Raising teens: Bittersweet when you do it right

Teens on the bike path

Teens on the bike pathLast week my husband and I got all three girls to go biking with us. This is a much more difficult undertaking than it used to be, when their social lives were completely under our oversight. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it’s been a while, and our twin almost 15-year-olds are constantly busy with friends, school and extra-curricular commitments. And while I like to think they do still enjoy hanging out with mom and dad and their younger sister, it’s probably not as high on their list as it used to be.

Our family has always done a lot of outdoor stuff together, things like skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, biking and camping.

We’re finding that as they get older, these are things that help keep us together. It’s just that it’s harder and harder to find the time and opportunity to get everyone in one place at the same time.

So it was a particular pleasure to find ourselves as a family of 5 on the P’tit Train du Nord last Sunday, just north of Mont Tremblant. They’ve paved several miles around Lac Mercier, and the black flies weren’t yet out for their season of bloodlust. The rain (mostly) held off, and the trees were in bud, and the horses were grazing in the field. No one had an exam or homework project due the next day. It was as close to perfect as we were going to get.

While my nearly-11-year-old practiced riding without her hands on the handlebars, I watched our older daughters speed up ahead. They were deep in conversation, as usual. It always astonishes me that despite all the time they spend together, they never run out of things to say to each other. Whenever I caught up to them, they stopped talking, or switched to something else.

“Parent in the room.” They didn’t have to say it out loud, but I knew that as close as we were, I was no longer privy to all their secrets. They need that space without me. They need to speed up ahead and leave us behind, still knowing we are there.

Which is as it should be. And I’m so grateful for that mysterious, age-appropriate adolescent self-sufficiency – the kind that sends them back to mom or dad whenever they need a ride to the metro, money or unreserved, uncritical love and support.

I’m proud of the confident young women my girls are becoming. But I still feel the bittersweet sting of watching them move forward without me.

When they were infants and toddlers, dependent on us for every single need, I occasionally daydreamed about the days when we would share books and recipes and debate the issues of the day. Like every single parent before me, I find myself completely, utterly gobsmacked by how quickly that day has come.

I wish I could just enjoy being right where we are without silently calculating how many years we have left before they don’t want to join us for family vacations anymore.

But I can’t help it. It’s like being nostalgic when I watch them speed ahead on the path, admiring their grace and youth, and feel that overwhelming, nameless blend of joy/pride/melancholy particular to parents of teenagers. It’s bittersweet, but I like to think it’s a sign we’re doing it right.

 

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4 Comments

  • I’m the youngest of 3 girls, each of us 2-4 years spaced out. I remember the same scenarios playing out exactly as you write them. Always involved with things going on at school, sports, friends, etc. and our parents always eager to be involved, but understanding of the healthy space and independence we saught. Or rather, that we needed. After years of self analysis and taking observation to the relationships my friends have with their parents, and even the relationships my sisters and I have with ours, I feel it’s my duty to give you some inside secrets.

    My sisters and I would not feel so incredibly close to our parents as we do now if they hadn’t given us that healthy space and freedom to grow. We were never too isolated from the family, but we were allowed to explore and challenge ourselves that at times scared the living crap out of my parents. Typical parental fears, mind you. While your daughters are growing and taking those leaps towards independence, know that you will always be their #1 go-to, and after this phase you’ll find your relationship with them will be closer than ever because they know they can always “go to mom for anything” and she won’t freak out, especially when the real tough times in life start to occur.

    It sounds like you and your husband are doing wonderfully. Keep family as a priority but continue allowing them to grow into their own persons. As they get older your relationship will only get better and, based on my own experience, pretty soon you won’t find a day where you don’t hear from at least 1 of your 3 best friends. My mother’s cell phone bill is 100% proof of that! 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing your reflections, my twins just turned 12, and not that we are “there” yet, at times I get glimpses of what is to come. I am NOT READY!! LOL! But it’s all such a bittersweet part of parenting, and I am not trading it for a moment.

  • You are doing it WAY right. I can tell you that as I get older, don’t have kids of my own yet, but still very very very close with my mom (she sleeps down the hall from me) the description your provided is so perfectly accurate of how my life was and is and would never in a million years pass up the opportunity now nor when I was 16 to spend time with my family on vacation. Your girls are so lucky to have each other. My sister and I, although no twins, share a similar relationship in that we can talk about nothing for hours!
    You are absolutely doing it right!
    Your blog is beautiful written and poignant. Two thumbs up!

  • Thank you for your heartfelt comments. It’s always nice to hear that others can relate to my posts, either from a childhood perspective or as a parent. Learning how to give our teens their space is so important, but sometimes it’s so hard, especially when we are so digitally tethered to each other by cellphone, email, text, etc. I do hope they will always feel they can come back to us for uncritical love and support. My own mom is one of my best friends, though she likes to tell my kids about the perpetually closed door of my own teenage bedroom…