By the time I drag myself into the kitchen, my high-school sophomore is already sitting at the table, eating breakfast (“yes, mom, I have protein and produce”) and starting in on her 64 ounces of total daily water consumption. And this is after she’s gotten herself out of bed, done her morning devotions, gone through her daily stretching routine, practiced her marching band drumline cadence on her home quad set, and washed her face.
When I see her at the table, I always ask, “Do you need me to do anything for you?” And she always answers, “Nope, I think I’m good.”
For a while now, I’ve been training my children not to need me (much) anymore.
I’ve been trying to teach, advise, assist, and instruct myself right out of a job. I never was raising my babies to stay babies: I was always raising them to be future adults who would be able to care for themselves and others.
And at the risk of sounding braggy, it looks like I’ve done a pretty good job of my job. (Actually, it’s almost entirely grace and the fact that my kids are wonderful all on their own. But I’ve tried to do my part the best I can.)
My teenagers (the aforementioned high school sophomore and her big sister, a college sophomore who spent her summer vacation nannying and cleaning out closets in our house I’d been “meaning to get to” for years) are organized, determined, and trustworthy. They plan their own lives and manage those lives and generally run their own show. My role has shifted, as it should, from director to support staff.
But for all this independence, my teenagers still need me. They still need to be mothered. They still need to be nurtured, cared for, and looked after.
My teens need me to do things for them, sometimes, that they could do for themselves so that they have time and energy to do the things only they can.
They need me to remember how hard it is to be a teenager and to love them through that hard.
They need me to be a safe place they can come back to and be built up again when life has worn them down.
They need me to speak truth to them when their peers and their own minds tell them lies.They need me to comfort them.
They need me to believe in them even when—especially when—they don’t believe in themselves.
They need me to show up.
They need me to listen.
They need me to let them vent without trying to fix anything. They need me to help their still-under-construction brains think further down the road than they’re likely to on their own.
They need me to be steady when their moods are swinging all over the place.
They need me to walk with them through heartbreak and disappointment.
They need me to pay attention.
They need me to advocate for them.
They need me to reassure them that at a time in their lives when so much is changing, the things that matter most stay the same.
They need me to love them unconditionally
I see lots of social media posts from young parents lamenting the day when their infants and toddlers and little kids won’t need them any longer. But I’ve found that in many ways, our big kids actually need us more.
And this is a good thing: all their lives, we try to show our kids they can depend on us to meet their needs. So when those needs shift from the frequently physical to the mostly mental and emotional, we can only hope they still feel they can count on us. The fact that our older kids need us—and in deeper and bigger ways even than they did when they were little—does not mean we haven’t done our jobs. It does not mean we have failed as parents. It means we have succeeded at building trust and relationship, and that feels like the most important job of all.
Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two teenage daughters 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.