Almost 21 years ago, I quit my job to be a “stay-at-home mom” right after my first son was born. Economically it made sense, as my job at the time paid very little in comparison to infant day care costs, and emotionally I just wasn’t ready to leave my baby in the care of someone other than myself. I was also a firm believer that years 0-3 of childhood development were the most crucial in terms of both healthy physical and mental development, and I wanted to be the sole provider of both those things to my small children.
Looking back, I don’t regret my decision, but I think many of the mothering, parenting, and other nurturing “things” I did (and that every mother has to do when taking care of babies and toddlers) were much more physical than emotional, and quite frankly, could have easily and sufficiently been done by someone other than myself.
A skilled, experienced, and certified daycare provider would have had the same success feeding, bathing, potty training, and teaching my four-year old how to tie his shoes as I did. By no means am I saying that a mother of infants and toddlers is easily replaceable by another warm body, but I am saying that as hard and complicated as I thought those early years to be, and as important as I thought it was for me to be home with them, in my personal opinion they pale in comparison to the need to be an at home mom when you have teenagers.
Since it’s common (sadly) for moms of teenagers to suffer in a parenting bubble and not talk about the difficulties of raising teens – at least not as easily as we talked about potty training and shoe tying, each and every time I let myself be vulnerable and express to others how mind numbingly hard it really is, I find my peers who are in the same boat to be overjoyed to hear that they’re not alone in the struggle. It’s as if we’re all just enduring these challenging years silent and solo, and “Everything is fine, you’re fine, the teens are fine, the marriage is fine, IT IS ALL FINE,” when in reality, it is far from fine.
So far in fact, that when I asked a large group of moms of teenagers for their opinion on whether they thought it was more important to be an “at home mom” when their kids were teens than when they were toddlers, overwhelmingly the responses fell along the lines of, “This is harder than I ever thought it would be, and I (and my teens) feel and need for me be constantly present all the time.” Call me not shocked.
The reasons these moms of teens said they thought they needed to be home more now than at any other time is childhood, vary as widely as a teen’s hoodie collection. There were the very common reasons such as the overwhelming necessity to be their teen’s mode of transportation. This is not surprising seeing as how today’s teens are driving less and less (compared to generation’s past) as well as delaying getting their license, if at all. Add to that the fact our teen’s calendars are filled to the max, and they’re constantly requiring rides to sports, youth group, jobs, clubs, and all the other extracurriculars they’re engaged in.
“Running my teens around to all their stuff is a full-time job in itself,” and “I feel better that it’s me driving them around, and they’re not driving with another teen driver,” were common responses.
Another common response was the fact moms felt that their teens needed them more on a deeply emotional and supportive level than their toddlers ever did. Toddler issues like tantrums and missed naps are generally solved quickly and easily, but the problems and potential issues today’s teens are facing are of much larger importance. The saying, “Little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems” rings no truer than during adolescence.
One mom nailed this opinion perfectly when she said,
Teen years feel like they require more of me than younger years. It feels like there’s more at stake. I guess because they are learning to make their own choices. Plus, you have to be available when THEY want to talk. If you try to engage in conversation on YOUR schedule, their lips are sealed.
That sentiment – that just being a “warm body” at home after school, or just “being there” hanging at sports games or other activities was important to many of the moms. They all agreed that being readily available when and if we were finally needed was crucial, and working full-time would have made that nearly impossible.
One of my favorite responses was this,
I swear, my three teenagers need me more now than they did when they were younger. My son who turns 18 on Saturday will come home from school and sit down and talk to me for 30 minutes or so before he goes on about his business. I don’t want to miss that. If you are not right there when it happens it’s pretty much gone.
She is absolutely right, that moment would have been gone.
Finally, nearly everyone believed that teens have a tendency to do…how do we say this, REALLY DUMB THINGS when left with plenty of unsupervised time, and that includes all the “things” that can be done during after school time, especially if there is no parent around.
One mom said, “They are inherently more likely to make bad or dumb choices if left unsupervised for long periods,” and another said, “Truth is, I believe they often used my presence as an excuse to avoid peer pressure to make bad decisions.”
Having survived two teenagers already and deep into my third, I wholeheartedly agree that unsupervised teens are a crisis waiting to happen. And yet even though our teens are full of stubborn eye rolls, cranky attitudes, and less than desirable affectionate behavior towards us, sometimes just being there, just simply BEING THERE (often silently but always available) in the backdrop of their worlds, is really all they need from us.
It’s also something us moms suffering solo in the teen trenches probably need to be reminded of more often.