I have a confession to make: the teen years have been my easiest parenting years so far. By a landslide.
I was hesitant to declare this when my older son became a teen. Having a few easy months is pretty insignificant when you consider the breadth of parenting. Kids go through so many different development changes, after all. Who knew how long the easy times would last before the hormones and mood swings took over?
But yesterday my son turned 15, which means I’ve had two years to observe his teenagerhood. And yes, it’s been full of developmental changes and growth and a hefty dose of hormones. But I can say, without a doubt, that this is the easiest age to parent so far.
Let me backup for a second, and confess something else. As a baby, toddler, and young child, my son was anything but easy.
He was tremendously difficult, and it took me five years after he was born to feel ready to welcome another child (his little brother) into our family.
When he was a baby, he had colic. For two months, he had to be rocked or bounced for five hours a day or he would scream. Even once that calmed down, it would take an hour or more each night to get him to sleep. He didn’t sleep through the night until he was almost five.
My son was also extremely strong-willed. He was smart as a whip and began arguing with us as soon as he had enough words. He always believed he was right, and wouldn’t back down. He would have epic meltdowns when he didn’t get his way, and this continued for years.
I remember one day after school when he asked for a bagel. We were out of them, and he cried for an hour. About a bagel. Really.
In between all of this, he was a great kid. Bright, kind, thoughtful, respectful. He saved all of his angst for his parents and never misbehaved in school and we did our best to help him work through his intense feelings. We adopted the attitude that his stubborn streak was just part of him being so smart—and that he’d probably grow up to be a lawyer or something.
The beginning of the middle school years were definitely rocky, too. He found the transition from elementary school, and the increased academic pressure, overwhelming. The pandemic hit just after his 13th birthday and I expected that to add an extra layer of turmoil to an already tumultuous time. But somehow that hasn’t been the case.
The Benefits of Teenage Independence
Yes, he’s had his sleepless nights and his stubborn moments. The isolation during the early stages of the pandemic was hard, for sure. At the same time, though, I think the teen years have been oddly freeing for him. He was always someone who wanted to do things his own way, in his own time, and with a high level of control—and being a teen has given him those opportunities.
We gave up on assigned bedtimes around the time he turned 13. It was clear he didn’t need as much sleep as he had when he was younger and he just wasn’t able to fall asleep at 8 or 9 p.m. anymore. My son had always been a night owl, so this new bedtime flexibility really suited him.
After making the adjustment to middle school, my son learned how to complete his homework on his own time and how to communicate with his teachers. Mastering these skills has made him feel more independent and confident, and being able to get his stuff done without nagging or arguments is better for all of us.
The same is true about things around the house: he lets himself in afterschool, he can make his own snacks, and he basically has free reign to do whatever he likes. Yes, he has chores and homework, and is expected to join us for dinner. But he’s mature enough that we can trust him to live his own life, and still get things done.
This new stage of easier parenting can be attributed, at least in part, to my son’s newfound maturity and mastery of the organizational skills required to manage his schedule.
When he was younger, he needed a lot more hand-holding and parental collaboration. While that was to be expected at that age, it also meant that there were many opportunities for him to butt heads with us, and for all of his stubborn predispositions to shine through.
In a nutshell, the teen years are allowing my son to really grow into himself. As a young child, I always thought he was like an old man trapped inside a kid’s body, longing to do things his way, without interference. Now, the closer he gets to adulthood, the less frustrating life is for him. And our relationship with him has become more relaxed as a result.
Of course, there are several more teen years ahead for us. A year from now, I may tell you that this entire essay is false and that parenting my son at 16 has been the most trying time of my life. I’m sure there are some limits and boundaries that my son will need to test before he’s ready to set out on his own. And I know from 15 years of experience that parenting is full of all sorts of twists and turns.
So maybe it’s safer to say that the early teen years have been super easy. Whatever the case, I feel incredibly lucky to be here and I don’t take it for granted. But I also feel like I deserve this parental respite—for however long it lasts. I didn’t spend 5 hours a day rocking this kid for nothing!