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I've heard my mother say at least 100 times she wishes she was able to do more for us while we were growing up, especially during our teen years. She was a mother to four girls who had to work full time and did all she knew how to do.
The first time she said that I was 27, pregnant, and literally had no idea what she was talking about. I was about to become a mother, but we all know until you are actually slip on the shoes of parenthood, there is no way anyone can prepare you for what's to come.
As soon as I gave birth, I heard her words again. They'd shoot through me every time my newborn was fussy, or sick, or I didn't think he'd eaten enough.
I wish I could have done more for you.
Parenthood has a way of always making you wonder if you can do more and be more for your kids no matter what you try, which is the most exhausting feeling you will ever have.
When they get older and you have a teenager on your hands—a young adult who you are trying to give space to so they can figure things out before they leave and don't have your daily guidance—you discover you have to learn a whole different way of parenting. And it often makes you feel like you are failing them.
If they don't make mistakes, they are never going to learn the uncomfortable feelings that can bring. And if they are only taking their parents’ word for it and living their life by what you tell them to do, they are going to get really lost when they are left to fend for themselves and make decisions about relationships, money, and if they should eat those three burritos at midnight.
On the other hand, if you aren't diligent enough and give them too much room to screw up, they could do something that could have a huge effect on their future.
Trying to give your kids the right amount of freedom and keeping them in check as teens requires a very special kind of balance. And I'm pretty sure no one thinks they are doing it right.
But we all need to realize something: When we bring our children home for that first night and we are struggling thinking, I am never going to be able to get this right, somehow, we figure it out.
We take everything we know and try different things until we find a rhythm that works for us and our kids. We do the best we can at the time, and then we look back and think about how little we knew and how much we could have improved. We wonder how we could have let them fall down the front porch steps when we were right there.
We think we should have sensed something was off when they didn't eat dinner and were fussy and before we know it, we were picking up a prescription to treat their ear infection after they haven't slept for three nights.
"We should have known," we say as we look back on those events and wonder why we weren't tuned in more because really, isn't that our job? To be perfect, and know everything, and predict the outcome of every single action we take.
Of course it's not, and when it's put in that context, it sounds utterly ridiculous.
And yet, we keep doing it. Our children go through puberty and grow and change into an unrecognizable person who is dealing with issues that don't mimic our teen years at all, and we expect ourselves to know exactly what to do.
Isn't it funny the type of beating we dole out when we put that kind of pressure on ourselves?
Would you ever be that hard on a friend, sister, or co-worker for not knowing exactly what their child needed at every given moment? Would you look at a parent who is doing everything they can to keep their child safe and trying their best every day, the same way you look at yourself when your child breaks a rule, is getting trouble in school, or constantly picking fights?
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It's so easy to look back on any relationship and see the things we could have done differently to save it, enhance it, or walk away earlier. It can tear you up inside if you let it.
Or, we can choose to accept the fact we did our very best at the time with the resources and help that were available to us. We can realize we all make mistakes, raising teens doesn't come with a secret formula, and everyone struggles whether they admit it or not.
We can give ourselves a much-needed break and continue to learn as we go without feeling inadequate and remember one thing: we are doing our very best and that is the only thing we need to take with us whenever we are filled with self-doubt, which is a lot.