I’ve truly enjoyed raising my kids. Sure, it’s been exhausting—the laundry, the cooking meals, the shuttling to all the activities—but mostly, it’s been a joy.

When my kids were little, it was easy to control their behavior. I put the television on the channels that I thought were best, made their meals, and purchased the clothes I wanted them to wear. I decided the playdates we would have and punished them for behavior I didn’t like. We thrived in our routine, and I may have even been a little bit smug in how smooth parenting was going for our little family.

I’d try to give them choices. “Do you want to wear the blue or pink shirt today?” Or, “Carrots or string beans tonight?” But, let’s be honest: I was the puppet master behind every scene.

Then it happened. It was slow at first—an eye roll here or a sarcastic comment there. It was when one pulled away from a hug in front of her friends or another started retreating to her room a bit more.

And little pieces of my heart began to break, bit by bit.

As my kids continue to grow older, their choices now become their own—and it is so hard when they don’t align with how you feel you have raised them. Worse, sometimes you wish you could do things differently.

Now, here I sit with three kids in the early stages of the teen years, and I wonder how we will get through it. We fight for control and gingerly pass trust back and forth like a carton of eggs. 

And when that trust is broken, when they push me away, when one of those eggs splatters on the ground, my heart breaks a little bit more.

I know kids make mistakes. I know children will disappoint. I know it is all about the process of growing up and letting go.

But knowing this still doesn’t prepare you for the surge of emotions you feel when it happens to you.

I wonder, Where did I go wrong? Or, I thought we had a better relationship than this. 

But mostly I think, Wow, I am really screwing this up.

So as I look at the pieces of my shattered heart scattered all around me, I want to pull away to protect myself, to protect my heart that has given so much to these three little souls. It’s tempting to walk away, to throw my hands up in the air and give up.

But instead, I choose to lean in, I choose to move toward the pain and the betrayals of trust and the mistakes. I choose to relinquish control of how their choices reflect on me. 

And instead of speaking my emotions, I choose words from my broken heart: “No matter what you do, dear child of mine, no matter the mistakes you make, there is nothing you can do to make me love you any less.”

Because I have to believe that with every action, with every mean-spirited word, with every effort my teens use to push me away, they want me—they need me—to be there for them, no matter what.

While I still may feel angry or disappointed or frustrated, I find other people to share those feelings with, so eventually, I can give my teens the love they need—and the consequences to know they must be accountable in this life.

And we keep talking and trying to navigate this growing up thing together—and in those moments, my heart starts to piece itself back together again, if only just a little bit.

Letting go of your kids is not just them physically moving away from you. Sometimes it’s letting go of expectations or aspirations or even dreams. It’s letting go of the control of their choices. It’s letting go of your heart while trying to hold onto your values.

And when I let go, I hope an even more beautiful life will come to fruition for my kids than what I could have ever imagined. 

I wish I could say this rough road for my kids and me is almost over, but in truth, I know it’s just the beginning. I’m trying to develop a thick skin while keeping a tender heart.

Because my teens may keep breaking my heart, but I know it’s big enough to carry us all through to the end of this journey.

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Whitney Fleming

Whitney is the mom to three tween 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 http://playdatesonfridays.com/