Seeing The Tenderness and Not The Turmoil of The Teen Years

As I see my husband with a big grin on his face, hooked up to his favorite amp with headphones on and rocking out — while the kids are entertained on their own and I’m busy writing — I am overcome with an image of our LWK future: Life Without Kids. It’s exhilarating to know we support each other’s endeavors and have many hobbies in common that we will enjoy together when we get to that stage. But it reminds me of how very much I want to savor the present and the many things (though they are growing fewer) that we do with our kids — whether it’s driving them around, having meals with them, watching their games and performances and other accomplishments, giving them guidance, or even arguing with them. We’re still a big part of their lives, and I value that.

I was planning to write a blog entry about why my teen and pre-teen need me more now than ever before, despite their growing independence, ability to make their own meals (sort of), keep track of their own assignments and due dates, and even their emerging maturity (at times).

Yet tonight I realize that it’s also ME who needs THEM more than ever before — as in, I need to appreciate the joy they bring me and the influence I have — before they leave home. Granted, we’ve got a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old who complain and debate a lot, but generally make good choices. We don’t have out-of-control rebels on our hands, in which case my opinion might be different.

But the other night at a gathering of parents after a school band concert, one of the dads and myself both agreed that we have only five SHORT years left before our youngest child goes to college. My husband on the other had sees that as five LONG years before he can get his life and his freedom back. He is eager to move his career forward, and always feels that the family obligations keep him from attaining more. I believe that about my career as well, but I don’t lament it. I have made peace with the fact that I was willing to slow my career down to be the hands-on mother that suited my desires. My husband never fantasized about being a father; he just ended up falling in love with a woman who wanted kids, and when we had them he was a natural loving and giving parent.

In fact, he is more sentimental than I am; I think he’s going to be the one who’s more sad when we snuggle up to watch movies as a family — and there’s only two of us because we have an empty nest in five and a half years. He’s the one who gets stressed out that he can’t do what he wants because our focus is on the kids, but I wish he would remind himself how terribly he will miss them when they’re gone.

Like parents everywhere, we hear that time goes fast as you raise your family. But we forget to take it to heart in the day-to-day dealings. Patience is hard, but I believe it is easier to deal with the anxieties of parenting and the demands on our time and the lack of attention to ourselves when we remember how limited our time with our kids really is — compared to the whole of our lives.

That’s one of many reasons I am creating a TV show for OverAchieving Moms, to help all of us confront those struggles by revealing on camera that even the most successful moms don’t have it as together as we think.

While I know I will miss my kids when they grow up, I don’t want to be sad about it. I want to be grateful I enjoyed them fully while they were living with us. I had a flash forward tonight of how nice it will be in five and a half years when it’s just me and my husband. I see him in the basement happily playing guitar, while I’m on the computer working on a story — just as we’re doing tonight. How did we get so lucky to enjoy this weekend night as we choose? Our 14-year-old is old enough to go to the movies by himself with a friend (though I still had to drop him off and give him $20; we have to work on getting him to do more chores to up his allowance!). Our 12-year-old is old enough to make dinner and find entertainment for herself and her sleepover guest. Not even a year ago, she would have wanted me to make dinner and suggest a game and maybe even play the game with them, or help judge a contest, or somehow be involved.

I know our kids are going to extricate us from their lives more and more each day, until one day we drop them off at college and come home to a quiet, calm house. Until then, there are still plenty of activities they like us to do with them — watch movies, go shopping, chat about their day, coach their teams — and so many activities we have to do for them — drive them, make meals, buy clothes, pay bills, help with homework, supervise their comings and goings, etc. I’m going to breath in and taste those memories as I live them now — both the sweet and the sour ones, without being in a rush to get my own life back. It will be mine soon enough.

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