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Shelly Henley Kelly ponders her new phase of motherhood as her youngest child, and only boy, enters his teen years.

My relationship with my son is changing as he ages. My youngest and the only boy, I see him drawing away from me as he matures. I knew this day would come eventually, but it still takes me by surprise to see it happening.  

For 12 years I was a “girl mom.” I understood my daughters. From the beginning I sought to expose them to the same opportunities I’d enjoyed as a child, to guide them through times that had challenged me, and provide a firm foundation of knowledge through books, experiences, and love. Faith and family were the priority in our house. Though I worked full-time outside the home, I considered my career an opening to model for my daughters that women can have a fulfilling work life while raising a family and participating in activities in measured moderation. The memories are sweet - filled with horses, princess parties, journal sharing, crafting, and singing. And for their first twelve years they grew in their own ways, developing their own knowledge, with their own big personalities.  

And then I modeled motherhood for them. At forty, I became pregnant unexpectedly. We started babyhood all over again, this time with a son. The big age gap meant his sisters became both siblings and mini-moms. 

The bond between my daughters and me is different from my bond with my son. Not better or more important, just different. I didn’t expect that, any more than I expected him in my life.  




When my daughters became more independent, I spent more of my free time with my young son. He became my Sunday afternoon grocery shopping companion. While my husband managed our daughters’ sports activities, I took the little one to T-ball.  

I noticed when my girls turned into teenagers that our relationship changed. Even as dad tried to step in and handle their ever-changing hormones and emotions, I was the one who had “been there done that” and knew when they needed a sympathetic ear versus a firm hand.  

And now it’s my turn to step back. To allow my husband to lead because he’s the one who knows what’s going on. Boys need their father’s example, guidance, and firmness to shape their experiences. It’s natural that they’re drawn to seek it. As a mother’s nurturing moves more behind the scenes, it feels both strange and a little empty.  




While pondering the beginning of my son’s coming of age, I’m united in meditation with the Holy Mother. She must’ve known this feeling. When Jesus was twelve, He turned away from her and toward His Father. It’s recounted in the Gospel of Luke (2:41-52) that the Holy Family traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover, and on the return home, Mary and Joseph realized their pre-teen was not among their friends and family in the caravan. After three days they found Him still in Jerusalem in the Temple. And when confronted, Jesus replies, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 

Nothing more is recounted of his childhood or young adult years except that he returned home with them, was obedient, and “advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”  




It’s a challenge to meditate on Jesus growing into His teenage years. Did Mary grow nostalgic from time to time as she realized he was growing up, thinking He wouldn’t need her the same way anymore? Did Joseph continue to take every opportunity to offer earthly wisdom and guidance, even knowing that he’s in the presence of God?  

My daughters are young adults now. Although both are independent, they still need their mama from time to time. I’d like to think that my son will continue to ask my advice—instead of only turning to his father—but I don’t anticipate it.  

Still, he’s not too far from being my little boy just yet. There are moments when he’ll be heading up the stairs, only to pause on the landing and call out “Hey Mom?” 

“Yes?” I answer. 

“I love you.”  

I love you too, son. 


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Copyright 2024 Shelly H. Kelly
Images: copyright 2024 Shelly H. Kelly, all rights reserved