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When did 9 become the new adolescence?  Did I miss something here?  I think I have been blindsided by the moody boy that occasionally shows up in Ethan’s clothes.  I thought I had a few years left before hitting the teenage bumps.

“You don’t understand” seem to be the most common words I hear from him these days.   This is usually tied to his glowering face, where he is feeling hard-done-by for some reason that quite honestly, I don’t understand.

Sometimes I think he resists me for no reason other than a desire to be at odds with me. “Ethan, go brush your teeth” can be rewarded with a “Why” that is stated with the underlying implication of “I’m not moving unless I like your answer” “Because your teeth will rot out of your head” doesn’t seem to be adequate.  Do I have to resort to “So that you don’t breath garbage breath on cute girls?”  Really?  At nine?  The same line of questioning seems to apply to the most basic, common sense things.  Like wearing boots in the snow, zipping up his coat in the wintertime, or washing his hair.  Sometimes my requests are answered by a flat-out “No.”  And I wonder, Where, oh where has my Ethan gone?

I am trying to understand.  It gives me grief to feel like I am becoming a harpy kind of mom.  But after this keeps on repeating, I sometimes resort to a completely inadequate “Because I’m your mom and I told you so!”  To which he cries, “You don’t have to yell at me!”  Argh…  I might as well face facts:  we have a household of four strong personalities.  I guess there are going to be bumps along the way.  But I don’t have to like it.

And so I take a deep breath.  I recently learned that kids will interpret disapproval from their parents as being yelled at.  Knowing that helps a bit, as I was finding myself frequently accused of yelling, when I had not raised my voice.  And with this understanding, I stop to explain that I am not yelling – but I am very clear when I am not approving.  I acknowledge to him that we don’t always have to agree (I’m not that naive).  And that he is allowed to express his feelings – in a respectful way. I tell him that I will think about his point of view – although that does not mean that I will change my tune.  However, since I have always admitted to my kids that sometimes I make mistakes too, I’m not afraid to change my mind after some thought.  I do this in the high hopes that they will learn that they can change their tune, too – while not “losing face” either.  I’d like to think that we can turn these battles of the will into rational discussions.  But as this doesn’t always work, sometimes we simply need some time to cool off, process the situation (or come to our senses).  And sometimes when there’s a complete impasse, we just have to move on.

And please – for those of you with kids this age or older:  If I’m not alone on this one (which I sincerely doubt) – please let me know.  If you have advice for this mama who so wants to have happy kids who feel heard and understood, please lend me your wisdom.  And patience.

Perhaps I have set myself up for this, breaking one of my own rules of life: to not make assumptions.  From the time Audra was a newborn, her feisty and determined personality made itself known, and I remember thinking “Oh boy, I think we’re in for it when we hit the teenage years…”  But Ethan is stubborn in a whole different way – and that part of his nature seems to be rearing its head much more often these days.  I mistakenly assumed that he’d be easier to deal with.  I am already seeing the folly of my belief in this area.

I think part of my frustration is simply because I was wrong.  (And let’s admit, no one likes to be wrong – and I’m no different)  Wrong that I thought I had a few years left of unquestioned authority as the ever-loving mom figure in our household.  And wrong that Audra would be the only one to challenge me with attitude.  Now I’m simply more nervous to see what to expect with her.  I just hope that I am wrong and she’ll be the rare “easy-to-get-along-with-teenager”… (but I think I may as well laugh out loud here)

So what do I do?  Love them anyways – even when they push my buttons?  Even when I’m mad?  Try to be a fair and rational parent, even when I’d like to be a tantrum-throwing child? Yes, I guess so.  Because the reality is that if I can’t overcome those tendencies, I certainly can’t expect them to.  I think the hardest part of being a parent is always being the kind of role model you want to be.  It’s a high standard to hold.

I have no doubt that my children will always be my greatest teachers.  By challenging me. By showing me both my strengths and my weaknesses.  By allowing me to feel the full range of human emotions – from anger and sadness to complete and unfathomable love.

When I look at my children, I can see the interesting, strong, and conscientious people they are becoming.  I so see the irony of wanting to bring them up to be independent thinkers who blaze their own paths – while lamenting how they test their mettle out on me.  I waiver between being proud of their ability to stand their ground and speak their minds… and wanting to have a smooth sail through our lives together.

I guess at the crux of it all – I’d rather bring up my children to know their own minds, and to feel confident enough in themselves to express themselves fully (albeit respectfully).  After all, I would rather my children grow up to be leaders, not followers.

Maybe I just have to add “whetting stone” to the list of roles I play as a mom.  I’ll provide the friction for them to sharpen themselves on.  Maybe it’s on me that they feel safe enough to test themselves and to reach for new limits.  Maybe I just need to toughen up, stay strong, and keep on keeping on.

(…But I don’t always have to like it).