This has been a challenging year for me. My sixteen year old seems like he has grown not only inches per day in height but also worlds away in maturity and independence. My daughter, and my youngest, has just turned thirteen. This officially makes me a mom to two teenagers. The thing is, that it is not just their age and physical size that catches me off guard and makes me feel suddenly older than I thought. It is also the distinct change in the dynamics of our relationships.
I have always loved being a mom and have found so much of my fulfillment in that role. I’ve loved serving my kids, providing for them and being needed by them. When they were younger, my days revolved around their needs, both physical and emotional. My favorite times were being with them and I know that they looked forward to any time we could plan together for family outings, game nights, movie nights, night-time tuck ins, lazy summer afternoons and trips to the library. It seems like at every age and stage they have gone through I’ve said, “This is my favorite age”. Now I find myself questioning how I feel about this stage.
For the first time I have mixed emotions and, sadly, I think it is probably due to selfish notions on my part. You see, I believe the whole purpose of raising children is to help them become responsible and independent adults someday. That’s the goal, right? We don’t raise them hoping that they’ll stay dependent and needy of us forever, do we? I know that the changes that are taking place are good and right and as they are meant to be. I just have to adjust my outlook and my own mindset to accept the changes and find the joy in the young adults my children are becoming.
I think the challenge for me is that, if I’m honest, most of the maturing and growing that I see in my kids brings a little bit of sadness to me for what we have lost. I feel a thrilling joy in seeing my teenage son start to drive and see him dream of the freedom and opportunities that a license will bring. At the same time, part of me is thinking ahead to all the times we’ll miss in the car together when I won’t need to drive him to friends’ houses and sports practices and to and from school. I love seeing that both of my children are now old enough to make themselves dinner if we are out and put themselves to bed.
It makes me happy to know that they are responsible and independent enough to take care of themselves. However, what does this mean for me? Does this mean that they don’t need me to take care of them anymore? For so long I hoped and prayed for my kids to have good, strong and meaningful friendships. My desire was for them to find friends they could trust and confide in and friends who would bring out the best in them, appreciating them for who they are. Careful what you wish for! Now it feels like I can barely keep them home or away from friends and social activities long enough to have a meaningful conversation. Sometimes I feel like I’m standing in the corner waving a sign that says, “I’m over here. What about me?”
The truth is that when I step back and really look at the changes that are taking place and the feelings that I feel, what I find is a lot of joy and pride (and probably some misplaced self-pity). These changes taking place in my kids are all part of the normal and good path of growing up. Becoming more responsible, desiring independence and putting a high value on a social life are all positive things. I’m thankful to see these traits in my children. What I’m learning is that my perspective needs to change and grow too.
I need to start accepting this growth for the good thing that it is. I need to focus on all the positive aspects of our relationships and the many new things to love about this stage of their lives (like deeper adult conversations, insights into their thoughts and opinions that are different from my own, getting to know their friends and having them start to give back more when help is needed). I need to stop feeling sorry for the time I’m missing with them and choose to see, instead, new ways to fill that time and that purpose that I desire. Through a year of witnessing change and growth in my kids, I’ve realized that they do still need me, but just in a different way. I sometimes feel like a coach and motivator, sometimes just a listener, sometimes a friend, and often still a driver and supplier and cook and disciplinarian. In all these roles I feel great love and gratitude and think I’m learning to say, “This, too, is my favorite age”.
Remember, the goal is not to raise great kids; it’s to raise kids who become great adults.