The idle life of privileged wealth depicted on Downton Abbey is about as far from Mtuseni’s experience as you can get. Even the servants have it better than he does. So I was surprised to find myself nodding with something Lady Grantham said about parenting teens. Discussing the wild young cousin Rose — and remembering the feisty free spirit in her deceased daughter Lady Sybil — she said that kids think you’re fighting them to be mean and derail their lives… when really you’re just worried and frightened for them.
I thought to myself, “Yes, exactly!”
All my friends have had kids later in life, so they haven’t yet reached the epic drama of trying to raise an older teenager. I leapfrogged their childrearing experience and am wrestling with a strange and willful half-boy/half-man beast. I haven’t been able to trade war stories with peers in the trenches… or gain an insider’s perspective for this complex role. So it was enlightening to hear Lady Grantham’s simple and logical statement.
Mtuseni and I have battled so much this past year as I set limits, or push him to do things, or just flat-out tell him, “No, you’re not doing that.” There’s been considerable anger between us at times — which has surprised and distressed us both. But it’s true… much of my rationale for keeping Mtuseni under close watch is that I am always worried about him. His life is filled with so many challenges and risks, and like any 20-year-old he is brimming with an enviable sense of idealism and invincibility. Which can lead to bad decisions with bad consequences — particularly in South Africa — and many of which I cannot easily fix from half a world away.
I know that Mtuseni needs to chart his own way, to make his own mistakes and learn from them. And I try to be balanced and loosen the leash; I’m not a control freak with him. But it’s my responsibility to help this impatient, knock-kneed colt navigate his way to the safer, satisfying, better life he talks about constantly.
When things get really heated between us and Mtuseni says he doesn’t like when I shout at him, I say that I shout because I love him. But the fictional 1920s heiress in her British estate put a new spin on things… Some of my shouting is simply to feel a little power over the constant, nagging worry of watching a child you love pull away to enter the big, bad world on his own.
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