Kid's room with wooden chair and red rocking horse

Parenting teens can be bittersweet. We get to watch our kids grow up into the amazing young adults they’re becoming, but there’s also a sense of grief as we mourn for the earlier years where we got to spend so much more time with them. Tresta Payne reflects on the changes emerging in her home and in her approach to parenting as her children race toward adulthood. 

I stand outside their open bedroom doors sometimes—creepy mom—waiting, listening. I’m not eavesdropping, though that’s how it would look if they caught me. I’m just waiting and remembering.

One bedroom is fresh with green, living plants. The bed is made. The desk is ordered. The bookshelves are lined with classics and there’s a candy dish and a candle sitting out.

I remember that two sisters once shared a room and a bed, and I would occasionally go in and toss every errant item into the middle of the floor, demanding a place for everything in the next 30 minutes—irritating mom. This room is different.

Another room is used only for sleeping. The bed is never made but I request that his sheets make it to the laundry every couple of weeks, and I can tell certain precious items are set out on the dresser and the floor, to be enjoyed in the few minutes spent dressing in there.

I remember that I used to go through the toys while the kids were playing outside, black garbage bag in hand—dreadful mom—discarding broken pieces and forgotten treasures. When he moved to a newly unoccupied bedroom a few months ago, a whole bag of treasures and old clothes appeared in my give-away pile, without any help from me.

A third bedroom is re-occupied, a temporary residence for an adult child whose university life has moved online. It feels unsettled in there, nothing unpacked, no place for things.

All the hopeful apartment accoutrements have returned home—a crockpot and a box of Keurig pods sit on the floor, and somewhere there is a brand new set of towels that don’t match ours. Our son has different towels than us, I think to myself—crazy mom.

I stand outside the door and wonder at how sad I am to think how sad he must be, to have to be home again. It’s bittersweet.

The guest room has remained reserved for company, which now includes our daughter and her husband sometimes. I stand in the doorway and wonder how to make it more comfortable, more homey. Years ago when two boys shared a room, this extra space for guests was a bone of contention.

I held tight to the dream of keeping my kids together, sharing a room—idealist mom—and keeping a separate space for visitors, but eventually part of that dream had to give way. A teenager needs some space.

The guest room was off limits but we put a door on the playroom, took apart the bunk beds, and made it little brother’s bedroom. A place for everyone and everyone in their place.

Things and kids don’t stay in their place. Everyone is in a different room than they were two years ago. As the kids grow up, older kids move out and younger ones take over the “better rooms.” 

They find new places, new homes, new things to call precious, and I am just standing outside their doors now—strange mom—weeping about bunk beds and legos and towels. 

Cliche mom. Reminiscent mom. Allow me these indulgences, please.

I always hated the negativity around the term ‘teenagers’, determined that the bad reputation was mostly due to ignorant adults. We’re on our fifth one and it seems like we’ve had every variety offered, sometimes all in one child: silent, compliant, broody, rebellious, sassy, hilarious, sneaky. 

The ignorant adults are admittedly battle worn and weary. 

We have held on to all forms of control and trust, release and prayer, counsel and quiet. 

We have looked the other way outside storm-ravaged bedrooms for the sake of keeping the peace and dying on larger hills, and we’ve also threatened one big trip to the garbage dump. 

I have held onto schedules and checklists like one would grasp the plumbing in a hurricane: When the storm passes, that’s often all that’s left. 

I’ve always secretly believed a chore chart and a meal plan and a black garbage bag could save my life.

Teenagers are not the hurricane in this story. They’re not the plumbing, either. 

The storms pass over them as much as they do us, and then other storms move in. 

But parents must stay in place, grasping tightly to hope and praying to God for some kind of rock bottom or rainbow, depending on the needs of the moment and the child. Every one of us is prodigal at some point and if we can just hold on—praying mom—if we can stay in place, the kids might hold on, too.

I stand in my own bedroom and think about the precious things. 

It’s 9 p.m., my bedtime, and two kids are still out in the world somewhere. They’ll come home by midnight, I hope. 

They’ll tuck us in, startling me from the deepest sleep, and I’ll tell them I’ve been waiting for them. 

I like to think I’m like Jesus in this way, snoozing in the bow of the boat while the world blows a gale all around Him. I can sleep when my kids aren’t yet in their beds—tired mom—not because I’m oblivious to the storms, but because I trust in Jesus’ power over them. 

Over the storms. 

Over my kids. 

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