Friday, January 22, 2010

On the Brink of the Teenage Years

When my children were younger I would, from time to time, find opportunity to sit and rock with them. Often my thoughts would turn to their innocence, awed at the absolute unknown of this little person’s future, overwhelmed at the bond I felt as their mother. Sometimes, though, I would think of the vilest of humanity: murders, tyrants, and other infamous persons. And I would wonder if, somewhere in time, a mother’s heart had once been pierced, her breath stolen for a moment, as she looked at her beautiful baby. Could she see the evil her child would one day become? When did they first glimpse the monster inside their child? Even the worst of us begin as innocent babes.

Whenever I’ve seen a marriage crumble, particularly in the early years of my own marriage, I would wonder when the cracks first appeared. Surely they were once happy to spend hours in each other’s presence, love sick? When did they suspect their marriage was doomed? Did they always know? Did they already know when they’d been married as long as myself or were they perfectly happy back then?

One day I watched a friend’s old family Christmas video. The years have erased the memory of why I saw it. Did I happen to stop by while it was playing? Was there something on it she wanted to show me? All I remember is seeing their son- one I had known only as a troubled young adult, deep into drugs and violence- as a happy, excited 10 year old. Exuberant over his new toys. Like all 10 year olds. This terrified me.

I suppose what I’ve wanted is some sort of guarantee that my happiness now will translate into happiness later. I liked to hope that lack of early warning signs meant an untroubled future. Even though my head warned differently, I could never get my heart to understand.

This week we found out my daughter was doing poorly in a couple classes. She didn’t tell us until the teacher sent home a note to be signed and returned. A lost book had led to uncompleted assignments and in a matter of a month her grades had been ruined. And I became scared. In middle school a poor grade isn’t so bad, but in two short years her poor choice could affect the rest of her life. In one month she could completely alter the course of her life- classes she can take, colleges she’ll qualify for.

And my heart finally admitted that I would have teenagers. I knew it. I knew it! Yet, somehow, I did not know it yet. My children will have to find their own way, make their own mistakes. They will make mistakes!  They will make life determining decisions and learn hard life lessons. Even though I knew this, I somehow still believed my children would be different. They wouldn’t hate me. They wouldn’t test rules. They would always trust my experience and come to me for advice. By force of my will I would raise the teenagers other parents envy. But my will is only part of the equation. I can only prepare a foundation, the life built on it is not mine to construct.

I think I want to go back to worrying about when they will dump the next bottle of shampoo into the bathtub. I have good kids with good hearts. But this week my heart finally accepted that there are no real guarantees for life. I pray for wisdom. I’ll do the best I can. I will always be their mother. They will always have my heart, even if they don’t always handle it gently.


I have a few posts to write related to awards I've received over the last week, but I felt I couldn't write anything till I had gotten this off my chest.   If you were expecting to laugh, try back next week.


  1. AWARDS?!?!?!!? Do tell!!!

    Honestly I have found the teenage years to be so much more stressful. You have to worry about so much more then bumps and bruises. And I have good kids. I can't imagine having a child with struggles. I have a difficult time letting go and allowing them to make mistakes. I made SOOOOOO many as a teen I would hate for them to follow in my muddy footsteps...

  2. I want to say something, but I don't really know what to say...


    me too


    thought provoking


  3. Great post. So eloquently put. My teenage nieces stayed with us for a month and it gave me a lot of the same thoughts and worries.

  4. Have you been reading my journal again? I think I'll go hug my kids and remind myself that my biggest trouble today was getting my kids to eat their dinner and not pick their nose.

  5. I don't think I have much to add after our conversation earlier.

    Thank you for sharing. Your words are so profound. They make me stop, breathe, and think.

  6. Charlotte, this really speaks to me because a few months ago I looked at my son's grades on line and he suddenly was flunking just about every class. It's been a grueling journey since then, going down a road I really hadn't planned to travel.

    But it's an important question - how do we get our kids safely from being happy children to becoming well-adjusted, settled adults? I've always used every stupid thing I've done as fodder for my kids, and I'll continue to do that in these teen years for anything he's contemplating. And let me tell you, I did a lot of stupid things.

  7. You are wonderful at articulating poignant things. I like this post a lot.

  8. I wish I could offer advice. What I can say is that you need to trust that you have done the best job you can parenting and the lessons and values you have taught will stay with your children.

    There will be bumps, sometimes even screeching halts but your kids will grow and become adults. It is never an easy trip but one you all will survive.

  9. So well-written! "They will always have my heart, even if they don't always handle it gently." Love that!

  10. Yeah, I remember when my oldest hit those couple of years of hard peer pressure, sneakiness, girls, etc. Man. I knew my sweet little guy was in there still, but I was up tight constantly. And now he is recently home from a mission and I want to help him again to make good choices. It is so so hard to allow the process to work.

    On the other hand, some of my best interactions with my children have been during these years. They are thinking about real things. They are developing into adults. Just hang on and try to bask in the good parts. :)

  11. scary. your kids are growing up. i can't believe how old Maddie is getting, it scares me too.

  12. My little girl has grown up. Remember Poor mistakes does not ruin ones life there is always room to make it right. I would not have believed when you brother was in high school that he would be where he is now and who he is now. The foundation is what counts. Love you

  13. I think you have wrapped up every mother's (and father's) fear for when their children grow up. Your post also reminded me of a rather creepy 'Medium' where in the prologue they showed pictures of serial killers, etc as young children.
    I think it is our job to do the best we can to teach them, but it still is hard to let them make their own decisions and grow. Some children always have to learn the hard way. I remember my parents having to call the cops on one of my younger brothers. Long story made short, it was a long 15+ years of tough love and he finally made it to the temple last month.

    Have you ever listened to that parenting seminar by James Jones??

  14. Well put, most of ours have left the nest and we still share some of your thoughts put so well.

  15. Beautifully written! And can't wait to hear about your awards. I have no teenagers but I love the book Parenting with Love and Logic that talks about them:) They will make mistakes and the earlier the better:) Good luck!

  16. I'll looks into all the suggestions you give! I normally don't do a lot of self-help, but feel underprepared for teenagehood.

    It does give me comfort to see those surviving (and thriving) their relationships with their teenage kids. And those with the perspective from the other side. Thanks!

  17. I'm scared too! I wonder when that turning point is!

  18. WOW! I am in awe. I guess I should cherish the good old days. Although Teenagehood is rapidly approaching for me I'm afraid. I already have a 10 yr old. *shudder*

    Come check my blogs out. My writer blog is in the linky over at MMB. That's where I found you!

    My main blog is

  19. I love this line: "I suppose what I’ve wanted is some sort of guarantee that my happiness now will translate into happiness later." The line scares me, though, because I realize that I move through life in this exact way: assuming that things will proceed as they have started. This is an important, if sobering, reminder to remain vigilant even while being hopeful.

  20. No guarantees is right.

    I like how you put it, "I can only prepare a foundation, the life built on it is not mine to construct."

    The wisdom I see in your words will help you in your future times, however blissful or hard they may be.

    This is so beautifully written!! And so true.

  21. I love your post!

    Teenagers ROCK!
    My favorite parenting years have been the teenage years.
    I love their "coming of age" discoveries, their newfound insights, their budding adult sense of humor.

    They creative, funny and keep me conitnually laughing....even when they are stupid.

    Sit back and enjoy the ride - cuz it's a trip!

  22. This is such a beautifully written post! It captures exactly the feelings we're all afraid of. As my twins approach the pre-teen years, I'm terrified too! I can only hope that we're doing ENOUGH and creating ENOUGH of a bond to get us through whatever mistakes they make.

  23. Thanks for posting this. Please make sure it still exists in cyberspace when my kids hit the teenage years, because, let's face it, I will be too old and decrepit to adequately deal with them without a lot of help and outside perspective.

  24. A perspective I am trying to keep is that I am not raising children; I am raising adults. I agree with Elizabeth's comment, and I also have used Love & Logic methods. I try to let my kids make plenty of dumb choices and work their way through the consequences now so they hopefully won't experiment with dangerous consequences as teenagers. I loved my teenage years, and I expect that if I stay close and involved with my kids, then I will enjoy their adolescence as well.

    Also, no matter how badly a person messes up (and there is plenty of room to mess up in those brief teenage years), there is always repentance. I truly believe that if my children learn to love their Savior now, they will at some point remember Him when they need Him most. It may be decades down the road, but I can wait on the Lord's eternal mercy.

    Thanks for expressing very well some thoughts I've carried for years.

  25. This, Charlotte, is why I read your blog. The other posts are incredibly witty and intelligent, but these are the posts I keep coming back for...

  26. Charlotte, I see how frustrated you are! While I don't have 6 kids, I was a psych major I do understand what you mean about the whole "looking back" perspective. You've obviously provided your kids with a warm, loving secure home--remember that!

    Perhaps your daughter is just having problems academically. Are her grades dropping across-the-board or in a single subject? Do you recall anything new happening at that time?
    If so, there's help for that! So don't fret!

    Megan *hugs*

  27. Very beautifully written! Wouldn't it be great if it was always wonderful and easy? I'd take that....but then I remember that I didn't truly sign up for that when I signed up to come to earth and parent these children. I never ever thought parenting could hurt so much. But if we did protect them from all the mistakes and bad decisions they will make, would they learn nothing.

    She'll get through. You'll get through, and I'll even get through, and it's because you are going at it with the right perspective: love.

  28. Thanks again for the comments. It wasn't an across the board drop, just two classes and the scary part (for me) was that she was so worried about getting in trouble for losing her book that she was willing to simply do nothing. This paralysis in the face of uncertainty is a trait she got from me (which makes it doubly hard to take).

    We are constantly stressing the importance of repentance to our kids, but some things still have consequences that must be overcome, even after repentance is complete.

  29. Ah, the fear of disappointment/worry! The psychological disorder you create for yourself!
    I too suffer from that trait, which makes 3 of us. We should start a club!
    Good news for you...she's got a good role model. Show her how you deal (aka do ur awesome mothering thing u do) and she'll work through it.
    It may never go away, but it makes you a stronger person.

  30. I would totally start a club, but all the members would be too intimidated to show up!

  31. Well, if there are cool hats in that club, I would come.