At fifteen years old, my daughter is facing all the normal growth and growing pains that come with adolescence. It took me a while, but I’ve finally come to terms with my role through this stage of her life. I guess you could say that I’ve grown into it.
Let me start by saying this: no stage of parenting has been easy.
I’ve always thought, though, that when kids are little it’s slightly easier to know what to do: we feed and clothe them, hug and love them and basically work to solve their problems. Their needs are obvious and often immediate. As they get older, it can become harder to pinpoint where we’re needed and what exactly our children require from us. It takes adjusting and oftentimes we go through a difficult phase of feeling useless or unfulfilled, especially as mothers. I don’t know a single mom alive who hasn’t felt a little lost as their children gain more independence.
It’s okay, momma. I promise you that they still need us, even though it sometimes feels like all they do is push us away.
Here’s the secret that I’ve found to parenting a child in her mid-teens:
I am not a gatekeeper.
I may be tempted now, as I am used to doing, to protect and shelter her from the difficult parts of the world. This is only natural. Keeping my kids safe is literally my most important job. The thing is, the way in which I do this is changing.
It is not my job to stop my teen from navigating the hard things anymore, but rather it is my job to have equipped her with the tools she needs to be able to navigate those things safely on her own, from an informed place. I will never stop protecting my baby, it’s just that now all of those lessons I taught her are hers to put into practice. Or not. And when mistakes are made, I’m here to listen and love unconditionally. That’s it. That’s the job.
It means supporting without judgement. It means listening when I’m tired and tapped out. It means meeting her where she’s at. Trusting her with her independence. Forgiving her when she makes a mistake.
I went from holding her hand when crossing the road to dropping her off and driving away, trusting that she will, all these years later, remember that it’s up to her to look both ways.
Parenting is an excellent way to get to know yourself. That is to say that it can be if you’re willing to spend some time admitting your faults and aiming to be better. It’s a constant opportunity for growth and change, but sometimes it’s hard to see the forest from the trees. Having eleven years between my kids gives me a unique period of reflection time before facing stages of growth for the second time. And it’s not like I wrote notes or crammed my brain full of plans on how I would be better, it’s more like being lost in a new town and passing the exact same fire station for the third time. It becomes clear that it might be beneficial to stop doing the same thing that hasn’t worked, pull over and regroup.
We have to be big enough to admit when something doesn’t work. We have to be able to remain humble and teachable. It’s not something that anyone will necessarily master but rather a constant willingness to pivot when necessary. That’s a tough one for me because of my massive ego. I’m really not a fan of coming clean when I’ve been wrong.
This is such an important part of raising a teen, though. Allowing ourselves to be human, vulnerable even, and admit when we’ve been wrong.
Because we will be wrong.
We will be wrong at times and know it right away. We will be wrong sometimes and not see it until the dust has settled. We may wonder how these wrongs are going to impact our kids in the future.
Ah, the future. The future is a tricky thing when it comes to being a parent. You have to watch yourself in terms of how you do it. It’s one thing to hope and dream about the potential your child has for success, but it’s important not to project your own regrets onto your kids. You don’t want to breed an environment of intense expectation or pressure in your home, or make your child feel like they never measure up.
Ultimately, I don’t really care about much except I want my children to be happy. Like most parents, I hope I can impress upon my kids some of the lessons I learned the hard way, but at the end of the day their journeys are their own.
When it comes to our parents, none of us escape childhood unscathed, and in a way, I find comfort in knowing that there is no perfect method to raise upstanding citizens. We’re all just doing the best we can at any given moment.
Teens are individuals and individuals are equipped with the ability to experience things and decide for themselves how they’re going to live. Perhaps harder to accept here than anywhere else in life is the simple fact that, try as we might, we cannot control other people. Even our own children.
When my daughter was about ten years old a close family friend leaned in next to my ear at a barbeque and told me, “you’ve done a great job with that kid. If you were to start letting go of the reigns a little bit, she’d do really well.”
It was a good piece of advice for me at the time because it gave me permission to back off a little. Call it foreshadowing because now I’ve been learning to let go and back off even more. It’s been a journey, but what I’ve found is that I’ve got a really great teen on my hands and I can’t wait to grow through these next few years together.