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I’m Weary from Worrying About My Teenagers, Is Love Sufficient?

January 21, 2024
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I’m weary from worrying about my kids. 

I worry about their hearts and their brains, what they’re looking at on their screens, the voices they’re listening to in their circles and the voices they’re listening to in their heads. 

I worry about their mental health and how they’re coping living in this world with all of its sensory inputs and judgments and mandates on how to be. 

I worry about what they tell me. I worry even more about what they don’t. 

There are days I wonder if I have what it takes to bring them over the finish line into adulthood, if I’m cut out for raising teenaged humans. 

Did I do more right as a parent than wrong? (Photo Credit: Susan Connelly)

I didn’t know that parenting older kids would be this hard

I just didn’t know it would be this hard. I committed to diapers and feedings and being awoken in the middle of the night. 

I committed to giving up my freedom to fall asleep at whim, to putting little humans before self, to go and go and go until I could go no more, and then to keep going. 

I committed to pouring from my pitcher until it ran dry and to replenish myself on only a thimble of nourishment. 

Was there fine print that I missed, a clause that spelled it out saying just how challenging parenting older kids would be?

Some days it feels like we’re moving from one storm to the next; that just when I think we’re in clear waters with one child, I notice that I have missed the clouds rolling in on another, the winds picking up, giving word of something brewing.

When do we get a break from the hard? And is reckless, abundant, unconditional love enough to make it through?

My heart yearns for the little kids problems

I had the occasion tonight to look through old photos and videos from when the kids were younger. 

That feeling of warmth and familiarity you have when you see an old friend rose up in me as I revisited perfect little chubby cheeks and toothless smiles, tiaras, tutus, trucks and footie pajamas; early glimpses of their personalities to come and versions of my children that long cease to exist. 

My heart pangs for their little kid problems (which seemed oh so big at the time) and the predictability of knowing how each day would unfold, when my biggest worries were how much TV they were watching and if they were getting enough fruits and vegetables to offset the copious amounts of goldfish consumed each day.  

Their needs then were so basic and easily met.

The stakes were just as high, of course, but the risks seemed lesser, my agency to control outcomes greater. I long for the confidence I felt then in my ability to mitigate those risks and keep my kids safe. 

I don’t have that same confidence today.

Did I do more right than wrong as a parent?

My mind can get trapped thinking about the balance sheet of parenting. Did I get more right than I did wrong? 

Were the things I got wrong weighted like an AP class with a multiplier of 1+, offsetting the non-weighted college-prep level things I got right?

I want there to be a formula with predictable, controllable outcomes, or a roadmap that clearly delineates what highways and exit ramps to avoid so that I can get it all right. 

But roadmaps and foolproof formulas don’t exist in parenting.  

I’m left only to my own devices and survival instincts, buoyed by whatever resilience I have. And love. Always love.  

My husband and I chuckle at how well (NOT) we are parenting our teens and tweens

Sometimes the noises in our house from tween-and teenaged humans yelling at each other is so loud that my husband and I can do nothing but look at each other and laugh at how well we’re (not) managing this parenting gig.

They bicker and fight and call each other out for slights and wrong doings that are silly and nonsensical. They slam doors and make threats and plead with us to arbitrate, but never are satisfied with our fair and balanced rulings.  

On these occasions it seems there will never be peace in our house. 

When later I catch them together, watching a show, laughing, playing together, I am always caught unawares wondering when the transition from war to peace was brokered. 

What happened that they are now relaxed, kind and generous to one another?  No memory or footprint of prior hurts exists. 

There is nothing to solve, nothing to arbitrate. The tension has passed. My body exhales. My breathing relaxes. There is peace, in them, in me, in our house. I want to cap the bottle in which lightning was caught. 

How long will this last?

It’s not that our little kids problems were little, it’s just that we have perspective and wisdom now

When we look back years later at parenting our little kids we feel that their problems then were so little and manageable, nothing in comparison to the might of the problems we’re facing as they are now older. 

But I think we need to look at that comparison differently.

It’s not that our little kid problems were so little compared to the bigness today of our big kid problems. It’s that looking back now, with the wisdom and zoomed out perspective that only time and distance can provide, we know the end of the story. 

We know it worked out. We survived and our little kids prevailed and became big kids in spite of all of our fears and concerns about how we may have been doing it wrong.  Maybe it takes surviving the hard for us to realize we can.

I sometimes see a glimmer of the adults my teens are becoming

Sometimes I get to see glimpses of the nearly fully formed humans my children are becoming: gracious, kind, empathetic, self-reliant, and self-assured.

Usually it happens when they are outside of our home with non-family members (A Kindergarten teacher once told me she gets the best of my child and I get whatever is left in the tank after a day of following rules and exerting self-control. That always made a lot of sense to me).

My friend Joann calls these moments “Godwinks.” It’s not the full picture to come, of course, but it’s enough to let you see you’re on the right path and your efforts are not for naught. We can’t always see that it’s going to work out when we’re in the thick of it, but Godwinks give us good encouragement along the way.  

I can draw on my experience to inform how I parent my older kids

Except in pictures, I can’t go back as an older, wiser version of me and tell my 30-something-year-old self to not worry so much about all the little kid things, to trust it will all turn out ok. 

But I can let the wisdom I know now change how I show up as a parent today of big kids. 

I can bet on the grace offered by perspective and the passage of time that a lot of what I worry about today is much ado about nothing (of the things that actually merit my worry, most of them will probably work out, and, of the things that don’t work out in the way I planned, most of them will probably end up ok, too). 

I can resist the urge to give credence to every wonderfully dramatic story my crafty brain churns up about what could or will go wrong. 

I can stay present in what is, right now, knowing that if the weather is stormy in my house or my kids’ lives, it will likely change if I can just hold on five minutes. 

I can look for the Godwinks that always abound and train my heart and brain to focus on the reasons my kids are going to be amazing adults and skip the time spent ruminating about how their shortcomings will create hardship or pain in the future. 

I can do my best to look for the humor in the absolute crazy town circus that is parenting teens today.

Above all else, I can rest in the knowledge that though I am not perfect and I am making mistakes along the way, my love for my kids is perfect enough and just what they need. 

More Great Reading:

Parenting Teens Is a Delicate Dance of Holding On and Letting Go

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