse, unseen.
My boyman will be 15 and a freshman in high school in August. I am his mother. That is what I am. I mother him. I love him unconditionally. I relish in my innate ability to be a witness to his soul’s expression on this planet, at this time, in this moment. I am the lighthouse of love for his soul to anchor to in any storm. It is my first and most important job, to be this safe light to him and his brothers. It is my deepest spiritual practice. I am awakened by his existence. My sweet, sweet boyman.
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