We stand together silently in the short line at 7:58 a.m. Next to me, my almost-teenage son scuffles his feet on the beige tile floor as I thumb through my billfold, searching for the right insurance card.
“I can help you now,” the receptionist motions us over to the desk. “What do you need to be seen for?”
How does a mother of teens and tweens answer that question? What do you need to be seen for? Clearly the obvious response this morning is that my young athlete needed his possibly-fractured wrist X-rayed. But it’s so much more than that.
Because mothering a child who’s actually no longer a child but not yet grown comes with a mental and emotional load no one really warns you about.
I’ve been known to tell people I’m more suited to raising babies and toddlers. I’ve had five of them, so by now I have it down: swaddles, naps, snacks, snuggles, more snacks. They’re simple creatures when you get right down to it, and I’m something of a pro at meeting basic needs.
Teenagers are an entirely different story.
They meet their own needs now, most of the time anyway. They don’t need me to provide snacks or tuck them into bed or put a Band-Aid on a skinned knee.
Their needs are more nebulous, and that sometimes leaves me feeling a little unsteady about my role. I try to be present but not hover. I position myself strategically at the kitchen sink late at night so I’m available to listen, but they don’t always want to talk—at least not in words. I attempt to ask questions without being annoying, but the line between the two is thin and, frustratingly, never in the same spot.
And then, there’s the worrying.
I worry when they’re behind the wheel. I worry about the homework they don’t ask me for help with anymore. I worry about the friends they’re making and the conversations they’re having. I worry about their safety and their futures and the words others say about them and the words they say to themselves. It’s the kind of worry that keeps a mother awake at night when the rest of the house is asleep.
But then I’ll catch a glimpse of them when they’re not looking and see the child I used to cradle in my arms—and it settles my uneasiness about this stage of life. I’m still their mother. They’re still my babies. They’re gaining independence, as they should, but they haven’t outgrown their need for a mother—for me. God made me their mother, not just for the baby stage or the toddler years or the fleeting innocence of childhood. We’re intentionally woven together, held in the palm of His gracious hand as we make our way through this season, sometimes with confidence, sometimes with trepidation, but always with love. That knowledge calms my fears, even in these uncharted teenage years.
Yes, there is a mental load mothers of teenagers carry. It’s a heavy coat of emotional labor and constantly letting go. And yes, it can be exhausting.
But it’s anything but invisible to the parents who’ve been there—to the ones who are there. We help each other in those knowing glances, in those conversations on the sidelines of sporting events, in those text messages and phone calls that give us touchpoints to the truth: you were made for this.
What do you need to be seen for? Friend, you already are. And it makes all the difference.