Friday, March 7, 2014

And Then She Was a Teenager. 13 Things I'm Learning in Her 13th Year.

My girl turned 13 on Sunday. Her birthday week was such a whirlwind of gifting and celebration and cooking that I didn't have time to process the emotion of it all. It's probably why as I sit down to write this now, the tears well up unannounced. 

My oldest and only daughter is a teenager. What?

We have just over five years left together before she likely leaves home. The reality is more than I can bear. It's easy to be fueled by panic when you begin to think in these terms. It's tempting to amp up and get crazy intentional about getting it right from here and out and making sure she's prepared and knows what she needs to know. I want our relationship to be perfect and awesome so that her remaining time under this roof is nothing but pedicures and laughter and chick flicks. 

But if parenthood has taught me anything, it's that we can't rush or manufacture anything. Relationship takes time. Lots of it. Wisdom shows up gently and slowly. Too slowly for my taste. Figuring it out is laced with more failures than successes. Embarrassing, fall-on-your-face failures.

I may have a clue about what I'm doing by the time she leaves home. {Why is knowledge backwards like that?} 

And that's why I've titled this post, "13 I'm Learning" instead of "13 Things I've Learned." I'm nothing if not in process. 

Here they are, in no particular order.

1. The winds of adolescence are fickle breezes. 

{And by breezes I mean the tsunami variety.} This very week has brought everything from euphoria and gratitude to hysterical tears and silent treatments. Do your best to stay calm and take deep breaths. {You, not her.} The current weather condition will soon pass.

2. Remember. 

My adolescence was fine and good on the outside but a hot mess on the inside. I didn't realize that I stood at the precarious intersection of hormones, change, insecurity, and mounting stress. I didn't realize that my crazy was actually normal. It's a wonder any of us survive. Remembering the volatility of my own internal waters all those years ago can help me have more compassion and grace as she navigates her own waves...even if she sometimes leaves us in the turbulent wake of it all. 

{Unfortunately, my girl learned from the best. It's tempting for me to sink to her level instead of being the mature mom that I obviously am. Situations have at times looked like this: "I'll see your 5 on the freak-out scale and raise you 50. Do not mess with me because I invented the freak-out. I am going to out-drama you, sister!" This is a very bad idea. Very bad indeed.}

3. Do not take it personally. 

I repeat, do not take it personally. Detach. As much as you can. Deep breaths. As many as it takes. Decompress. After the storm has died down.

4. Respect. 

She's a little girl and young woman hybrid right now. Think about how awkward and confusing that is. And while she still wants to be cared for, she has a growing longing to be heard. Treating her like a child can insult her and harden her heart toward you. Lovingly respect her need to be heard. But it's also vitally important that the respect is mutual. You're still the parent. {Disrespect yields major consequences in this house, no matter how old you are.}

5. Be very honest about the facts of life and the realities of this world. 

Yes, it might be uncomfortable for you both. No, she may not want to hear it from you. Tell her anyway. She will learn things eventually and it's better that she learns it from you, tawdry details and all. We had one such conversation this week. I wouldn't call it fun but I'd definitely call it needful. My hope is that talking about "heavy" and uncomfortable things on a regular basis will make her more likely to come to me in the future when it transitions from theory to real life. I might be wrong about this but I figure I have nothing to lose by putting it all out there. I may, however, have something to lose if I don't. 

6. Find the things that bring you together and prioritize them, no matter how trivial or superficial. 

Shopping, pedicures, watching favorite shows together--these are my girl's love languages. I could {and have} rationalized that these are not exactly the most world-changing endeavors. But if these are the things that bring us together and keep our relationship tight, they're worth every superficial penny. It's not about the worthwhileness of the activity; it's about the connection forged over time in the togetherness.

7. Hope for the best. Be prepared for the worst. 

Love and respect are unconditional but trust must be earned. Whenever I'm tempted to implicitly trust her, I remember my own duplicity all those years ago...and I think better of it. I respect her basic needs for privacy--getting dressed, having her own room, time to herself, etc. That's pretty much where it ends. {Types the mom who has full access to her daughter's iPad mini and every single app.} Guess what? Our kids are sinful.They will make bad decisions. This doesn't mean you're a bad parent; it means your kids are human. 

8. Notice the becoming. 

She's creative, analytical, and infinitely curious. She loves being with her friends but recharges in solitude. Her strengths and weaknesses come out in myriad ways and God only knows what she'll end up doing with her life. As a parent, it's my job to notice her gifts, to foster them as best I can, and to teach her that God plans to use her uniqueness for her good and for the good of others and most of all, for his glory.

9. Know her limits and guard them as if her life depends on it. 

Because it just might. Rest, stress, activities, margin--you still have control over these. Today's adolescents are woefully under-rested and over-scheduled. Our toughest battles this year have been over the good endeavors we've said no to. I second-guessed these displeasing decisions at the time and now I feel nothing but relief that we stuck to our guns. Our family life and family schedule and family sanity are all the better for it. 

10. Never underestimate the power of a mental-health day. 

This one is really a life lesson for all of us. After a particularly stressful and busy two weeks this winter, I dropped her off at school on a Friday morning like I always do, got home, and had a gut-feeling that I needed to bring her back home. It had been the most emotional morning in the history of ever. The stress and exhaustion had shown itself in all sorts of unlovely ways. I checked her out of school during first period, took her to Starbucks, and declared it a mental health day. I had a gut feeling she needed rest more than she needed school. The next day she came down with the flu. Which brings me to another point: trust those maternal instincts. You have them for a reason.

11. Keep telling her that your boundaries are rooted in love and protection, even if she hates you for it. 

Especially if she hates you for it. Keep telling her even if she doesn't believe you and even though all of your rules seem to be ruining her life at the moment and even if you're the "only mom" who has to approve every friend she accepts on Instagram. Also? Keep telling yourself that your boundaries are rooted in love and protection. When emotions are high and you could temporarily make it all better by giving her what she wants, try to think long-term. And please, hold my hand and remind me of this too?

12. Surprise her with grace. 

Draw the boundary-lines deep. Let natural consequences be the best teacher. Don't rush in and save her every time she needs help. But for the love, weave grace through it all. Sometimes that does mean rushing in and saving her. Sometimes it means getting her out of school for the day. Sometimes it means purchasing something she doesn't deserve and sometimes it means letting her out of consequences she does deserve. This is how the Father treats us; let his character spill over into our relationships with our own children. 

13. Love her for who she is and not for who you want her to be. 

{Even if you end up being the reluctant cheer mom.}

And really, doesn't this apply to every relationship? And isn't this how all of us long to be loved?


There's far more that I'm learning but these are the thirteen things that floated to the surface for this post. 

My current season of motherhood is sure to be intense, but I'm full of hope that much of it will be intensely good. We watched the Oscars together Sunday night and I realized just how fun it's going to be to hang out as grown-up {ish} girls together in the coming years.  

For all of you who may be on the other side of raising teenagers, what are the lessons you've learned? We'd love to learn from you.

And for your weekend reading, here are two of my favorite posts about teenage daughters that my friend Emily Freeman wrote last year. They are beautifully insightful.

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  1. Oh, the tsunamis. Mine are more of the eleven year old boy type, but they still come. I love this whole post, and I'm glad to lean on your learning :).

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you. My son turned 14 a few weeks ago, and you hit the nail on the head with these. Isn't it good to know we are not alone?

  3. Scooper,
    Your words are so encouraging. Thank you!
    I see where these "13" can apply to my relationship with my almost 18 year old gal.
    I have saved this post for daily reference -- thanks!
    Hugs all around.

  4. Very true words indeed Friend! I can say the same is true for our 13 yr. old boy :) He and I are so alike and I can throw a tantrum like no one.....and how childish is that?! Thanks for your words and insight - we are not alone!!

  5. Thanks for this post! Thought provoking!


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