Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

After being a parent for 20+ years, I can tell you that it’s OK to get tired. Motherhood is a full-time job, and when you’re balancing the needs of multiple people for that many years, you can get a little burnt out. They say the youngest child gets freer reign because parents are too exhausted to keep the same stringent effort going. I think it’s because we’ve learned what’s really important to draw a line in the sand about, and we’ve just become more efficient parents. While it’s funny to joke about, it’s so important to stay engaged with your teenagers, whether it’s your first or last.

My daughter, Anika, is the youngest of five kids. Although we have successfully raised four of our children to adulthood at this point, she still needs us. There are still two adult children living with us, along with the spouse of one of those children, their toddler, and their soon-to-arrive newborn baby. There’s a lot to juggle in this household and a lot of demands, so it can be easy to forget the teenager who doesn’t cause much of a fuss is still just a 15-year old girl.

Anika doesn’t cause trouble. She loves and excels at school, does her homework without a fight, does her chores, and is a joy to be around. Her list of extracurriculars is impressive, and she spends her free time quietly reading or working on her next book. Anika has skipped two grades, is set on her plans for the future, has already applied for college, and is researching scholarships to help fund her dreams. What does she need us, her parents, for? Anika seems to have a handle on everything.

However, despite the chaos of our household and having been through the teenage years four times already, my youngest daughter needs me now more than ever.

There are some real positives to being the youngest. I can afford things like season tickets to the Broadway series at our local playhouse. I can buy what Anika needs without worrying that it is taking from the grocery budget to do so. Kira, our oldest daughter, did not have that luxury. But it can really suck being the youngest, too. All of Anika’s siblings have privileges as adults that she doesn’t yet have, whether it’s voting or going to events without asking permission. She wants to keep up. She wants to do what her older siblings do. She doesn’t want to sit at the kid’s table, so to speak. So she feels pressure to have all the answers and to “keep up,” or risk being left out, lectured by everyone older than her, or made to feel like she’s still a baby. For as mature as Anika is, she still has very little control over her life.

Right now is when Anika needs me the most. All of our teenagers need us to stay engaged, even when they seem completely in control. There are still emotions that need worked through and questions that need answered, even if they act like they know everything or have a handle on it all. They need to know that you’re there for every step, even if you’re not necessarily needed.

Most importantly, as the youngest, she needs to know she’s not a burden. I might be tired and stressed because of adult kids, kids-in-law, and grandkids, but right now, Anika is my priority. Our teens may be creeping towards adulthood, but they deserve the same time and attention and support as the firstborn as they get there. Hopefully you’re less anxious the second, third, and fourth time around, but each child brings new challenges. Each child has unique needs that emerge at different periods of their life, and you simply don’t know when your teenager is going to need you.

I won’t lie that it’s hard to balance everything in my life, but my teenager deserves the priority. My grandchild has her own parents, and the rest of my children get a different type of support now that they’re adults. We’re on the last leg of my youngest child’s journey, and it’s too early to let her loose. She still needs me, even when she won’t admit it, and I’ll do everything I can to demonstrate that I’m here.