What is it about mothering a 17-year-old that you liked the most? The least?
I suppose what I like most and least about age seventeen are one in the same. I love my daughter’s growing independence and the endless possibilities that she has in front of her. But that growing independence is going to lead her away from me and those endless opportunities, wonderful as they may be, are lined with risk and worry. It is as it should be, and I recognize with gratitude that I have the privilege of watching my child grow up and away, but that doesn’t take the heartache out of letting go.
When did you know your child was a teenager?
My children became teenagers at about the same time I became their chauffeur, dropping them off at the door and then driving away until it was time to pick them up again. Those early teen years were the beginning of the great push into independence. Suddenly, going to the movies with friends no longer included parental supervision. I remember how bizarre and scary it felt to just drive away.
What do you wish you knew before you had a teen?
- There will come a time when you will be the target for all that is wrong in your teen’s world. Don’t take it personally.
- The teenage years are not near as bad as you expected them to be.
- Buy stock in a cereal company.
What advice do you wish you could tell your former self about mothering a 17-year-old?
I wish I could have told myself “Breathe deep. It will all be okay.” There is a lot happening in the lives of 17-year-olds. They are making decisions about who they want to be and where they go from here. As a parent, I want it all to work out just right for her and that leads to a lot of “Did you do this?” and “You better do that.” The advice I would give myself is “Be quiet. Be calm. Take it all in.”
What about motherhood inspires you?
I can’t believe how far we have come. It is mind boggling for me to look at this beautiful young woman about to take on the world and at the very same time remember so vividly the little girl she once was. I listen to her ideas, her opinions, her aspirations and I can’t believe my fortune. I watched her learn to walk, to talk, to read. I saw her grow into this magnificent person. I was given the gift of bearing witness to it all. There is no greater inspiration than that.
What do you hope readers will take with them from your piece?
I hope the negative connotation we often attach to the word “teenager” will be slightly lessened by reading my piece and all of the essays in this series. Adolescence is tough for kids and parents alike, but there is magic there hiding in the corners of those years. Sometimes it is hard to find. My hope is that we don’t forget to look.
Purchase Brain, Child’s Special Issue for Parents of Teens, which includes the This is Adolescence Series – Eight essays from America’s leading writers on ages 11 – 18.
Read an excerpt: This is Adolescence: 12