Your son growing up will feel like the slowest break up you've ever known
Originally written by Mia Freedman in her Weekly Newsletter which you can subscribe to here.
“Being the mother of a son is like someone breaking up with you really slowly.”
Those aren’t my words but they could be. I heard them in a movie recently called The Otherhood (Netflix) about three friends whose sons had grown up and moved out of home. It’s a comedy but a poignant one because at its heart, it examines what it means to be the mother of a son who is no longer a boy, your boy, but a man.
And in our Mamamia Out Loud show, when I’ve spoken about this topic and repeated that quote, you can hear an instant, primal wave of audible gasps and yelps of pain coming from the audience. Those are the mothers of boys. Some of them still babies. Babies and toddlers and boys who will grow up and grow away and break up with their mothers. Slowly. But surely. Because they need to.
And if they do – when they do – it means we got it right. We parented them right. Whether you have sons or daughters, our role as parents is ultimately to make ourselves redundant and while I don’t know what it’s like to be the parent of an adult woman, I know what it’s like to stumble as my son became a man.
I’m still stumbling even though he just turned 22. For example. Recently, he had to book in for a hernia operation because he is the world’s most elderly millennial.
“Make sure you don’t book before mid November because I’ll be away a lot and I will obviously want to come and stay the night with you in hospital,” I told him one night at dinner when he mentioned it.
He looked aghast.
“Why on earth would you do that?”
For a moment, I was puzzled but I quickly caught up.
“Oh, of course, you’ll want Jessie to stay overnight with you.”
Jessie is his girlfriend and she happened to be at dinner also.
He looked aghast. So did Jessie.
“Why on earth would Jessie stay with me?”
“Why would I stay with him?" echoed Jessie.
Everyone at the table started laughing at me but even as I write this, I remain confused.
How can my child spend the night alone in a hospital room after an operation? How can I be anywhere else but in that chair beside him that folds out into a really uncomfortable tiny bed? Like I have on the thankfully rare occasions any of my children have had to stay in hospital overnight.
“You were going to drop Luca off at the children’s hospital, weren’t you?” my husband said, stifling laughter.
I looked aghast.
Of course, I was. OF COURSE, I WAS.
There are so many batshit crazy things about being a parent and one that definitely wasn’t in the brochure is the way you don’t actually parent one person, you parent many, many different people who are all your child.
There’s the newborn, the baby, the toddler, the preschooler, the primary-aged kid, the pre-teen, the adolescent, the full-blown teen, the young adult, and then the adult. They all answer to the same name. They all call you Mum. And you never ever notice the inflection point where one of those people turns into the next.
You never get to properly say goodbye to all the little people who grow up because you don’t notice the growing, the changing. Except when Facebook sends you those bloody memory reminders that invariably make me cry because it’s like showing me the face of someone I can never see again. Not in that way. Not at that age.
And now I'm crying as I write this and it’s a grief that feels indulgent and almost insensitive because last week I met a woman whose son died earlier this year after being diagnosed with leukemia two years ago. His name was Archie and he was three. I have met and interviewed many grieving parents and what they wouldn’t give to experience the kind of soft grief I’m talking about as opposed to the soul-ripping grief of actually losing a child.
I’m still crying though and this feeling of living loss is very strange and hard to process.
Amanda Keller cried about this when I interviewed her recently. Her eldest son was leaving school and we commiserated over the fact that our boys’ eyes used to light up when they saw us. Our eyes still light up when we see them... it’s hard to describe the pride of watching your son grow into a man and find his way in the world.
But while we know they love us, their lives no longer spin around their mother as their main axis. We are not the sun around which they spin. Not anymore. It would be weird if we were. I know that. Logically.
I want to tell you about the good stuff about sons growing up.
Hopefully, at some stage, you get to watch them fall in love and see them loved in return and I’m not sure how to even describe the joy that infuses into my soul. You get to see what kind of drunk they are (my son is a sleepy one). They can drive you places and get things off high shelves for you. Also lift things that are heavy.
The main though is this – I don’t have many guy friends. It’s an ongoing wonder to me that I grew one of my best friends in the world, one of the best men I know, in my own body.