I remember when I first entered the middle school stage of parenting. I felt so out of my league. My middle school years were the worst. High school was better, but still. Ugh. Braces and bad hair and trying to figure out friendships and boys and fighting shyness and caring way too much about being the cool kid.

Fast forward 24 years and there I stood, woefully unprepared, with a 12-year-old on the cusp of having to deal with all the same stuff I had. As much as I hate to admit it now, I had dreaded those years, assuming that parenting teenagers would be as awkward as being one had been.

How wrong I was.

It took me awhile to find the key to doing this well, but when I did it made all the difference. It’s really pretty simple:

I just had to remember what it felt like to actually be a teenager.

I had to remember what it felt like to consistently make the “B” team in every sport before ultimately going back to dance, where I found more success,

the rush of excitement when a boy I liked liked me back,

that crushing feeling when I hadn’t been invited to a party,

how ugly I felt when my face was broken out in acne,

the sinking dread I felt when I had left my homework at home.

In other words, I had to parent from a place of grace.

Now I know that my feelings about those years are of little significance. Now it doesn’t matter that I wasn’t great at volleyball and basketball, that being good at dancing was fun but didn’t make me a better teacher, and I don’t even remember who didn’t invite me to their parties.

In the moment, however, those things were huge. And they are huge to our teenagers now. Telling them it won’t matter in 20 years won’t help them. They need to know that what matters to them today matters to us too.

They need us to understand that their brains are still growing, that really, we’re all a work in progress. That finding the balance between standing out and fitting in is nearly impossible.

I’ve messed this up plenty, dismissing something that felt critical to one of my boys as no big deal, or making a much bigger deal out of something than they needed me to.

There is a time and a place when mama bear needs to show up, but I assure you it’s not when they are dealing with difficult friend relationships, a break up, or an issue with a team they play on, to name a few. In other words, do not freak out and offer to try to fix things. Just be there to listen. That’s what they need the most.

It took me a little while, but our boys come to me with problems now. They trust that I’m not going to do something dumb or embarrassing. They know I will listen. They know I will understand, that I’ve likely been there, and they like hearing about my mess ups – the embarrassing things I said or did, the mistakes I made. I guess it shows them that they really will get through whatever they are dealing with.

As parents, we are proof that God finishes what He starts.

Friends, our children need to be given room to fail, and they need to believe we will show up when they do. There’s been a debate for years over whether or not we should bail our kids out if they forget something at home. I have tried both, and I’ll be honest with you – making them face the consequences of not having what they needed stinks. Granted, if you have a teen who consistently forgets lunches and homework and athletic equipment, letting them deal with the natural consequences of that is necessary. I’m not talking about those situations.

I’m talking about the times when their schedules are jam-packed, they’re carrying a lot, and need to know we are there, right beside them. Speaking from experience, watching the relief wash over their faces when I come to the rescue is pretty great. Plus, it builds trust – it proves what you say is true, that you are there for them, that you understand because you mess up and forget things too.

And who am I kidding – in a phase of life when they are needing you less and less, it feels good to be needed again.

Parents, our teens need us to love them through all of this so we can come out on the other side together, better. Stronger. When we do this well we fill in cracks that might have popped up in our family’s foundation and begin laying the groundwork for the next phase of life – the college/post-high school years.

When we parent from a place of grace, our children are more likely to open the doors to their hearts, giving us the best opportunity to build strong, long-lasting relationships. I hear these later stages of parenting are extra special.

I’m counting on it.