She leaned over and in a low voice asked, “So, what’s it really like? Raising teenagers?” Our daughters were only a few feet away, hers still small with pigtails and ribbons in her hair; mine with red lipstick and a phone in her back pocket. Only five years separated them, but in kid years—in parenting years—it seemed an eternity.

I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts and form my words and then I told her:

It’s beautiful. And it’s hard. It’s nothing like they said it would be and every bit like they said.

It’s messy and exhausting, but in a totally different way than the messy exhaustion of parenting younger kids. Her messes are the kind that cause heartache and loss, a lot harder to clean up. And she’s not the only one messing up, it’s me, too. Both kind mentally and emotionally deplete me.

I feel the desire to be home and present for her more than ever. She needs me. Not in the same urgent ways as when she was a girl, but in the quiet and significant ways that accompany a person journeying from childhood into adulthood. And even more importantly, she still wants me close. She still tells me things . . . not everything, I know that. But sometimes, she shares the deepest desires of her heart and I am in awe of the gift and humbled by the person she is becoming.

She frustrates me beyond words and makes my heart swell with pride and joy. She has a knack for shutting me out while sitting directly beside me, and for being more in tune to my feelings than anyone else, knowing precisely the right moment to give me a giant hug in the middle of the kitchen at the end of a horribly long day.

I rarely have to remind her to say please or thank you anymore, but I still have to fuss at her for leaving cups and dishes all over the house. She doesn’t require my help with homework anymore, but she can’t wait to text me from lunch to tell me she aced that exam.

She talks about colleges, scholarships, and road trips and all the plans she’s making, but then she asks if we’ll keep her room the way it is when she leaves. She discusses getting a summer job and saving for a car, but then she is packing for summer camp and a week with Grandma. She is slamming the door in her younger sister’s face one moment and hugging her and offering advice the next, while they sit cross-legged on the bed eating Popsicles.

There are a lot of tears. Tears over mistakes and broken hearts, tears from stinging words and cold shoulders that come from the girls who were her friends yesterday, tears from the coach who benched and ignored her all week, tears because it’s been a really hard Thursday for no particular or apparent reason, but hormones.

Every day I try to balance the delicacy of becoming a confidante, a fellow woman, welcoming her into the sisterhood, while still being her mother. Some days we easily glide into girl-talk, coded with the shorthand that only another womanly heart understands, and other days frustration abounds and tempers flare, as neither of us understands the other, and why can’t she see that I’m right?

It’s just like they said it would be. I am filled with worry and frustration, praying every day for God to protect her and help her make good choices. She is rolling her eyes and shutting me out. Her friends are everything and I wonder when I became second fiddle.

It’s nothing like they said it would be. I see who she is and I’m filled with confidence she is going to do it all—all the things she’s planning, and more. I don’t worry if she’ll be OK because she leads with love and strength, and I know God goes with her. She is His. I love spending time with her, seeing this mother-daughter relationship transition to a budding friendship.

“Raising teens isn’t so bad,” I tell my friend. It’s actually quite wonderful most days. But those middle school years on the other hand . . . 

Jelise Ballon

Jelise is an educator, writer, and speaker. She has been leading Bible and small group studies for youth and adults for over 15 years and serves as the head of Women’s Ministry at Compass Community Church in Winchester, VA. But the two roles she is most passionate about are those of wife and mother. She has been married to her husband for nearly 20 years and together they have three teenagers. You can read more at her blog: www.neitherheightnordepth.com, or follow her on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram