Five years ago, when my daughter Louisa was finishing seventh grade, her English teacher gave the class one last assignment: Write a letter to your future, high school senior self. Include a description of your current likes, dislikes and accomplishments; write down some reminders of what you want to do as a senior; and make some predictions.
The teacher kept the letters, and in May — a few weeks before graduation — Louisa’s self-addressed letter arrived in our mailbox. It was a fascinating glimpse back in time.
The letter’s contents not only showed how much she’s matured during her teenage years, her words also revealed how much she is, at her core, the same person she’s always been since her birth 18 years ago: Dramatic and creative, optimistic and outgoing, strong-willed yet loving.
I wish I’d written a similar letter to myself when I became the Minnesota Parent tween and teen columnist five and a half years ago. It would be interesting to see what advice I would’ve offered future me. Get more sleep. Ease off on the mom guilt. Trust yourself.
I’m not the same person I was before I began guiding my daughter and her younger brothers through the tween and teen years. I’ve made mistakes, faced situations I wouldn’t have predicted and, along the way, grown as a person.
In many ways, though, I feel like the same mom who brought a baby home from the hospital and thought: What now? Where’s the owner’s manual for this baby? Am I capable of handling the days and weeks ahead?
When my first column appeared in the March 2009 issue of Minnesota Parent, Louisa was almost 13, and Sebastian and Elias were 10 and 8, respectively. I wrote about the new HPV vaccine, and the reasons why my husband and I had decided to have Louisa get the vaccine. She wasn’t a big fan of shots, and she was so mad at me, she wouldn’t speak to me for at least an hour afterward, even when I took her to Dairy Queen for a post-shot treat.
It was one of many personal stories I’ve shared in the more than 60 columns I’ve written. Topics often were inspired by my own parenting experiences, like Elias’ decision to become a vegetarian (April 2012), and Sebastian’s definition of a good book (May 2009): “It should have fighting or some kind of action, and puzzles the characters have to solve; things can’t go smoothly. And a little bit of love here and there doesn’t hurt.”
Writing this column also allowed me to step back and remind myself of the bigger picture of parenting tweens and teens. It’s a journey, one that requires faith and patience, and one that does indeed have its rich rewards, despite those moments of struggle and doubt along the way.
In September, my husband and I will embark upon a new adventure in parenting; we’ll take Louisa to college.
When we return home without her, I expect to ask myself: What now? Where’s the manual for parenting this young adult? Am I capable of handling the months and years ahead?
Despite the uncertainties, I feel confident that our family will adapt to this new phase in our lives. Change is healthy. That’s partly why I’ve decided to step down as tweens and teens columnist and pursue work on a nonfiction book project.
I’ll still have two teenagers at home, however, so I’ll still be searching for advice and new teen parenting ideas.
Fortunately, Jennifer Wizbowski, a Excelsior mother of two (ages 11 and 13), will be taking over the column in August. I hope she enjoys the columnist gig as much as I have!
Before I sign off, my heartfelt thanks goes out to Editor Sarah Dorison and previous editors Kathleen Stoehr and Tricia Cornell for giving me the grand opportunity to write this column; to all the sources I’ve had the pleasure to interview: You’ve helped me more than you know; to my readers, for taking time out of your busy lives to read my words; to my husband Steve for his support; and to my kids, Louisa, Sebastian and Elias, for allowing me to include them in my columns.
I’ll conclude by quoting from Louisa’s seventh-grade letter. Her advice to her future self is also pretty good advice for anyone who’s navigating the often-confusing, occasionally hilarious and ultimately rewarding adventure we call parenting.
• Make new friends but keep the old;
• Not procrastinate;
• Have time for fun!
Joy Riggs is a mother of three teenagers. She lives in Northfield. Send comments or questions to [email protected].