The Bittersweetness of Parenting Teens

The firstborn child is sort of a guinea pig, right? As a parent, it’s your first try. It’s your first round of decision-making and milestones without any previous experience. It’s a bit of an experiment, figuring out this whole parenting thing the first go around. Even though your other kids will always be different from your first, each with their own personalities, gifts, and challenges, you at least have something to draw on. Even if that something is just the realization that the time passes oh so quickly. And you’ll never actually feel like you know what you’re doing.

It’s bittersweet, isn’t it? Knowing your children are growing up. And knowing you will screw up this important job at times. It’s both a beautiful and terrible feeling. 

A Stab of Joy

My oldest turned 14 last month. I don’t usually tend toward sentimentality but this birthday felt different for some reason. He’s grown a lot over the past two years and the photos from the 13th birthday party hit me with a wave of- what is it? Pride? Amazement? Sadness? All of the above. It’s joy but it’s a “stab of joy.” He looks more like a man now and less like a little boy. His voice has deepened, his height shot up seemingly overnight.

My son’s friends have become increasingly more important- the group text thread and meeting up on weekends are now some of his top priorities. My influence is most definitely waning. And yet, even with all these changes, I still see the little boy in him. How could I not? He’s my firstborn. Without distraction, I studied every glance, sensed every mood, and provided for every need from the minute he was born.

woman holds young son in an embrace

This is, obviously, my first time parenting a teen. My first time hit with the growing realization that he will grow up, move out, and have his own life someday. It’s causing me to pause my normal way of doing things, my usual parenting style of taking things day by day- the weekly calendar too overwhelming to really look ahead. But now? I’m feeling reflective, nostalgic, and bittersweet. I’m looking much further ahead and wondering what the future will hold. And I’m hoping I can draw on this experience as I parent my other two kids too- to remember to take it all in, the good and the bad, because as cliche as it sounds, the time really does fly. 

Doing My Best

Even though I’m currently feeling all the feels, I don’t want to be too gushy with my teen about it all. I’m trying to not let him see my shock and melancholy about these very normal and expected changes. I marvel secretly at his height daily. I’m silently awestruck by his developing sense of style and humor, grateful for his deepening friendships and independence.

I wonder to myself- have I taught him everything he will need? Have I said all the important things, and conveyed all the truths and lessons? And since the answer to those questions is a resounding and unalterable “NO,” how do I quickly get it all in over the next few years? Can I make up for the years I was swamped in potty training and exhaustion? Can I somehow make sure I’m doing this right now? I’m joking, of course. I will never do this parenting thing perfectly and there is no manual for raising a teen. But, still, I feel myself wanting to take all the vacations right now. Let’s have all the family dinners and make it game night every night. I want to squeeze the meaning and life out of every minute from here on out. 

But the truth is of course, even as I do my best to cherish it, the time will still pass. Relentlessly. My children will grow up, blessedly and hopefully. 

woman and teenage son in carEmbracing What Is

So, I’m learning to lean into the bittersweetness of it all. I won’t push this feeling away. As the writer Susan Cain says, “Transform your pain into beauty, your longing into belonging.”  I’m using this feeling as a reminder to stay present and stay grateful. To hopefully remember to look up from my phone, the dirty dishes, and the never-ending laundry and actually notice the little things that make a life. I want to treasure the moments of connection and levity with my teen. To cherish both the mundane and the exciting. I’ve heard that having children is like wearing your heart on the outside of your body and then having it walk around without you. This rings so very true for this grand parenting experiment I’m in the midst of. It’s hard. It’s also good. Bittersweet.


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Bethany Dufilho
Bethany, the daughter of an army chaplain and a special education teacher, grew up moving every 2-3 years. She considers herself an introvert who had to learn how to make friends quickly! She met her Houstonian husband, Paul, in college and they married in 2004. They first settled just north of Houston, where she earned her master's degree at Sam Houston State in School Psychology. After working in public education for a couple of years, she decided to stay home full time with their children, Charlie {2008}, Norah {2010}, and Will {2013}. The family moved to Katy in 2012, where they’ve been ever since. She loves decorating and even had her own small business for a while. She also loves to read, binge-watch old TV shows, talk politics and enneagram, and will not turn down a cup of strong coffee or a good conversation with a friend.


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