I quit my job to stay home when I had my second baby. I taught first grade the day before she was born. Even thought those first few months as a SAHM to two were “mildly traumatizing” (I used to call Brandon at 1:30 p.m. and ask, Are you almost done with work? and he was all, It’s 1:30, and I was like, YOU DIDN’T ANSWER THE FREAKING QUESTION. ARE YOU ON YOUR WAY HOME OR SHOULD I CALL 911 TO COME HELP ME MANAGE THESE TWO BABIES?????), I soon settled into my new life at home. Because no one told us not to, we added a third baby just two years later and created a full-blown preschool circus.
I essentially raised the babies with my girlfriends during those years. Our childrearing environments included Chick-Fil-A, Barnes and Noble, the local pool, all of our living rooms/kitchens/nurseries/bathtubs and every park in the greater Austin area. We fed, disciplined, diapered, rocked and pool-rescued each other’s kids with regularity. One memorable concern was a recurring conversation:
You guys, what about when all these sweet babies become teenagers?? What will we do?? They will become mutant rebels! They will hate us and us them!
May I discuss with you Parenting Teens now that I actually am?
Teenagers are my jam.
The weird thing is, those tiny sweet precious littles you are raising? The teens are the same people, just bigger. That humor? Same. That personality? Same. Those tendencies and leanings and giftings? Same. Your quirky 6-year-old who loves science and animal husbandry? Same, he just gets bigger with a lower voice.
Stop imagining that aliens will take over your darling preschooler at age 13. Your sweet boy will get to age 13 one day at a time. There is no abrupt moment when he ceases being the boy you raised and becomes some adolescent you don’t recognize. The strangest thing is that he is looking you in the eye and talking about armpit hair and course electives. This boy will still lie in your lap while you run your fingers through his hair and remember the day he was born. He is still your baby.
The time lapse between these two pics was approximately four seconds.
Parenting teens is pretty much the best Mom gig yet. They are funny and smart and you see glimpses of their adult selves. They are beginning to funnel into their gifts and passions, and you feel the most absurd pride about who they are becoming right in front of your eyes.
And THE HUMOR. If you know one ounce about me, you know that I value humor over, say, integrity and honor. So when my sophomore plops on the couch, sticks one of his ear buds into my ear (the other one in his) and plays funny Youtube videos for us to watch together? Well, THE WORLD CAN END NOW BECAUSE I AM NOW IN POSSESSION OF ALL THE HAPPINESS. You haven’t laughed until you laugh with your teen over shared humor. When you can share Will Ferrell? What else is there? Die happy.
Did I mention their friends? Because you will weirdly love their friends. They bring a concentrated level of grossness and drama and hunger into your house, and YOU LOVE IT. You love the way they tease each other and act sweetly toward your younger kids. You love the way they praise your cooking, even when you feed them weird things like sweet potato and black bean quesadillas. You love their big, awkward bodies sprawled on your couches, spewing the nonsense they read on iFunny or Instagram. They let you take their pictures and offer advice and scold them even as your own teenagers are begging you with their eyes to knock it off.
It seems completely unfair that right about the time your kids become the most awesome, they fly the coop. Why can’t 5th graders go to college and come back in 9th grade?? I could absolutely live without many, many, many middle school days. But high school? SWOON.
Parents, spend all the preschool, elementary and early middle school years developing love and trust and transparency with your kids. Every conversation is on the table. Not one single topic is off limits. Laugh with them. Be genuine. Say you’re sorry when you should be. Listen to their dreams and feelings and ideas and thoughts when it is the least convenient. Those moments will come with regularity unless they are squashed; drink them in with relish and you will ensure that they continue. If you are safe now, you will be safe later.
On their 16th and 14th birthdays.
I BIRTHED YOU AND I WILL KISS YOU IF I WANT TO.
Get super, super interested in what your children are interested in. Invest in their talents. When our 13-year-old developed a sincere interest and gift toward photography and asked for a CRAZY EXPENSIVE CAMERA for Christmas, we discussed this with our film crew, explaining why we were NOT going to buy it for her, and our cameraman, Kevin, who makes an entire living as a photographer said, “If your kid was super talented at the guitar, would you buy her a reputable guitar and lessons? YOU WOULD. So why not invest in your daughter’s gift? My mom bought my first camcorder when I was 10 and here I am.” For the love. We followed his advice and our daughter brought her fancy new camera to Ethiopia two months later and took this:
Kevin was right.
This is tough for me, but work really hard to not control everything. This is super important. Your bigs NEED to develop independence. Let them bring their problems to you without obeying the immediate instinct to solve it. Ask good questions. Lead the witness. If they think you are only capable of “fixing it,” the well of communication will run dry, because their hearts are chasing adulthood and they need to know you respect that. Be a listener, a gentle guide, a confident parent willing to let their child blow it for the prize of maturity.
There is a super high chance your teen will ENORMOUSLY SELF-DESTRUCT. Need I remind you of our adolescence? They will lie, cheat, rebel, succumb, resist, disobey. They will do this, because they are no different than EVERY GENERATION THAT EVER PRECEDED THEM. But that is not the end of their story. It wasn’t the end of ours (thank you, Jesus), and their best years are ahead of them too. If they wobble, stick with those wonky kids. They will remember how their parents remained steady until they course corrected.
Most of all? Enjoy those crazy teens. These are magical, frustrating, insane, hilarious years. This season is so very short. It peaks and crests in minutes. No sooner do they get their first girlfriend then they are off to college. Parental anxiety is a waste of time. It will all be OK. These children are (mostly) a delight. And when they aren’t? Just wait awhile. They’ll come back.
That beautiful 3-year-old you’re tucking into bed? Blink, and you’ll be sending him to Driver’s Ed. I swear to the heavens.
We will probably regret all the years we wasted in fear and anxiety and control, but we will never regret spending those years in delight and joy. We have these children for around 18 years of THEIR ENTIRE LIVES. Let’s send them into the adult world at the height of our pleasure in them, grateful for the beautiful, funny, smart, interesting, special, precious children that God entrusted us with for this first short phase of their whole existence.
Moms of littles? Stop being afraid. Those babies you love now? You will love them even more fiercely in 10 years. They will become the young adults you are raising them to be. And you will love them with the ferocity of a thousand splendid suns. And they will make you laugh and cry and shake your head and thank our good God that he trusted you with these extraordinary young people, and all that parenting in those early years turned into incredible teens that you don’t just love … you like.
And don’t forget: In a few years, they will bring us grandbabies.
THAT WE DON’T HAVE TO RAISE.
Amen and hallelujah.