If there is anything I can share stories about in my life, it would be teenagers. I have raised them. I have worked professionally with them. I have lived with them, cooked and cleaned for them, driven them to and fro, stayed up half the night waiting for them, sat in emergency rooms with them, counseled them, laughed and cried with them, cried over them, and shared their accomplishments and joy!
My youngest child turns twenty next week. She is not nearly as excited as I am. Twenty is not a milestone birthday for her. She is still stuck between 18 and 21, in that land of “technically an adult but not quite yet.” For me, however, this is a huge milestone. My baby is no longer a teenager. I have been parenting teenagers since my oldest turned 13, in 1997. That is roughly 14 years of teenagers. I have always said that the teen years are nature’s way of getting us ready, and willing, to have them leave home. If they left us when they were those cute, little, curly-haired, feety pajama clad, lovable children, it would surely kill us outright. So instead, nature turns them into large, loud, dramatic, hormone-driven creatures and we become much more ready to have them leave the nest when the time comes.
Nothing prepares parents for how hard those teen years can be. Sometimes you find yourself in battlefield conditions and all you can do is make sure everyone survives. Sometimes it seems like you are just moving from crisis to crisis but you get through, eventually. I hope that even when I made mistakes they always knew that I was on their side. There are still things they need to learn from you during those years, and things you still need to learn from them. There are skills you can pass on more easily like how to drive a stick shift. There are other things you can’t really teach them, like how to survive a broken heart or the death of someone they love. You just have to be there, stick beside them quietly, and let them know that yes, they will get through this. We all have.
They were years full of both joy and heartache. There were disappointments and unexpected accomplishments and times of complete hysterical laughter. There have been football games, swim meets, field hockey, track meets and boxing matches. There were driver’s ed classes, fender benders and speeding tickets. There were attempts to sneak out of the house, or to sneak other people in (eventually I installed a contact alarm on the back door, seriously!). We survived SATS, college applications and FAFSAs. There were long talks about sex and love. I’ve caught a few of them drinking. One time one of them even thought I would believe that the smell coming from his room was actually “incense” as if I had never been a teenager myself; just popped into this world in an adult sized, fun- ruining mom body! There were school projects and art exhibits and talent shows. Thankfully, there were also other parents. These were friends that I could count on, judgment free, as we negotiated those tricky years together.
I’ve lost a few battles, but yes, ultimately, I have won the war! They have served in the military, served in AmeriCorps, gone to college, or opened their own business. They have jobs, great friends, their own apartments and causes they believe in. Who knew this crazy group of teenagers, who could not even do their own dishes most of the time, were capable of such things! They have dreamed wonderful dreams that even I, as their biggest fan, couldn’t have imagined for them. Most surprising to me though has been finding out that parenting does not actually end when they are 18, that magical number we sometimes cling to when times are hard. It doesn’t end. It is just different. It turns out I am still their mother and they still need me sometimes. What has changed is that now, sometimes I need them too, just like my mother sometimes needs me. Now I am learning how to parent twenty-somethings. I am learning how to back off. (No, that has not been easy). I am learning to trust that I did the best job I could, and now it’s up to them. So far, they are doing a pretty decent job!
Happy Birthday Baby Girl!