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Help! My Teenage Son Has a Girlfriend

Photograph by Denise Cortes

I knew this day would come. When you’re a mom to four sons—all born just two years apart from one another—and you gaze down upon their handsome little faces and bask in their masculine energy, you try to mentally prepare yourself for the day they bring home a girlfriend. I can’t even bring myself to call them “girlfriends” so I’ve come up with an alternative: lady friends.

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It starts out innocently enough. They talk about girls. They mention all the cute ones. The ones with the pretty hair. The ones they’ve known since they were kids who have suddenly “developed.” The ones that won’t even acknowledge their existence. It was all in that very deliciously awkward stage. I didn’t have any worries yet because I was sure they were years away from girlfriends being a reality. I mean, they can barely remember to brush their teeth and put on deodorant everyday.

Then, I heard a few names swirling around at home. I overheard conversations (my sons think the door to their shared bedroom is made out of soundproof material, but I can assure you it’s not). I saw notifications pop up on their phones. I saw heart emojis. I heard female giggles and felt stares at school. A few even followed me on Instagram and they dug deep into my timeline (I have “likes” from 145 weeks ago to prove it). Suddenly, my life became a Beastie Boys song: “Girls.”

Then one day it happened. My 17-year-old son got heart eyes for a girl at school.

“Mama, what do you think about me having a girlfriend?”

All I could do was give him a blank stare. But of course, she had heart eyes for him in return, and suddenly my son was dating. They held hands at school. Goodbyes were accompanied by kisses on the forehead. There was a steady stream of text messages every day. I had to wrap my mind around the idea that my son was growing up and entering into a relationship. It hasn’t been easy for this mama bear.

Granted, my son and his girlfriend have known each other since they were both 7 years old (we went to the same homeschool co-op for five years), they were really good friends, I was her art teacher on-and-off over the years, and we know her family and they’re awesome, but… this doesn’t make this stage of life any easier.

I really don’t know how I should feel. It doesn’t feel terrible, but it doesn’t feel good either. There is a definite sense of separation, in the way that I feel my son moving away from me and his life as a child and moving toward being a young man. There is also this odd feeling of displacement. Suddenly, I’m not the only woman in my son’s life.

For 17 years, I was the one who loved him, fed him, cuddled him, put him to sleep, taught him and consoled him, but now those days are at a premium. There is also this curious sense of propriety and entitlement. He used to be my baby and I was his everything. Like, this is my son—who does this little girl think she is? It’s a strange feeling and if anything, makes me understand and relate to my mother-in-law just a hair more than I’d like to.

Suddenly, I’m not the only woman in my son’s life.

So, while my son is happily chatting with his girlfriend and making plans to hang out on Saturday night, I have to figure out this new way of relating to my son. He is completely oblivious to the fact that his mama is struggling to find her place in all this. When I look at my son (each one of my sons, to be honest), I superimpose their baby face on top of their young man face—I can’t help it. My son is no longer a little boy, yet he’s totally like a little boy. I sit back and wonder wistfully, where did the time go? Just the other day, I was struggling to potty train him and now he has beard stubble and he’s telling his girlfriend “I love you” via FaceTime.

It’s weird. I don’t know how I feel about all this.

But, then again, it doesn’t really matter how I feel about it all. Life keeps moving and looks back for no one. Once you think you’ve got it all figured out, it up and changes on you all over again. I’m sure the minute I get used to the idea of girlfriends, one of my sons will get married or become a father. And then, I’ll be working out my new role as mother-in-law and grandmother.

Ahh, life. There is no playbook for mothering.

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