While my oldest is only 10, I see him struggling with much the same angst that plague all teens.
To my teen,
You are living the best and worst years of your life. Your understanding and perception are getting stronger. You are controlling more of your own life and dealing with those complications on your own. Worst of all, you are seeing the cracks in my facade. You are starting to recognize my weaknesses and my hypocrisy. You see me for the imperfections that I am. Let me explain to you why I seem to be grasping to all the wrong things for dear life while you are headlong rushing into adulthood.
First of all, let me explain why I get so upset that you are stubbornly insisting on making certain mistakes. While mistakes are an integral part of life, I don’t want you to repeat my stupid mistakes. I want mine to be a starting point so you can learn from my mistakes and make better use of yours. Make smarter mistakes. Make better mistakes. Just don’t make the same ones I did. I have already been there and want to spare you the embarrassment, heartache, stress, and effort it took for me to learn and move on from mine. Mistakes are the best part of life because they are opportunities to learn. Mistakes are the key to success because they are how one learns to be successful.
You see, from the moment I looked into your bright eyes, I became obsessed with giving you the best. I wanted to give you the best home, education, friends, experiences, food, emotions, and things I could. I became obsessed with making you better than me. Smarter, wealthier, more kind, stronger. So when I come to you and tell you to do it one way, it’s because I am trying to hand you the key, my knowledge gained from my mistakes so you can leap frog over me and make a better mistake, one that’s truly your own. Not a copy of mine.
Watching you grow has been both the best and worst experience of my life. It has been the best because I love being with you, having fun together, talking, crying, and I will always cherish the memories of the easy times, and, especially, the hard times. My years with you will comfort me for the rest of my life. The worst part is how deeply being your parent challenged me. I had to face the darkest parts of myself. I had to tame the beast within me. Being your parent showed me that I am much weaker than I ever imagined. This is all a normal part of being a parent.
I have so much invested in you. I don’t mean money. All these years, I have invested my time, energy, frustrations, gratitude, heart and hopes in you. Earlier, when I talked about giving you the best, I didn’t mention how many hours I have spent thinking about how to teach you things that I wish I had known at your age. I don’t think infinity would be enough to describe how long I have contemplated how to instill better knowledge and experience in you so that you will start out in adulthood ahead of me. I want you to start your independence knowing all the things I had to learn on my own so that your mistakes are exactly that! Your mistakes, not a repeat of mine.
Raising you has been a blessing of a depth I was unprepared for. While we have uncountable great memories, the most valuable memories are the memories of the hard times. The hard times taught you about life and me about myself. Being your (step)mom has taught me so much about myself. I am stronger because of you. I will always cherish the memories of climbing mountains with you. However much of that time,I was completely responsible for the outcome. I was the only one with any real power. Everything came down to me. I had to be in control of everything from making sure you ate and exercised enough to making sure you apologized if you hit the neighbor’s kid while playing. Now that you are raring to take the reins of your life, I find it very hard to give it up. See, we are at a confusing time in your life. You want to be in control and responsible for everything you can, but it isn’t fair to just dump everything in your lap. I still must be responsible for parts of your life like keeping a roof over your head and food available to you, but I am having much trouble realizing where I need to let go and where I need to hold on. That’s the thing about parenting. It’s very much like walking a tightrope, trying to figure out where to hold on and where to let go without plummeting to the ground and splatting into a big pile of self hating failure. So forgive me when I misstep, and end up hanging on too long.
I don’t want to control your adult life. I don’t have the ability to control my own. I want you to find what you are passionate about and spend your life working around that. However, there are certain things that I must teach you and certain things that must be done each day. I have to teach you to be a hard worker, to finish your assigned tasks in a timely matter, algebra, physics, how to interact with people, how to do the dishes, how to be honest even when its not in your favor, cooking, how to save money, and countless other tasks that may or may not interest you. I wish I could make this easy for you, but I can’t. I wish I could make it where you could just skip all the things you hate, but that may set you up to be unable to cook your own food or go to work in clean clothes. That is unfair to you. I have to teach you to do those things with a cheerful attitude even if you don’t want to. That is why I am such a hardline about your chores. It’s not because I give you chores I don’t want to do. It’s about teaching you the dignity of clean and the satisfaction of work. It’s about teaching you time management skills that I didn’t learn until after college.
My sweet teen, our years together are drawing to a close. Soon, I won’t be only a mother. I will be a mother in law and a grandmother. I am mourning our time together. This time in your life is bittersweet for me because I am getting my freedom back and now I am not sure I want it back after fantasizing about it for all the years you were completely dependent on me. Lonely years stretch before me, and I am not sure who I am anymore without framing it around my role as your mom. So while you are stretching your fingertips trying to brush independence, I am hoping there is enough of me left without you to keep me going. I am facing my greatest test now. As you move on to your greatest adventure, mine feels like its coming to a close, and I frantically trying to tie up loose ends to ensure you have a better chance than I did. So much of my time this past decade has been spent researching, planning, and implementing lessons and now my toil is starting to bear fruit, and I am freaking out. Not because I fear you aren’t ready or capable, but because I fear I am not.