I expected the sighs and the eye-rolls and the closed bedroom doors. After all, I was a teenager once, too, and I remember how I treated my parents.

I have managed the exhaustion of incredibly early high school wakeups and late-night texts letting me know they are ready to be picked up and running them all over the countryside for school events and sports and volunteering.

I am trying to deal with the stress and the worry that comes with raising big kids who look like adults but still have so much growing up and life-learning to do.

But what nobody told me about this time, what I never anticipated about these teenage years, was how much I could love them.

Sure, raising a teenager in today’s world is challenging. There is so much pressure on our kids to succeed while their hormones are surging and their brains are still developing.

They can lash out, overreact and then enact the silent treatment so quickly that it makes your head spin. Trust me, with three teenagers under my roof, I’ve seen it all. Anyone who has been through it knows it is the hardest stage yet.

But let me share a little secret, friends, about this difficult stage, this time when your baby is trying to break free from your grasp, when your fledgling is trying to fly the nest: it’s my favorite.

Yes, you heard me right. These teenage years? They can be the best yet.

Because this is the time we sit on the couch late into the night and talk for hours about life. I confess my adolescent mistakes with my daughters and why I don’t want them to repeat them; they share their hopes and their dreams, and we talk about how they could get there.

Because this is the time we watch my favorite old movies like “Pretty in Pink” or “The Breakfast Club” with tubs of popcorn sitting in our laps, and they love the exact same lines that I did at their age. We can read the same books and go to fancy restaurants and watch the same shows. I torture them with my music, they torture me with theirs.

Because this is the time they start developing opinions about life and they challenge me to see things differently. This is the time I see the enormous depth of their hearts and the vast potential of their young minds, their wicked sense of humor and their quick wit. This is the time when they know how to do stuff and take care of things, even though they often choose not to do it.

Because this is the stage I can be there for them—I mean, really be there for them, unconditionally.

I can help mend broken hearts and manage disappointments and build confidence and pour so much love into them they never forget their self-worth. I am still their parent, but we are also starting to build a friendship I cherish.

Because this is the time I get to see the people they are becoming while still seeing my past. I get a front-row seat to watch my own fuzzy caterpillar turn into a butterfly seemingly overnight.

Now, if you are in the thick of it like I am, don’t think my kids are any different than yours. These teenage years are hard, perhaps even the hardest ones, in this raising kids program.

But nobody talks about how much you can love these years, either. Nobody tells you how lovely it is to watch your kids transform into adults right before your eyes, how your relationship will develop into something beautiful, how even though you miss your baby, the man or woman you raised who is standing before you will make your heart swell until it feels like it will burst. And, well, this new stage can be pretty amazing, too.

Because even though I sometimes think these teenage years may break me—like I felt all the stages before this might have, too—well, they are my favorite.

At least until whatever comes next.

Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a communications consultant, and blogger. She tries to dispel the myth of being a typical suburban mom although she is often driving her minivan to soccer practices and attending PTA meetings. She writes about parenting, relationships, and w(h)ine on her blog Playdates on Fridays.