A Letter to My (Slightly Younger) Self

Dear Me from not-too-long ago,

I know, your hands are insanely full right now with three little kids. You rarely get a full-night’s uninterrupted sleep, your days are filled to the brim with not much to show for them, and you can only sneak away for only an hour or two of work before the babysitter needs to head home.

You love your kids and you’d do anything for them. You love the family you’re creating. But sometimes it’s hard to see through the fog, and you wonder if the day-to-day liturgy of laundry, lunch-making, and Blue’s Clues will ever end — and if it will even matter when it’s all done.

From where I write right now, I’m not too terribly far in the future from you; only a decade or so. I’ve still (thankfully) got the same three kids still under the roof, and my days still often look like laundry, lunch, and — well, at least it’s Marvel movies instead of Blue’s Clues. But still.

The oldest girl has been a teenager for over a year now — today is her 14th birthday, which, in the early days, where you are, I couldn’t remotely fathom we’d ever get here. But somewhere along the way I blinked a few times, and here we are… She’s a full-on teen. There’s about four years left before she enters adulthood.

Here’s what I want you to know about how it feels to be you.

1. Man, this is going by fast.

All the Hallmark cards, warnings from older parents, and clichéd anecdotes already tell you this, but it’s still wild to live out. The days are long but the years are short couldn’t be more true. And while you had more of a “let’s just power through it” mentality in the early years, you now want to slow down time and savor every moment — even the hard ones.

Inwardly, what’s wildest about all this is it doesn’t feel that long ago that you were 14. It feels like yesterday you were swimming for hours in Ashley’s backyard pool, stretching before ballet class, and wondering if that boy from history class likes you. You were eager to turn 15 so you could get your driver’s permit.

But then, as I mentioned, you blinked — and here you are. It really is going so fast.

2. It’s still hard, but in a different kind of way.

From those older parents you know, the teen years sound so elusive and scary. The horror stories about dealing with Huge Heavy Things make it seem like the stage you’re in, full of cutting up grapes and train tracks on the floor, a veritable cake walk.

Well, yes, parenting a teen is hard, yet for me (you?) it’s a different kind of hard. Your current stage, the younger-kids stage, felt more physically and relationally taxing to me — my current stage is more emotionally and mentally taxing. You’re doing hard work. I honestly breathed a sigh of relief when I finally got to the other side of diapers and car seats.

But yes, it’s still challenging. She’ll come to you with questions that don’t have easy answers — or answers at all. There are dilemmas that rip out your heart because you’ve been right where she is, and the only thing you can do is walk through it with her. Heck, there are situations where all you can do is give her a hug, pray for her, tell her you’re on her team, and let her out in the wild to figure it out herself.

This is a hard thing for me. Emotionally and mentally, this stage brings me to my knees. But hey, I’m mostly sleeping through the night and the kids do their fair share of household chores. You’re in a very tiring stage. All the grace in the world to you.

3. It’s surprisingly fun.

But here’s the part They don’t talk about as much (maybe because fear sells?). Parenting a teen is also really fun. You can have real conversations about real things with them. They understand nuance so much better, so discussions are just that — actual discussions.

And the humor — oh my gosh, the humor. Teens have the best sense of humor, and yours can manage to find the funniest stuff on the internet. You’ll spend hours laughing together over genuine hilarity, and you’re not just pretending to be amused because they’re talking about Power Rangers. You’re actually amused. You create your own inside jokes. You like and use the same gifs.

You have someone under your roof who wants to do pedicures with you. She asks if we can do a Gilmore Girls binge before bedtime on the weekend. She’ll read books you recommend and then you can talk about them together. She’ll tell you when another pair of earrings would be cuter with your outfit.

4. You’ll see yourself mirrored back.

She’s her own person with her own interests and quirks, but you still see so much of yourself in her. She’ll see things from a certain perspective — a younger, less-experienced-with-the-world perspective — and even though you know she’s wrong, you’ll remember feeling the exact same way.

You’ll be surprised at how many memories of inward emotions and thought processes come flooding back to you, watching your teen navigate life. The details might be different, but the wonderful world of fighting to be your own person while still (sometimes secretly) relishing the security of still being in the nest seems surprisingly universal.

It’s surprising how much your current role as parent-of-a-teen takes you on your own inward journey. It brings you to your knees in prayer. It pushes you onward, to still more maturity. It asks you to continue developing your own character. 

5. You’re still your own person.

Yet the good thing is, as of now, you’ve managed to carve out a life that’s not entirely wrapped up in parenting — the kids are a huge, major part of it, but they’re not the only thing. You’ll drop off your 14-year-old at theater practice, and then you’ll go do your own thing. And it has nothing to do with parenting.

I only say this because, when I was in your stage, it felt like every decision, every hour of your day was somehow about the kids, even if they weren’t directly about the kids. But then they got older, and while yes, it feels like you’ve exchanged the job of butt wiper for taxi driver, you’ve miraculously found a way to exercise your own gifts, care about things beyond the parenting realm, and make time for yourself.

You exercise, entirely on your own and largely without the kids’ notice. You do creative work, and rarely is it about the world of parenting. You interact with other adults, and you talk about so much more than each others’ kids. You take work trips, child-free. You’ll go on dates, and you’ll manage a whole hour without bringing up the kids.

Once the fog of early childhood lifts, you’ll find yourself remembering that the world is big, you’re still a small part of it, and you still love discovering your place in it all.

Yet through all this, your favorite job is still being a mama — even though it’s more about trying not to laugh at overhearing the ridiculous stories from their friends in the backseat, than it is about cheerios on the floorboard and trying to keep them awake before naptime from the same backseat.

That little girl you’re playing dollhouse with? You blinked, and you’re now wearing the same shoes, finding your own makeup on her desk, spending those long drives talking about relationships, and dreaming with her about her life after high school.

And it’s all good. Even the hard stuff.

xo, You

p.s. Listen to the podcast episode about this post.

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5 minutes

 

 

 

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27 Comments

  1. Becky

    After another sleepless night with an almost-one-year old, and right now, trying to get an hour of alone time before she wakes up (but I hear her awakening and chatting in her crib, currently…) this is what my heart needed ❤️ I do know how quickly it’s going (already!) but sometimes I need a reminder that someday, I can leave her for longer then a few hours, that someday she’ll sleep all night, and all the other things you mentioned. You have me in tears and ever so grateful for this exhausting, sleep-deprived state and my precious daughter. Thank you for sharing, as I constantly need reminders to savor every moment and not wish any away!

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Oh Becky, hang in there… You’re in one of the most physically tiring phases! Grace and peace to you, and I’m so glad you found this a light of encouragement. xoxo

      Reply
  2. Kristin

    Aw, thank you. I have a 4yo girl, 2yo girl, and 6mo boy. I often feel like I’m grasping at who I was before, trying to hang on to her just a little so she isn’t completely lost. Of course my babies are my world, but there are so many things I’m interested in, so many things I miss. So, this is encouraging? I know it all to be true, but we all need reminders! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      We definitely do need reminders, Kristin; it’s pretty much why I wrote this to myself. 🙂 Glad it was encouraging to you!

      Reply
  3. Emma

    This beautiful, Tsh! Thank you xoxo

    Reply
  4. Victoria

    Wow can I relate to this post. My daughter is now 13, just started her first year at high school and I am lost. I feel like she has gone from this sweet chatty toddler to a beautiful young woman in the blink of an eye.
    I miss the little things like reading a story every night and singing endless lullabies to get the baby to sleep, but I am loving the excitment of starting a whole new faze of her life together. I look at her now and I see myself but with so much more confidence than I ever had.
    Thank you for this letter, I didn’t realize it but it was just what I needed.

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I so get everything you’ve said here, Victoria! Solidarity. xoxo

      Reply
  5. Kathryn

    So so thankful for this today. Last night feeling so frustrated that all people ask me about are my kids or what interesting things my husband is doing and wondering if anyone sees ME anymore. I’m glad to hear from the other side. ❤️

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      You ARE interesting and you DO have interests, Kathryn… With you here in this!

      Reply
  6. Beth

    You’ve got me crying too. I happened over here while dealing with some bitterness and frustration of feeling lost in being a mommy of littles (5, 2, and 5 months). My husband says, “pick a night and I’ll watch the kids.” Right. The baby has to nurse to go to bed. By the time he’s asleep I’m so exhausted I have no desire to go or do anything besides what has to be done to get to bed. Thank you for the encouragement and understanding.

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      With you, Beth. I remember feeling that way like it was yesterday…. It will pass soon enough. xoxo

      Reply
  7. Rach

    I just got back from taking my oldest out driving to practice for her driving test on Wednesday and I can not believe I am here. Everything you said is resonating with me. I feel like I want time to slow down but it is like sand running through my fingers. I had 4 kids in 6 years and those early years were crazy busy. I did not sit down for years. I remember going to parties and not visiting with one single person the whole time because I was chasing my kids. But now, I can visit and I can sit and not get up because I can send my kids to fetch things for me. 🙂 Thanks for this Tsh. It was a lovely trip down memory lane.

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Aw, fun, Rach! Tate is so eager to drive, and I’m feeling both where did the time go?! and woohoo! she can run to the store when we’re out of milk. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Christine Bailey

    Tsh, this post got me all teary. My girls are still pretty young, and it does seem to go so fast. But I’m realizing there are a million little moments in between that we get to share. So even though it seems to go quickly, there was so much life lived within that time, ya know? The relationship you have with your teenager sounds like a true testament to what you’ve poured into her. It actually makes me look forward to having older kids one day.

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I’m so glad, Christine! That was most definitely my intent.

      Reply
  9. Morgan

    This post made me cry not because I have a daughter or even a child but because I have a mother.

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Oh Morgan, I feel this. Moms are indeed amazing.

      Reply
  10. Susan Berke

    This reminds me of what I did on my 50th birthday — I wrote a letter to my future self. It was a powerful moment of putting the past in perspective and dreaming for the future!

    Reply
  11. Natalie

    Oh my I loooved this and needed to hear it. I’m a mom of two young gals with a boy on the way. I often wonder how my life will change as the kids age. With the pace of my life right now sometimes it’s even hard to gain the headspace to process all of it. Thank u for offering a glimpse into the teen years:)

    Reply
  12. Jen

    Oh my…first time mom of a four-month-old girl here. Tears in my eyes. Thank you.

    Reply
  13. Tammy Rinehart

    Beautifully put. I am now the parent so teenagers and I remembering when I realized we were no longer the ones with littles. I do cherish the small times in the car, on the couch or in kitchen, we all talk, laugh and argue. I have loved every stage of my children, and at every stage there are trying times too. Thank you for sharing

    Reply
  14. Tiffany

    With a daughter turning 13 this year, yes to all of this! So good, Tsh.

    Reply
  15. Lois

    Yes, thank you. This is what we need to hear.
    A couple years ago–when I had a 3 year old and a baby, was living overseas, in the depths of sleep deprivation, constant diapers and potty accidents, temper tantrums, rarely getting a quiet moment, and a certain level of postpartum depression/anxiety–a friend of older kids told me “it doesn’t get any easier.” Devastating. Other friends have been more helpful, with something along the lines of your post: it’s still hard, but it’s different.
    Already, with a 5 year old and 2 year old, I feel like I’m in a different stage of parenting than 2 years ago, and I look at parents of newborns with a mix of wistfulness and “oh, that poor mama!”

    Reply
  16. deborah

    This is where I am right now, with a teen and a tween and a 9 year old. I LOVE this stage and I wish way back, when they were little and it all seemed so hard, that I could have seen this future place. It might have kept me sane. It is still busy but they are in it with me: family is team rather than dependent on my every breath. Thank goodness! It is amazing to see how they are becoming themselves and I feel the privilege of that much more here, at this age and stage of them, than then.

    Reply
  17. kayla

    oh tsh, this is beautiful! crying at my desk at work while reading this. my daughter is only 18 months but i believe it when you all say i’ll blink and she’ll be 14. so much to look forward to! love from minnesota.

    Reply
  18. Sara

    Love this Tsh! I am so glad to see you blogging again! I am a long time follower and I always love reading your blog posts. Your words always ring true and have been a touch stone for me. This brought tears. I have an 11 yo girl. Time does fly. Take care

    Reply
  19. Ali

    Your posts have been really resonating with me lately. Doing some healing in my heart and dealing with some fear I didn’t know I had. Your post on 40 (and other people like Emily P. Freeman) has given me chance to pause and reflect on my own milestone of turning 30. It was bigger in my head than I thought it was going to be. Changes and expectations. And this letter. It gives me so much hope. I am in baby season. My daughter just turned two on Monday and I totally love the stage she is in. I will admit this is my favorite stage (I taught preschool before she came along), and I have great fear of what teenagerhood will look like. My mother and I were not close when I was a preteen/teen. They were hard times. But I love seeing the way other moms parent because I love this little girl and don’t want to lose closeness with her! Thank you for hope!

    Reply

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