The Boy I was talking to a client the other evening. She’s just returned from a trip. The last thing she said to her boy before leaving was: “Take care of my son for me.” These words have been ringing in my ears for the last several days.

Take care of my son. Powerful words indeed. My own son is 14 and has just started his freshman year in high school. Eighth grade was a nightmare. For him and for me. The boy I’d been raising for the last 12 years vanished overnight and left me with someone I hardly knew and certainly had no idea how to parent. We made it through,but I worry about the scars that may remain. I worry that my “you can do betters” and “you are better than this”, sent a message that I didn’t love him unless he became someone other than who he was in those moments. The constant reminder from his teachers that he “wasn’t living up to his potential” didn’t help either. In the end, I took a strategy of leaving in completely alone, lest I damage our relationship beyond repair.

I’ll admit that at times, the motto that would best sum up my parenting style at it’s lowest and most frustrated moments is: “After all I’ve done for you…” After all, this has been a very effective strategy. The fear and guilt that I might somehow disappoint my own parents kept me from keeping my toe from crossing the line on more than one occasion.

My therapist has been encouraging me to do things differently. Take the end of his eighth grade year as an example. Rather than asking every night if his homework is done, I just stopped asking and subbed in conversations about the latest school gossip, or XBOX talk. I had accepted the reality of the consequences of this strategy. For example, he may have to do summer school, teachers may think I’m an uninvolved parent, etc. But I’d decided that our relationship was the priority, so the consequences seemed worth the reward.

I ask my son to do things. I ask myself to do things for my son. I do a lot for my son. I do too much for my son. I’ve confused doing for loving. I’m constantly doing things because that’s what good mothers do. Good mothers do. But by not doing everything for him, I can teach him how to take care of my son for me when I’m not there to do it for him. I do things because I want him to know that I love him. However, I do love him…fiercely, unconditionally, ruthlessly. So I will mother so that he be able to care for himself in that same fierce, unconditional, ruthless spirit.

And that will be a child to reckoned with.