It is a difficult time of the year for me. The busy-ness of the holidays is over. Reese’s birthday is just around the corner, and with each birthday it gets harder. As he gets older, there is more to manage medically and more uncertainty. I get tired of the cold weather and having to bundle up every time I go somewhere. It happens every year.
This last month has proven to be exceptionally difficult. We are parenting a teenager, and the last month has been full of life lessons for all of us. We are in a difficult parenting “season,” but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Then we’ll be on to the next challenge. Right now everything feels hard, even coming up with a blog post was hard, really hard.
Some days, parenting feels not worth it. The frustrations far outweigh the joys. In talking with a friend about this difficult place I am in, she challenged me to think about what I wish I would have known 16 years ago. What would I have told myself 16 years ago? What have I learned? On any given day, these may change. Talk to any other mom and her list will be different. These are mine.
- You will have periods of “funk” and general malaise. Life is not always perfect, even though Facebook makes people’s lives look that way. Embrace the funk. If you don’t allow yourself to be there for a bit, it will be there bubbling just under the surface for a long time. During this low spot, surround yourself with people who bring you joy, try to sleep more, try to do something for yourself every day and know that this, too, is temporary. If it lasts too long, it might be time to talk with a medical professional.
- Find people who have children you admire. Ask them lots of questions. Listen to their answers.
- Parenting doesn’t necessarily get harder, it just gets different. Things you learn in one stage rarely carry over immediately to the next, but they may be helpful down the road. Tuck those lessons away; they will serve you well.
- Teenage years are the hardest and most rewarding to parent. Be ready for that. In the teenage years, there is so much scary and uncomfortable stuff to parent about. Make issues out of those things and talk about them before they really become issues. Set firm boundaries about things that are important. Choose compassion and understanding in any given situation. Flexibility is a must.
- The things you choose to be important at three and four years old will re-appear in the teenage years. Choose wisely.
- Friends are more important than stuff. I have G’s wonderful preschool teacher to thank for that. Learning to take responsibility for your role in relationships, knowing when to apologize and respecting our friends’ views, even if we disagree, are important skills.
- Learning to advocate respectfully is not a natural skill for most teenagers. Their brains are wired to be self-centered and react emotionally rather than respond. Undeveloped frontal lobes cause impulsive things to be said and un-thought out actions to happen. As parents, we need to set a good example of methodical problem solving and conflict resolution. It is important to have conversations about conversations. “When you want to go talk with your teacher, tell me what you’ll say. ‘It’s not worth it’ is probably not the best approach, but talking about your frustration may be better.” Then trust that they will do the best they are able.
- Despite the challenges of parenting, it will be one of the most rewarding things when you see your hard work pay off. That moment your child accepts a consequence without questioning or advocates for himself respectfully in a way that creates change.
- Learning to put yourself first is sometimes okay. No, it is necessary. Some people would say it needs to happen more often than I make it happen. It doesn’t always need to be a girls’ weekend away or an hour of exercise every day, it can be simply allowing 15 minutes (or sometimes five minutes) of alone time in the morning before getting kids out of bed.
- Love really does conquer all. A smile from a baby who has been crying for hours. An “I love you, mama” from a toddler who has been pushing the boundaries of your patience. A fist bump from a teenager who has been practicing to be a lawyer during an argument. It doesn’t always make things easier, but it does make all the challenges worth it.
- You’ve got this, mama. Even in the hard times, you’ve got this.
I am thankful for these times of discontent, once I get on the other side of them. I don’t like them when I am here, but they force me to re-examine what I can’t control and what I can. My gratitude grows for the people who bring me joy and listen without judgment, my brief moments of quiet before my family gets up and the knowledge that this funk too shall pass. You’ve got this, mama. You’ve got this.