The Teenage Transition From Boy To Man

Teenagers and the Transition from Boy to ManI’ve been demoted in my role as Mum by my teenage son now. Steve Biddulph warned me it would happen in his books, Raising Boys and The New Manhood, but I thought I would be the mother to prove him wrong.

Steve obviously knows what he’s talking about.

“Most men today live behind masks. They put them on in the morning and keep them on until they fall asleep at night, adopting the clichés of what they perceive a real man to be. The problem is, it’s all pretend.” (Steve Biddulph)

My son is creating his mask.

The rules have suddenly changed in our relationship. Where I was once a figure my son looked up to, his support, his role model, it feels as though I have become little more than a serf in his life these days, with about as much social standing as the servants in Downton Abbey. Actually less, because they are paid for their work.

My new status was made perfectly clear to me today when we went clothes shopping together in George Street. I had envisaged our trip as a potential bonding moment, but as I watched him plug in his earphones, I realised that I was little more than a cash enabler, and that communication would not be involved.

I traipsed behind him like Tiger Woods’ caddy, at least three metres behind at all times, while he sauntered off ahead and in control. Topman was full of weary mums like me, stalking outside the changing rooms, accepting this new place in their teenage boys’ lives, credit cards at the ready, newly aware that these last links are so tenuous and precious.

The only time he acquiesced to share the same square metre of space with me in public was when we met briefly at the paydesk. He did mumble a ‘thanks Mum’ as I handed over the dosh, but it was only coherent to those with either canine hearing or  desperately holding on to the last morsel of what might still be considered a relationship.

I get it. I remember being embarrassed to have to shop with my parents. I get it; I’m just not really ready for it yet.

I’m worried he won’t ever come back to me again. That once he’s mature enough to reconsider our tie, some evil girl will steal him from under my nose. I remember my brother retreating to his bedroom at the age of twelve and not reappearing until he was eighteen. The only time we saw him during those six years was during flying visits on Christmas Day to inhale twenty-four roast potatoes and bid goodbye for another twelve months.

My boy is creating his man-shed, part of his transition from boy to man. He needs to be mentally strong in this new man-world and he is busy creating the emotional tools to face the challenge, while I scramble around pathetically, trying desperately to retain our old relationship. The more I try to stop the building process, the more determinedly he hammers in the nails.

I used to consider myself a strong, opinionated woman, yet in the presence of my teenage son these days I feel like a piece of putty at the mercy of his manipulation. I am Edward Cullen, helpless in the path of the evil powers of his alter-ego Jane, from Twilight. He holds the emotional power and I am a sad and powerless pawn, and I while I recognise and detest this feeling of subservience, I am powerless to prevent it. It is the power of love.

I am emotionally strung out at being ousted from his life so mercilessly. I try to please him all the time, to appease him, and I can see the disdain on his face as I compromise my own strength. I don’t know whether to accept the painful transition, grieve and move on, or fight it. Whatever happened to that gorgeous blonde vision of innocent chubbiness who used to worship me and tell me he loved me ‘this much’?

My love for him has always been unconditional; I thought that his would be the same for me.

He tolerates me now. I am his cook, bank and a sounding board when things get too hard, but he knows and I know that I can’t be his friend or pretend to understand anything that is going on in his life.

‘You don’t understand, Mum,’ is the common accusation when I try to carry on parenting the way I used to, before the bumfluff and baritone voice signalled the change.

We have to let them go. Our boys have to make the transition from boy to man and I have to continue to support and nourish him during his transition, no matter how painful I find his rejection.

In the hope that he will come back to me when he is ready.

11 thoughts on “The Teenage Transition From Boy To Man

  1. Louise, I had this about 3 years ago, I watched him walk in front of me and thought gee can you not even walk next to me now. The sudden distain for me was like a knife twisting in my heart. We work so hard to educate them to a better standard than we were ever offered and what happens – they then see you as the great uneducated with taunts like “well you don’t work so what do you know”. My retort “no I don’t now but I did when your were age 1 to 10 then we moved Hemispheres to be able to afford Private education and endless green fields to play sport in all for YOU and I took the decision that I could take time away from running my own Sales and Marketing Consultancy to watch you and your brothers at every damn sports event, every speech day, every guitar recital” – but I have learnt to hold my retort in as it really isn’t worth it as he walks off saying “calm your farm Mrs Hormones!”

    Shelia Lashlie has a great book, read by most boy mothers in New Zealand that I have sent to Maris being in the “mother of three boys club”. Its called “he’ll be OK” (if you haven’t read it) and it talks about your boy crossing “the bridge” and how hilarious some mums are when they run after their boy trying to grab onto their hand, whilst their boy marches off over the bridge never looking back. My boy to man plan was to throw him at his father – I organise many Concert buddie trips where they go off and listen to horrible rock – The Dobbies, this weekend Robert Plant. It works as I am left with the other two sons just cherishing the time with them when they still think of me as funny and bearable to breathe the same air in the same room as them – my 10 year old and I call each other Big Bum (me obviously) and him Fat Face and it is still funny and kind.

    The only thing that keeps me going is that (and you will have this), so many friends and teachers who come into contact with him sing his praises “what a kind boy”, “he has impeccable manners”, “he is such a good boy”, “you are so lucky to have such a smart boy” – I smile appreciating the feedback, knowing that outside of the house he is a treasure, whilst inside the house however much love I throw his way he still sees me as plankton.

    The Middle and Axil have portrayed this time in mum/boy life “so correctly”.



    1. Love your comment Cheryl. Always good to know you’re not alone. ‘A knife twisting through the heart’ is a very apt analogy. Guess we just have to wait in the wings until they’re ready to come back x


  2. Oh yes, familiar territory indeed and you have described it terrifically well here. I am heartened by your recollection of your brother`s disappearance aged twelve. Maybe my man/son will come back to me after another couple of years? Meanwhile, his older brother has emerged.Almost.


  3. My Mom would have killed me if I put in headphones while we were shopping. She would have said it’s pretty rude I think she is good enough to pay for all this stuff I want but not good enough to speak to while we are out. I’m only 23, but I think you need to make him take them out. It didn’t alienate me or make me push my Mom further away, it made me realize I was being an a**hole and my Mom (to my surprise) is a person too.


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