If you want to let me grow, then you’ve got to let me go. Let me risk and fail. Let me feel a consequence. Let me question authority and seek answers. Let me test a boundary, run out of money, run out of gas, and lose a friend. Let me learn to understand how much sleep I need, and what to wear when it’s cold outside. Let me sort out a relationship and see what I love. This will not be easy, but it’s the only way I can grow. Your teen.
I think one of the hardest things we have to do as moms is to let our kids stumble. We see all of the hurt and danger ahead of them and it is deeply woven within us to prevent these things from happening. I mean, this is how it all starts out, right? First we have to keep our baby alive–literally! We keep them close to our bed so they stay in a safe sleeping position, make sure they are not too warm or too cold, and feed them even before they cry. We keep them clean, keep them dry, monitor their weight, and make sure their sibling doesn’t bounce them off the couch. Pretty much our whole life revolves around protecting our baby from harm. But it doesn’t stop here–this goes on for many more years. As they crawl and put everything in their mouth–danger. As they walk and get too close to the stairs, the lawnmower, the street–danger, danger, danger! Then there is school filled with potential bullies or unfair teachers. The forgotten lunch boxes, the forgotten projects, and don’t forget you need to wear your jacket, it’s cold outside! You will get sick! This is a full time job.
And then, all of the sudden, (right?) we are supposed to stop all of this protection, and let them go. Now the parenting manual has shifted from “protect these souls at all cost” to “let them go and make mistakes so they can learn”. Now we are somehow supposed to let them figure out what to do if they don't remember to bring their lunch to school. Will they starve? Now we are supposed to let them talk to their teacher or coach instead of smoothing out the whole world for them. Now we are supposed to let them drive away in a car instead of being their safe driver who will protect them from red light runners, drunk drivers, and distractions. They stay up too late, they sleep through their alarm, they eat too much junk, and herald their phone like the blankie they once could not live without. Argh. If you thought keeping them alive was hard, brace yourself for allowing them to learn how to keep themselves alive.
I think this is the season of parenting where moms do the most growing. Yes, the learning curve was steep when we brought our babies home. Yes, raising littles is exhausting and selfless and messy. But learning how to let our tweens, teens, and young adults navigate this world on their own terms–this is not for the faint of heart. This slow and agonizing process of undoing most of what we have trained ourselves to do for the last decade takes some deep work. In this new season we will confront fear and its powerful counterpart, control. We will need to learn to embrace empathy and grace as we will often be the inadvertent target of hormones gone wild. We will need to practice acceptance because our teens will not likely dress, think, move, act, or wear their hair like we thought they would. Their music will confuse us–maybe even worry us (just like ours did to our parents). We will question the boyfriend, the girlfriend, and even just the friend.
This tiny seedling that we nurtured into a sapling, is now becoming a tree. It is yearning to grow and stretch and to bear its own beautiful fruit. As moms, we of course want this, but allowing it to happen will not be easily done. However, if we are being honest with ourselves, has any part of mothering been easy up to this point? No, not really. The journey of motherhood will not be easy as long as we are alive and breathing. What’s different here in this new season is that we are finding ourselves confronted with this new daily choice (sometimes hourly) of holding on or letting go–control and fear, or trust and faith. We are training, or re-training the way we have been doing things, and it is painful and difficult. What has felt natural for our mom-hearts and necessary for the survival of our child, is no longer needed or effective. In fact, it can be quite the opposite.
If we want them to grow, we’ve got to let them go. We must let them risk and fail and feel a consequence. As much as we would rather take all of the pain for them, they must experience for themselves the aches of being human in order to develop awareness, empathy, and the ability to make the tough decisions. We don’t get good at these things by way of someone else doing them for us. What makes us strong, resilient, capable, and courageous is the battles we have to face, fight, and get back up from. It’s the falling down that toughens up the skin on our knees. It’s the heartbreaks that expand our capacity to cherish real love. If we want these things for our kids, which I believe we all do, then we’ve got to let them go. This is the deep work of motherhood.