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The Scariest 5 Words When You’re Parenting a Teenager

Have you gotten one of those phone calls from your son or daughter? The kind that starts, “Mom, don’t freak out, but…”

Those, I’m convinced, are the scariest five words when you’re parenting a teenager. Unfortunately, I heard them a couple of weeks ago. One of my sons was en route to the ER with a head injury. He was bleeding badly, concussed, and needed stitches. Despite his warning, I freaked out when he told me the news. Thankfully, he’s recovering well, but that doesn’t erase the terror of that phone call or those scary days‌ that followed.

That wasn’t the first time I heard him say, “Mom, don’t freak out, but…,” and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Sometimes the phrase introduces slight worries: “Mom, don’t freak out, but I failed my math test,” or “Mom, don’t freak out, but I lost my new hoodie.” Sometimes I worry a little more, like when he told me, “Mom, don’t freak out, but I dented your car.”

Then there are those other times that warrant a bigger reaction, like when he called bleeding from his head. The problem is, I never know what’s on the other side of that stomach-dropping statement, and so it ignites a flutter of panic. Every. Single. Time.

Honestly, sometimes I pine for those days when taking care of him was less complicated.

If he cried for me when he fell down on the playground, I scooped him up and kissed his boo-boos to make them better. When he felt cranky and overtired, a snack and a nap could still do the trick.

But then something changed around the time when he began prioritizing time with friends, which was also around the time his voice deepened overnight and he started leaving size 11 Adidas at the bottom of the stairs. (What strange man snuck into my home and left behind those enormous shoes?) Suddenly there was a girlfriend in the picture, college-prep courses, after-school jobs, and driver’s education, oh my!

I’m still reeling from the suddenness of this transformation from child to tween to teen. There’s an underlying scariness, a seriousness I didn’t prepare myself for. Sure, it’s part of the job description for moms to worry about our children—but it really hits differently when your child is living in a 6-foot-tall body and carrying a newly minted driver’s license. Even though I might still see my boy as an eager kindergartener with an oversized backpack, in reality, he’s dealing with adult-sized problems and responsibilities, ready or not.

Now, each time he forgoes texting and actually calls to utter that dreaded phrase, this mom of boys has to brace herself. I don’t know yet if his heart’s been broken, or just his phone charger. If he’s lost his calculator, his job, his password, or his self-confidence. Worse, it could be another warning that his school is on lockdown while they search for a fellow student who publicly threatened gun violence but can’t be found.

When will the scariness stop? When he’s 19? 22? 30? Will it ever fade?

For now, all I can do is try to remind myself that when something goes wrong, I’m his very first phone call. He asks me for backup because I’m honored to be his rock and source of comfort, and he knows I’ll always be there for him. In fact, I hope he never stops calling me, asking for support during his darkest hours. I want him to know deep in his heart that whatever it is, we’ll get through it. Together. Even if I ‌freak out a little sometimes!

When not worrying about her teenagers, Jacqueline Miller is writing about them. Her recent work appears in Parenting Insider and on her website. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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