Especially when the mother in question is parenting on her own.
I have talked extensively in this space about my darling daughter: her wit, her intelligence, her perseverance in the face of circumstances that might hobble another child.
But I don't say nearly as much about my son.
Possibly because, in my own mind, I'm not really sure how to talk about him.
There is a certain group of mothers whose sons can do no wrong. No matter what is going on in their lives, their sons are heroes. Everything they touch turns to gold, or will, eventually. In all honesty, they have every right to be proud of the accomplishments their sons have made. They have made every correct turn, always taken the right path, and have remained steadily on course for eventual success.
On the other end of the spectrum are the mothers whose sons made terrible choices, and are either incarcerated, dead, or well on their way to either fate. Some of these mother tried everything they could to make sure that their sons had decent lives, but in the end, none of that mattered. This is NOT the way their sons were raised, and the man they see is not the boy they saw growing up. This is the group most vilified in popular media. Especially if there was no father in the home. The reason for the absence of the male parent doesn't matter; there was no male role model, so any and all parenting was pre-determined to end in failure.
And then there are those sons that fall into neither group. Neither reaching the lofty heights of perceived success, nor the terrifying lows of a life gone tragically off course. They are flailing somewhere in the middle, quite literally neither here, nor there. Sometimes they are continuing their education post high school; sometimes they are working; most times they have no idea what they really want to do. They are not bad people, often telling those that inquire about their latest change in direction because in all honesty they've changed their mind so many times even they can't remember what they originally wanted to do.
It is in this wispy gray area that my son exists. Funny, talented, and utterly frustrated by his own shortcomings as he embarks on his latest run at getting his life to the point where the world determines it should be: a 23 year old should have a job, a car, and his own apartment, excuses be damned. It is a different relationship, this one between a parent, and an adult child with an issue or two that may be hindering his ability to move as fast as his peers or get the same results. Me, the parent, trying to be both understanding, as I have been through a great deal of this already, (with a child to take care of to boot), and nurturing but firm, without being pushy or nagging; and Him, the son, wanting badly to be the independent young man, running to make up for past missteps, and trying to deal with the issues that are preventing the move forward. All while dealing with a certain level of snarky condescension from adults who are supposed to be in a position to help, advise, or at least encourage him get to the next steps in his journey, but are far too jaded to be of any real assistance.
As I watch him crawl, walk, run, stumble and fall, then start the process all over again in an effort to reach this or that goal, I marvel at his willingness to keep trying until he find out what fits him in a world that expects all young people to identify a goal as soon as possible, then stick with it until the end. There was no promotion ceremony from Elementary school or Middle school for this son. And after going far too long without any help for a learning difference, and it's related co-morbities, no high school graduation either, as he dropped out. I observed during a frustrated conversation with him one night that I have spent most of his life waiting for him to FINISH something. As I study his hurt, defeated and angry eyes, I realize that I just want to be able to brag about my son the way I hear my friends bragging about theirs, which is completely unfair to him. We have come up through some strange and trying times, this young man and I, and as hard as it is for me to realize that it is even harder for him, this teetering between where he is and where he wants to be. The burden of managing other people's expectations, as ridiculous as they sometimes are, is now on his shoulders, and he is finding that the yoke of adulthood can strangle just as fast, if not faster, than the one he wore as a child.
Occasionally, I look back over the times and struggles we've had over these last going on 24 years now, and wonder how he made it through, even when I admittedly was still learning how to be an adequate parent. I love my son, obviously, and was always determined to do right by him, even at enormous personal cost to myself, if that's what it took. I look at him now, and see traces of both his father, and myself: His father's temperament, mellowed by my sense of the absurd; his father's hair and chin, with my eyes and nose; His father's nonchalance about most politics, mixed with my passion about issues that affect me directly. In the midst of this, he still manages to be uniquely himself, which is all he should ever be required to be.
Really, this is the story of patience for a late bloomer, in a world that expects early and continual success. But the rose that blooms latest smells just as sweet as the rose that bloomed first. We just have to continue to nourish, water, prune, and WAIT, until the rose is ready. Like all things in nature, it will happen when the time is right, not when we want it to.
As it should be.