Through my life I have had more than one experience that has brought me to my knees. Like many people, I have had sudden and unexpected changes that shifted the course of my life — but not before leaving me in a place of the complete unknown. A helpless place, that I call the place of “No Longer and Not Yet.”
It is a very uncomfortable place.
We’ve all experienced times like this. A divorce, losing your home to a fire or disaster, the sudden loss of a job, or even relocating to a new state can leave us feeling the absence of what was known and comfortable, yet not yet knowing what is to be. It’s like a dark chasm of uncertainty; and it takes patience, trust, and faith.
But of all the times in my life that have been no longer and not yet, as a mother none has been more gut wrenchingly uncomfortable for me than navigating through adolescence, and I am in that space right now—for the second and final time.
Before I became a mother, I couldn’t know the feeling of my children being my heart, the air I breathe, and my reason for living. But as any parent will tell you, this feeling is your everyday reality after your babies are born. ...Until they become teenagers.
Adolescents No Longer have that sweet baby, toddler, or little kid smell. You can No Longer make it all better just by kissing their boo-boos or giving them snuggles. They No Longer want bedtime stories, or for you to keep them company in the bathroom. They No Longer wake up telling you every detail of their dreams or share their infinite knowledge of dinosaurs and Pokemon.
In fact, they No Longer want much to do with you at all! I ask my teenage son questions, and I get a one word answer (if I’m lucky) or a grunt. During this time of his development, I find myself feeling completely lost. He is No Longer the little boy that I knew.
But he is Not Yet a man.
He does Not Yet call me for advice on how to quit a job he wants to leave, or how to buy his first car. He does Not Yet ask me for advice with his relationship, or where to go when he needs a new eye exam. He doesn’t yet call just to tell me what he’s up to, how he likes his new apartment, or to complain about his roommate. He doesn’t yet come home for a visit and appreciate eating home cooked food, or going shoe shopping, or having dinner at a restaurant all expenses paid.
He is Not Yet able to feel the comfort in knowing that his mom will always be there, no matter how far away he lives or whether his life is falling apart and he needs a place to land. Just as I was not able to see this in my own mother….until the day came when my life did fall apart, and she was there to catch me.
She caught me when I was 22, and again at 40, and many times in between. And I know that as long as she is alive, it just takes a phone call and she will drop everything to be there.
This place of No Longer and Not Yet with my son takes commitment and faith. I tell myself to commit to telling him I love him every day, and to giving him hugs (when he’ll let me). And I remind myself to have faith that while it sometimes feels like being jilted by an aloof boyfriend—it is only because he is in this in-between place of No Longer and Not Yet.
It is my teenager’s job to pull away, to seek to find out who he wants to be in life through trial and error (a lot of error), and to resist all nudging and advice from the one who cares for him the most—his mom. And in reality, the discomfort of having a teenager is rooted in the loss of my own identity as I have lived it for the last sixteen years.
My son moves through these years to discover who he is and so must I.
He is no longer a little boy, and I am no longer the mother of one. This realization can feel like a solid gut punch that leaves you seeing stars and searching for your bearings, yet all that you have relied on no longer exists.
They don’t tell you this in What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
As a new parent, I couldn’t imagine what people were talking about when they told me, “You think it’s hard now? Just wait until they are teenagers!”
Perhaps what they were trying to tell me was that everything I thought I knew would suddenly end, and I would not be handed a road map or compass to find my way through.
So yes, I am No Longer the mother of a little boy, and I am Not Yet the mother of a man. I am the space holder for an adolescent, and this I know how to do. In my work with TIMBo , I hold space for others; I teach people to hold space for others; and I witness the discomfort in others as they bump up against their own need to do something.
This is what we do as parents of teens. We set boundaries, and then we hold that space. If we need to, we tighten the boundaries and then hold that closer space. We loosen it up again and hold the larger space again. ...And again. ...And again. And as we do, our children find their way into adulthood.
I’ve come to realize that in order to do this, I cannot cling to being my son’s protector, his boo-boo kisser, or his macaroni and cheese maker.
I must let go of that identity, grieve the loss of it and let it be a loving memory.
Who I am to become for my son is yet to be known — and that’s ok. Like him, I am finding my way, too. And I have faith that as we both find our future selves, we will also find our way back to one another.