As summer comes to an end each year, I find myself happily diving into back to school tasks for my two teenage boys. Those days leading up to the return to school are usually filled with me creating color coded calendars with their class schedules, setting up organization systems for studying, figuring out ways to manage homework assignments, and reviewing school maps and processes with them so they can be sure they won’t get lost on their first day.
The fall is when I feel most needed as a mom
This is often a time of year when I feel so completely alive as a mother – clear in how I am valued and where I am needed. It also is a time of when I feel stressed, overwhelmed, and alone — the weight of a successful start to the new school year resting solely on my shoulders.
Today that weight was lifted and I am equal parts relieved, heartbroken, and proud.
Knocking on my freshman’s bedroom door this morning to remind him to take his mandatory concussion test for athletes, I found him already deep into the test. How had he remembered to get it done without multiple texts and reminders and nagging from me? All I did was forward him an email last week with a due date and it got done.
My high school freshman can manage his responsibilities without me
Without my help.
Later on, as he passed by me in the hallway to get a snack from the kitchen, he causally rattled off some of the other tasks he had done this morning, including figuring out when and where his socially distanced lunch breaks would be held, and completing some forms that were due by next week. How could that be?
Just an hour earlier I was knee deep in a social media thread where other high school parents (myself included) were panicking about everything from lunch to school drop off to homework.
Yet, he figured it all out on his own.
Without my help.
Surely, I thought to myself, he would need the annual lecture about how it would be important to go to bed early tonight and wake up earlier tomorrow, enjoy a healthy breakfast, and start his first day off right. But, he beat me to the punch, telling me his detailed plan for school night bedtimes, school morning wake ups, workouts, and meals. He figured it all out.
Without my help.
With only a few hours to go until he starts his first day of high school, I’m finally beginning to realize that my high schooler doesn’t need me in the way he used to.
I am no longer needed to calm any nerves about lockers not working or getting lost on the way to his class or what will happen if he doesn’t get to see his friends on his first day at a new school. I no longer need to follow him around like a trusty old herding dog, reminding him where he needs to be and what he needs to get done before and after school.
He can do that all on his own. I no longer need to review every single assignment and communication from teachers to make sure he understands the requirements. He can figure it all out on his own.
Without my help.
Gone is the shy, timid, nervous little boy who held back tears while he boarded the school bus for his first day of kindergarten 9 years ago. Gone is the young teenager with poor self-esteem who worried if he would be made fun of on his first day of middle school 3 years ago.
In place of the shy boy is a confident young man
Instead, standing before me is a bright, confident, and capable young man, poised to begin his high school experience, arguably the most important 4 years of his life so far. And, this young man no longer needs me to do it all for him.
It’s time for me to pivot into a different approach of parenting so that I may better respond to his shifting needs and abilities. He will always need the love and support of his mother, of course, just not in the same ways he used to.
Neither of us are quite sure yet what that will look like but I’m sure he will figure it out. It seems like these days he always does.
Without my help.
(originally published by Grown and Flown at: https://grownandflown.com/high-school-freshman-is-capable-independent/
When I was 4 years old, my preschool class took a field trip to go hiking in the woods at a local state park - and we got lost.
I don’t really remember the details of that day - but I do remember the feelings.
It turns out that parenting is a lot like that field trip to the woods.
Sometimes it can leave me feeling lost.
Sometimes it can feel dangerous and scary.
But sometimes it can also be full of beauty and wonder.
When my babies were little, I could carry them on my hip as I traversed the trails of parenting. Together we could look at all the beauty around us.
As they got older, my babies wanted to walk as they held my hand. Together we wandered through life’s many trails. Back then I could guide them down the most beautiful trails but could also let them show me the woods through their own eyes.
When things felt safe, I could send them ahead of me, their laughter and giggles filling the air around us.
Those days of parenting were a beautiful adventure.
But once they reached their teenage years, they needed me to slow my pace and leave more space between us.
They wanted more room to explore on their own.
And now parenting feels a lot like that day I was lost in the woods.
It’s scary in here more often than not.
Some of the paths in these woods are ones that I have walked many times and they are ones I don’t want my children to have to walk.
Most of those paths are barely visible anymore.
Their entrances are blocked by thick thorny branches and tall grass has filled in their once well-worn paths.
Danger signs have been posted to warn anyone who attempts to tread those paths.
Those of us who have walked those paths know where they lead - to dead ends, scary mazes, and sudden cliff drops.
Although those paths might sometimes let in some brief glimpses of a blue sky and let you feel the warmth of the sun, they are paths filled mostly with darkness.
But I can’t stop my teen from going down those paths.
Even if I beg and plead or throw myself at a path’s entrance, some of these paths are ones he must walk on his own.
He needs to see for himself what the path is really like.
And so we have to let him go.
We’ve helped him fill his backpack with all the necessary supplies. We’ve armed him with maps and compasses and emergency flares. He knows we’ll be there to rescue him whenever he needs an emergency airlift from the path. He knows he can always turn around and follow the path back to the clearing.
Back to us.
But he also knows in his heart that he must make the trek.
And I know in my heart that I must let him.
And just like that day I was lost in the woods, he will find his way too.
“Kids are too soft these days.”
I rolled my eyes and tuned out the parent next to me at the youth baseball game when he started on a tirade about “today’s kids.”
The truth is, I’m tired of hearing people say that we are raising a generation of soft kids.
When did we all agree that we wanted to raise tough kids anyways?
Why should our goal be to raise kids who slough off danger like it’s no big deal?
Why should our goal be to raise kids who tolerate being bullied by their parents?
Why should our goal be to raise kids who don’t know how to express any feelings other than anger?
I know the answer that parents like the one next me will give.
“We can’t raise soft kids because life isn’t fair.”
“People are going to be mean to our children when they are adults.”
“Kids need to develop thick skin to make it in this cruel world.”
I just don’t buy it.
What if we all tried to raise soft kids?
Kids who aren’t afraid to express their feelings and emotions and will likely be better partners and parents for it.
Kids who notice other people hurting in the world and want to help create change, rather than place blame.
Kids who let their heart, rather than their pride or arrogance, guide them in life.
If having soft kids means having kids who know the power behind their words and choose kindness over hate, then let me have soft kids.
If raising soft kids means that they don’t have to listen to me shouting criticisms at them in front of their teammates, coaches, and opponents, then I hope they turn out soft.
If raising soft kids means that I have kids who don’t tolerate racism, prejudice, and hate, then I hope I raise soft kids.
Maybe all these soft kids can help make the world a better place. Isn’t that a better option than throwing our hands up and conceding that the world sucks?
Maybe I’m just too soft myself but I have hope that we can do better.
We have to do better.
A few weeks ago I ran away and I brought my family with me.
It’s become my favorite thing to do for my birthday week.
Nestled neatly between the end of the school year and the beginning of the longest stretch of summer, for years that week has provided my family and I with the perfect freedom to get away.
There are 4 simple rules for this escape from our normal lives and they are always the same. Our location must:
This year as I floated in the vacation pool with my champagne-margarita in hand, I realized that although those 4 rules are constant, we never travel with the same 4 people.
In fact, two of the guests on this trip are completely different each year.
This year we traveled with an almost 17 year old, complete with his driver’s license, and a 5’11” 13 year old with long flowing hair that would leave even the 1969 version of Paul McCartney completely jealous.
A few years ago, we traveled with a soon to be high school freshman and a soon to be first year middle schooler, both eager and nervous to start the next stage of their educational and social adventures.
And it wasn’t that long ago that we traveled with a real life 7 year old pirate and his 10 year old transformers-obsessed brother.
Somehow it really feels like just yesterday that we were traveling with two tiny children - pull ups, blankies, and pool swimmies jammed into our suitcases as we lugged strollers and car seats through airports.
But this year instead of little voices shouting “mommy watch this!”, the pool was filled with the manly voices of my teenagers and my husband playing one of their many games of intensely physical pool basketball.
While they played, I sipped my cocktail and smiled at the sounds of their booming voices shouting out to each other.
And every once in a while, I closed my eyes and could almost hear the echoes of the small boys that used to travel with us.
Because those little versions were still there too.
The truth is that if I look closely enough I can always see those versions everywhere.
They are in the dimples on their faces
They are in their sweet expressions when they fall asleep.
They are in the way they throw their heads back when they find something truly funny.
They are there in their still favorite blankets.
They are there every time they choose to sit down beside us on the sofa to play music or watch a movie.
They are always there - no matter how old their current versions get or how many inches they tower over me now.
And what a gift it is to watch the sweet merging of all those versions of my babies.
I wonder who will join us next year.
I’ve been in some scary places in my lifetime.
But, hands down one of the scariest places I’ve ever been is in the parking lot of my son’s high school.
At first the parking lot is peaceful and quiet, just a bunch of parked cars and a line of parents idling in their own cars waiting for their students at the end of the school day.
Then the wooded path from the high school to the parking lot slowly begins to fill with groups of young adults.
Some are off to college in a few months.
Some are already old enough to vote and serve in the military.
Some are heading straight from their school day to their afternoon jobs.
Some are climbing into their own cars and driving away.
Some are grabbing rides home with older friends who can drive.
As they all make their way past my car, I can’t help but picture the versions of them I first met so many years ago.
Gone are the young adult versions of them.
Instead I see the 7 year old that used to ride the bus with my son when he was in 1st grade.
I see the 8 year old that played ball in the street outside my front window.
I see the 9 year old that introduced my son to the magic of summer travel baseball.
I see the 10 year old that helped lead their flag football team to an undefeated season.
I see the 11 year old who introduced me to his mother, a woman who would become one of my closest friends.
I see the 12 year old who wrote my husband a beautiful thank you note for being his coach during his youth football years.
I see the 13 year old who giggled with their friends in the backseat of my car as I drove them all to the movies.
I know they have morphed into amazing young adults but in that parking lot I still see them as the carefree, innocent, wide-eyed younger versions of themselves.
Even as they back out of their parking space in their own little SUV’s and peel away into the line of cars exiting the parking lot, I see who they used to be.
Even as they kiss their high school sweetheart goodbye in the parking lot and drive away to their jobs, I see who they used to be.
Even as they chat with each other about their plans for life after graduation, I see who they used to be.
And as my own son, always one of the last to enter the parking lot, finally makes his way to my car, I see who he used to be.
I see the 5 year old version of him, lunchbox in hand bounding off the school-bus and into my arms.
Yes, this parking lot is terrifying.
For this is the place where you can feel the distance between childhood and adulthood growing more and more each day.
But if you look and listen hard enough, the high school parking lot is also one of the most hopeful places to be.
It is where you can see the friendships and connections that will still be there for decades to come.
It is where you can see the hopefulness for the future they have yet to write for themselves.
It is where you can see the fear of the unknown and the insecurities being replaced by bravery and confidence.
It is where you can see the ability to enjoy the present.
As my son climbs into the passenger seat and flashes his 16 year old grin at me, I am aware that I only have a few more months to spend in this parking lot. Soon he will have his license and all that money he has been saving from his job will be put towards a car.
Soon I won’t be needed in this parking lot - this beautiful parking lot where fear gives way to hope - and I am really going to miss this place.
Can you feel it?
I know I can.
The tide has come in and the storm is raging again.
Life has returned to the pre-quarantine pace - and I can’t catch my breath.
Every day feels like I’m running a 5k and the finish line keeps moving. On this race route there’s no one handing out free cups of water. There’s no one cheering me on and offering me encouragement. There are no breaks. If I slow to a walk, I’ll surely be run over by the herd of runners around me.
Life is back to how it was and here we are - racing full steam ahead and this week proved that my family and I are very much out of practice for this pace of life.
Bat bags left in wrong cars.
Sports water bottles left on car roofs.
Evenings were spent scrubbing grass stains out of white baseball pants, washing uniforms, and being reminded that our dog has an affinity for athletic cups.
There are no more family dinners. We now eat at 4pm or 9pm or in the car.
Mail gets stacked anywhere there is an open space in my house and the dogs are angry that they have to actually be alone in the house for longer than 30 minutes again.
Last night we even had to have a family meeting to figure out how we all can manage all our necessary commitments next week - (hint: we can’t do it without a clone or two).
It feels like too much and I thought we swore we wouldn’t be here again.
But as I watched my oldest laughing at first base the other night, watched my youngest warming up with his team this afternoon, and watched my husband coaching with his friends again, I realized that while this fast paced life is exhausting, leaves me breathless, and makes me feel completely unprepared most days, it also is a crucial part of my family’s existence.
This pace of life leaves my boys standing together in our kitchen late at night swapping stories of their practices and games.
This pace of life creates connection for all of us.
This pace of life creates opportunities for growth for all of us.
So tonight as I watch yet another game from the outfield, I’ll remind myself that every frantic second of this stage of life right now is worth it because this pace of life is where my family is most happy.
Can you feel it?
I know I can.
Yesterday I watched my teenager play high school football for the first time.
Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was holding the newborn version of him in my arms and introducing him to the world? Back then he was just a delicate little creature and I was an insecure new mom, terrified of failing at parenting.
Originally published on Grown and Flown. Click HERE to read the full article.
“Mom, I need to thank you for pushing me to go to that interview.”
My 15 year old’s words caught me so off guard that I almost choked on my sip of water. I glanced at my husband across the restaurant table and we shared an invisible high five. We did it - we made the right choice to push!
If you’ve ever parented a teenager, you know that there is an almost constant struggle between pushing them too hard and not pushing them hard enough.
So, when it turns out you made the right choice as a parent AND your teen appreciates it, these are the moments that you remember as a parent of a teenager.
The day of the surprise thank you had started like a normal weekend day with teenagers as everyone coordinated rides, work schedules, and sports commitments. My husband and I had realized that we had a small window of opportunity that day where both teens would be busy at the same time as one would be at work and the other would be at sports practice. So, we made a reservation for a fancy new restaurant we’d been wanting to try - just the two of us.
As we headed to the restaurant, my husband and I reached for each other’s hands, commenting on how nice it was to finally have some time alone for a bit of a date. Covid had really made days like today few and far between. Just as we pulled into the parking lot though, our 15 year old son texted us to let us know he was getting off of work early and needed a ride home. Right then.
Yet another grown up plan thwarted. This is the life of parenting teens sometimes.
Quickly reframing the moment, we changed our reservation from a party of 2 to a party of 3, pushed it back by 20 minutes, and decided to take our son out for dinner with us.
As the three of us walked into the restaurant just a short time later, I couldn’t help but be transported back to so many years earlier when the three of us walked into a restaurant together for the first time. Back then, we carried our now teenager inside the restaurant via a baby carrier and he slept in my arms during our whole meal. On this day, though, he held the door for us, both of us short enough to duck under his outstretched arm to get through the door.
By the time he uttered that thank you phrase about pushing him to go to his interview, I was already feeling emotional and a bit in awe. We had just spent time during our meal talking about him signing up for driver’s education classes, his course schedule for his Sophomore year of high school, his work plans for spring break, and how he could go about requesting some time off for a family vacation this summer.
That’s when he put his drink down, turned to me, looked me in the eyes, and thanked me for pushing him.
My heart stopped for a beat as I reflected internally on the morning of his interview, as it is one of those parenting moments I will always remember. As much as he had been wanting to find a job so he could start earning and saving his own money, he had been extremely nervous about the interview process. On the morning of his first real in-person interview, he told me he wanted to cancel.
As with most moments in parenting teens, I had a decision to make: do I push or do I back off?
I decided to push. I encouraged him to go to the interview, reminding him that it was completely normal to feel nervous. I told him if he didn’t get the job, it wouldn’t be a big deal as he had lots of other job applications in process. When he rolled his eyes and told me he wasn’t even interested in the job, I doubled down on my decision and told him that it would make the interview an even more important experience for him - he could practice interviewing, managing his anxious feelings, and would not be crushed if he did not get the job.
It wasn’t enough. He wanted to cancel the interview and threw every potential reason at me.
Although the discussion eventually escalated to an argument, ultimately, he went to the interview, grumbling at me as he huffed angrily out the door and into the car, leaving me to wonder “Did I just push him too hard? Did I just scar him for life? Should I have backed off?”
Just 45 minutes later, while on his way home with my husband, he called me and I could instantly hear the smile in his voice. He had been offered the job on the spot and was excited about the schedule, the pay, his supervisor, and the job duties.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I had made the right decision to push. It all worked out. Even though he didn’t thank me in that moment, the happiness in his voice was enough for me. It all had worked out.
But, that’s not always how it goes with parenting teenagers.
These parenting years are filled with countless moments of having to decide whether to push your teen or back off. Sometimes you push them to make a certain decision and run the risk of pushing them too hard. Other times you back off to let them make their own decisions and wonder what would have happened if only you had stepped in. Either choice leaves you feeling confused, scared, and guilty as a parent. The process of asking yourself “what if?” is endless during this stage of parenting and the guilt is an almost constant companion.
The truth is that the process of parenting teens is one in which you get to witness a whole lot of mistakes - both from them and from you. Over and over again.
But, if you look closely at each moment, even those moments that wind up being mistakes, you will find they are learning opportunities for parents and teens alike.
The mistake moments are where growth happens.
The victory moments, like when your teen finally tells you “thank you for pushing me,” are where humility and humbleness happen.
Both kinds of moments are important.
Just a few short years ago, I found myself somewhere in the middle of a long bridge between childhood and adolescence. I was longingly looking back towards the childhood side yet hopeful as I moved apprehensively towards the adolescence side.
Well, it appears my bridge was an express bridge.
Here I am; on the other side.
You know what’s here? Cell phones, mustaches, adam’s apples, deep booming voices, attitudes, challenges to limits, and boys who suddenly stand at eye level to me.
You know what else is here?
Meaningful conversations, random tight hugs, trust, and young men who are mostly kind and learn from their mistakes. Surprisingly, it’s sort of nice over here; albeit a bit smelly and messy. On this side of the bridge, I am the parent of a young man, not a young boy, and I get to start taking a step back to let him take some risks on his own.
One of the first big events on this side of the bridge has happened over the past few months without me really being able to comprehend it’s weight. My son is already heading towards the end of his first year of middle school and lately the words of his new principal echo in my head – there are only 540 days of middle school.
In some areas of our life, 540 seems like a lot.
But, when we are talking about time in middle school, 540 days is nothing. It’s half the length of time he spent from Kindergarten through 5th grade (1080 school days for math dorks like myself). That period of time went by in the blink of an eye. Surely this chunk of 540 days are going to fly by even quicker!
So, how do we, as new middle school parents, survive these 540 days?
Well, I know how I spent the days leading up to Day 1 — letting the middle school version of me find her way to the surface. I color coded binders, folders and schedules, circled rooms on maps, plotted out the best way to organize a backpack, role played some scenarios, and had a nightmare that I was him and I couldn’t find my math class on Day 1. I just wanted his middle school experience to not be awful like my own.
But, then I stopped myself. (Because, seriously, a nightmare??)
Adolescence is messy and painful. It’s supposed to be awkward. It’s supposed to be emotional. It’s supposed to be challenging. Some days are supposed to feel awful. And, aren’t middle school and adolescence synonymous?
Like most challenging, uncomfortable, and unpleasant things in life, when we look back on them later, we can see the good they brought to our lives. They are the catalytic events and change agents that shape our lives. Although I would never want to relive my own 540 days, I do see how they helped to shape me into who I am today. I see how some of the people I still care deeply for today are friends I made during those 540 days. I can see that in those 540 days were where many of my interests were born. My 540 days were certainly not filled with unicorns and rainbows and butterflies, but maybe I should be thankful that they weren’t.
When my middle schooler faces the typical struggles of middle school, I have to tell the middle school version of myself to settle down. I know many of his 540 days will be filled with some tough decisions, hurt feelings, hard lessons, and uncomfortable moments. I know there will be lots of times where he feels just as I did during my 540 days. His 540 days will not be filled with unicorns and rainbows and butterflies.
So, how am I going to navigate my own 540 day journey as a parent? I am going to realize that in many ways the parental journey of 540 days mirrors the student’s journey. These 540 days will be challenging for me as a parent. If adolescence is awkward and painful, so too is parenting an adolescent. For parents, many of our 540 days will also be filled with some tough decisions, hurt feelings, hard lessons, and uncomfortable moments.
It has been suggested that the most influential people in a teen’s life are not his teachers, coaches, parents, or professional athletes. It turns out that for many teens, their peers are the most influential presence. Middle schoolers need each other. I suspect that this holds true for middle school parents as well.
Parents need other parents.
My plan for surviving these 540 school days is simple: lean on my peers, be kind when mistakes are made, learn lessons where they can be learned and remember that this time is going to fly by. While I am not in any rush, I look forward to seeing who we all are on Day 540.
Today my high schooler needed a ride to football practice.
There used to be a time not so long ago when I would have to arrange a ride for him with a mom of one of his friends, annoyingly verifying it at least three times with the mom, and then reminding my son what time he was getting picked up, what to bring, and to make sure he said thank you.
Today he arranged the ride himself with a friend, got himself ready, and went to practice.
I wasn’t needed anymore.
There used to be a time not so long ago when I would go to those practices, my camping chair and bag full of snacks regular staples in my trunk. The other parents and I would sit for 2 hours every day watching our boys’ struggles and admiring their growth.
Today he went to practice without parents and with coaches I’ve never personally met.
I wasn’t needed anymore.
There used to be a time not so long ago when I would roll my eyes and sigh loudly as I made my way through our house after a practice, helping stray socks find their way to the hamper and stinky shoulder pads to the drying rack.
Today those stinky pads got put where they belong, without me having to help.
I wasn’t needed anymore.
There used to be a time not so long ago when that same high schooler was a shy little boy, stepping onto the field for the first time - timid, lacking confidence, scared, and so very excited.
Today that little boy stepped onto the field for probably the 1,000th time - a young man, confident, brave, and so very excited to tackle the world on his own.
I wasn’t needed anymore.
There used to be a time not so long ago when this mama couldn’t imagine a time when she wasn’t needed.
Today that mama knows that she will always be needed in someway - maybe not for rides or picking up socks or support at practice - but surely for other ways.
A mother’s love will always be needed.
Parenting is one of life's greatest challenges and greatest rewards. Here we explore all aspects of parenting from pregnancy onward, highlighting both the struggles and the triumphs.