My daughter’s birthday is on the first of the month. As I turned the calendar page, I didn’t realize I was holding my breath. The stage we had talked about, joked about, fretted about, was upon us. She was turning thirteen. My oldest was officially a teenager.
There are a lot of movies about these years. And not usually the good movies. The ones full of angst and struggle. Movies that make me cringe to think of going back to that stage in my own life. The ones that show the partying and the friend drama, the hazing and the (gulp) sex. These are not the movies I want to associate with my daughter.
It’s easy to think about the hard things to come during this stage. It seems inevitable to expect the worst of our teenagers. The stakes are higher now, after all. With all the big decisions looming, it’s hard to think these years will be sweet and wonderful.
So I started making jokes, because that’s what I do when the unknown is looming.
Yup, she’s going to be a teenager. Pray for me! I would say.
Oh, boy. You better lock her up! someone chided.
A teenager?! Good luck! joked another parent.
These things were always said with smiles and a shoulder tap. Half joking, half in earnest. Everyone seemed to have an opinion about the years to come. As we joked, we were wrapping up our ideas of the teen years in funny statements and tying it with the bow of our personal experiences. As if we could fully anticipate what it would be like for my daughter.
And all this time she was listening.
She heard the lighthearted remarks, the “helpful” advice from one parent to another, the barbs about what was to come.
I watched my daughter’s excitement at becoming a teenager become tainted with worry about what was to come. Instead of approaching this new stage with joy, there was a hint of something else: anxiety.
Every time I made a comment or laughed as someone else joked about the hard times to come I was making a silent choice. I was choosing to believe that the next stage was going to be hard, full of challenges, and something I could only hope we would survive. As if that is different from any other stage of parenting.
With each comment I was choosing to believe the negative hype about teens instead of believing in who my daughter is. And that’s not okay. I’m supposed to be on her side, the one person she can always count on to be for her.
Something needed to change.
A week later, I’ve now adjusted to the idea that my baby is, in fact, a teenager. And I don’t need to hold my breath for what’s to come. I have the power—no, I have the responsibility—to embrace this season of my daughter’s life.
I get to show her how exciting it is, how much beauty there is, what a gift it is to be a teenager.
Here’s why this is on my mind. A boy in our community died the day before my daughter’s birthday. He was only 15 years old and it was shocking and tragic. All I can think is how much his mother would give to be walking beside him through his teen years. The very thing we joke about surviving, he will not have the chance to do. Death has a way of putting things in perspective.
I’ve decided to walk forward in gratitude that this girl who once weighed the same as a bag of flour has grown into a loving, strong 13-year-old. I’ve chosen to embrace joy as I laugh with my girl at a silly movie or some inside joke.
As we walk through these years together, I’ve decided to show love as the rocky parts come.
There will be difficult moments to face in the teen years. I am not naïve about the arguments to come, the quest for independence, and the mistakes that we will both make. I understand this stage will be different than the last. But are the teenage years really “the worst”?
Every phase of childhood and parenting has its joys and its challenges. As parents, we have the power to set the stage for what’s to come. We may not be able to control every circumstance, but we can choose how we approach it.
No longer will my statement hold a fearful question mark lingering in the air. I will choose to smile as I say, “I have a teenager,” full of excitement at the amazing things to come.