My teenage son is pushing me away. I'm heartbroken and proud of him.

Mom and toddler posing for a photo
The author with her son when he was little and always attached to her.Courtesy of the author
  • My son is my youngest child and was always attached to me like a baby kangaroo.

  • Now he's 15 and wants less and less of me as he grows older.

  • It feels like a break-up of some sort, and I'm both heartbroken but also proud of him.

"Tell me about your day," I lobbed to my 15-year-old son, hoping my command for details would prevent his customary "It was fine." The two of us sat over homemade meatball sandwiches, his favorite. Before plunging the saucy cheesy mess into his mouth, he asked, "Can we just NOT talk tonight?"

I had to laugh so I wouldn't sob. My son, my baby, my secretly favorite child, couldn't even bear 10 minutes of talking? Was this the moment? Was I getting dumped?

He's my youngest child and only son

I remember the day 16 years ago, riding home from the doctor's office with my husband. We didn't have a convertible, but driving with the top down was the feeling we both had that afternoon. "We're having a boy!" we shouted into the phone to our moms.

We already had two daughters, 6 and 5, at the time. With both of them in school, I felt settled. We had recently bought a home with mature magnolia trees and a small room I would paint blue, which seems overly gender-normative now, but it felt fresh and exciting then.

I had heard other mothers talk about the unique connection between moms and sons. I thought that must be an urban legend or something weird moms repeat, like swallowing a cherry pit will make a tree grow out of your ear.

I had my daughters too young

I loved my daughters, of course, but looking back I had to admit we started our family too early in my career, too quickly after getting married, and with two kids too close together — only 19 months apart.

At 28, I had not been emotionally ready to give up freedoms like traveling, reading books, and showering. My daughters challenged me in unimaginable ways.

But when my son arrived — chubby, with eyes the color of a deep mountain lake — and quickly slept through the night, the legend became a reality. I was in love.

I can almost still smell the milky comfort of his soft neck.

He was really attached to me

As a little kid, he resembled a baby kangaroo, always burrowed into my welcoming lap. At family dinners, with his sisters chattering about iPod minis and the breaking news from their second-grade class, my son would shrink into his seat, letting his head droop and tears well up, until I noticed and asked him what was wrong. "I need attention," he would squeak out.

We often read together in the soft blue chair, its arms lovingly mauled by our cat. One of our favorite books was "You Are All My Favorites," about three bears seeking the ultimate reassurance. The Littlest Bear, a small pudge of brown fur, asks his mom in a slight peep, "Am I your favorite?"

Sometimes, I secretly had that thought: he was my favorite.

I didn't love him more than my daughters. With them, I took it all so personally, as if they were revenging me with every snack request and missed nap. They stole energy and patience directly from my soul. On purpose. It was death by a thousand wet diapers. Through my son, I became the mother I had always wanted to be: patient, calm, and adoring. I was my favorite mothering self with him.

He wants less and less of me

Then he grew up. He towers over me now at 6 feet tall, and yesterday, I caught a glimpse of a newly bulging bicep. He says "whatever" to me with an eye roll. We used to do the Wordle together in the car. He would listen to my 80s radio station and sing the words to "Careless Whisper," knowing it was my favorite.

But the other day, on the way to school, as I sang aloud to "Sweet Child of Mine," he popped in his AirPods. A five-minute drive, and he couldn't bear to listen to the same music?

I felt utterly alone. As I did after the request for silence at the dinner table, I made a joke to cover my heartbreak.

As we arrived at school, he hurried to jump out, grabbing his dirty backpack and a bag of gym clothes with a muddy tennis shoe about to fall out. I thought of a giant kangaroo finally free of that small, cramped space attached to the mom. Under his breath, so mumbled I almost missed it, he said, "I love you, Mom."

I felt a wave of warmth and pride. I have always considered my primary parental job to be raising thoughtful, respectful, and self-sufficient adults. Yes, my son is breaking up with me, exactly as he is supposed to do.

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