7 Reasons Being the Mom of a Teenager is Way More Awesome Than Awful

A couple weeks ago, I posted “8 Things Moms of Young Daughters Have to Look Forward To (Really!). (It was also very kindly published by Mamalode.) I loved hearing from several moms of girls who said my little list encouraged them not to dread the teen years quite so much. (There also seems to be a lot of shoe-sharing anticipation going around.)

Which is fabulous, because there’s plenty of that dread out there.

Search “parenting teenagers,” and all sorts of results along the lines of “How to Survive Having a Teenager” and “What To Do to Get Through the Teen Years” and “Help! There’s A Teenager in My House” come up.

Words like “nightmare” and “brutal” and “alien” pop up with rather alarming frequency.

And maybe understandably so: between school schedules and interpersonal relationships and hormones and fledgling independence and that tricky not-yet-fully-cooked-teen-brain thing, being the parent of a teenager is not for the faint of heart (or will or mind or stomach).

But, as I tried to prove in my earlier post, having older children is something to look forward to, not fear! It’s a season to anticipate, not avoid! And because I think this applies whether you’re parenting sons or daughter or both, here are a few more joys I’m discovering about mothering someone whose age ends with “-teen.
Witness the passion. No, I am not talking about teenage dating…that, surely, is a subject for another list. I am talking about watching your teen do something they love and possibly are somewhat good at.

When my girls were younger, they dabbled in the usual sorts of activities many kids try out at some point: gymnastics, cross-country, choir, basketball, piano lessons, dance and band. All along, I waited for them to hit on The Thing that would make their hearts happy. The Thing that they would want to do even when they were tired and grumpy and overloaded with homework. The Thing that they might even be a little gifted at.

For both my girls, that Thing ended up being dance. And also, band. These Things fill them up. They motivate and inspire them. They are their passions. And I love to watch my daughters do these Things because that passion shows on their faces while they do them.

When you have the joy of watching your child do something they love to do, that they have worked hard to do as well as they can, you get a gift.

I know some kids find their Thing far earlier than the teen years. And I know some teens (and adults!) still haven’t found theirs. But when it happens, it is beautiful to behold.

Who’s driving? Eventually, not you for a change. Okay, let’s just jump right into the thick of it. Yes, having a teenage driver is rather terrifying. You simply cannot think too much about it. I’m convinced God invented teenage drivers as a clever trick to get parents to pray more.
But beyond the anxiety, there is this: it’s great! it’s handy!

A couple weeks ago, my daughter wanted to go to a local lake by way of a friend’s house. My other daughter needed to be, well, not there. Normally, this would have required about 17 trips by me back and forth. But no: my new driver took herself off, went to the friend’s house, went to the lake, came home…okay, she took a detour at the end of the day to the busiest commercial stretch in our area to go to a consignment shop, which her father approved because she couldn’t get through to me. But still. I did not have to do those 17 trips. Yes, I filled my time with intercessory prayer. But I did other things, too.

And then, just recently, both my girls were offered the huge honor of being student teachers for a preschool dance class at their beloved studio. Said class is on Saturday mornings. I said, “Sure, you can do it!” Because, hello, I WILL BE HOME EATING PANCAKES IN MY PAJAMAS while they drive off down the road. Real maple syrup, anyone?

I’ll be taking a nap now, thanks. The other day, I told my girls I was going upstairs to lie down for a while. (I’m still trying to catch up on my 700 hours of sleep debt accrued during my girls’ respective first two years of life.) “Okay,” they mumbled, not even looking up from whatever it was they were doing.

And that’s the thing: I didn’t really know what they were doing, and it didn’t matter. It was a lazy summer afternoon, and they weren’t engaged in anything illegal, immoral, or dangerous, so what did I care about the specifics? Nor did they care that I was taking a break, so long as dinner eventually materialized.

Remember those days (maybe you’re living one right now) when you put your baby or toddler down for a nap and then hit the bed yourself, praying you didn’t hear anything resembling crying for at least 20 minutes? Well, this isn’t then. This is full-on, REM-cycle napping if you want to do it and if the rest of life permits, because your teens DO permit.

And it’s not just about taking a nap, you understand. It’s about doing any number of things you want or need to do on your schedule, and having your teenagers not really care because they are occupied with their own stuff. It’s quite lovely. And no, no, no, I do not feel “unneeded.”

Into the deep. There is no doubt you can have serious, weighty discussions with a 2-year-old. I often wrote down the uncensored, unfiltered things my girls said when they were younger. (See the paragraph that starts “I’d love to hear from you” way down at the bottom of this post for one of the most memorable examples. Which I did not need to write down to remember. For obvious reasons.) But all along when you are raising little ones, you’re preparing them to think for themselves. And when they get to the teen years, you get significant glimpses– or, once in a while, full-on views–of that.

Sometimes, you get to hear what they believe. My husband and I have tried to write faith in God on our girls’ minds and hearts. Now, we have the regular joy of seeing what is etched there and to witness them making our faith their own. When my girls tell me they want to do in-depth Bible studies or start a “Girls of God” Facebook group or that they’re working on one fruit of the Spirit every day, I am stunned and thankful and amazed and humbled and convicted. I’ve tried to teach them in the past, but as they get older, I am more often their student.

Can we be friends? When my girls were small, I understood I needed to be their parent, not their friend. They had friends; I was the mom. I had to establish my authority for their own good. Getting them to like me was not my job (although a steady supply of secret-recipe chocolate-chip cookies over the years did help that cause significantly).

Now, though, I’m seeing the beginnings of a shift. Make no mistake about it: I. Am. Still. The. Mom. But I also get glimpses of sweet friendship, especially with my teenager. A few weeks ago, I took my tween to a movie. (Inside Out. Loved it. And I do not like “kids'” movies. If they make a “Sadness” stuffed doll, I want her. And I do not like stuffed stuff. Anyway.) My 11-year-old took her friends; I took my 16-year-old. We sat apart from the middle-school set and had a great time. She’s also my companion when her sister “hangs out” at the mall or the beach and I need to be “around” but not really “there.”

I’ll say it again: I am still The Mom. I still have to discipline and lay down the law and be un-fun. In the midst of this, though, I regularly catch glimmers of the friendship my daughters and I are building together…a gift now and a source of hope for the future.

Here’s what they really think of you. Was that a cringe I just felt reverberating across cyberspace? Oh yes, I feel you. And to any parent reading this who’s ever heard “I hate you” or “I don’t like you” or “I don’t love you” or something much, much worse, I’m cringing on your behalf.

But there is also the other side, and it hits deep, too.

Unlike the wonderful, blissful, unconditional love of a younger child (“I wuv you, mommy”), “love” as it is expressed out loud from a teen can be very conditional. Because of this, when you hear it–and when it is not an affectation connected to getting the keys to the car or a curfew extension–you know you are getting something true and tested and borne from experience. My 16-year-old has seen me at my best and my worst. So when she tells me, “I’m so thankful I have a mom I can talk to…you always make me feel better,” I know I’m on the receiving end of take-it-to-the-mom-bank reality that has passed through the filter of all the times I didn’t make her feel better.

The fruits of your labors. “Do you need help with that? Do you have everything? Are you ready to go? ARE YOU READY TO GO!?” Remember the last time you uttered one of these mom-standbys? Oh, right: “Yes, and it was about 30 seconds ago!”

So the thing about teenagers is that sometimes–sometimes–they do this stuff ON THEIR OWN. Not always. In some cases, not often. But, for instance, last week when we were on vacation at a family lake cottage, the inflatables needed to be, well, inflated. My teen got them around, hooked up the air pump, and went to work. From our chairs on the beach, my husband and I yelled, out of habit, “Do you need help?” To which she calmly replied, “Nope! I’ve got it!” Nice.

This is also the girl who came into the kitchen the night before band camp and told me, “I’ve got my instrument and my flip folder and my music and my water bottles and my sunscreen and my Frogg Togg and my lip balm and my tennis shoes.” Which pretty much took care of my requisite “do you have…?” inquiry. Very nice.

Here again, do I feel unneeded in the face of all this self-sufficiency? Are you kidding me? Please. I mean, no…but thanks for asking! Moms of teenagers are still absolutely, desperately, regularly needed. All I’m saying here is that sometimes you just don’t have to blow up the darn floaty whale and you get to sit by the lake instead. Which is also very nice.

I can’t close out this tribute to teenhood without going on the record again about something very important: I know many, many parents have stories of teenage years they are just trying to survive or did just barely survive. I am truly so sorry for you.

I know my husband and I have been protected from much heartache and that, but for the grace of God, we might well go where other parents have gone.

And I know teenagers come in all moods, temperaments, personalities and dispositions. I’ll be the first to admit that if my in-house teen rep hadn’t inherited a significant dose of her father’s wiring, I’d be writing a very different kind of post. “How to Parent a Teen Who is Exactly Like You When You Can Hardly Deal With Yourself,” maybe?

Also, we are so very not done yet. We have miles to go before we sleep. Anything could happen.

But this far in, we are not just surviving the teenage years. We are loving them.

And if these years are still ahead of you, know this: for all the reasons I’ve mentioned and so many more, there is a very good chance you’ll love them, too.

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Are you looking for more insights into the deep, dark mysteries of the adolescent brain? Here are a couple other sources to check out…

Are you the parent of a teenager? What would you add to this list?

Are you the parent of a child who will one day be a teenager? What are you looking forward to? Because mama, I know your answer isn’t “nothing”!

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Elizabeth Spencer
Elizabeth Spencer is a great sinner redeemed by a great Savior. She's been married for 22 years to an exceedingly patient husband and has two teenage daughters who make her look really good as a mother. She blogs about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and vents about hormones and sleep deprivation over on Facebook.