I was so glad to see my teenager the other day. She got home from work unexpectedly early, when I wasn’t even watching for her. I looked up, and there she was, standing right in front of me. I was so glad.

It reminded me of the time early in our marriage when my husband and I stopped by my parents’ house, unannounced, on our way home from getting our Christmas tree. We walked in, and my mom came out of the kitchen with a wooden spoon in her hand. She’d been making snickerdoodles. “I’m even wearing my apron!” she told us delightedly. She was so glad to see us. 

As moms, one of the most powerful gifts we ever give our children is the gift of simply being glad to see them. Of letting them know that their presence—not their position, not their performance, but the very fact of their existence—makes our lives better.

Even before they are born, we are glad to see our children.

We stare at an ultrasound screen, straining to make out the shape of them. We are so glad when we find their tiny forms.

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We are glad to see our babies when they are born. We take them into our arms and gaze into the face we’ve been picturing in our minds for so many months.

We are glad to see our children when they get up in the morning (or at least we try to be glad . . . or try to act glad, the first hour being the rudder of the day and all). We greet them with a smile and a “good morning” because no matter the odds stacked against it, we do want it to be good.

We are glad to see our students (or at least we try to give them the sacrificial gift of mustered-up gladness) when they get off the bus or get in the car or walk in the door after school. We search their faces to see what kind of day they’ve had so we’ll have some idea whether we’ll be needing to offer congratulation or consolation.

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We are glad to see our athletes or our artists when they emerge from the locker room after a game or from backstage after a performance. No matter the score or the reviews, as far as we’re concerned, they’ve won the game and stolen the show.

We are glad to see our teenagers when they pull into the driveway. We breathe a sigh of relief we know they won’t understand until they have young drivers of their own.

We are glad to see our graduates in a long line of caps and gowns. We pick them out of the procession, our vision blurred by tears of pride and joy.

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We are glad to see our big kids when they come home from a college campus or a city that is their new permanent address. They come for Christmas or the weekend, and the minute they walk in the door, our house feels right again.

We are glad to see our young adults when they show up in our kitchen some late morning when breakfast has turned to brunch. For an instant, we’ve forgotten they’re home, and so when we realize it again, we’re glad all over again.

We are glad to see our grown-up kids when we go to their houses, when we are the guests. We look around and see the lives they’ve built and are gratified—and so very humbled— to know we’ve invested our own lives in something beyond ourselves.

This gladness to see our children is a gift we give them, and the joy of it is that along the way, it is a gift they give us, too.

They look for us from their cribs or the bus or the field or the stage or the driveway or the doorway, and their faces light up at the sight of ours, lighting up at the sight of theirs.

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A couple weeks ago, I was in our kitchen when my teenager got home from a practice. She walked in and saw me and said, “Oh, thank goodness!”

“Thank goodness, what?” I asked her.

“Thank goodness you’re here. I was hoping you would be. I wanted to see you.”

And then both our lives were better. Then, we were both so glad.

Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.