I wash the dinner pots and pans quietly as I look over at my twin daughters who are high school freshmen this year. One is sitting behind a laptop, feverishly working on an essay due the next day, the other is intent on her math homework while taking bites of the chicken noodle soup I made for dinner a few hours ago.
 

This is what 7 p.m. looks like in our house most nights.

My daughters finish cross country practice around 5:15, and then we usually have to run an errand for school supplies or food for an event or to grab a book at the library. Each night one or both tiredly grunts, “Ugh, I have so much homework.”

And usually, it isn’t that much. But it is a math worksheet and conjugating Spanish verbs and finishing notecards for science and reviewing vocabulary for Language Arts and studying for a Social Studies test.

It is enough to make my head spin.

That is usually after getting to school early for orchestra and going to a study session at lunch and doing extra credit for one class and signing up to volunteer for another.

We say no to additional extracurriculars more than you think, and together we’ve pared down their activities and course load quite a bit.

But still, it all just seems so much for those little shoulders to bear.

Most nights, someone in our house loses it. It could be one of my three girls or me or all of us.

I’m constantly clucking orders and someone is yelling for a computer and the dog is barking and a mess builds up that makes my kitchen seem more like a junkyard.

But knowing how tired we all were tonight, I tried to handle our routine a little differently. I tried to make their lives a little easier.

I made their lunches and put away their dinner dishes, tasks that are typically their responsibility. I started a load of laundry and threw in their practice clothes. I went and found computer chargers and sharpened pencils and looked up a geometry equation on YouTube (thanks Khan Academy).

There were a thousand other things I wanted to get done. I needed to return some emails and finish a work project. I had clothes to put away and a dog to walk. I desperately wanted to respond to some texts, but I never left my kitchen to get my phone and my computer upstairs.

Instead, I simply stayed in the room with them. I puttered quietly in the kitchen and merely remained accessible. I tried to remain calm when the frustration erupted and gave a hug when the tears sprung and offered a little encouragement when one wanted to quit.

Sometimes I think that we put way too much pressure on our kids, and sometimes, I wonder if they could handle it better if we just stayed present with them when they need us the most—which might not be when we think.

Although I always try to see every race and game and concert, I actually think my teens need me more at home. Not in their face needling and nagging, but floating around so they can latch on when needed.

While normally a stressful night like this would have caused epic pubescent meltdowns, we got through it relatively unscathed—this time.

You just never know if you are doing this parenting thing right, but tonight, at least I feel like I didn’t make it worse.

And I’ll take that as a win.

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.