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When my son turned 20, we took a hike to reflect on our relationship. I learned the power of growing alongside your children.

Julie Neale   

When my son turned 20, we took a hike to reflect on our relationship. I learned the power of growing alongside your children.
  • When my son turned 13, we went on a hike together and reflected on our lives.
  • We went on another hike when he turned 20 and learned a lot about how much we have grown.

Seven years ago, my son, Ryan, turned 13 years old. Guided by my commitment to mindful engagement with my child, I decided to mark his rite of passage in a unique way.

After the balloons and a breakfast cupcake, we packed a picnic lunch and set out for a beautiful hike. Within 20 minutes, we reached the base of Sugarloaf Peak and began the ascent to a 360-degree view of the San Francisco Bay. With each step, we reflected on the first 13 years of his life and my first 13 years of motherhood. On the way up, we had moments of quiet contemplation and stopped to share our thoughts.

At the top of the summit, we drew a line in the dirt, and Ryan crossed a threshold into his next chapter, identifying what he wanted to let go of and what he wanted to carry forward. On our descent, we talked about our shared hopes for the future.

That day, we started an important tradition in our mother-son relationship.

We learned a lot about ourselves on that first hike together

That afternoon, we visited a sound recording studio where we interviewed one another to document the revelations from our hike. Ryan talked about his appreciation for the support he received as a child diagnosed with autism, how grateful he was for his brother, and how he hoped he could move past his fears to live his teenage years with a YOLO mindset.

I shared how I felt like I lost myself in my first decade of motherhood and how the creation of Mother's Quest — my life and leadership coaching business and podcast — felt like a personal reclamation. I declared my commitment to strengthen and use my voice to make an impact beyond my family.

Something powerful happened that day. We witnessed one another and held space for our hopes and dreams. We encouraged each other to set goals for our future. We developed a sense of trust and acknowledgment that we would need for the challenging years ahead.

Ryan decided that when he turned 20, he wanted to return to the hiking trail and end his teenage chapter the same way it began.

We recently returned to that hike again

In what felt like a blink of an eye, that far-off day in the future finally arrived. Now a sophomore at UCLA, Ryan chose to come home for his 20th birthday so we could set out on a milestone hike again and record a new set of reflections in a podcast episode afterward.

As we walked the same familiar steps to the peak, we realized how much we had each changed. There was an innocence and lightness we held on our first hike together. In its place now were a mother and son who had matured in different ways, had weathered unexpected storms, and continued to support and champion one another.

For both of us, so much life has happened over the last seven years. For him, the impact of the pandemic on his mental health, his struggle to accept his autistic identity, and the adjustment to living independently at college. For me, the death of my father, the transition through menopause, and my own ADHD diagnosis a few years ago at the age of 49.

Despite heartache and challenges, Ryan lived his YOLO life in his teenage years. He pushed past his fears, learned to love himself, shared his story, stepped into neurodiversity advocacy, and co-founded a neurodiversity initiative at UCLA. I stayed committed to making an impact with my voice, reaching the milestone of 100 episodes on my podcast.

I am growing with my son

This week, our second podcast episode together will be released. I'm so grateful for the reflective opportunities I've had with Ryan.

In the journey of motherhood, I've been struck by how my son Ryan's birthday marks not only a milestone in his life — but also in my own. With each year that he grows older, it feels as though I'm traversing new terrain, too, learning and evolving alongside him.

Our stories are a testament to the transformative power of growth, resilience, and mutual support possible between a parent and their child.

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