My step son is a senior in high school and 18 years old. We’ve lived together for the past eight years, and now he’s getting ready to take control of his own life and explore the world on his own. I catch myself just watching him as he moves around our house. Is this boy seen as a man to the rest of the world? Every now and then he sneaks out a burst of joy when he rides bikes with his younger sister, when he puts on a large inflatable bubble suit and rolls around the house, and when he talks with us about customized trucks. Will the rest of the world protect this joy the way I do?
Last year, we talked about his ideas of life after high school. The conversations were quite short and usually I did most of the talking. Recently, I insisted that we visit colleges, that he take the SAT and ACT and that he take an assessment to help discover his natural talents. Aren’t these the things that kids do when they are juniors and seniors in high school. I know these are the things that a lot of parents do that have kids around his age. We’ve gone through the motions and made efforts for our son to conform with "he norm" and catch the momentum of life.
I felt his reluctance towards this momentum, but I wondered what would happen if he didn’t get on the bus labeled “College / Career.” Which bus will he take if he misses this one? What if he gets on a bus that doesn’t have a label; where will it take him? What if he gets on a brand new, shiny bus that only has one stop - Self Destruction?
Our son lives with devoted loyalty to his true self. He has a strong understanding of who he is and he doesn’t compromise his nature to conform. Believe me, I would appreciate his compromise every now and then for my own comfort, but I also value and respect (and admire) his integrity.
“I think I want to go into the Navy.” He said, and I choked on my sip of wine.
“Oh, you’ve been thinking about this?” I asked.
“Yes, I want to travel.” He replies.
I looked over at his dad and he had the same surprised look on his face. Our son has two grandfather’s that spent time in the Navy, so I understand why he chose this branch of the military. However, when I think about him enlisted in the military, I can barely breathe. I was not prepared for him to consider this option.
“Sam, I’d rather him stay in Boerne and work at the local western wear store than join the military.” I said once we were alone. We talked about this for a while, and I realized it is easier for Sam to accept the Navy than it is for me. I don’t understand how my husband and our son can consider this without streams of tears falling down their face, like mine are.
What I don't think they understand is that I already had his life after high school mapped out. According to my map, he would attend a college nearby, so that I could make him lasagna on the weekends or take him Chinese noodles when he felt sick, like I’ve done for the past 8 years. He would be close enough to meet his younger sister and I at the mall and join us all for a movie on a Sunday afternoon, like we’ve done for the past 3 years. He would be close enough for me to visit when he needed some encouragement.
Is this boy seen as a man to the rest of the world?
I don’t feel like I’m finished teaching him the things I’ve learned from my own life’s experiences. I don’t feel like I’ve succeeded in persuading him that I know best.
- I look at his effort in school and wonder how I could have taught him to be more responsible.
- He shows up to work precisely as scheduled, and his boss sees that he is responsible.
- I look at his room and wonder how I could have taught him to be more organized.
- He has never lost his phone, it’s charger or his wallet. Perhaps he is organized with things that matter to him?
- I watch him having fun with his dad and sister at the dinner table and I wonder how I could have taught him more manners.
- He opens doors for me, looks people in the eyes when he’s talking and always offers a thank you in response to acts of generosity. Perhaps he has great manners?
I understand that the wishes I have for our son and his life after high school are uniquely mine. I cannot impose them on him nor expect that he will accept them for his own. I understand that any discomfort I have is based on my insecurity and uncertainty, and not the result of anything he’s created.
- I conceive a horrific, fear based story about life in the military, while our son sees an opportunity to travel the world, simultaneously developing a career.
- I perceive my parenting to be partially inadequate, while he is forging his own path in perfect timing.
Once again Life puts an invitation into production. It selects a high quality linen paper, folds it delicately, puts a gold embossed sticker on it, writes my name in calligraphy on the front and delivers it straight to my soul. I open the invitation carefully and there is only one word written on the inside in beautiful script. Trust.
I accept! I might show up with tears and self-doubt, but I will show up to Life and trust. And this will be another parental contribution I make to my son: the gift of believing in him and his choices, which I hope will help him do the same thing.
We are two separate people, who share a home, a family and deep love. For our home, our family and our deep love, I am profoundly grateful.