In the last month, two mothers of teenagers assured me I need to prepare myself because the challenges of parenting little kids pale in comparison to parenting teenagers.
“Just wait,” they said, “it gets harder.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve been slapped with this grave prophecy (which stokes a wave of fear so deep I wonder how I’ll manage).
Over the last 12 years, it’s happened more than once — as I wrangle my six kids and my overflowing shopping cart through crowded grocery store aisles, complete strangers have wagged their finger at me and declared, “Little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems.”
“Phew, what a relief!” I always want to respond, wiping sweat from my brow. “Because I thought calming the caterwauls for treats and toys and the resolution of the sibling World War on aisle 5 was a stroll through Disneyland!”
(In all these years, I’ve never said that though. Go ahead, canonize me now.)
Still, I’m not in denial. I know toddler tantrums are not the same as teens’ learning to drive, obey curfews, and navigate the moral waters of life. The emotional needs and challenges I face with two preteens (one of whom will be 13 in a month) are already different than the ones I experience with my four younger children.
This new era of parenting is bringing unforeseen challenges.
The pre-adolescent mood swings alone are nothing to scoff at. In addition, I know as these kids grow, I will watch them make bad choices and it will pain me to see the flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, sin. None of this will be easy. I’m not prepared for the teen years just as I wasn’t prepared for my first child.
How can one ever prepare for that life-altering experience?
It’s impossible to gear up for both the difficulties and the joys new babies bring, just as it’s impossible to prepare for the challenges and joys of shepherding children into adulthood. But the last message I want to communicate to a struggling parent with a slew of rug rats is, “Buckle up, my friend! You think it’s hard now? This ain’t anything.”
Yes, there will be hard times; I’ve already tasted a few. But watching my children grow into adults is not going to be only heartache. I’m convinced of this, because that’s not all parenting has been for me. While I definitely have experienced the painful aspects of parenthood, I’ve also experienced abundant life, a joy like no other I’ve ever known because I’m a parent.
And this is the message I want to communicate to young parents struggling to stay afloat: Amidst the pain of parenting, I have always experienced the sweet. Watching my children grow into adults is not just heartache and misery; it’s the good stuff too.
My pre-teens are cool people. My almost 13-year-old son maintains a private blog and pens vivid war stories. He’s a voracious reader who plowed through 20 books this past summer, spending hours holed up in his room visiting other worlds. My preteen daughter is a better baker than anyone I know and she reads cookbooks in her spare time. She wrote a paper last year about three things she wants to accomplish in her lifetime and one of those goals is to open a bakery named The Happy Place. Both of them can hold interesting conversations and they have their own thoughts and opinions about important issues.
I love to see the way their minds work, their developing interests and the unique people they are becoming. My children’s personal development reminds me the teenage years are not going to be all about Trying To Get By Because These Kids Are Ruining Me. I get the privilege of watching them be who they are meant to be and that is not a burden: it’s an honor.
I can’t wait.
So I promise right here and right now to never warn a young mom struggling to keep her head above water with the multiple kids charged to her care and hanging off her grocery cart, “Just wait, it gets worse!”
That’s not a true statement!
When I see that young, overwhelmed mom, I plan on grabbing her hand, looking her in the eye and saying, “Lucky you! You get the pleasure of watching these kids grow. You get to help your kids develop their gifts and you get to watch them change the world. You are in for the ride of your life. Lucky you, my friend! Lucky you!”