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The Teenage Years are Not My End Goal in Parenting

I’m smack in the middle of the teenager years with my last baby, and I’m all the way through them and out on the other side with my first.

I’ve navigated bad hair days and mood swings and driver’s training and breakouts and breakups and senior year and prom.

According to a lot of posts I’ve run across on social media, I have already burned through a big chunk of parenting real estate.

I’ve emptied out the jar of 936 pennies representing all the weeks I had to raise the baby who made me a mother in the first place. I’ve had my turn at the 18 summers between the time when the first person to call me “mom” was born and when she was considered grown.

I guess I should feel almost done, somehow. I think I’m supposed to feel like something has ended or, at the very least, is ending.

But I don’t feel that way.

Getting my kids to—and through—the teen years was never my end goal in parenting.

I never saw their 19th birthday as some kind of finish line I hoped to eventually cross so I could collapse on the other side while they ran on without me.

Some days, of course, just getting through 24 hours—much less the full seven years of teenhood—seemed like a monumental mountain I wasn’t sure I had the mental, emotional, or financial strength to climb.

But mostly, I’ve tried to hold tight to some big-picture perspective: given the chance as parents, we will have much more time with our children when they are grown than we do when they are growing. Admittedly, this is a gift not granted to everyone. But we raise our kids with the hope it’s a gift we’ll get to keep.

I have now been my parents’ adult child for more than four times longer (and counting) than I was their teenager. Since then, my parents and I have had months, years, and decades of relationship. I’m an adult, but I’m also still their child.

All those stats about the relatively few summers and Saturdays we have with our kids while they’re officially still kids are meant to grab our attention about the brevity of these years so that we can make the most of them.

But my goal in making the most of them was always to build something that would outlast these years.

I wanted to build lifelong relationships and memories we’ll cherish forever. I wanted to build trust that goes both ways. I wanted to build time spent together by choice.

I wanted to gain friends who know me better than almost anyone else, but like and love me anyway. I wanted to gain confidantes I can trust with my heart.

All those years ago, I didn’t have babies just to have babies. I had babies to bring new lives into my world and into the world at large—and to make both those worlds better. Which they have.

For many years, it was my job to teach, correct, train, support, guide, and provide for my children. But the investment of all that teaching, correcting, training, supporting, guiding, and providing is still paying dividends.

In some ways, I feel like I just cashed my mom paycheck and am starting to enjoy spending it.

If we are so privileged, the first 18 years of our children’s lives are only the first act of parenting. Given the chance, there are second, third, and maybe even fourth acts still to come. There are summers and Saturdays still to enjoy.

I know that, in a lot of ways, I have to let my teenager and my young adult go. I know I have to let our relationships shift, as they should. I know I have to step back and step away some.

But for all the shifting I’m doing, I’m also standing firm. For all my letting go, I’m holding on to so much more. For all my looking back, I’m also looking ahead.

I have the finish line of the teenage years in my range of vision, but I’m not seeing the end of the road. I’m seeing a turn in it—a turn away from what has been toward what might still be. And as it turns out, what might still be with my children has always been my goal.

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.

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