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At age seven, my family moved into a dairy-farm house built in the early 1900s. And, while the house still oozed a certain turn-of-the-century charm, the town had grown around it, crowding out any resemblance to the private, country lifestyle the original farmers would have enjoyed.

The truth was, our house faced a busy, modern street with tightly packed neighborhoods surrounding us on all sides. As a family, we often walked or rode bikes among those rural back streets, and they became familiar enough that one day I begged my mom to let me ride around the block by myself. She said no.

“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” she said. “It’s just that I don’t trust other people.”

I was eight. And she was right.

So, at age nine, I asked again. She said no. Same reason. And she was probably still right.

Again, at 10, I asked to ride my bike solo, “Just around the block, Mom.” She said no. But, at this point, I rebutted, “Well, you have to start trusting me with other people some time.” And I was right.

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My mother, being the wise creature she still is, changed her mind. She said yes.

I’ll always remember that first freedom ride. It was completely uneventful, but it was all mine, and I felt every ounce of being 10.

Now, I’m raising my own five children. Not in an antiquated home but an old-fashioned, small town. Our house is in the middle of five wooded acres, so we don’t live on a typical block, surrounded by neighbors with curbs and sidewalks and traffic. My kids have had the incredible opportunity to grow up riding their bikes all over God’s creation.

But my children still needed to experience independence, and even more . . . mama’s approval and celebration of that independence. Do you know what my country-raised children pestered me for in their early years? Coffee.

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Now, maybe you’re one of those moms who lets your 5-year-old drink Starbucks . . . and get puppies. I’m not gonna judge! But I determined early on to keep heavy doses of caffeineand puppiesout of reach for the benefit of my children’s young developing minds and bodies.

Then, my oldest turned 12, and she asked me for coffee.

I said no. I felt right about it at the time, but the reality struck me that young minds and bodies eventually become mature minds and bodies, and I needed to embrace that fact. I needed to promote it. I needed to reward it.

So, when my pre-teens started salivating over, not just the blessed concoction called coffee, but the experience of doing that grown-up thing, I took stock and started a tradition.

For every 13th birthday, I take that child out for their first-ever coffee date. I get them a real, live, caffeinated, flavored, all-American candied coffee. It’s our own sort of bar mitzvah.

A rite of passage. A cheering on of the growing-up process.

Not everyone likes coffee. Poor souls. But I do. And Daddy does. So, coffee dates have become iconic in our house. They represent connection. They represent inexpensive fun. They represent an adulty kind of experience.

RELATED: The Secret to Parenting Teens? Listen and Repeat.

Every child WILL shift toward independence, and it’s our job as mothers not just to allow it, but to help it along in positive, affirming ways when we see that the time is ripe. So be on the lookout, mamas.

For our particular family, coffee has come to symbolize that transition into adulthood. Whatever symbols you choose, and whatever age or stage you decide to mark, make an intentional effort to escort your children into the joys of adulthood.

Don’t dread the teen years. Celebrate them.

Set the tone that growing up is exciting . . . and it will be.

You never know, they might even thank you someday by taking you out for coffee.

Jess Litterell

My husband and I have five in the hive, three of which are teens. We homeschool and eat. When I’m not busy doing what I should, I do what I can. And today, that means writing to you.

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