Embracing Our Children Through the Tween and Teenage Seasons

IMG_0752Today is my younger boy’s birthday. He’s turning eleven and I am so excited about the man he’s becoming. Parents talk often about cringing and bracing themselves for the middle school and high school years with their kids, and I get that. But several years ago, I read a post by Jen Hatmaker on parenting teens and it gave me so much hope about what life could be like with my two sweeties as they are growing into men.

In her thoughtful and insightful essay, Jen writes about how parenting teens is the “best Mom gig yet.” She encourages parents to “stop imagining that aliens will take over” their children when they turn 13 and instead embrace the idea that as our children grow into their teenage years, there is SO much about them that still remains the same – their humor, their personality, their talents and proclivities… all of these things that are so special and treasured simply start to take on deeper roots.

IMG_1334Naturally, I’ve been thinking about Luke today and what makes him special. All his life, Luke has been enthralled with animals and nature. From hunting for bugs with his brother in our backyard and petting every.single.animal he comes into contact with at the park to caring so well for our rescue dog, Ollie, and researching leopard geckos for literally months in preparation for getting his own, Luke thrives on being around and caring for creatures (humans included). As he’s getting older and dreaming about his future, my boy is thinking very seriously about pursuing work in the field of veterinary medicine. He has plans to become a veterinarian and one day own his own practice. And I’m telling y’all right now, if that’s the path he chooses, Luke will rock it out. (And also, maybe he’ll help me pay off my student loans once he hits the big dolla bills, ’cause I’m fairly certain I’ll still be paying on them.)

As a mother, it’s special for me to see his childlike love of animals grow and bloom into a tremendous life calling to care for animals and their families. And this is one reason why parenting tweens and teenagers is so special: I get a front row seat to my child’s flourishing.

But here’s the catch: This front row seat means nothing if I’m not paying attention.

I read yesterday (in a Cooking Light magazine of all places) that, according to a paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, “people who documented and shared their experience on social media formed less precise memories of those events.” That is, the more I try to capture special memories with my phone and share them with others, the less I’m actually going to remember them. Further, the study also showed that taking photos and videos for social media actually lessens a person’s enjoyment and engagement in the moment.

As I reflect on this, it makes sense. If what I care about most is getting the best shot from the most flattering angle while my kids grin and bear it, am I really engaging with them and enjoying them? Probably not.

On the flip side, if I’m just grinding through life and not making an effort to spend intentional time with my kids apart from church, school and extra-curricular events, I’m not paying attention either.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not gonna stop taking pictures of and with my kids and our experiences. I’m also not going to pack our schedules so full of events that we don’t have time to rest and just be. But I think it’s important to strike a balance.

As my boys make their way into a new season of life, I’m making changes in an effort to be more present and to show up and engage in a more meaningful and intentional way. For me, that means putting my phone aside and letting the memories in my mind and heart be enough. It means taking the long way home to see something out of the ordinary just because. It means saying no to some really fun and exciting things so that we can say yes to time with each other.

There are things about my sons getting older that scare the crap out of me, if I’m being completely honest. But the thing I want to remind myself of and really live into is this idea of embracing my sons in their teenage years instead of rolling my eyes and bracing myself for the difficult things that are sure to come.

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So today, on Luke’s eleventh birthday, I look forward to the middle school and high school years in our future, praying that we continue to grow in our relationship with each other, that I continue to build transparency and honesty in how we communicate, that I continue to apologize when I’m wrong and offer grace and understanding when he is, too.

To me, these are some of the hallmarks of a healthy mother-son relationship, and I’m so honored that I get the chance to do this life with my two boys. Knowing that they are growing and maturing makes me want to soak up every minute I can.