I am so honored to have author Lea Page, a longtime homeschooling mother and veteran parent, here with us today. Lea raised and homeschooled her two children in rural Montana. She now lives and writes in New Hampshire. Her new book, “Parenting in the Here and Now”, promises to be an amazing read for all parents. Her book has a page on the Floris book website here. This book is scheduled for publication in the UK on April 16th, and will be available from Steiner Books and other bookstores in the US a few weeks later. It is available now for pre-order on Amazon. Enjoy Lea’s beautiful post about Advent, waiting, and the fourteen year old boy. I am so pleased she is here with us!
The 14 Year Old Boy—or—Waiting for Him to Emerge from the Cave
Advent is the perfect time to consider the fourteen-year-old boy. Think of the classic gesture: he withdraws into his room, which he now prefers to be unlit and untouched by any human hand, most especially yours. When he responds to you—IF he responds—it may be monosyllabic.
For parents, this time can be challenging and frustrating. We want him to come out and… do something! Say something! Reassure us that he is…. what? who? The delightful thirteen-year-old that he used to be? He can’t.
This withdrawal is how—in his messy, unmade bed way—your fourteen-year-old walks into the mystery of deep reflection and infinite possibility. The whole year is a transition. It will be, for him, a journey into and out of the Advent spiral. He walks into darkness alone, in search of that single flame at the center. And then he tips his candle to that light and kindles his own. If you have watched a child walk an Advent spiral, you know that they emerge lit from within.
Advent is a time of waiting and of faith. And so it is with our fourteen-year-old boys. We must wait, and we must have faith. And more than that: we must hold them in our hearts with reverence, even when the smell of their socks is staggering.
The fourteen-year-old still sees the world as black or white, either/or, good or bad. He is beginning a journey where he will discover that most of the world operates in the grey area and that there is a positive and negative aspect to everything, depending on the circumstances. It’s all relative.
It can be difficult for the fourteen-year-old to get his bearings when so much is shifting. And you know what that means: WE need to remain steady and calm. We can’t help them by goading them forward. We CAN help by providing our sons with a safety net woven of clear, consistent, but not overly high expectations and unrelenting warmth.
Being fourteen is exhausting. A boy who was vibrant at thirteen may be uncharacteristically lethargic at fourteen. He feels jet-lagged from the rate of physical, emotional and mental growth he is experiencing. Outwardly, it may look like all progress has ground to a halt, but internally, he is working hard.
Respect your son’s need to retreat, to incubate, to gather his forces (and to sleep—ten hours is barely enough). Assess your expectations carefully: you don’t want to expect miracles at this age, but you don’t want to throw in the towel, either. Determine your minimum requirements. For example: I expected my son at the dinner table with his basic manners intact, but I didn’t expect him to be an energetic conversationalist. Showing up was enough, and sometimes it was all he could do.
Acknowledge your son’s desire to withdraw and let him know when he may do so and when he may not. If you fear your son will forever be a dweller of the cave, take heart that it won’t last, but also be firm (and kind!) about calling him out for dinner and chores and homework. And then let him retreat back to his cave.
Alternatively, instead of being lethargic, your son may become passionate about one thing and one thing only, and want to pursue this interest to the exclusion of all else. It is still the age of extremes. It takes time to find the balance between the poles of all-or-nothing. A passion is a great life raft at this age, but it can also be an excuse to disengage from family and responsibilities. If your son is flying above the stratosphere, pursuing his love of soccer or computer code or bike maintenance or playing the guitar, you can bring him back to the world and ground him with chores. And then let him go again.
Remember that sullenness is an elaborate construct designed by the teenager—unconsciously—to protect whatever feels raw and vulnerable, which may be his whole being at times. This doesn’t mean you allow sullenness, but resist the inevitable temptation to react with anger, impatience, and lectures. Respond with action: invite him to try again, and if he is still disrespectful, apply a consequence.
And when you blow it—we all do—model for your son how to make amends. That is a life skill that he will need in his quest for independence.
During this stage, when communication is so challenging, your presence says more than your words. Be there when your son emerges from his room. Be there, not to confront him with a list of his deficiencies, but with a gesture of warmth, a simple “Hey, you,” or even an offer to help him with his chores. Working side by side, your hands busy with a shared task (any task works, although I suggest laundry as THE ideal chore for the teenaged boy), opens the door for conversation. Your fourteen-year-old may feel more comfortable talking to you obliquely, when the main focus is on doing, rather than talking. That way, you can fill an awkward silence by reaching for another T-shirt and folding it with unhurried care. The gesture won’t be lost on your son. And he may end up talking a blue streak, and then you can set everything else aside and listen, with eyes, ears and heart open.
We so want to know what is going on inside our silent boys! But most of them will shy away if we shine the spotlight of our attention on them too intensely. Be patient. Be present. Be consistent. Be reassured that fifteen-year-olds are generally more buoyant, more positive, more energetic and more moderate in their responses to the world.
But mostly: wait.
It is a pregnant waiting. Exciting. Uncomfortable. Long. But something special is born at the end.
Thank you so much, Lea for articulating this period of childhood development so well. Many blessings to you all,