When Jacksonville Mom first launched, the year was 2012. I had a very spunky, curly-haired 4-year-old and her 2-year-old brother. Nobody slept through the night, we were wrestling with car seats, and our days revolved around naps and trips to the grocery store. My writing consisted between the struggle to decide on what elementary school was the best fit for my daughter and how to get rid of my son’s pacifier habit.
Then POOF and it is 2021 — and that little girl who loved Elmo and spoke about herself in third person is five foot, six inches tall and is THIRTEEN. I never thought that having a 13-year-old would be that emotional for me — but there is something about watching your oldest hit these milestones that really forces you to pause.
I’ve heard it said that God fades the memory of childbirth because if he didn’t, we would never have more than one child. I think the same holds true for raising children. Our brain becomes foggy and we forget the struggles of potty training and teething, and lament for the days of cute pink outfits and professional photos for every holiday. But now, not only do I not have to plan my life around naptimes anymore, but I get to watch this amazing human I birthed become an exceptional woman. She’s my ride-or-die shopping buddy, my fashion consultant, and my hype girl. I’ve learned to listen to her more than give advice. I save my preachy, dramatic speeches for very important things, and deep-breathe through the little mishaps.
I am writing this to tell you this one thing I have learned in this new stage of parenting: Your teen doesn’t have to hate you. Don’t listen to the narrative that your girl will rebel and utterly despise you. It is possible to carry that little person into adolescence and keep your relationship intact. The secret? Time. I’ve learned the more they age, the more they need us. Now, they will never admit this. But I will tell you, the time you spend in the small moments with your tween and teen are never, ever wasted. They are watching and learning from you constantly. They are a direct reflection of you. I spend most of my summers running a summer camp, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt which children seem to have parents who are engaged with them. These children are better conversationalists, better sharers, better listeners. And, it has nothing to do with intelligence, test scores, 504s, or IEPs.
If you are reading this in bed, listening to a 3-year-old having a conversation with her stuffed animals instead of sleeping, or if you just finished cleaning up a bath time that turned into a mini-flood, I can reassure you, that messy toddler is going to need you more at 13. Stay close, no matter who or what tries to tell you otherwise. They are not little adults, they are big kids. I like to tell myself that when my expectations of her get too rigid.
Life is messy and imperfect, and I’m certain she and I will ebb and tide. But this I am certain of: I will go to sleep one day and wake up a mom of a 18-year-old. Time stops for no one, and I am glad to give my time to a brand-new 13-year-old.