To my 30-year-old young mama self,
There are just a few things I’d like for you to know. Things I wish I had known. Here goes. . .
You have three adorable children. Their blonde hair and bright blue eyes is only outshone by their innocence. I know how hard you work to protect them and to keep them innocent. I know how proud you were to report that at age 3 your oldest son didn’t even know the word for gun. That’s saying a lot.
I also know how much you love being next to the park, but also how much those teens that like to hang out there in the late afternoons and sometimes even after dark make you nervous. I see how consistent you are at telling your kids to always be aware of the scary teenagers and to run right home if they are there by themselves and there are teenagers there. Your children are listening well, too.
That’s where I’d like to shed some light, though. I know how overwhelmed you are with three kids under the age of 5 and I see you doing your very best to teach them, care for them, love them, and protect them. In your sleepless haze, though, you may have, perhaps, pushed something out of your mind. I feel I need to remind you that someday, not really that long from now, though it feels like forever, your sweet, innocent, adorable little ones will be teenagers and here’s what I want you to know.
Those teenagers that you see at the park, that you are so eager to protect your children from, are caught in a time in their lives where they are just starting to seek out and discover their independence. They go to the park because it’s familiar to them and feels safe. They want to be out of their houses and away from their parents, and the park is often the only place available to them.
When those teenagers are in a mixed group and there are boys and girls and inevitably there is a couple that are holding hands, and God forbid kissing, I have to remind you first of all, that you were doing the same thing in middle school. In addition, a little hand holding and kissing at the park is harmless. If your precious littles witness this innocent display of affection use it as an opportunity to discuss what you feel is OK for teenagers to do, without going too far, of course. If it’s only OK to hold hands until you’re 16, tell them that. (But remember you kissed their father for the first time at age 13, so maybe mention that, too.)
I know how angry it makes you when those teenagers start getting loud and even swearing in front of your sweet children. It’s easy to want to hurry away, take your kids home, and tell them never to use words like that. You know what would be better, though? If you politely asked the teenagers to not use profanity in front of your children. You see, those teenagers have parents at home who have taught them to watch their mouths, and a little reminder from another mom at the park will just back that up. If they get lippy with you about telling them what to do, that’s when you can walk away and have a talk about respecting grown ups with your children.
I know you haven’t wanted to hear any of this and have a list of buts and are feeling a bit threatened, even, and I hate to say it, but there’s more. Here’s the thing – spoiler alert – your precious babies with the blonde hair and the bright blue eyes are not only going to be teenagers someday, but they are going to want to hang out with their friends – at the park.
That very park where you told them to scurry on home from if there were scary teenagers there will someday be where they sneak out of the back door to after you’ve just told them not to leave the house. Of course, that first time, you’ll know immediately because they won’t be very sneaky, and you will say many prayers after that, that they don’t hone that skill.
Your precious babies will in fact be the big, loud kids at the park, and may even piss off a young parent, just like you now, in the process. When they head out the door with their friends you will say a prayer each time that the other parents/adults who encounter your teenagers will treat them nicely, correct them if needed, and call you if necessary.
This is going to come as a shock, but your sweet, innocent boys, who you are raising to be lovers not haters, who didn’t even know the word gun at age 3, will spend hours that add up to days playing violent video games. I know you are indignant, digging in your heals, and swearing to God almighty that they will not, but I promise you, they will. Whether you buy the games, or not, they will find a way to play.
Yes, your sweet, chubby cheeked babies are going to be pimply faced teenagers someday, but you know what the best thing is? They aren’t the scary teenagers that you keep warning your babies about. Teenagers are wonderful half-grown human beings who are caught between being little and being big. Teenagers who are learning big things and forming big ideas.
Your sweet, innocent children are going to know and experience way more than you would hope, thanks to the technology that will multiply and get faster each year of their lives. As hard as you try to protect their innocence you won’t be able to, so my advice would be to continue to try, but work twice that hard at continuing a conversation with your children. Continue to know them. Recognize their uniqueness. Be there when the mood strikes them to talk. Be present and listen. Really hear them.
These teenagers, that seem so dangerous to you now, are going to teach you so much. They’ll teach you that your limits are way farther out than you thought because they will push you there. You’ll learn from them all about the shortcomings of your own knowledge because Lord knows they’ll tell you. If you really listen and keep your eyes wide open, you’ll get to witness the most important transition in their lives this far. You thought learning to walk and talk was a big deal? These teens of yours are learning how to be grown-ups in a big world, and as they change right before your eyes, you’ll change too.
I could go on and on, but I know it’s overwhelming. You’re doing great. You’re a great mom, and doing the best you can. So for now, just speak nicely about and to those teenagers at the park. Reach out them, be kind to them, and have your kids say hello to them. I promise you, that is exactly what you will pray others will do for your precious babies when they are teenagers and venturing away from you, away from your home, all on their own.