Years ago, as my firstborn turned 16, I had some breakdowns over the changes that life can bring.
It started on a summer trip to Asheville right before her birthday. I was taking her to Camp Hollymont, so we went early to enjoy the area and get one-on-one time.
We had the best weekend, complete with horseback riding, long walks, exploring The Biltmore, and seeing the Chihuly exhibit. On Saturday night, at a Spanish tapas restaurant downtown, I asked Ella how she felt about turning 16. Immediately her face lit up, and from the across the table she beamed at me, grinning from ear to ear.
“I’m so excited!” she said. “I’m ready!”
Ella had said this before – I’m ready – and logistically it was true. She was driving well and had driven to Asheville. But in that moment, something inside me broke. All the worries, fears, and sadness I’ve been harboring about my daughters growing up suddenly came to surface, and all I could think about was what older moms told me when their kids left for college.
They’re so ready.
When it’s time for them to move out, they’re ready and so are you.
In that restaurant, I started to cry. It was out of character – never had I burst into tears at dinner – and like me, Ella was caught off-guard. In typical teen fashion, she lowered her head and darted her eyes around the crowded venue, checking to see who noticed.
I told myself to get it together, to not spoil her happy moment. Since this was our last night before camp, I wanted to end on a good note, so I plastered on a smile and told Ella how proud I was of her, how I loved being with her now more than ever – which made it harder to let go.
What I didn’t admit was the thought in my mind that evoked the tears. When she said, “I’m ready!” I realized how those two words – I’m ready! – had ushered in a brand new season of parenting.
It’s a season I couldn’t imagine when my kids were young and the days were long and my main goal was survival. It still seemed remote as we entered the sweet spot of parenting – ages 6 to 15 – where I could catch my breath and enjoy my children without hearing the countdown clock to graduation.
But in this new stage, I saw what was around the corner. I knew the theme would be letting my daughters go and cheering for them into adulthood. While it’s exciting to see God’s plans unfold, I knew I’d miss them like crazy.
Nothing makes me happier than having my family together, so with each step toward independence, there is pride yet also an ache. As they tell me “I’m ready” – I’m ready to drive, I’m ready for college, I’m ready for this job in a new town, I’m ready to see the world – my heart will break a little.
Thankfully, God has a merciful way of bringing unexpected new blessings in each season. And when we see our children happy, it makes us happy for them. Remembering how it’s a gift to even watch our kids grow up keeps us grateful for that privilege and brings perspective.
As Ella turned 16, my friend Krista Gilbert asked if I’d endorse a book she co-wrote called Give Them Wings. It was divine timing because I needed the message. This book contains wisdom from Krista and Carol Kuykendall, a seasoned grandparent, and passages like this resonated deep in my soul:
“Transitions are tough. When we love passionately, we hurt deeply. Good-byes are tough. Change is difficult. Losses cause pain. The exit of a child, especially a first or last child, forever alters the structure of a family and the definitions of individuals. The child’s physical absence leaves a gaping hole in our lives for a time and often catches us by surprise, as if we never saw it coming. Our grief is real and a necessary part of a family’s journey through transition.”
Where my family is now, with 3 teenagers and 1 pre-teen, is challenging and still so fun. I love the laughter, the dancing, the TikTok videos, driving them around with friends, the sorority house we have upstairs, and the sister bonding I see. I love the deep conversations, understanding my girls as real people, taking family vacations, seeing their talents bloom, watching them act wired at 10 pm when I can’t stay awake, and catching glimpses of God’s hand working in their lives.
Some days are really tough, but I try not to dwell there. I remind myself of the enemy who wants us to feel defeated. Teenagers tend to turn parents into prayer warriors, and as I grow closer with Him, I feel thankful for how this season has deepened my faith.
Change is hard when we are happy, and since Ella is now a high school senior, we’re on the verge of letting go. I expect future breakdowns. I appreciate parents ahead of me who listen, empathize, and share stories of hope. A pastor’s wife once told me that it’s okay to grieve the end of a chapter. She said that when her daughter got married, she wasn’t sad at all. They had the best time planning the wedding, and the actual day was a dream.
But while her daughter was on her honeymoon, she went into her old bedroom. Seeing this room suddenly empty – because her daughter had moved out all her childhood furniture into her new home – made this mom burst into tears. She sat on the floor and cried, and when her husband checked on her, she said she needed this moment. She had to grieve this change before moving on.
Her story made me cry and realize how any pangs I feel today are only the beginning. God willing, there will be many bittersweet tears in the next 10 to 20 years. Maybe my girls will get used to it, and maybe one day they’ll understand. Until then I’ll do them a favor and not cry in restaurants. I’ll plaster on a smile, save the tears for later, and try not to spoil the moment when they excitedly say, “I’m ready!” about their next life adventure.
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My new book Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter is now available. It’s getting a fantastic response as moms read it and tell their friends to get it too. You can find it everywhere books are sold, including Amazon and Audible. What a privilege it’s been to narrate my first book for moms!
My two books for teen girls, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know and Liked, have been used widely across the U.S. for group studies. For more posts, subscribe to this blog or join me on Facebook, Instagram and the Girl Mom podcast.
Posted by Kari on October 11, 2020