I am a super emotional mama writing right now. My oldest child turns 13 on January 24th. You have heard this before, and you will hear this again: I remember the day he was born like it was yesterday. The days can be long, but the years go by so fast.

It has been quite the year with Max. 12 leading up to 13 had a lot of changes for Max. Over the summer he grew 5 inches! His voice started to change. Now when I hear him talk sometimes, I think it’s my brother talking. He reminds me so much of my brother! He raised his arm in the pool to catch a ball and there it was: HAIR! My baby! Full on puberty this year. I don’t want to embarrass him as he will probably read this, or my daughter Ella will read it and tell him the details!

I have so much to say about this age that I don’t really know where to begin. Tears are falling down my face as I write this. You see, I tried to hug and kiss Max goodbye today and it didn’t go well. He told me the other night, “Not to attack him!” My “attacking him” was giving him a hug and kiss goodnight.

Max goes first with every stage. He calls himself my guinea pig. He is the perfect kid to go first and lead the way for his sisters. Each new stage teaches me so many new things. Here is what he is teaching me about 13 year olds:

Lesson number 1 is about affection:

Affection is on his terms. He can come up and hug me, but he doesn’t seem to like when I approach him. The good news is he does hug me when he feels like it! This is new for me. I also learned that I can ask him for a hug and that usually goes well. He doesn’t want a “sneak attack” hug. My daughters thankfully will still hug me whenever I want. Let’s hope that doesn’t change with my daughters! Sometimes my husband looks at my sad face and just puts his arms out to hug me. I love my sweet husband. I know he will always hug me! Now when I cry that I miss my babies he points to our one year old Golden Retriever Tanner. He is my baby!

Lesson Number 2 is about communication:

He will talk when he is ready and wants to. It could be the craziest time of the day. I could be totally distracted and not notice that he is trying to talk to me. He may even book an appointment to talk to me which he has also done. When he is ready and willing to talk, I need to stop whatever I am doing and listen. This goes with all three of my children. The biggest change this year with this topic is that he doesn’t want to talk about important things in front of anyone. He will talk to me with Seth (dad/husband) in the room, but if his friends or sisters are around, he clams up and says he will talk to me later. Oh, how things have changed. Sigh!

Lesson number 3 is about being casual:

Be Casual! I have talked about this before in my blog. I am very loud and outgoing, and my son is more of a quiet, reserved introvert. You can just picture how this goes together. I have to contain my emotions and exuberance and be very casual when I talk to Max. I wanted to yell and scream the other day when I found something out about two boys at school. Those boys are lucky that I have learned a lot of self-restraint. Let’s just say that Max handled himself well and that I was much more casual than I wanted to be when he told me that there was an “incident.”

Lesson number 4 is about trust:

Start to trust him more. He is proving to me over and over again that I can trust him. He tends to make the right decisions. He gets his homework done. He gets excellent grades. He has handled difficult situations at school well. He is showing me that I can loosen my reins and trust him. This doesn’t mean that he is an adult off on his own yet. It means that we are heading in the right direction. Socially he is choosing well behaved friends. Academically he is doing well. Athletically he is excelling as a soccer goalie. I have to remind him to practice for his Bar Mitzvah, but all in all I am seeing that we are doing a good job raising him. I don’t deny that there may be bumps ahead and I will keep my eyes open for that. I need to tell him that I trust him, and I need to tell him more how very proud I am of him. I’m crying again!

Lesson number 5 is not to let physical size fool you:

Remember that he is only 13. When this big smart guy who is taller than me stands next to me and talks to me sometimes, I talk to him like he is an adult. He is maturing, but he is still a child. Sometimes I expect too much from him. He is very capable and very tall. However, he is still only 13. He told me that I need to check with him before I make plans that involve him. While I agree to a point, I can tell him that I made us dinner plans to celebrate his birthday and he can skip his raid on the Xbox with his friends and go out to dinner with his family. I am still in charge. He may be taller than me, but he isn’t an adult yet.

Lesson number 6 is about being real with him:

When Max hurts my feelings, he has seen me cry. When Seth and I are fighting he sees and hears it. I don’t try to hide a lot from him. There are adult matters that aren’t for his ears, but for the most part I am completely authentic. When I am upset with Max, I tell him. He completely shuts down if I am yelling so I really have to get into a calm state and tell Max why I am upset with him. I will put stuff back onto him. I will say, “How many hours do you think is reasonable to be on the Xbox today?” Max expects me to be real with him and he expects me to tell him things. He doesn’t like any surprises. He likes to know what to expect and he likes to know what is going on. If he knows that I am upset or need help he wants to know the details and he wants to step in and help. I appreciate how he is able to help me. Sometimes I overestimate him and sometimes I underestimate him. He called a restaurant the other day, found out it was an hour wait and chose a different restaurant for us that was on the way! Thank you my capable 13 year old!

Lesson number 7 is that he’s not going to tell me everything and that’s okay.

I have made it clear to Max that I will look at his ipad and iphone whenever I want to.  You may think that he deserves privacy. I say that he is only 13 and I will look at his phone. I don’t look as much as I probably should. It doesn’t matter what I look through, he will still keep things from me. Him and his friend hop in my car every day after school. They have their little code way of talking to each other so that Max’s sisters and I don’t pick up on what they are saying. He comes to me when he needs to talk to me. I hope he knows that I am always here for him to help him through whatever he is dealing with. He may not tell me what they talked about at lunch. He may not tell me that he is interested in a girl. It is a huge adjustment for me to know that there are things he just doesn’t want to talk to me about. There are things he doesn’t want to share. There are things that are cringe worthy for Max to have in a conversation with me. There are times where he wants to talk to his Dad. I am ok with that. I don’t need to be his everything anymore. Did I really just write that? Yes, I am crying again. I’m not his everything. He has a strong relationship with his dad. He has good friends to talk to. He has a fabulous guidance counselor that he has gone to with issues. He has caring and involved grandparents that he talks to. Mommy is not everything anymore. My baby is growing up.

Lesson number 8 is that I need to learn to let go.

When I took Max to nursery school at 3 years old, he had to learn to let go of me. It was very hard for both of us. Now it is time for me to learn to let go. There is so much of Max’s life that doesn’t involve me. He is at school and soccer most of his time. He goes to Temple for Bar Mitzvah lessons and Hebrew School. He goes to his friend’s houses. He is on the Xbox talking to his friends ignoring me. He knows most of the time I am there, and he likes that. He also likes his freedom from his mom. He comes to me when he needs me. He comes to me when he’s hungry for a good meal and not a bag of goldfish. He doesn’t want me at school. He wants to stay home alone. He is changing and growing and turning 13. He is my firstborn and he is going to have to be understanding that everything he goes through is a first for both of us.

Lesson number 9 is to keep my eyes wide open.

I told you about how well Max is doing. His grades are awesome. His soccer skills are awesome. His Hebrew is awesome. He is good at so many things. Thankfully he is blessed that most things come easily for him. However, I need to keep my eyes wide open. Being a teenager is not easy. Girls will be mean. Boys will be jerks. I need to watch his mental health and make sure he is ok. Is he eating well? Is he sleeping well? Does he appear happy? Are there things he enjoys to do? I may think life is rosy and smooth, but I need to watch out for any red flags. As his body changes and he is hormonal and growing up, I need to make sure he is ok.

Lesson number 10 is that they make plans without telling you. They have their own agenda.

Max and I have learned a lot about plan’s this year. There are a lot of times that I make plans for us and he doesn’t want to come. Sometimes I let him stay home and sometimes I make him come. Max has started making plans without telling me. We have to have an open dialogue regularly about what is coming up for the day/week. Max has made plans without talking to me and has learned that doesn’t always work out. We have discussed that he needs to check with me first before making plans. I also have to respect that my 13 year old is going to have his own agenda sometimes and is going to want to make his own plans. This is a teenager balance we are learning together.

Lesson number 11 is about FOOD.

I have been warned about teenage boys and food. I just accept that he is going to eat a lot of food. He has food preferences and drink preferences and if he is home he is usually eating. I have taught him to write down what he wants me to get as I can’t read his mind. I ask him about dinners and lunches because he has a lot of opinions. The last year or so he has refused to eat chicken, so I take that into consideration when I am cooking for him. I also need to spend more time teaching him how to cook. I came home two nights ago at 9:15 PM and found him cooking himself eggs. I try to just keep going to the grocery store and having food in the house for him. It’s a challenge to keep up. Teenage boys can eat! Tonight he ate dinner, five cucumbers, a bowl of grapes and then proceeded to go grab a bag of chips. My growing boy!

Lesson number 12 is that he thinks that he has a lot of power.

As Max gets older there are times that he thinks that he has power that he doesn’t have. It is confusing for a teenager because I put him in charge when I’m not home. I will say “Max watch your sisters and take care of them I will be back very soon from my errand.” It is a win win because no one wants to run errands with me and Max is old enough to be in charge and babysit. I need to work on my expectations of what babysitting looks like, but I know I can trust him. He has to adjust to the fact that when I come home, I am in charge. He may tell his sisters what to do too much. He may think he can tell me no to something. Sometimes he thinks that he has power that he doesn’t have. He can babysit and be in charge when I’m not home. When I am home, I am in charge. That doesn’t mean I don’t need his help with his sisters when I am home. Do you see how this can be confusing to a teenager and as my oldest child? There is a mutual respect that we continuously learn. I show him respect and he needs to respect me. This is a big lesson for parents. If we show our kids respect, they will learn to respect us and other people too.

Lesson number 13 is that we will get through this together.

It is hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I am about to have a teenager. I remember thinking his Bar Mitzvah is so far away and now it is only a few months away. This is a big deal. 13 feels like a big deal. Every year my children learn and grow and change so much. Max has taken me through mom’s clubs, nursery school, elementary school and now middle school. Soon he will teach us about high school. In every stage and every age, I learn so much. Whatever stage it is, I know that Max, his Dad and I will get through it together. I won’t have all the answers. I will however learn and grow with him. My promise to Max is that I will do the best I can at every age.

Those are my 13 lessons with my 13 year old. This is 13. Hormones and boundaries and lots of changing and growing. As my firstborn turns 13, I want to wish him a very Happy Birthday. I want to tell him how much he means to me. I couldn’t have asked for a better son and I couldn’t be more proud of him. There are a lot of growing pains along the way, but I am doing the best I can. I see how old you are and how much you have learned. We are in this together. Lucky 13. I love you Maxwell!

Max just read this and says

  • I think he is more secretive than he actually is.
  • He thinks I can be unreasonable by making plans without talking to him first. He wants me to discuss it with him and not dictate his plans for the day. I think this is a balance. He isn’t in charge, but I can take his opinion into account.
  • Max said I cried a lot writing this. I told him this was an emotional blog for me. There were tears streaming down my face as I wrote about Max. It’s emotional to see how old he is getting and the tears are also that I am so extremely proud of him.

Every day, every age is a blessing.

Laughing, Learning, Loving,

Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R