A few months ago, my teenager and I went doughnut and dance shoe shopping. She needed new pointe shoes for ballet class, and on the way to the store an hour from home, we both needed doughnuts.
The dance shoes ended up being a lot easier to pick out than the doughnuts, on account of having a trained point-shoe consultant assisting us at the dance wear store but having to fend for ourselves when we were staring down 40 kinds of cream-filled, sprinkle-topped options at the bakery.
My teenager pondered her doughnut decision with a seriousness I can only hope she applies to choosing a mate in the future, and then we tore into the box the minute we were back in the car. We made a mess of ourselves but didn’t care. It was a good moment.
A few Sundays later, she asked to take a nap with me. As we snuggled together under fuzzy blankets, I was taken back to the year she was about three, when we rested together every afternoon on the deep couch in our living room. That Sunday nap was a good moment.
And then there was the day she texted her dad and me during her lunch period at school to say that she’d heard some girls talking about something hard they were going through at home. She thanked us for not putting her through that. It was a good, screenshot-worthy moment.
But these kinds of moments are not always or even usually how it is between my fascinating, complex, intense, hormonal teenager and me.
These good moments are forged in the fire of silent car rides when we don’t speak to each other at all because that’s the safest thing.
They are born on the days when we’re at odds with each other.
They stand in contrast to the early mornings and late nights when we have to trust that we love each other because we don’t necessarily like each other all that much.
Because the doughnut-and-Sunday-nap moments are not always what parenting my teenager looks like, my instinct is to hold back, to protect myself from enjoying them too much, to brush them off as anomalies that don’t get to fully count.
But I know that I cannot guard my heart so fiercely out of fear of being disappointed that I miss the chance to love lavishly and to receive love when it’s given.
The Moments I Love Most About Parenting My Teen
I know that five or 10 or 20 years from now, when I look back on this season of parenting, I will regret it if I rip these pages out of the book just because they’re not the whole story.
Pages like the ones when we get in the car and my teenager says she has something she wants to talk to me about.
Pages when she tells me she has a song she wants me to hear.
Pages when she lets me give her a long hug.
Pages when she asks to watch a movie with me.
Pages when she texts me from school in the middle of the day, “I have good news to tell you later!”
Pages when we laugh together.
Pages when she asks for my help.
Pages when she wants to make plans for the future.
It can feel like a risk to linger too long on these pages in the story we’re writing together. It can seem safer to skim over them or flip past them. But love is always a risk—especially the messy, gut-wrenching love we have for our teenagers. Sometimes, we take a chance on it and lose. But when the good moments come and when we give them their due, we know we’ve played and won the game that matters most.
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Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.