This week my oldest turns 16.
After typing that sentence, I had to just stop and stare for a minute. Sixteen! Even though it’s so entirely expected, I have to say it: Where did the last ten years go? And lest you think all parents of older kids must sign some sort of ridiculous oath promising to tell younger parents how fast the years fly by, let me advise you: You’ll say it too.
Because it’s true.
But do you know what else is true? How amazing the teen years are. I think raising teenagers often gets a bum rap. We go on and on about how sweet and adorable out little tikes are, then in the next breath complain about the moodiness or cluelessness of our not-yet-adults. Ironically, I think the younger kids make just as many mistakes (even perhaps more so), but they are just so darn cute we tend to overlook the sheer quantity of them.
By the time our kids are teenagers, they often look pretty close to their final adult selves (at least physically). My 16-year-old reached her adult size (which also happens to be my size) around 13. Indeed, I had clothes from my teen years well into my 20s and 30s. At 16, she still needs some guidance about certain decisions, but she can quite sufficiently handle the basics of survival (talking, walking, eating, sleeping – for the most past, even driving and working). I wonder if we aren’t so hard on the teen years simply because we look at their bodies and see adults, but then look at their behavior and still see children.
Perhaps we need to switch up our thinking a bit?
Now, I’m a “creative professional,” so that should explain the artistic analogies I’m about to use. But if my daughters’ early childhoods were lengthy exercises in sketches and scribbles (think screeching fourth-grade recorder concerts and chaotic kindergarten Christmas programs), then I think the teenage years are like watching the creation of masterpieces.
Yesterday my husband and I watched through the front window as our youngest (barely six months into her official teenage experience) laid herself prone on the front lawn to get a better shot with the camera she saved years to buy. She had carried two of our wall mirrors out to help reflect the light, something she’d read about on photography blogs during a recent road trip.
“Isn’t it amazing?” I remarked, “Watching her, like this, I feel like we’re getting glorious glimpses of the amazing woman she is growing into… as if we are privileged to have a front-row view of the beginnings of a famous Rembrandt or Picasso.”
Many artists are widely known for the dozens, if not hundreds, of preliminary sketches created before the artwork is completed. Anyone who has sat through an art history class (or drove through Boston during the Big Dig) knows that masterpieces take years to finish.
This business of parenting is more about the long haul than the pit stops. Are we trying to create perfect little adults who never make mistakes? Those people don’t even exist.
Artists typically try one composition or another several times before adding the color. And then the final pieces typically don’t even appeal to everyone. But they are considered masterpieces because of the artist’s attention to detail, level of skill, and translation of concept. Did you catch that? A masterpiece is more about its creator than anything else.
Our children are masterpieces, not because of the mistakes they make or even the successes they enjoy, but because of who made them. My daughters were wonderfully and beautifully made in our Father’s image. And he doesn’t make any mistakes.
He knows that the struggles they face now can be used to glorify his Kingdom later on. Somehow, he loves the girls I call “mine” more than I could ever fathom, and wants only the absolute best for them. I can trust him with my most treasured masterpieces, because he loves them more.
So when I see my teenager working hard at her new job, patiently playing with a younger cousin, or researching colleges, I smile. Is she perfect? Of course not. Are they just as many cringe-worthy moments that make me wonder what she is possibly thinking? Yes. But—through it all—she is a glorious work-in-progress, being shaped and molded into a perfect masterpiece.
And I am just lucky enough to get a front-row seat as its happening.