Single Mom Slice Of Life:
The BIG Question From My In-Between Teen

After 17, almost 18 years of being a parent, I can look back and think of certain things that have made me pause and think to myself, “This is their world, I’m just visiting it”.  There was the first time I witnessed Justin and Nick having a full, non-video related conversation, the first time I listened to each boy defend the other and the first time they tried to out-prank one another.

It happened again when, during lunch one weekend, a normal mother and 17-year-old son conversation turned into shocked silence and worried frustration.  When asked what his plans were for after school (though I promise it was not, “Hey when are you moving out?”), he paled a little.  I too, paled when my normally out-spoken, sometimes rude, never quiet kid sat, and confessed that he honestly had no idea what he was going to do when he graduated school next year.

I sat, stunned, as my almost adult son explained that he felt lost. He had collected a rather impressive set of blank job applications but had not yet turned them in because…  What if he got a job he didn’t know how to do?  What if he accepted a job but decided a week into it that he didn’t like it?  What if he just wasn’t good at the job?  What if he picked job A, but then job B called after he accepted job A?

I suddenly missed the days of “Why is the sky blue?”

He was scared, and it wasn’t just because someone was mean at school, it wasn’t because he studied and got a bad grade, it wasn’t because he broke my favorite Bugs Bunny coffee mug and didn’t know how to tell me.

Even worse – he was looking at me for help.

I taught him to walk away from trouble at school, unless someone was being hurt.  I helped him review his study habits, identify the areas that he needed to change, and set up a new and improved study area.  I helped him pick up the pieces of the coffee mug, and let him know he could just buy me a replacement for Mother’s Day.

This problem was nothing like any of those, and he knew it.  He admitted, “You’ve always known what you want to do,” … and he was right.  I’ve always wanted to write, and have, even if it was only for myself.  Then he turned my heart inside out by saying, “It was easy for you, Mom.  You knew where to start.  I don’t know where to start.”

So, that’s what we did.  We started.

I explained that no one is born knowing what they want to do for the rest of their lives.  More importantly, at 17, his life is only beginning.  His first few jobs are SUPPOSED to answer questions he has.  They will help him learn what he likes, what he doesn’t like, what he’s good at, what he’s not good at.

Then came the discussion that assured him his first job will not be his ONLY job ever in life.  My very first job was a high school librarian.  I now am an office manager for a family law firm with stints in retail sales, real estate paperwork processor, and radio DJ thrown in for flavor.

My writing has always come naturally, as has my aversion to sales and people.  Since he didn’t have that natural draw, I explained that when we went home we would take a career aptitude test that would help him determine his strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes – and at the very least it would help give us a place to start looking at areas that he would excel in.

The obligatory college segment of the discussion somehow fueled the “stalling for time” option that included the armed forces.  We have friends and family in almost every branch, and just to make sure all his bases were covered, discussed the ability to just go and sit with recruiters.

In the end, I learned that my kid is not the indoorsy type I’d pegged him to be.  The career aptitude test showed he liked working outdoors, with his hands, solving problems, without being micro-managed but with a solid deadline to adhere to.

There was a shadow of comfort in his eyes, which again reminded me that, in the not too distant future, my kid will be a member of the real world, and I no longer have the answer to every problem.  As he slid from the booth at the restaurant to go pay for our meal (with my money – he’s not fully grown just yet), I turned to Justin who raised his hands and with a sigh said, “No worries here.  I’m going to be a musician and rock this world.”

It was a good enough answer for me.

What’s the biggest question you are facing right now?  How did you start to find the answers?  Let us know!

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Wendy Syler Woodward has been a single parent for 10 years, with two boys ages 12 and 16. Originally from southern California, Wendy moved her family seven years ago to Phoenix where she manages a law firm for work, writes for fun, and this year returned to college for her B.A. Follow her on Twitter @WendySyler.