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The Formative Years: Parenting Toddlers and Teens

My son just turned two.  He’s full of energy and zeal for living!  I’m totally in love with watching him grow and learn.  It is exciting and hilarious, all at once. I could watch him for hours and be entertained.  

He is the youngest of four kids, and the only boy, so he gets plenty of attention!  His dad and 3 sisters and I adore his every expression. 

He is learning new words and new phrases every day! 

Just today, he said “I wan orange,” and when I didn’t respond right away, he repeated it, and repeated it, and then grabbed me and sang “I wan oraaannnnngggee!”  Yes, today, my son made up his first song.  And he got his orange.

If you’re a mom, I think you know what this phase of mothering is like, the adorable age.  It begins at birth and continues strong through preschool, fading somewhere around early elementary school.  At a certain stage, they stop being adorable, still totally awesome and amazing little people, and greatly loved, but just not as “ohmygoodness how cute!” 

On the other end of my current mothering experience is my oldest daughter who turns 13 this month.  We are entering the teen years. 

She’s staying up later than her siblings.  She’s wanting to watch “grown-up” movies with Mom and Dad.  She’s interested in mature discussions about politics, entertainment, spirituality, and the people we know.  

This is what I refer to as “the formative years”, not based on any child development research, but based on my own experience.  I remember being her age.  So much of who I am–the thoughts I have about myself, my world, and my place in it–were formed by the conversations, books and movies I experienced at this stage of life. 

Because I remember being her age, I feel like I kind of know what to expect.  

But, what I didn’t expect was to see the toddler in the teen. 

When she turns to me in the middle of a tv show and spouts off some insightful comment, she looks so much like her little brother when he shows off his most recently acquired knowledge (“dat blue!”)  

At first, I thought it was because the two of them are so much alike in personality, my little bookend babies, the first and the last, the first born and the first son, both very much like their father. 

But now I think it’s that I’m seeing the same sort of wonder behind their eyes.  They’re both discovering the world.  They’re both putting together ideas and information they hadn’t previously been able to process. They’re both proud of what they are learning and eager to know more. 

There’s a cuteness to it.  Who knew teens could be cute?

And there’s a sweet vulnerability too.  The way I respond to this phase of their development greatly impacts who they will become. 

If I am harsh, they will learn to limit their explorations. 

If I am too distracted to notice, they will learn they are unimportant. 

If I am too impressed, they may feel “too much”, overachiever, weird.

If I am not impressed, they may feel “not enough”, ordinary.

Experts say we should praise a child’s efforts rather than his intrinsic characteristics.  I believe in both.  “Wow, that’s a great way to look at that problem!” “You are so helpful and kind.”

Identities are being formed.  World views are being shaped. 

And I, for my part, am mostly content to observe and adore them. 

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