What Moms of Teens Worry About—And What We Shouldn’t Worry About
By Elizabeth Spencer
To paraphrase Descartes’ Cogito, ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”), I am a mom, therefore I worry.
I’m A Worried Mom
I like to think of worry as the love language of moms.
And maybe no one speaks that language more fluently than moms of teenagers.
It would probably be easier to make a list of what I don’t worry about where my teens are concerned, but I’ll stick with grouping my teen-related worries into these five representative categories:
What I Worry About:
My teenagers’ happiness.
When my girls were little, I used to say that their happiness in life was not my chief concern. It wasn’t that I didn’t want them to be happy; it’s just that I wanted them to be other things more. I wanted them to be honest and respectful and trustworthy and kind and compassionate. I was more concerned with the inward character of their malleable little hearts than I was their outward state as it related to something everyone knows is transient and usually blown about by the winds of circumstance.
But now that they’re older, more and more what I long for is their happiness. Happiness with themselves and their relationships and the overall rhythm of their days. Of course, I know happiness is situational. Of course, I know it comes and goes. Of course, I know my hormone-riddled adolescents are not going to be happy all the time. But I want them to experience happiness—and its companions, contentedness and hope—a lot of the time.
My teenagers’ health.
I want my kids to be physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally well and strong. So I worry: are they eating enough? Are they eating too much? Are they getting enough sleep and exercise? (Stock answer: probably not.) Are they depressed? Are they anxious? And if they are or aren’t any of these things, what can or should I help them do about it?
My teenagers’ decisions.
My young-adults-in-the-making run smack into a hundred choices a day. Are they making good ones? Are they choosing wisely and well? Are they thinking (with their still-under-construction brains) about the consequences of their decisions? Are they passing their choices through the filter of safety? Are they making decisions based on all the facts and not just on their feelings? And how can I help steer them toward good decisions while still letting them drive their own lives?
My teenagers’ friendships.
How teenagers feel about life in general has a lot to do with how they feel about their closest friendships. The friend factor carries so much weight. I worry about whether my teens have friends and, if they don’t, what they can do to change that. I worry about whether the friends they do have will be loyal and whether they’re pouring good things into my teens’ minds and hearts. And I worry about my kids being good friends themselves.
My teenagers’ futures.
There is so much going on in the right now with my kids that the very idea of the future seems overwhelming. But my teens are constantly being counseled to think about those futures, and so I think—and worry—about them, too. Is college the right choice? If so, which one, or ones? Community and then university? All university? If they do go to college, what should they major in? Will they be able to get a job? Where will they live? Will they get involved in romantic relationships? What kind of world will they live their adult lives in?
But for all of this fretting, here’s what I’m not concerned about: I’m not worried that I have enough love for my teenagers to walk with them through these worries.
What I Don’t Worry About
I’m not worried that they know I love them enough.
I’m not worried that there’s nothing I can do about all these areas of my teens’ lives. I can talk with them and listen to them and check in with them and give advice (which doesn’t guarantee they’ll take it, but that’s another issue entirely). I can encourage them by what I say and do. I can speak their love languages. I can look out for them. I can (still) mother them.
And I’m not worried that all the uncertainty and the lost sleep and the midnight Google sessions (“are AP classes really necessary for my college-track student?” and “how can I tell if my teen has a toxic friend?” and “what career path will actually translate into a job in the 2020s?”) will just end up being a waste.
Because if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that my teens are worth it.