When you have as many kids as I do, you learn a thing or two about your parenting strengths and weaknesses. I’ve learned that I excel at taking care of babies and toddlers. The trouble is, in what seems like the blink of an eye, those precious babies grow into teenagers.
When our little ones display their spirited side, we often hear the foreboding phrase “Just wait until he/she is a teenager!” And while most of us have negative associations with this stage based on our own experiences, the good news is that watching your kid grow into a young adult is more rewarding than you can imagine.
As my oldest son’s birthday milestones crept closer to double digits, I harbored secret fears about becoming the parent of a teenage boy. I questioned my ability to relate to him as he grew older. My parenting skills are outstanding when it comes to children under five. But what would happen, I wondered, at 12 and beyond?
I worried that he would turn into a hormone-fueled, smelly monster who I no longer recognized (literally & figuratively). I worried that as he got older, all of the parenting mistakes I made early on would come to a head. Plus, I remembered the nasty struggles I faced when I was that age. Reliving those awkward, sometimes painful years even secondhand wasn’t something I relished.
But the thing I feared most of all was that once my son hit a certain age he would no longer need me.
I’m pleased to report that so far a majority of my fears have been unfounded. Although we have our share of struggles, I’m bowled over by the awesome young man my son is becoming. Most surprisingly, I’ve discovered that although parenting a teen does present new challenges, much remains the same.
The joys of the early childhood years are very tangible. You hold your children in your arms. You snuggle on the couch and read stories together. You watch them play. You heal their hurts and banish their fears. You rock and kiss and cradle your child in your arms and hope beyond anything that they are happy.
The joys of parenting a teen are just as intense, if less tangible. As your kids grow older, their needs really don’t change, but the way they express their needs does. They still need you to quiet their fears. They need you to listen and talk to them. They desperately want your attention. Playing and fun are still an important part of their lives. Like toddlers, they are easily overwhelmed by the changes they are experiencing. And if they don’t get the things that they need from you, they will throw their own teenage version of a temper tantrum.
Your kids never outgrow their desire for your guidance and love. Ever.
But beyond your kids still needing you, it’s incredible to watch the journey of who they are unfold. You see their talents blossom into possible career paths. Our son has developed quite a sense of humor, and laughing with him now is more fun since he actually understands why something is funny. We don’t have to censor movies and TV as much; in fact, he’s become a wonderful viewing companion. Those long story time sessions have morphed into deep conversations about current events and pop culture.
Most of all, I am proud of his kind heart and compassionate spirit.
When I stumble across a photo of my son when he was small, I’m swept into a tidal wave of bittersweet emotions. I ache for those early days of his childhood, yet I marvel at how proud I am of him now.
And instead of wishing for a time machine, I remember that this is a special time too. In some ways this stage — when our kids are old enough to understand grown-up things yet still need our nurturing—is more fleeting than those early childhood years.
This stage is a gift, too. Enjoy it.