It’s the last month of ninth grade for my oldest son. Roughly 38 weeks have gone by since he began high school, and in about 150 more weeks, he’ll be graduating and heading off to the next phase of his life. The phrase “they grow up so fast” has never been more real to me than in this past year. As he left for school on that first day, I felt as though a timer began ticking down in my heart and head, beating in rhythm every single day, reminding me that in three more years the timer will ding, and my time with him at home could be complete.
I cried more during his first week of high school than I did his first week of kindergarten. Sending your kids off to kindergarten can feel scary. For some parents, it’s the first time your child has been away for that amount of time every day. It’s as if you are sending them off to the wilderness all alone, and they will have to fend for themselves in order to survive. (Don’t worry if you haven’t sent your kid off to kindergarten yet—it’s not really a wilderness, and they will survive just fine without you!)
But sending a kid off to high school was different for me, and if those first few weeks are any indication of what I’ll be feeling in three years when my husband and I send him off to college, I’m going to need someone to come hold me every single day for that first month. (I may be dramatic, but give me the drama—I have not walked this road yet, and to me, it seems very scary and very sad!) This high school journey seems so big, and quite frankly, it is. This is the last stage of life before our kids venture out on their own. (Though, I was one of those who ended up moving back home for a while during college, so my parents got some bonus years with me!) It’s likely their last four years at home with us, so the question Have I done enough? keeps creeping into my head. I told you…I’m dramatic.
This past year, having our first child in high school, several truths about parenting have hit me harder than ever before. They’re things that people told me over the years, things I read in books and things I’ve most definitely discussed with girlfriends. None of it is new, but it all feels new when it comes to parenting a 15-year-old. Here are a few of those truths:
1. Every moment counts.
Parenting can sometimes feel monotonous and full of rules and guidance, but I’ve seen a shift this year with my high school son. Although there are certainly still rules and there’s plenty of guidance, there’s something new that I’ve noticed this year as well: my moments are slipping away. Again, I realize I’m not losing my son at the end of these four years. But let’s be honest—our relationship will alter a bit. Every dinner matters. Every conversation matters. Every trip in the car matters. The amount of growth and change he will experience over the next few years—from getting his license, to dreaming about and visiting colleges, to making big life decisions—is monumental. And it all happens in such a short time. Before he heads out into the real world, I want every moment I have left with my son to count.
2. He needs a parent and not a friend.
If you have small kids, what I’m about to say is going to sound crazy, but it’s true. I’m finding myself enjoying time with my son, not because he’s my son and part of my family, but because I genuinely like who he is. I would actually want to spend time with him, even if we didn’t share our last name and he didn’t depend on me to get to football practice each day. I like who this kid is becoming a whole lot. As much as I’m enjoying my teenage son right now, I need to remember that he still needs a parent. He’s still going to do crazy stupid things that leave me wondering if his brain actually works. He still needs guidance on how to be a good friend, because his life experience in that area is so limited. He’s still going to need rules and boundaries because we all do, and it’s how life works. I have a lifetime to be friends with my son, but these last few years, it’s vital for me to be the best parent I can be to him.
3. Change isn’t always a bad thing.
I’m reminding myself of this often these days. My kids are growing up, and although I sometimes wish I could freeze time and keep my babies as my babies forever, I do believe that change is not always a bad thing. Next year my son will get his driver’s license, and two years after that, he’ll graduate. Then he’ll head out of my house to college or work, and when I think about all of these things right now, I can get overwhelmed with sadness. But if I zoom out and see that this is all normal and right, I can enjoy every change for what it is: a journey towards adulthood. This is our goal as parents—we’re preparing our kids for adulthood. I’m not just parenting a 15-year-old boy right now, but I’m parenting a 15-year-old boy who is on his way to adulthood.
As we near the last day of ninth grade for my oldest son, I will continue to remind myself that every single day that I have with my children is a gift. Every conversation that I enter into with them is a conversation worth having. Growing up is natural and good, and it’s my job as the momma to help my kids to become responsible, Jesus-loving adults.
No matter what year of school your child is finishing or how close you are to sending them off into the real world, know that all of these moments matter and are worth leaning into. I keep reminding myself that I have three years left with him at home and that I have a lifetime left of being his momma.