About a decade ago, my three young daughters and I rode up a hotel elevator with a couple who appeared to be in their fifties.
They gushed at the girls who were in their fancy dinner dresses, and then turned their heads to me and said, “Oh, you have no idea the storm that is coming at you. Three teenagers at once! And all girls! We barely survived our two who just left for college . . .”
They went on and on for about 17 floors, until we finally escaped. Once back in our room, I seethed. I mean, like I didn’t already know that we had to pay for three proms, three college educations, and three weddings, but how bad could it really be to raise teens? So awful that you stop strangers to share your sob stories and talk about how tiring it all is?
I found it hard to believe.
And now as I sit in the middle of raising three teenagers, I understand these parents who stopped me so many years ago. I feel them. Because even when you’re raising good kids, which I think I am, it is still so exhausting for so many reasons.
It’s the worry that you carry around with you at all times—about their choices and their friends and managing their emotions. It’s about walking a bridge made of fragile trust, hoping they are where they say they are, doing what they are supposed to be doing. And always praying they don’t use that phone, which is incessantly glued to their hands, for something dumb.
It’s the mounting pressure of academics in high school, and even middle school. It’s having strong students and wondering if they are working too hard. It’s watching your struggling student get frustrated at every turn. It’s worrying about SAT scores and building a college application and should they take one more AP class? It’s trying to figure out how to send your child to her dream school without racking up debt that lasts for two lifetimes.
It’s the fear of the unknown at every turn, the belief your kid is learning responsibility but that danger lurks in every corner. It’s date-rape drugs and school shooters and a friend driving them home that texts and drives. It’s bullying and sexual assault and a private text message or photo getting sent around school.
It’s the constant stress of getting your kids to all the places they need to be at all hours of the day and night—and carrying the mental load of remembering all the things. It’s 6 a.m. practices and 2 a.m. pick ups from school trips. It’s parent meetings and fundraisers and tutoring. It’s dances and parties and youth group. It’s wanting them to experience all they can while trying to fit in quality time in every spare moment. It’s trying to chase your dreams while helping your teen chase theirs.
It’s the never-ending weight of wondering if you are screwing this whole parenting thing up. It’s the fights about messy bedrooms and the nitpicking about bowls left in the sink. It’s about questioning every decision and determining that sometimes you honestly are the only parent saying no—and learning to be OK with it.
It’s about wanting to make your teen’s lunch one morning and getting frustrated that they don’t put the lid back on the peanut butter when they do it themselves. It’s about the excruciating pain when they pull away from your touch and the surge of relief when they walk though your door at the end of each day. It’s about the exhausting attempts to communicate with your child knowing that most times the only way to get your teen to talk is by keeping your mouth shut.
I know I’m raising great kids. They work hard, are (mostly) kind, and know right from wrong. But when you are raising teenagers with surging hormones and developing brains and impulse controls that move faster than a speeding bullet, it comes with a lot of stress.
I don’t know a parent of teens who does not worry, who is not tired, who doesn’t feel exhausted by it all.
Parenting is a marathon, but that last few miles before your kids go out on their own? Well, that’s a sprint uphill in pouring rain—even when you know you’re raising good kids.
And maybe we’re exhausted because that’s the way we know we’re doing it right, which is only to say we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.
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