Some things get old, fast. One of those things is the relentless warning that life will be dark and hellish from the moment our oldest child turns 13 until our last turns 20 and my husband and I are finally out of the horror known as “the teenage years.” Since our oldest will turn 13 in a matter of days, and our youngest is just shy of 2, we can look forward to this prophesied hell-at-home lasting for – oh, let’s see – approximately 18 years.
I can’t be the only mother out there who wholeheartedly rejects this view of things. And yet, I also can’t count the number of times I’ve heard some variation of: “Just wait until they’re teenagers! Then you’ll really be in for it!” I’ve never invited these comments, and yet the ‘just you wait!’ narrative has come our way in a steady stream ever since our first child was a baby.
The notion that our kids turn from cheerful, respectful 12-year-olds into dark, moody, spastic and irreverent 13-year-olds practically overnight has never sat well with me. Sure, there are physical and emotional changes as kids grow and mature. There are hormones. There is the grasping for greater independence. But really, a radical difference – and always, always for the worse? I don’t buy it.
Any parent who has a close relationship with their child can tell when a mood changes for the worse, when a child distances themselves from us, when something is bothering them, or when their patterns and habits change. When this happens to our children at age 5 or 10, what do we do? We seek to find out what’s wrong. We talk with them. We do fun things together. We try to help them work through their problems, and we work to re-bond with our kids and to restore the strained love between us, by whatever means seems appropriate for their age. Why should it be different with our teenagers? If a child’s heart is in a good place at age 12 and our parental relationship with them is strong, I wouldn’t expect 13 to look that different from 12.
Having 5 daughters in the house, you can bet my husband and I experience plenty of high drama. As someone who grew up with only brothers, (and a mother who to this day has never cracked open a bottle of nail polish) I see that God clearly has a sense of humor. But these precious girls have opened my mind, opened my eyes and challenged my thinking on what it means to be a girl – and a woman.
Household drama is par for the course when raising these intelligent, strong-willed and sometimes exasperating girls. But the times of stress and frustration do not overshadow the good times, the fun, the laughter, the love and sheer joy of seeing each unique personality flower into growing maturity and strength. Not by a long shot. Every stage has its beauty. And I don’t expect that to change a few weeks or a few years down the road.
Maybe as parents my husband and I will have to work harder in our role as guardians, nurturers, teachers and guides in the years ahead. Maybe we will have to ask more questions about our daughter’s school and social environment, about her thoughts and feelings. Maybe we will have to be bolder in talking with our kids about awkward subjects.
But don’t tell me I’m supposed to ‘just bear’ the teenage years. We can love every stage of our children’s growth and development. There is so much to love. Happy 13th birthday, Sweetheart.