(Ack! Look at those little faces. How were they so little? And wasn’t this just yesterday?!)
I remember the day somebody looked me square in the face and told me that life wouldn’t always be like this. They were right. And they were so wrong.
I had 3 children in 3 1/2 years. I was a mess of sleep deprived exhaustion. I was busy just with the keeping everybody safe. And fed. And clothed in public. (Let’s be honest, at home was a free for all!) I was up to my eyeballs in changing diapers and picky eaters and judgy stares from people watching my youngest dramatically fall on to his stomach and flail his arms and legs in the middle of a parking lot. Tantrums were a real thing with this one. Who knew that they weren’t easily curbed. My pre-children self knew. My mothering self knew the truth.
The sentiments are right and true. They do grow up so fast. It won’t always be like this. There will come a day when you can sleep in on a Saturday morning and run out to get groceries without your cart being full of children. Diapers will be a distant memory, as will the worry over them eating enough, learning to print their name and praying to the Lord above that they will use their manners and not hit or bite anyone when they’re in a social setting.
Those days are long gone, for sure. The work of those days, the drain that comes from constant discipline and correction, yeah those are over.
But don’t be deceived, the job is far from over. Only now it’s a choice, not a necessity.
They can do so much on their own but the thing is, I don’t want them to and so the work is not any less. The time required has not changed. The thought put in equally as great. The physical drain is less, the emotional, more.
It’s interesting that at the age my boys are (teens and pre-teens) parents seem to find a new freedom. They take up hobbies that they once couldn’t enjoy for lack of time. They head out for dates or coffees or rounds of golf sans children. They embark on personal adventures or goals because the need to be around to feed and change your children is gone.
I understand this. I’ve felt it. I’ve taken some of it on. But I’ve also realized that there are moments when it’s gone too far and I’ve had to pull it back. The freedom is lovely but too much freedom can be detrimental for our teens.
Don’t get me wrong, I love that I can head out for a run at any old time. I can meet a girlfriend for coffee at the drop of a hat. I can answer yes to the request to get in an afternoon hike. I can catch a movie with my husband. I can shop the afternoon away. I CAN do all of those things. But the question comes into play, should I?
Because if I am doing all of those things, what are my kids doing? (and let’s be clear, they ARE still kids!)
Well, most of the time it means that they’re home by themselves. Feeding themselves. Entertaining themselves. Mending squabbles between siblings by themselves. Being free to govern their use of technology by themselves. Engaging in text message conversations by themselves. Accepting amazon deliveries at the door by themselves.
All of these things, in and of themselves, are good things. They need to do them. To learn them. To become more independent. But there has to be a limit on the amount that this is good for them.
So if I do 3 things in any given day, that’s hours spent home alone. A run, coffee and groceries? Adds up to 4 hours of alone. A movie and dessert? 4 hours of alone. A single hike? 3 hours of alone.
So while these are days of more freedom I’m very conscious of the fact that more freedom for me means more freedom for them and I question whether freedom is what I want for 11, 12 and 14 year olds.
The answer for our family is no. Moments of freedom, yes. Hours and hours of daily freedom? No.
Parenting in this phase of the game, while different, is intense work and it’s easy to not want to put the hours in anymore simply because you don’t have to. Because they don’t need you in the vital, survival sense of the word need. Or so we think.
But if you make the choice for your family to stay intensely involved, believe me, the constant and the busy of the toddler years carries on.
It’s driving miles that you never believed you could clock. It’s waiting outside of events, movie theatres, in parking lots and on driveways for them to come out. It’s engaging your teen in conversation on these drives about who they’re hanging out with, what they’re doing and whether there may be alcohol involved. Sure, the rides could be blissful moments of silent but if you want to know your teen then there has to be a level of conscious prying :)
It’s adventure driven. My boys are no longer thrilled with the swings at the park (Mama’s, I use to cringe at having to push and push and push on the swing too, but in hindsight? Piece of cake.) I use to just be able to find a patch of grass and they could run, or be entertained by bubbles or a hula hoop. But the stakes have been raised. We not only need a body of water but one that has rocks to dive off of. We can’t just sit on the beach anymore but we need kayaks to paddle out to islands and boats to pull us up on the wake board. We don’t just need the yard and the cul-de-sac but we need skate parks and baseball diamonds and mountains with fresh powder. The adventure level of teenage boys is substantial, I assure you! Do we NEED to do these things? No. But will they seek adventure in whatever way they can find it? Yes. And we prefer it to be with us than through cheap thrills like sneaking beers or smoking joints.
It’s hormone riddled. Remember when your toddler made you want to pull your hair out because they could cry and then laugh and then stomp away all in a matter of 3 minutes? Right. Welcome to being in grade 10. Surely you remember being in grade 10. You were all manner of cool, I suspect, but to your parents you were borderline toddler. There are mood swings that make no sense even to the teen. The waffle from down in the dumps to laughing hysterically at some youtube nonsense is constant. The feeling of boredom mixed with fleeting crushes and not being understood is intense. Living and breathing and interacting with this creature takes constant prayer, perfected timing and an amazing sense of humour.
That said, we wouldn’t change it for anything. The work you put in early on helps your teens to become people that you actually enjoy. Kids that you love hanging out with. Humans that you are pleased to spend your days with and that’s really important. I can’t imagine not liking the people who live under the same roof as I do.
This is just the stage we’re at and because I see how the work doesn’t lessen, just changes, I can only assume the same to be true in future stages. I can see how it becomes more and more of a choice and less of a necessity but if we want to stay connected to our children then it will take constant adjustments, new levels of engagement, knowing them well enough to be able to serve them well and time. So much time.
I can’t imagine the new ways we’ll have to discover once they head off to University or move across the world. I imagine when they marry it’ll change again and once they have children it will become more about how we can involve ourselves in their new realms instead of assuming that they want to be involved in ours. I believe that at all stages of parenting it takes work. Whether its making a meal on a Sunday afternoon so that the grandkids will all want to come over or taking time to write letters or send gifts or hanging out at some coffee shop that you feel completely out of your element in, so as to be able to spend time with them, it all takes work. Living intentionally always does and I think it’s worth it!
**other posts in The Lie Series here: The Lie: Life will be better when…