I've been doing it for a few years, but I feel like the last little bit (older teenagers, 3 at a time) has really changed how mothering feels for me. It's harder, I think, but probably only because I'm a routine person. I spent(10-15) years learning how to parent little ones and now I have to learn something new.
Parenting big kids is so much more cerebral I think. It's less physical (pick up the kids, wipe their noses, buckle the carseat, watch them at the park) and more mental (thinking through interactions, deciding on consequences, stifling urges to control, etc.) I will never understand people who say they need outside work so their brains don't turn to mush. Mothering requires so much hard mental work for me, especially now.
I feel like with little kids it was clear: they need to be respectful, they need sleep, they need to eat good food, they need to learn, they need to get out and do interesting things, they need to learn to contribute. I felt like I was really good at setting up systems and being consistent so that those needs were met. Not that I was perfect, but I felt like I kinda knew what I was supposed to do.
With teenagers, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M SUPPOSED TO DO. Here are some questions with which I wrestle (and, in the end, usually have different answers for different kids):
- do I care if his hair is long?
- how much input do I have on modesty?
- should I make them redo this crappily done job or just let it go?
- is a curfew really important?
- How much do I check and give consequences for grades?
- how much do I push getting a job, an eagle scout, an extra curricular activity?
- how much do I require them to be with the family?
- should 15-17 year olds be allowed to take road trips?
- how do I manage those #$@* cell phones?
- how do I handle poor driving?
- do I set limits on the sports they play?
I am not a helicopter parent by any means but I'm also very rigid in my head on how I want my kids to be, so I'm constantly trying to balance those two competing characteristics. I want to be involved enough but I don't want to force them to conform to my very narrow ideas. I'm learning that I feel most frustrated when I make who they are and their behavior some sort of reflection on me and my parenting, so I'm trying to notice when that DUMB way of looking at things is driving my interactions with them.
Going along with that: you kind of can't make them do stuff anymore. You can't make them be nice to someone, you can't make them get a job, you can't make them care about how the house looks, you can't make them be reverent at church. You can have consequences (but should you for all of these things?? Who even knows...) but you can't actually MAKE them do stuff. I have REALLY good kids and they really want to be good people, and so more and more, I'm learning that they respond best when I teach a principle first and then talk about applications. For example, we were concerned about cell phone use and so we taught a family home evening about temperance. As we concluded the lesson, we talked about our new plan to keep phones on the main level of the house (and to try it for a month and get feedback) and they were really good about it.
Another thing: they see you for who you really are. My kids are respectful, but they call me on stuff. They will tell me if I'm seeming hypocritical, or unfair, or unreasonable. It's a little hard for a slight perfectionist. I'm trying to listen and evaluate and respond in a way that invites them to keep being honest with me. It's hard.
There are lots of good things! I can see them becoming adults (and I like it!) All those years of wondering and now I can see glimpses. Also, they are very funny and interesting. I love when things are quiet and we can start talking and I really enjoy the conversations. I appreciate especially the extra responsibilities you can give teenagers: trips to the grocery store, childcare, help with cooking, around the house projects, help on trips. I like their friends. I like that they are better at some things than I am, and they teach me: sewing with Emma, running with Gabe.
I really really love them and really really know I lucked out. I hope I can figure this stage out okay. In the end, I feel Heavenly Father prompting me when I need it the most, and I'm relying on His help to not fail. What a refining challenge this job is!