Dear Me from not-too-long ago,
I know, your hands are insanely full right now with three little kids. You rarely get a full-night’s uninterrupted sleep, your days are filled to the brim with not much to show for them, and you can only sneak away for only an hour or two of work before the babysitter needs to head home.
You love your kids and you’d do anything for them. You love the family you’re creating. But sometimes it’s hard to see through the fog, and you wonder if the day-to-day liturgy of laundry, lunch-making, and Blue’s Clues will ever end — and if it will even matter when it’s all done.
From where I write right now, I’m not too terribly far in the future from you; only a decade or so. I’ve still (thankfully) got the same three kids still under the roof, and my days still often look like laundry, lunch, and — well, at least it’s Marvel movies instead of Blue’s Clues. But still.
The oldest girl has been a teenager for over a year now — today is her 14th birthday, which, in the early days, where you are, I couldn’t remotely fathom we’d ever get here. But somewhere along the way I blinked a few times, and here we are… She’s a full-on teen. There’s about four years left before she enters adulthood.
Here’s what I want you to know about how it feels to be you.
1. Man, this is going by fast.
All the Hallmark cards, warnings from older parents, and clichéd anecdotes already tell you this, but it’s still wild to live out. The days are long but the years are short couldn’t be more true. And while you had more of a “let’s just power through it” mentality in the early years, you now want to slow down time and savor every moment — even the hard ones.
Inwardly, what’s wildest about all this is it doesn’t feel that long ago that you were 14. It feels like yesterday you were swimming for hours in Ashley’s backyard pool, stretching before ballet class, and wondering if that boy from history class likes you. You were eager to turn 15 so you could get your driver’s permit.
But then, as I mentioned, you blinked — and here you are. It really is going so fast.
2. It’s still hard, but in a different kind of way.
From those older parents you know, the teen years sound so elusive and scary. The horror stories about dealing with Huge Heavy Things make it seem like the stage you’re in, full of cutting up grapes and train tracks on the floor, a veritable cake walk.
Well, yes, parenting a teen is hard, yet for me (you?) it’s a different kind of hard. Your current stage, the younger-kids stage, felt more physically and relationally taxing to me — my current stage is more emotionally and mentally taxing. You’re doing hard work. I honestly breathed a sigh of relief when I finally got to the other side of diapers and car seats.
But yes, it’s still challenging. She’ll come to you with questions that don’t have easy answers — or answers at all. There are dilemmas that rip out your heart because you’ve been right where she is, and the only thing you can do is walk through it with her. Heck, there are situations where all you can do is give her a hug, pray for her, tell her you’re on her team, and let her out in the wild to figure it out herself.
This is a hard thing for me. Emotionally and mentally, this stage brings me to my knees. But hey, I’m mostly sleeping through the night and the kids do their fair share of household chores. You’re in a very tiring stage. All the grace in the world to you.
3. It’s surprisingly fun.
But here’s the part They don’t talk about as much (maybe because fear sells?). Parenting a teen is also really fun. You can have real conversations about real things with them. They understand nuance so much better, so discussions are just that — actual discussions.
And the humor — oh my gosh, the humor. Teens have the best sense of humor, and yours can manage to find the funniest stuff on the internet. You’ll spend hours laughing together over genuine hilarity, and you’re not just pretending to be amused because they’re talking about Power Rangers. You’re actually amused. You create your own inside jokes. You like and use the same gifs.
You have someone under your roof who wants to do pedicures with you. She asks if we can do a Gilmore Girls binge before bedtime on the weekend. She’ll read books you recommend and then you can talk about them together. She’ll tell you when another pair of earrings would be cuter with your outfit.
4. You’ll see yourself mirrored back.
She’s her own person with her own interests and quirks, but you still see so much of yourself in her. She’ll see things from a certain perspective — a younger, less-experienced-with-the-world perspective — and even though you know she’s wrong, you’ll remember feeling the exact same way.
You’ll be surprised at how many memories of inward emotions and thought processes come flooding back to you, watching your teen navigate life. The details might be different, but the wonderful world of fighting to be your own person while still (sometimes secretly) relishing the security of still being in the nest seems surprisingly universal.
It’s surprising how much your current role as parent-of-a-teen takes you on your own inward journey. It brings you to your knees in prayer. It pushes you onward, to still more maturity. It asks you to continue developing your own character.
5. You’re still your own person.
Yet the good thing is, as of now, you’ve managed to carve out a life that’s not entirely wrapped up in parenting — the kids are a huge, major part of it, but they’re not the only thing. You’ll drop off your 14-year-old at theater practice, and then you’ll go do your own thing. And it has nothing to do with parenting.
I only say this because, when I was in your stage, it felt like every decision, every hour of your day was somehow about the kids, even if they weren’t directly about the kids. But then they got older, and while yes, it feels like you’ve exchanged the job of butt wiper for taxi driver, you’ve miraculously found a way to exercise your own gifts, care about things beyond the parenting realm, and make time for yourself.
You exercise, entirely on your own and largely without the kids’ notice. You do creative work, and rarely is it about the world of parenting. You interact with other adults, and you talk about so much more than each others’ kids. You take work trips, child-free. You’ll go on dates, and you’ll manage a whole hour without bringing up the kids.
Once the fog of early childhood lifts, you’ll find yourself remembering that the world is big, you’re still a small part of it, and you still love discovering your place in it all.
Yet through all this, your favorite job is still being a mama — even though it’s more about trying not to laugh at overhearing the ridiculous stories from their friends in the backseat, than it is about cheerios on the floorboard and trying to keep them awake before naptime from the same backseat.
That little girl you’re playing dollhouse with? You blinked, and you’re now wearing the same shoes, finding your own makeup on her desk, spending those long drives talking about relationships, and dreaming with her about her life after high school.
And it’s all good. Even the hard stuff.
p.s. Listen to the podcast episode about this post.