An Open Letter To My Teenage Daughter

by Kimberlee Shaw
Originally Published: 
your teen
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My firstborn, my sweet girl. The baby we prayed for, the light of our lives. Wasn’t it yesterday you were toddling across the floor trying to catch up to the cat? Now you sit confidently behind the steering wheel of my SUV, learner’s permit in your pocket, ready to tackle a three-point turn. You’re kicking butt in honors classes in high school. You continue to hone your God-given gift of a beautiful singing voice.

When I was a teenager, I thought my parents were strict. In fact, up until a year ago, I still would contend they were strict. The curfews, the limits, the endless questions about where I was going, who would be there, what did I do, was there any trouble at that party? Did I finish my homework, did I study enough for that test, why did I get a B and not an A on the project? But now, as the parent of a teenage daughter myself, I realize my parents weren’t strict. They were scared. And so am I. Terrified.

You are on the cusp of becoming a self-sufficient woman, but you aren’t there yet. You are 16. I still catch you singing along to Disney movie songs on your iPhone. You still sleep with Blankie. You laugh at something your friend texted you; you throw your head back and laugh that hearty belly laugh just like you did when you were little. Though you don’t cry often, once in a while you still curl up on my lap for a good cry. It’s just that now you don’t fit on my lap as well as you used to.

What lies out there for you? The world is full of so much that is beyond our control. As a parent, we set limits to protect you. You see it as holding you back, stifling your freedom. You want to ride in a car with a teen driver? I worry about the other drivers out there on the road. You want to go out on your boyfriend’s boat with him on a holiday weekend? It’s not you or him I don’t trust, it’s the idiots on the water. You want to go to a party at a house where we don’t know the parents? There are all kinds of parents out there, including ones that provide alcohol—or worse—for their kids and their friends. Or parents who go out of town a lot, leaving their kids unsupervised.

Trust isn’t the issue. You are a very strong young lady. You’ve already faced some things in life that would set many adults into a downward spiral of self-pity. But you have shown your true strength, strength that can’t be taught or inherited. You face things head-on, you figure out how to learn from experiences, and you grow from them. And your heart—I’m surprised that big heart fits in your chest. You feel sympathy so deeply, kindness comes naturally, and empathy is always front and center.

I want to protect you. I want to wrap you in a cocoon of blankets, love and warmth. I don’t want to let you go. I don’t want to subject you to all that’s out there in this world. When you were small and fell at the playground, you ran to me for comfort. The worst of my worries back then was wondering if you would ever be potty trained, or whether that fall during the lacrosse game caused a break or just a sprain. Now I worry about who or what you might run to for comfort. I worry about predators and parties and alcohol and drugs and drunk drivers and…and…and…and.

But while wanting to protect you, I want you to grow and learn and experience. Contrary to what you might believe, I want you to have fun. I want you to enjoy time with your friends. But it’s hard to let go. You want to go to a girlfriend’s house right after school and have a sleepover. I want you to come home first so you can pack your overnight bag. No, not really—I want you to come home first so I can see you. Set eyes on you. So I can look at your face, see my beautiful girl, knowing that deep in your heart (behind the eye rolls and sighs at your dorky mom), you still love me.

And while I know you’re not quite a grown-up and you need some limits, there’s a flipside to this. When you don’t react how I think you should about something, I also have to remind myself that you’re not a grown-up. I sometimes feel neglected or unappreciated. But should I expect you to be fully and outwardly appreciative every time I do something for you? As teenagers navigate the waters of maturing, they can be notoriously self-centered. There are times that I just need to get over it. Remind myself that I’m not doing this for me. I’m not doing this for recognition or gratitude or a pat on the back. I do things for my children because I am their mother.

In two years, you will leave for college. When this thought enters my head, my breath catches and a lump wells in my throat. Gone, away, not here. Absent. I won’t see you get off the high school bus. I won’t come upstairs at 11 a.m. on a Saturday and ask, “Are you going to sleep your life away?” You will be away, beginning a new chapter, growing and learning and loving and enjoying all these new experiences.

And this is what I want to convey to you: I do want you to grow up, to live life, to enjoy life, to know what it’s like to meet new people and take new classes and learn about things you never knew about. To be challenged, and to challenge yourself to do your best. But there’s that part of me that wants to magically turn back the clock to when your dad and I were your main source of knowledge, comfort, rule-making, limit-setting and love. (Secretly, part of me wants you to take those online college courses at home. “Go to college in pajamas!” they say. You can live here as long as you want to. Well, maybe until you’re 30.)

Know this, my daughter. Everything I do and say is out of love for you. We don’t set a curfew to be cruel. It’s so I can watch the clock and know you’ll be home when you’re supposed to be, and worry when it’s two minutes after 11 and you’re not home yet. And the relief I feel when I see those car headlights in the driveway. I ask about school and grades because I want you to work to your fullest potential. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect that you give it your true best effort. All because of this primal, instinctual, unconditional maternal love I have for you.

One of my father’s favorite songs was “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It always made him cry. And now that I’m a mom, it makes me cry too. I’ll leave you with some of the lyrics that sum up what I’ve been trying to say:

Teach your children well

Their father’s hell did slowly go by

And feed them on your dreams

The one they pick’s, the one you’ll know by

Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry

So just look at them and sigh

And know they love you

And you, of tender years

Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by

And so please help them with your youth

They seek the truth before they can die

Teach your parents well

Their children’s hell will slowly go by

And feed them on your dreams

The one they pick’s, the one you’ll know by

Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry

So just look at them and sigh

And know they love you

My daughter, look at me and sigh, and know I love you.

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