On Parenting Teenagers: Someone Throw Me a Life Jacket

*Disclaimer: Today’s post contains no advice, no ten steps to a better whatever, and no eloquent commentary on how to be a parent. It is merely an attempt to reach out to parents of teenagers and remind them that they’re not alone.

Parenting teenagers. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. It is the smelliest, most frustrating, most “holy shit am I going to survive this”-iest of times.

We are in the thick of parenting two teenage boys and can I just say this one thing before I go a little deeper into the subject?

I’m tired, y’all.  This season is wearing me the heck out.

I thought for sure that my exodus from their toddler years would provide me with some emotional and physical relief, but I’m discovering that every season of parenthood only presents me with a new kind of exhausting.

Me and Jackson, when we were both just babies.

There’s a caveat to that exhaustion, though, and it’s one that gives way to a glimmer of “maybe I’m actually doing something right here”.  In the midst of hormone surges, silent treatments, girl drama, and a whole lotta sass, the burgeoning adult within them makes an occasional appearance.  Some logic forms; a good decision is made; a hard thing is conquered; a rite of passage scaled.  A sigh of relief washes over me in those moments and it’s only then that I realize I’ve been holding my breath since their last “right move” – anxiously waiting for some indication that they will actually survive (and dare I say thrive?) when they leave my nest.

They’re always thrilled when we request selfies.

When they’re little, the fear is that they are so vulnerable and delicate that everything has the potential to harm.  Just because their outer shells grow bigger, however, doesn’t mean they’re any more protected.  It just means that the sources of potential pain have evolved. Instead of hot stoves, bikes without training wheels, kidnappers, or faulty playground equipment, the perpetrators of harm look more like crazy drivers on the road, AP classes, college applications, and unprotected sex. As parents attempting to teach our children how to navigate an unforgiving world alone, we have to do the hard work of letting go.

And this is when I start holding my breath.

Letting go of these budding adults is close to the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a parent. They crave independence as if it’s nature’s way of forcing what’s destined to happen eventually.  They no longer want to tell us EVERY SINGLE THING that happened in their day (although there are exceptions to this rule, even my overly communicative child withdraws to some degree). They want to experience new and sometimes dangerous adventures. They develop relationships that are void of our influence or opinion. And possibly the most painful step they take towards adulthood – they operate large vehicles on their own. God help us all.

Brothers. Best friends.

This necessary surrender is tough, especially on a mama. Our instinct is to protect, to rescue, to hover. We want to know and be known by our children and our teenagers want the opposite. I was the same way when I was that age. I didn’t want to be seen with my parents as a teenager. I went from asking to be dropped off down the block to just walking to school by myself. In my mind, getting up earlier and walking the mile to school was better than being in my mother’s car where someone might see me. I didn’t even want people to know I had parents at all. Separation is a good thing in the long run, but a hard transition for a parent.

So my challenge to myself – and I suppose the point of this post – is to stop taking it personally. When Jackson walks in and wants to retreat to his room for the rest of the day, I won’t take it as an insult. When Jake wants to stay mum about the status of his relationship, I won’t force it. I will deposit my wisdom and experience (i.e. lessons I learned the hard way) when the opportunities present themselves, but I will release them to feel the weight of the consequences of bad choices.


Me and my boys.

And in the meantime, I will wait for it all to come full circle. I remember the tether between myself and my parents becoming shorter as I stepped into adulthood, and even more so when I had my own children. The space between me knowing it all and them providing guidance grew smaller and smaller as I matured. And the exciting (yet also sad and scary) truth is that I’m only the blink of an eye away from that being my new season of parenting. Can I get an amen for the day when that phone call comes from my bleary-eyed child sobbing with regret about how they mistreated us because they JUST DIDN’T KNOW how hard it would be to have kids? Yep, I made that phone call myself in the early weeks of my first foray into motherhood. And it’s true. I had no clue of the magnitude of what I would be responsible for when I birthed that perfect tiny human. I certainly had no idea that that sweet, soft mound of flesh would one day get bigger and look at me with disdain while trying to convince me that he knows more than I do about life. Even as I type this, I can hear my parents gloating with satisfaction at the law of what goes around comes around.

The next time I want to slap the sarcasm right off of my kid’s face, I will instead look forward to the day when the white water rapids of the teen years will flow into relaxing Lake Adulthood. Until then: Jesus, wine, and date night are doing a fine job at keeping me afloat.

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