I once was the mom of little girls who I dressed in cute matching outfits with sweet bows tied firmly in their hair. My house was filled with high-pitched squeals and dress-up clothes and pink and purple everything.
I once was the mom who prayed to make it through to 7:30 p.m. each night and that they might sleep until 7 a.m. the next day, although they always seemed to wake before my alarm. I cried because I was so exhausted. I cried because of frustration. I cried because they brought me so much joy.
I once was the mom who let her tiny daughters prance around in her stilettos for their living room fashion shows and wear tutus at soccer practice and only have one treat a day. I read thousands of bedtime books and let them watch too much TV and yelled too often.
I once was the mom with little hands attached everywhere, pulling my hair, grasping my hand, and tugging at my heart every moment. There never seemed enough of me to go around, there never seemed enough time, there never seemed enough sleep.
And just when I thought I couldn’t get through one more day, things got a little easier. Then a little harder. Again and again.
The Teen Years Change Everything Right Before Your Eyes
They became more independent. They became more opinionated. They became more empathetic and emotional and passionate and fun. I cried because I was exhausted with worry. I cried because I was frustrated by their behavior. I cried because they brought me so much joy.
Until one morning, I opened my eyes to mother for another day, and those little girls were gone. They turned 19 today and were off living their lives in the most beautiful of ways.
I am no longer the mom of little girls who need me to tie their shoes and brush their long hair and feed them snacks throughout the day.
They are making their own choices, carving out their paths, and planning out their dreams. My house is mostly quiet while they spend their time away from home.
My days are better when I hear my phone ding with a text message from them or when they Facetime me on the way to class. I count the days down until I can squeeze them tight again. (You may also like to read: The Momancholy Is Real After You Drop Your Child Off at College)
I still worry. I still have hopes and dreams for them. I still cry out of exhaustion and frustration and pride.
But I was once the mother of little girls who grew up right before my eyes. And I was lucky enough to watch it happen, to feel the hurt and the joy and the tired, to love them with all my heart.
I once was the mother of little girls.
What an amazing gift they gave to me.
Letting go during the teen years
Letting go is a gradual process; some of it is purposeful, and some of it just happens.
Letting them try new experiences.
Letting them do things on their own.
Letting them be responsible for their actions.
Letting them fall.
Leading up to each “letting,” I am full of so much angst and emotion, so much fear and wonder.
Will they know what to do if….
If they are in trouble. If they encounter danger. If they need help. If they need someone to talk to late at night?
I’m not so good at this part, the letting go.
I hear all the advice intellectually, but my heart wants me to go in a different direction, bring them back close to me, and hold on tighter.
But when you are a parent, that’s the worst tactic to take.
Because only by your kid experiencing something can they master it, and that means dealing with the challenges and the beauty and the hardship of life all on their own.
So, I spent the last few years trying to let go with grace. I’ve been trying to give guidance but let them make decisions. I’ve kept my mouth shut until I thought my head would explode.
And we’re hitting some speed bumps, but they’re learning, doing, and making it through.
I’m getting texts asking for advice. I’m hearing stories they usually wouldn’t share. I’m getting a few more thank yous and fewer angsty comments.
It has not been perfect.
But I’m finding the more I try to let go with grace, to let them have control, to trust that they are ready to fly, maybe even to soar, the more my daughters return to me with joy.
It is hard to have this unconditional belief in your teenager that they will rise to the occasion, especially with all the challenges adolescents face today.
But letting them try knowing you believe they can do it all on their own?
That’s when the magic happens, and the endless tug of war relaxes.
This letting go thing sure isn’t easy, but being their first call when they want to tell you that they’ve made it through, and maybe even soared higher than they thought they could?
There’s no greater happiness than that.
Why is it so hard to let go of our teens?
Letting go of our teens as they transition to this next phase is challenging and emotional. But why is it so hard?
- Parenting is the most personal and emotional thing we do: There is such an emotional attachment to our kids and it can be heartbreaking to know this part of your life is over. Parents have poured their hearts and souls into their children since birth, nurturing and caring for their needs. Transferring this responsibility to your child can be difficult and trigger feelings of sadness, loss, and even a sense of emptiness. It also can make us question our identity and self-worth as we try to figure out who we are without them.
- All the worry: I don’t know a parent of teens who doesn’t worry about their teen’s safety and well-being, whether they are living at home or away. Even when you trust your teen, the world around us is a scary, unpredictable place, and it’s hard to know your child is out there by themselves. As teenagers grow up and start making their own choices, parents may feel uncertain about the future and concerned about the paths their teens will choose, the challenges they will face, and whether they will be equipped to handle those challenges.
- We miss them. Even during the challenging teen years when parents and kids don’t always see eye-to-eye, there is still so much history and love. It can be such a heavy feeling not to see them every day, and this form of grief can be tough to get through for parents.
It’s important for parents to acknowledge these challenges and emotions as a natural part of the parenting journey. While it can be difficult to let go, we must support them in their journey to independence and provide guidance and a safety net while also allowing them the space to learn, grow, and make their own choices.
We were all once parents to little people. Getting them to this next phase is success, no matter how much it hurts.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
Parenting teens and tweens is hard, but you don’t have to do it alone. These posts may help:
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