When my oldest turned 13, I cried. A lot. While it was a milestone that could make any momma melt, it was not crossing that threshold that caused my tears. No, my private weeping came from the loss I expected. I was convinced that my sweet boy, my shy and loving firstborn, would suddenly and horribly become a teenager.
I know it is silly, but I had allowed myself to fear that from those impending years, no good could come. Our culture does not look favorably upon those between 13 and 19. We are taught, if passively, that teens are selfish, impulsive, conniving, and difficult. And even though none of these traits applied to my son before that fateful birthday, I believed that all of these things were coming. I could not have been more wrong. Since then, I have learned a lot. I have learned:
That when I loved on my boy when he was 2 and 7 and 9 and all the days and years before he turned 13, it mattered. Loving my baby helped to teach him how to love. Turning 13 did not change that.
That when I taught my son to think about others before he thinks about himself, it became a lifestyle for him. Sharing toys, helping a sibling, volunteering in the community, using his gifts--all of these opportunities became habit. Turning 13 did not change that.
That when I listened to him talk about preschool and friend issues and grade struggles and middle school muddle, I was teaching him to talk to me about things that matter. He learned that family counts and people listen and that we are in this together. Turning 13 did not change that.
That when I helped him fold his tiny hands and bow his little blond head, he learned to talk to God. He was building a relationship, at a simpler time, to the One who loves him best and who will be there to hear his heart when I am no longer near. Turning 13 did not change that.
The joy we have practiced in our family is rooted in the heart of my son. And while the teen years do bring adjustment, I am happy to share that the teen in my house is just a bigger version of the boy he was. He still laughs freely, loves his momma, frowns when he reads, and loves French fries. Turning 13 did not uproot his joy. I still like him. I really do.
In our home there are many children. My oldest paves the way. Most often, we believe his paved path is for my younger children. But, I am learning, too. I am learning to ignore the lies of our current culture and focus on what is truth. I am learning that what I did for my son, I must do for my other children as well. Because all of it really matters. While we may not see the results of our work when our babies are very young, all the holding and snuggling and talking and teaching and correcting and listening and praying contribute to who they become. We play a role in teaching and guiding our children to know God and live as his children.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Prov 22:6).
And yes, the work is long. But when I see my son work with a sibling, when I see him using his gifts, when he wraps his arms around my neck and squeezes me tight and long, I know that it is worth it all. For him. For me. For our whole family.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster