Letting Go Of Your Teen Is Hard Work

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
Wiktor Rzeżuchowski / iStock

His hazel eyes rolled toward the ceiling as he crossed his arms and let out an exasperated sigh. “Why can’t I just stay here while you grocery shop? I’m not a baby anymore, Mom.” He stood there, chin defiantly pointed toward me and challenged me to answer.

While part of me wanted to point out that arguing and pitching a fit about going on errand made him look childish, I knew he was right. He was a month away from his 12th birthday, and I’d only be gone 45 minutes. After holding his gaze and taking in the sight of my growing son, I relented. He happily dove into his video games, and I headed out to the store. When I arrived home, he was in the same spot I’d left him, unfazed by my absence, and I realized I was in uncharted territory.

As my children have grown into teens, I am at the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel — that sweet spot where my kids don’t need me as much as they did when they were small. I am getting a taste of the freedom that comes with being able to grocery shop in peace and quiet, and it’s unnerving.

As much as it doesn’t suck to be able to sail into an exercise class without stopping first at the child care station, I find that it’s been a challenge striking the right balance between giving my teens the freedom they crave yet still keeping them safe and within our rules.

When your children are toddlers, you spend your days drilling rules into their heads: stranger danger, bike safety, healthy eating, good sleep habits, hygiene, and personal care. We spend years doling out punishments for temper tantrums and meltdowns and rewarding positive behaviors like sharing and kindness to others.

Every day during their formative years, we put our hearts and souls into making sure our kids understand our values and family traditions. And, there are days that we are sure they aren’t listening to a word we say. We are left to wonder what will happen when we aren’t there to stop them from sliding naked down the banister backward.

And then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, our kids grow into teens and we are forced to turn them out into the world to try out the skills we’ve given them. Much like teaching them to ride a bike, we give them a push, run behind them for a bit, and then stand with our hands near our mouths, praying they don’t fall or burn the house down when making microwaved popcorn when we are out for the night. We have to sit back and trust that all those years of teaching them the rules will result in them demonstrating that they’ve been listening to us for at least 50% of the time.

While yes, it’s nice to have a child-free evening out with my husband, it’s hard not to be wistful for the days when a babysitter reassured us that all was okay at home. I’ve traded the days of shared cups of coffee with my friends in my kitchen as my son played with a friend for fleeting moments in a parking lot, waving to the back of my teenage son’s head as he trudges into a dance with his buddies.

My son used to promise me that he’d marry me someday, but now that a girl has stolen his heart, I fear that I might not be his number one choice anymore. Our home used to be chaotic in the evenings, filled with the sound of running water, screeches in the bathtub, and chubby feet running across the tiled floor. Now, I eagerly await the sound of the key in the lock to break the solitude of my evening as my daughter arrives home from the movies with friends.

My babies aren’t babies anymore and I’m having a hard time letting go. I know that I have raised my kids to leave me, but that doesn’t mean that the act of letting them leave will be easy. It’s a pain that pierces my heart, and on the days when they demand more independence than I’m ready to give, I pray for the grace to realize that I have to let them go to hold them close.

As I unpacked the groceries on the day I let my son stay home, he wandered into the kitchen and started to help me put the groceries away. As he turned away from the pantry, his hazel eyes met mine and he said, “I enjoyed being alone for a while. But the house was too quiet and I missed you.” I smiled to myself, safe in the knowledge that my little boy still needs his mom. At least for a few more years.

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