Every once in a while I sort out the texts I have received. That’s how I found this text from a mother. It came in two parts. I had only read the second part where she apologized for asking for advice, so I waited for the next text but it never came.
As I cleared my phone it turned out the text I was waiting for had come ahead. The lady was asking for advice on what to do with her youngest son who was going through puberty. This is not her first child. She has daughters who are already grown, who went through their puberty differently.
Now she has discovered that her son uses a different tone in his communication with his friends through the computer. She has found this out by spying and is horrified because her son is so different from the little grade school boy she knew. She loses sleep worrying about what she should do, how she should handle this son during puberty.
Puberty is also a time for us to look at our lives and determine how we want to live after our children are no longer with us, no longer dependent on us. What kind of a life will we lead then?
I, too, have daughters and sons. I was a single mother raising them. I learned lessons about puberty that parents are all destined to learn.
Nobody tells us how different it is with every child or how to raise our children because there are no correct answers. We just have to grope our way through our children’s puberty and through our own lives. These activities, whether we are aware of them or not (and usually we are not), happen simultaneously.
Now that I am old, I think back frequently about the difficult times of my life. One of them was my children’s puberty.
This is what I learned: puberty is the time when the adorable little children we raised begin — without being aware of it — to assert their independence from us by discovering and asserting aspects of their personalities and inadvertently hurting or confusing us, their parents.
When our children undergo puberty, all parents are flustered. We all face the question: What am I going to do? That is the question I asked the high school principal who told me my daughter would not be accepted back at the school.
She said, “Just hold on. You have daughters. Their problem years ago begin more or less at 12 and continue until they’re more or less 16. Then you can talk to them as if they are adults.”
For boys it begins later, at around 14 and ends at around 18. This turned out to also be true for my girls, whose personalities were all different from each other but who all turned out to be fiercely independent like their mother. It was most difficult with the eldest. It became less difficult with the rest, not because they were easier, but because I had already begun training with the first.
My son was taken by his father when he turned eight. The law then said children had to stay with their mother until the age of seven. He went through his puberty crisis with his father.
Part of it was he was looking for me, his mother, during his growing years. When I realized that, I felt relief from the pain that had gripped me when he was eight and chose to live with his father, who was buying him Voltes V robots and taking him to Disneyland, seducing him at the age when children are easily seduced.
Parenting gives us a lot of good times when our children are small and when they mature into adults. But it puts us through hell during their puberty years.
There is one factor that I point out now that many of us do not see. Puberty is also a time for us to look at our lives and determine how we want to live after our children are no longer with us, no longer dependent on us, no longer listening, or even wanting our advice. What kind of a life will we lead then? What will be the source of our happiness? Usually we grope our way through this. I know I did.
Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist whose work I studied for a long time, taught me that there are many personality types. There’s Hera, who is primarily the wife. She defines herself as her husband’s wife. There’s Demeter, who is the mother. She defines herself through her children, tends to get obsessive with them as Hera tends to get obsessive with her husband who, in her eyes, can do no wrong.
This lady who sought my advice is the classic Demeter. Her youngest son’s puberty is also leading her to a subtle, unseen question: What will I do with myself when my youngest child is grown? Who will I look after? How will I find joy?
Finally, this is my advice: Relax, don’t obsess. You cannot fight puberty — his or yours. Find something else to do. Discover a new habit. Accept your son the way you said you would. Breathe deeply and try hard to enjoy yourself.