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My Kids Are Growing Up: Beach Days, Then and Now

When my boys were young, I counted on beach day breaks for many, many summers and I looked forward to rewarding myself with the kind of peace and quiet that was good for my soul. But when my boys were 10 and 12, something was off kilter. Instead of running to find other kids to play with, my older son stayed next to me.

I decided to act like everything was normal. I unpacked our stuff, sat down in a beach chair, and reclined for an anticipated long rest, sure that my son would leave for his beach fun soon. But then some movement next to me caused me to open my eyes.

My older son was sitting. I looked at him. He glanced back at me. His little brother stood nearby with his shovel, waiting.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, wondering if he wasn’t feeling well.

“What do you mean?” he responded.

“What are you doing? Are you okay?”

He said, “I’m just going to chill for a while.” Then he removed his shirt, reclined in his chair, and proceeded to … sunbathe.

Listen, I’m not dense. I know that kids grow up and that growing up is a natural thing. However, at this particular moment in time, I was completely unprepared for my son’s new behavior. It was just so unexpected. He was going to chill? I was pretty sure he had never chilled a day in his life until now. What was he talking about?

His little brother assessed the situation and wandered off aimlessly without his playmate, leaving me to figure out what to do with his older brother. My problem was, I didn’t know what to do because for the first time in my life, I had a teenager. Just when I thought I had the hang of parenting my boys, my older son entered a completely brand new stage of growing up!

Honestly, my heart broke a little. I wondered if he would ever play again.

Of course, as time went on and my kids continued to mature, my heart mended, and I discovered a lot of what I feared was unfounded. Now I’m able to focus on the positive side of having teens. There are many things that I appreciate about my teens — so many, in fact, that I can honestly say I appreciate my boys more as teens than when they were younger. And I want you to know that if you’re a mom feeling upset about your kid growing up too fast and becoming a teenager, here’s what I learned.

What I Know About Teens

Our teens aren’t leaving home any time soon. It might feel like your teenager is pulling away from you. They are, and that’s normal. But also, your kid is still right there in front of you. Right now, my kids are destroying cookies in the kitchen and their laundry is strewn about the house. They are, most definitely, nearby and making their presence known.

Our teens still want our affection. Now that they’re teenagers, I still appreciate my boys’ cuteness, their silly ways, and the twinkle in their eyes. They are, of course, too big to swaddle, but I want to hug them just as much now as I ever did. The only difference is that now, when I go in for a hug and my boys reciprocate it, I know for sure that they acknowledge and appreciate me.

We have more leisure time for ourselves. Yes, babies are precious. They’re adorable to look at, and the weight of them in your arms brings a particular joy unlike anything else in life. I look forward to having that feeling again (dare I say it?) as a grandma. But let’s call it like it is: Taking care of a baby is hard! The work involved is unrelenting. When you have a baby, no moment is yours entirely. Babies need attention right now. Whereas teens are happy to bug off and do their own thing, if you’d like them to. In fact, teens leaving you alone for long stretches of time is more the norm.

We can reason with our teenagers. My mother-in-law says that little children have little problems and big children have big problems. Boy, is she a wise woman. I could never have imagined the snafus my teens got into sometimes. The problems, when they occur, are in fact much more serious than all those little problems when they were toddlers that I could not help them solve. Your favorite blue plate is dirty, so we need to use the yellow one? Meltdown. The pretty paint you insisted on touching is now all over your favorite toy? Catastrophic. Teens, on the other hand, may not like what we say, refuse to follow our instructions, and exhaust us with their arguments, but at least they comprehend situations. We can reason with our teens and guide them to make better choices.

Teenagers like to play and have fun. In my boys’ rooms, you’ll find video games, chess sets, LEGO sets, cards, reptiles (yuck!), and various other games and toys that they play with daily. Outside there is a zip line, badminton net, spike ball set, and basketball hoop, and all are used frequently. Recently, my older son coached my younger son’s flag football team, which was really cool to witness. My point is, teens like to play. The games are a little different and more competitive than when they were younger, but they still like to play and have fun every day.

Nowadays, I don’t waste too much time thinking about the past and wishing my boys were younger. I’ve learned to embrace this stage in my parenting when my kids are learning to grow into adults. The new experiences I have with my older children are just as satisfying as the ones I had with them as younger children. In many ways, they’re more satisfying, because of how well we can relate to one another.

Now, when we go on a beach vacation, the games of youth give way to new preferences. Instead of separating to do our own thing, we unpack our stuff, recline in our beach chairs, and enjoy our leisure time together. Side by side, we’re forging a new connection meant to endure the ebb and flow of life and its changing tides.

Ann Marie Gunther is a technologist and freelance writer who is blessed with two charismatic teen boys that make her day, every day.

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