adolescence, wisdom

By Nikki Nau

My oldest son turned 15 this year, and he was growing up in many ways. His attitude about life was maturing, and he was sharing insights about spirituality, justice, and truth. While observing his current place in the journey toward adulthood, I saw him meeting the cultural benchmarks of independence, like getting his driver’s permit and entering high school.

Somewhere in observing my son growing up, my husband and I began talking about coming of age ceremonies and wondering what these ceremonies are today. We started asking questions like:

Why do we have these rituals?

How have they served youth in the past?

What are the rituals we experienced during our youth and adolescence?

What are the intentions behind these ceremonies and benchmarks?

mother, coming of age, son

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

What emerged was an idea that became important for me as a mother watching my baby grow into a young man. As I later learned, it was an important part of my son’s journey as well. It began with inspirational words from the book Living Passages for the Whole Family by Shea Darian. In her book, Darian describes various ideas on creating a coming of age ceremony.  For young men, she says:

“A youth receiving the affirmation of his most revered male elders and mentors to cultivate his emotional and spiritual life, as well as tending to the more traditionally male aspects of adulthood, can greatly affect a youth’s destiny, attitude, and choices.”

I realized I wanted to give my son a gift that symbolically affirmed my role as his mother while recognizing the reality that my part becomes less central in his life as he journeys closer to adulthood. I respect this natural progression, and I wanted him to know this. I also wanted to point out to him that he has amazing men in his life and these men are always available to him as he navigates the path to manhood.

I decided to ask the men in my son’s life to help me – the men who have watched him grow up and have had a positive impact on his formation. His grandfathers, uncle, great uncle, family friends, and our pastor all participated in the project. They did so graciously with such wisdom and love; it moves me deeply as I think about the words they shared with my son.

young men, coming of age, male mentors

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

Here is the letter I sent to the men in my son’s life:

Hi Everyone,

I am writing because my son will soon turn 15 years old (hard for me to believe) and I would like to put a gift together for him. I am hoping you can help.

We have been discussing coming of age ceremonies lately since we are we watching our boys get bigger and taller:), and especially now as our oldest enters high school. Our culture seems to have ‘dropped’ traditional coming of age ceremonies. However, we (my husband and I) believe we still need to affirm the beauty, spiritual power, and grace of growing up.

Here’s where you come in.

As he continues to move along his journey to adulthood, I want to gift him with the wise words from the men he loves, respects, and who have been a part of his youth. I want to give you the opportunity to share your wisdom, blessings, and guidance with him. If you feel moved, please share words, a song, favorite film, image or anything that you would like to pass on to him. I plan to compile them into a book for him.

I am asking you because:

You are important to my son.

You have been 15 years old at one time.

You have progressed through this leg of the journey to manhood.

You are one of his most revered male elders and mentor.

As mom, I realize my time of nurturing and guidance will become less and less relevant as he grows up. This symbolic gift allows me to share my blessings for him as he continues the journey. The compilation of your words and thoughts is a symbolic passing to him the affirmation of the male elders and mentors he can trust as his journey progresses.

Thank you for being who you are and being a part of my son’s life.

 

I sent this off with no idea of what would emerge.  Those who chose to participate sent letters filled with love, wisdom, grace, and powerfully, gentle words. It brought tears to my eyes as I read their stunningly, beautiful messages.

After putting these words and photos into a book, my husband and I discussed how to give this special gift to our son. We decided to be intentional and simple.

My younger children went to grandma and grandpa’s house to play during a November Sunday afternoon. My husband built a fire in the fire ring and also a fire in the tiny cabin on our property. (Alternatively, we thought of building a fire in our fireplace in the house.)

I told my son we had a gift for him, and, like some of the birthdays from his childhood, today he would be going on a little journey. (We used to do scavenger hunts, obstacle courses, and other themed birthdays when the kids were young.)

My son and his dad started by the outdoor fire. My husband recalls talking about growing up and the importance of being true to yourself. While the things of the world seem very important now – clothes, basketball, peer acceptance – inner soul work is always part of the journey. Being able to honor both brings balance and harmony to your life.

After spending some time with dad by the fire, my son was sent down to the tiny cabin – a 10’x10’ room with a wood burning stove. There he met me – mom knitting by the fire.

adolescence, wisdom

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

I read him the letter from me:

As your 15th birthday was approaching, Dad and I were talking about how you are changing and growing in really amazing ways, and how we would like to somehow acknowledge the journey of manhood that you are traveling.

As your mom, sometimes it is hard for me to accept that you are a young man and moving into the world. I remember holding you as a tiny baby, meeting you for the first time, and looking into your eyes with great love. You continue to teach me so much as I strive to support you with love, guidance, and some boundaries. I will always be your mom, of course, and I always love you with everything I’ve got. And I am always here to listen and to share. But I am your mom, and I do not really understand the ways of men.

I was inspired by this quote from Shea Darian in the book, Living Passages for the Whole Family:

“A youth receiving the affirmation of his most revered male elders and mentors to cultivate his emotional and spiritual life, as well as tending to the more traditionally male aspects of adulthood, can greatly affect a youth’s destiny, attitude, and choices.”

This book is from some of the men who love you and care about you deeply – some of your male mentors and elders. They are sharing beautiful, loving, wise words with you.  What a gift! You are truly blessed and that brings me so much joy.

Love you always, mom

Space to Receive

I then gave him the book and sat quietly knitting as he read the words from these amazing men. He opened the first page and started to read the letter from his dad. He paused and said, “I feel like this is a really big deal.”

He continued to read. Paused once and a while to take a deep breath. “This is so crazy.” I could hear the emotion welling up in his voice.

When he finished reading all the letters, we talked for a while. He was very emotional – these words and love touched him deeply. We all know it can be hard to express the depth of emotion in the midst of experiencing it. But my son articulated so beautifully: “I just have never known them (these men) in this way before.”

I think he voiced the vibrant beauty and freedom of this gift. These men were given an invitation, and those who took it revealed the depth of their own wisdom and gave it to this young man. Together, we created a profound gift that ripples beyond my son, and husband, and myself, and into the lives of each of the men who shared, and into the lives we will ALL continue to touch.

My son will have these words forever, and they will continue to unfold in meaning as he continues to grow and experience life. I am grateful beyond words for this gift.

The reason I share this story is to reveal how we can very simply create a profound experience for our children given the right intention. I had no set expectations for this gift. I just knew I wanted to do something for my son. What was created by a group of us was a very meaningful experience for my son. When I told him I wanted to share this story with some other moms, he encouraged me to do so, and made me promise I would give this same gift to both of his brothers. This testimony alone helps me to understand the depth of his experience.

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Here are some simple steps to consider if you decide to create a coming of age gift or ceremony for your child.

  1. Simply set the intention.
  • What do you want to give your child?
  • What is the purpose of you giving a gift or creating a ceremony?
  • What do you want to pass along to your child?
  1. Reach out – write a letter.
  • Who do you want to be a part of this gift or experience?
  1. Send it.
  • Some will respond and others won’t, and that is all ok. Create something from whatever shows up. And give them a timeline – I think it helps.
  1. Follow through and create something that is good enough for now and safe enough to try.
  • The intention is the key; perfection can be released.
  1. Present the gift in a simple, intentional way.
  • Give quiet, distraction-free time for your child to accept the gift and to begin processing it.
  1. Do it all with love.
  • Root every step in love -because this is all about loving our children and being free in that love.

I encourage you to be courageous and intentional and most of all, I invite you to create a gift or ceremony that is uniquely and truly from your own heart to your child.

 

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