When Your Child Becomes A Teenager, It's A 'Coming Of Age' For Both Of You

by Elizabeth Yeter

He’s thirteen. I can’t believe it. Seems like only yesterday (okay, not yesterday, but recently) that I was chasing him in the park, in the street, in the supermarket. I feel almost nostalgic about those days, but not quite because, as many of you who are in the thick of it right now know, they weren’t all snuggles on the couch and lullabyes. They were breastmilk-pumping, bottom-wiping, hand-holding. More like grabbing actually, since in those days he was constantly trying to wiggle his little fingers from my grasp and run away. I imagine if I tried to hold his hand now I’d get a similar reaction.

Birthdays are milestones, and there are a few that seem to be particularly critical turning points. Five (you can go to real school now), ten (double digit age), sixteen (hand me those car keys!), eighteen (legal adult), twenty-one (pass the bottle of tequila), forty (the list becomes less fun from here). And of course the birthday in question here: thirteen, the passing into adolescence.

It’s an awkward stage that certainly doesn’t start when you become a teenager. In fact, puberty seems to be happening much earlier than it did when I came to it. We even had to give that stage between ages ten and twelve a new name. No longer are those just kids who pass to adolescents when they turn thirteen. Now they’re tweens. But tween he isn’t, and child he isn’t, for starting today he is officially a teenager.

Do you remember the year you turned thirteen? For me, it was the summer before 8th grade. That summer is only memorable because of Roger, my first boyfriend. I wonder if this past summer will be memorable for my son. Not for the excitement of a “first” like I had, but for the utter lack of excitement. The quarantine summer. I shudder to think that perhaps this summer is not an anomaly, but rather the first in a string of new normals, and so won’t even be memorable for its peculiarity.

But it’s not actually his coming of age I was thinking of when I began writing this post. It’s mine. I’m now the mother to a child who is taller than me, wears a bigger shoe size, and can pretty much care for himself. He’s not as independent as I was at his age, but if I died in my sleep, he could go about his day with very little break in routine. He might wonder why I was still in bed, and might be a little annoyed at having to toast his own waffles and microwave his own pizza, but life would not be profoundly interrupted.

I know those thoughts are pretty morbid. I think they go hand in hand with this getting-older, son-becoming-a-teenager thing. It’s like I just realized I’m no longer a young mom. Similar to my son’s growth, this phenomenon did not occur overnight. It was a slow process of changes that I never even noticed. But I should have seen the signs. For example, I’ve become that mom at the playground watching toddlers and saying things like, “Treasure these moments,” to the worn-out first-time mothers who smile politely but inside are thinking, “Lady, I’m just trying to survive ’til nap time.”

And I want to follow my own advice and not take these days for granted, but that’s hard because I’m insanely busy. It feels like women these days can’t win. You either establish your career early on in life, getting all your schooling done and paying your dues in your twenties and thirties and then work on making a baby, or you establish a family first then go back to school and work your way up the chain when the kids aren’t quite so dependent. Both scenarios involve major changes right when life is getting comfortable.

When I’m lying in bed at night I sometimes wonder if I chose the better path or not. But I’ve come to realize that there is no better path, and no lesser one either. Whether you’re thirty or fifty when your child becomes a teenager, it’s still going to be a coming of age for the both of you. As my son enters this awkward stage of life, I too enter into an uncomfortable time of higher education and career-building. As his body stretches and aches from growing pains, I also experience discomfort from extending beyond the person that I thought I was, the woman I thought I had become. And as it turns out, it’s been happening all along, my growth and his, all in tiny increments so small we didn’t notice.