As the early morning sun broke over the Iowa cornfields in the distance, I looked at my kids in the rearview mirror. We were on a cross-country road trip and we’d gotten an early start on our trek back to the East Coast. My daughter was quietly dozing, but my son’s eyes met mine in the mirror and he grinned. There was a time when he looked at me from a car seat but on this morning, his 13-year-old face looked so grown up as he said, “I’m really loving this time on the road with you, Mom.” We took in the sunrise on the horizon, and I relished in the sweet spot of parenting teens.
So much is written about the difficulty that comes with helping a child navigate the teen years. And it’s certainly no secret that parenting teens is an exercise in patience like no other. From eye-rolling to door slamming, uncomfortable conversations about sex to hormones run amuck, mothering through the teen years is not for the weak. In the past few years, my patience has been pushed to the brink and I have found myself having frank discussions about sex acts at the dinner table. It’s exhausting, maddening, and incredibly expensive, considering how much wine I’ve purchased in the last few years.
But raising a tween and an early teen is rapidly becoming my favorite stage of parenting — eyerolls, foot stomping, and all. For all that my friends warned me about parenting teens, I’m finding that even though they are their own version of toddlers, I’m enjoying the special moments that come with spending time with kids who are becoming adults.
As our kids grow into teens, as they move beyond bedtime battles and constantly needing assistance, parents of teens can start to exhale. Teens can tie their shoes, they can make a sandwich on their own, and they can shower unassisted. Sure, teens come with their own battles and Lord knows there’s enough eye-rolling to rival a creepy doll factory, but life with teens is just physically easier. The day I realized that my daughter could reach the cabinets and I no longer had to be solely responsible for emptying the dishwasher was one of the greatest days of my life.
Of course, when I see their teenaged frames, I sometimes long for footie pajamas and fresh wet baby curls after a bath. I’ll catch a glimpse of an old baby photo on Facebook (damn you, On This Day app) and my ovaries will throb because I miss the days of story time and Mommy and Me classes. But, I quickly snap out of my reverie when I realize my house no longer groans with the sounds of temper tantrums and toys with jingles that make me want to day drink. And when I’m snuggled on the couch introducing my kids to my favorite ’80s flicks, I don’t miss Sesame Street at all.
Teens are hard and there are days where they will push you to your breaking point. But there’s a sweet spot around the ages of 12 and 13, where some days I want to freeze time. Too young to drive off to parties with their friends yet too old for playdates, teens are often willing to hang out with their parents because it makes them feel grown up. I’ve found that I learn so much about their social lives just by sitting with them over a board game and a bowl of ice cream. More relaxed bedtime routines and years of fine-tuning my parenting have found me more willing to spend quality time with my teens and listen to the tales of their days. And when I realized that they cracked jokes that made me belly laugh, I realized too that I really like the people they are becoming.
And it’s a sweet, sweet spot.
In those sweet moments, in between the times where my daughter sighs like I’m the village idiot and the times my son declares that I’m ridiculous because I’ve said no more screen time, I am so glad our toddler days are over. Getting to expose my kids to art and culture and being able to share who I really am as a person with them has made me relish being the parent of teens. As I have mentioned, I could do with a lot less eye-rolling, if I’m being completely honest. But, for the most part, I’m drinking in the moments where their personalities shine through and when I can see the adults they will be some day.
The sun became brighter and the clouds turned a brilliant shade of pink as we rumbled down that Iowa highway. My daughter roused from her sleep just as a Bon Jovi song floated out of the radio. My son yelled, “Crank it, Ma!” and as we all sang along, I quietly took in the sounds of their changing voices, grateful that neither of them roll their eyes when it comes to ’80s music.