A child is like having your heart running around outside your body.
They are everything to do with you and yet at times a complete mystery, an act of faith and a gift from the universe. They are also a profound challenge. Who knows what life will throw at them and what challenges await? As Gilbran says in The Prophet:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for Itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
With my two children - Peter and Grace - the teenage years were at times a challenge and from talking to St James parents this is a common experience. Suddenly a boy must leave the lap of his mother and enter a more adult world. A movement from the external feminine to the external masculine. In primitive tribes these male initiation rites can be quite brutal. As soon as a boy shows sexual interest or inclination, the men remove him from his mother and he is taken into the jungle to be initiated into the male world. In the western world we lack these rites, but they are still retained in different ways in eastern religions and Judaism. After these rites the boy is returned to the family and treated as an adult. The ancient knowledge being that over-mothering a boy will make him weak and lacking a strong will. He can now also have a regard of the feminine, away from his own mother and sisters.
Teenage behaviour can be baffling to parents as their little boy suddenly seems to turn away from them. The opinion of their peer group suddenly becomes more important than their family's: they spend longer in bed and also want to remain in their rooms. Their inner world is full of doubt and uncertainty; they are suddenly aware of the external world beyond the bounds of their own family, that both attracts and repels. They wonder if they will be accepted, if they will be successful and if they are attractive to others. Sometimes teenagers do not want to wash, but they paradoxically discover Lynx and spray themselves copiously with it. They develop a strange musk! Their bodies are changing and their hormones are exploding. Yet underneath this activity they remain little boys who need boundaries and support.
I am often asked by parents for my thoughts and experience on this stage of a young person's development. Firstly, decide what you are not prepared to compromise on; for me this is truth. Lying of any kind weakens people and I have never accepted my children lying to me. I always insist on the truth. Grace had to admit she crashed the car I bought her because she was fiddling around with her phone; she hated doing it but I respected her honesty.
So, set sensible boundaries and maintain them. I always wanted to know who they were with, where they were and what time they would be back. Similarly, know that they will push against these boundaries, which is natural. But also ensure they know you trust them. This can be a difficult balance.
Core family values must be set out and maintained. I also insisted they were always there for a proper meal in the evening at the table. To eat together, to break bread, is a scared rite and to share food as a family is important. It is also the time where you can talk, and you will soon be able to detect whether anything is amiss. For a stage in the teenage years there always seemed to be an argument at the Sunday dinner, it almost became a joke, the 'Sunday Row'. Yet still we persisted, and thinking back now these were special times.
Communication is also crucial. My other advice is to ring-fence significant time. Boys need time where they have a parent's complete attention. I would always take Peter for a breakfast in a cafe every couple of weeks where we could talk freely and share our challenges. It is also a time where you as a parent can share your emotional state and feelings. These were much valued by both of us and we maintain them now Peter has moved out. Similarly, a serious conversation is often best removed from the home context and neutral territory like a cafe or coffee shop means that behaviour can be contextualised. It also helped to remove matters of discipline away from the view of other siblings.
Sometimes there is no rhyme nor reason for the way a teenager behaves; they are simply not in control of their emotions. I remember excitedly purchasing two tickets for Peter and I to watch England v India in a Test match at Lords for the princely sum of £80 for each. He looked miserable throughout and hardly spoke a word to me. That evening I was crestfallen and wondered why I had bothered. The other week he recounted that day to me which he remembered as one of the best days of his life and a special occasion!
So in conclusion: agree what you are unprepared to compromise on, set appropriate boundaries and ring-fence time. If they say hurtful things to you it is because they can; they are often things they really want to say to others but can't.
Being a parent really can be conscious suffering, but it is worth it!