Earlier today, my dear high school friend, Tara, commented on Facebook that her baby was 5 years old and it was taking its toll on her. I replied back with my experience of parenting a 15 and almost 13-year-old. After thinking over my response to her, something dawned on me. No one ever told me. Oh, I had one friend allude to it. I’d heard quips of it from another friend. But no one ever laid it on the line for me.
And what is that? It is the fact that parenting pre-teens and teens is easily the most rewarding part of parenthood to date for me. In short, no one ever told me how good it could be.
I remember being at some sort of conference and the speaker quoted Mark Twain: “When a child turns 12 you should put him in a barrel, nail the lid down and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug the hole.” I remember the crowd laughing (my kids were very young at the time) but what I remember the most is my friend, Suzanna. She was vehemently shaking her head “no” and saying that she did not agree. What was even more amazing to me was that she had a teenager at the time! I prayed right then and there that God would give me Suzanna’s attitude.
When children are young, their cuteness is off the scale, never to be repeated in this lifetime . . . I’ll give you that. I look back at my toe-headed boy and be-dimpled little girl and a part of me aches at how over the top adorable they were. I remember the lisps, the mispronounced words (“hiccup truck” will forever live in my heart), the crazy antics (one of my children actually went #2 in the backyard because, “Mommy, I wanted to feel like a dog.”). I remember how their faces lit up when they saw me . . . even when they were with their friends!! I remember them falling asleep in my arms, precious prayers whispered in earnest every night and singing all the little kid church songs together. I loved it all.
As they grew up, I noticed something slowly going on around me. My kids weren’t just depending on me to meet all their needs and provide all their good times anymore. We were actually starting to have a deep relationship. We would talk about things like current events, landmarks in history, and our lives. They were beginning to form opinions separate from mine. They began to observe the world around them and process things through their mind’s lens, not just their parent’s. They started realizing that their mom is a person, too, and she has her limits. They realized neither one of their parents are perfect. They started developing interests that weren’t suggested to them by a parent. They started turning into unique individuals and it is fascinating to watch.
My kids aren’t perfect and neither is their mother. I will never as long as I live understand the inner workings of the male adolescent brain. Turquoise skinny jeans. Are you kidding me? The kids can still get on my last nerve and we have misunderstandings. And I have been thought of as unfair, mean, too strict, embarrassing, etc. But the joy of our relationship through the good and bad far outweighs the negatives and it is so much bigger than wishing they were small again. Which I don’t.
I would like to offer up two things that I think have helped me through these years. First, I tried to not look to my kids for self-validation, approval or to find my self-esteem in them. If I did, I would have been done in a long time ago. My first born was so strong-willed that I pretty much thought I was a bad parent from the start. What if I had been looking to him to make me feel good about myself or to validate the choices I’d made in life? My kids are a huge part of my life, but they’re not the whole part. Yes, I’ve homeschooled them for 10 years, but I have tried to keep them from being the sun around which I orbit.
Secondly, around the age of 10, major changes occur in kids. Changes in how they see the world, how they see themselves, how they see their relationships. I had no idea this was going to happen. Thankfully, I read “Bringing Up Boys” by Dr. James Dobson. He so clearly explains what’s going on in a kid’s head during those years and the teen years. I know I am a better parent because of that book. He also wrote “Bringing Up Girls.” It has proved to be invaluable . . . girls emotions are so much different from boys during these years and Dr. Dobson made me realize that no, she doesn’t hate me, her brain is just a mess at the moment!
So, Tara, I offer you hope. And Suzanna, I offer you thanks. And to God I offer my astounded worship . . . . thank You for taking all the good, the bad, the hilarious, the ugly, the happy, the heart-breaking, the not fit for print and turning it into something wonderful. To You alone be the glory.