Today our family embarks on a new journey — the teenage years. My oldest son Ferris turns 13.

When my kids were smaller, I used to count the years til teenhood on my fingers. When my youngest of five was finally potty trained, I sighed to my husband:

“These are the golden years. Everyone is potty trained and no one is a teenager yet.”

By my count, those golden years were going to last about 2.5 years.

Imagine my surprise when some of the behavior and the hormonal changes I was expecting to start facing today actually started to kick in a full year earlier. I vaguely remembered seeing someone write somewhere that kids reach those milestones faster these days — and I regretted not heeding that warning earlier. I felt unprepared and betrayed. I thought I had more time!

But today is the official date when our home becomes a teenage zone. There’s no turning back now — but my original panic has ceased a bit.

What I’m learning about raising a teenager so far is this: while he is biologically changing, I am being asked to change by choice. I am being charged with changing the way that I have always helped raise him — being asked to share the reins of decision-making with him and to have new conversations that respect the young adult he has become.

I cannot simply do things like I always have with him; his teenage years require evolution from me. And sometimes that takes effort, and discomfort, and energy that I have to consciously choose to embrace.

I have to listen in deeper ways than I did when he asked me about “big” things of early childhood — like why people die, why people use drugs and the origin of babies.

Now I have to listen between the lines to the indirect ways he’s trying to communicate with me. To the stories he tells about the kids he is actually worried about at school and knows an adult should know about. To the times he beats around the bush before finally recounting something he did that was wrong — whether he was “caught” for it or not. To the times he says he is hungry, and even though dinner is cleaned up and it will take effort on my part to make him something else warm, I prepare a grilled cheese or heat up a leftover taco then sit with him while he eats it. I’m being asked to be a better listener and confidant, even in the moments when he isn’t directly asking for my ear or presence.

And I won’t lie. Some of the moments of teenhood so far have been draining. He is bigger and louder now and tantrums rattle me more than they did when he was small enough for me to ignore at home or scoop up and remove from public places. When he’s upset, he’s really upset. Learning to deal with the fact that not everything in life will go his way, and that he is not entitled to more than he has earned himself, are hard lessons to process for the first time in life. I see him struggle and it’s a challenge to stand down and allow him to learn the lesson on his own sometimes. I don’t miss my own teenager years for a SECOND.

But there are really beautiful moments so far too. Moments when he stops what he’s doing and spends 10 minutes petting a neighborhood cat in our driveway. Moments when he makes up games with his little sisters and they laugh so hard they can’t breathe. Moments when he encourages his teammates on the basketball court and morphs into a leadership role with ease. Moments when he thanks me for breakfast and rinses his bowl out before putting it in the dishwasher. Moments when I see a glimpse of the man he’s going to become.

In those instances I realize that witnessing a teenager growing up is such a gift. Parents have a front-row seat to the transformation — and yes, to the drama too. We get to relive a portion of our own life, but with the wisdom we’ve gleaned since then.

If we’re smart, we allow ourselves to change and adapt as parents to the bigger child we are still raising.

Category: Birthdays

Tags: birthday