My 14 year old was coming down the stairs as I was cleaning up the kitchen. “Oh good” I thought “I need him to bring his stuff upstairs and put away his shoes and all his ski gear. This is perfect timing!”
Then I caught myself.
I’ve been asking him for more help than usual lately. We just purchased a home and have been doing aesthetic renovations. There’s been more to pick up and keeping the house orderly has taken more effort.
Sure, I was in the middle of my priority which was getting the kitchen picked up so I could spend some time writing, but my son was surely coming downstairs for a different reason.
I could have asked him for help anyway. He would have said yes. It might have been with that slight sink of the shoulders- the one that’s undetectable, but I would have seen it. I would have felt it. I would have known it was there.
Maybe he came downstairs because he was hungry. Maybe because he was lonely. Maybe he came down because he had just won a match in the game he was playing with a friend and was excited to tell me about it. Did I really want to let my priorities be the first thing he was met with when coming downstairs? I knew the answer of course, but it got me thinking about parenting teens.
The Relationship is Shifting
I am acutely aware that I am nearing the end of parenting young kids. It won’t be long before my children enter a new phase of life- one that relies on me for guidance instead of grilled cheese. On support instead of clean clothes. On perspective instead of nightly tuck-ins. On the unwavering knowledge that no matter how badly they have screwed up, or how big of a mess they have made, I am there to love them and be with them in whatever way they need as they navigate themselves out.
I’ve learned that how I parent now affects our relationship then. Sure, in the big ways like being trustworthy, loyal, and non judgmental, but also in ways that I never thought of. Like always making my kids feel wanted and invited for who they are.
When my kids come down the stairs I want them to know that I am happy they are there with me. If they are hungry I want them to eat. If they are lonely I want to be there to chat. If they are conflicted I want to offer an ear or perspective or whatever it is they need. If I ask them for help, I want them to know I need it.
I am Investing in Our Future
Foregoing asking for help in the kitchen earlier may seem like a stretch to you. You also might worry that this could raise an irresponsible, entitled brat who cannot take care of himself.
So far, parenting with thoughtfulness, generosity, sweetness, and consideration has created not only a strong and playful bond between my kids and I, but kids who are thoughtful, generous, sweet, considerate, and comfortable with their mistakes and imperfections. I see them creating strong and playful bonds in their own relationships. I see them easily forgiving their friends and apologizing without shame.
So instead of bombarding my kids every time they come down the stairs, or into my room, I wait. I say hello. I check in with them. I gauge their mood and energy level. I see what they are up to.
With my kids nearing the end of this phase of parenting, everything feels different. I understand in a new way that in a few years my kids will choose how often they see me. I see that how I choose to invest in our relationship now will affect my role in their life then.
I want my kids to want to find me. To want to enter the room I am in. To seek me out knowing that it is them I am excited to see- not their ability to pick up their clothes or sweep the floor. I don’t want them to avoid the room where I am because they think I am going to ask something of them or give them a hard time. I don’t want them to see me in a room and turn and go the other way because me holding them accountable is riddled with shame.
This is not a desperate mother’s pathetic attempt at keeping herself in her children’s lives. This is a choice to continue connecting with my children as an investment in our lifelong relationship.
My son is in the heart of his teen years. Soon, he won’t have to do anything for or with me. That’s the truth.
I can spend these last years taking him for all he’s worth, utilizing his hands and strength and abilities, asserting my power and perceived wisdom, or I can choose to keep connecting. I can continue to learn who my kids are. To interact with them truthfully, lovingly, generously, and sweetly, even when I wish they’d chosen differently.
I don’t believe that parenting stops when my kids turn 18. I believe that lucky kids have parents with them long into adulthood who can offer playfulness, conversation, insight, love, and guidance. Parents who are a warm, soft spot to land when the world is hard. Parents whose eyes light up when they walk through the door at 38 and who will celebrate from their very soul right along with their 27 year old.
I don’t believe that a little over three years from now, when my son turns 18, this will magically happen. I believe I have to make choices now that will result in that later.
This is what I want for my kids as they get older; I want them to know I want them where I am- just because they are them, not because of what they can or cannot do. And I know it’s my actions, not my words, that will tell them this.
So, when my son came down the stairs today I put down the sponge, sat at the island, and said “hey buddy! What are you up to?” and he sat down and told me.
I made him a grilled cheese before he went back upstairs carrying his stuff. Then I finished picking up the kitchen and sat down to write.
Thank you so much for reading! Follow Pondering Jen on social or sign up for our newsletter to stay connected!