Am I the only parent who cries on my kids’ birthdays? 

I’m a mom to three girls, and all four of our birthdays happen within thirty days. It’s a very busy (and expensive) time in our house—not to mention an emotional one. 

I remember when I was pregnant with our first daughter. We got some advice from a man we looked up to and admired—a man who was a season or two ahead of us in parenting. He said, “Don’t get sad when your kids start growing up. Just enjoy every minute of every phase, because each one offers something unique and important.”  

Over time, his suggestion has developed into a mantra for me: “I won’t tell time to slow down, because that’s not time’s job. It’s mine.” 

And for thirty days every fall, I am reminded over and over again just how meaningful those words are. 

Each of my kids is in a different phase—middle school, elementary school, and preschool. And when I think about my girls, I see the positives of each phase they’re in. I don’t wish my middle schooler were in preschool—not really. I love our relationship right now. We can connect on a deeper level. I can let her in a little—give her a peek behind the “parenting curtain” from time to time. 

But, yes. She is more independent than ever.

She has longer school days. And since our neighborhood is next door to the school, she and a group of friends walk to and from the building together. In full disclosure, I’m still a low-key Stalker Mom and watch her using the Life360 App, but her carpool days are over. Just this weekend, I dropped her off at a birthday party at an arcade-type place and noticed that THERE WERE BOYS THERE.  

As she gets older and moves from one phase to the next, my influence in her life will inevitably decrease.

But it doesn’t have to go away. In fact, I think there are a few, strategic ways I can leverage aspects of each phase to maximize my potential for influence. 

One of the best ways I’ve found is to parent vertically and horizontally. 

Okay, I’m not saying to parent your kid while laying down on the sofa—although, there is a time and place for that. I’m talking about directional authority. Have you ever had a boss or supervisor whose only communication with you was to tell you what to do or criticize/correct you? 

I bet you didn’t like that boss very much. That’s because your relationship with them was merely vertical. You had to do what they said because they were “above” you on the organizational chart. There was no other relational currency between the two of you. 

Some days, I find myself acting like that boss. Speaking only to my girls in short commands. 

“You have cheer today. Go change. You have a math test tomorrow. You need to study. WHO LEFT THE BACK DOOR OPEN AGAIN? It’s time for dinner. Wash your hands. Do I need to sign anything for school? Go get your folder—you remember what happened last time you forgot. FOR THE LOVE OF OUR POWER BILL. WILL SOMEONE CLOSE THE BACK DOOR?!?!”

I have to remind myself daily to invest in them as individuals. To build a horizontal relationship with them too. To treat them as equals whenever appropriate—ask their opinions, listen when they talk, share jokes and stories. To care about what they like and dislike. To hear out their logic before shutting them down immediately. 

As parents, we’ve been told for so long that we “can’t be friends” with our kids, but I think that’s wrong. We can’t be just their friends, but we should certainly have a relationship with our children outside of telling them what to do.

My middle schooler is getting older, as are all of my girls. (SO AM I!) If I refuse to accept this, or continue to parent the same way in each phase, I lose my ability to connect with who they are and how they’re changing. 

My twelve-year-old was recently allowed to use TikTok under a set of predetermined guidelines. 

The other day, she really wanted to learn this dance that calls for “throwing it back.” That’s the “nice” term for what is otherwise known as shaking your booty. She said, “Mama, can I throw it back on a TikTok video? I promise it’s just a really quick one.” 

To which I replied, “Sure. If you’re okay with me throwing it back on a video and posting THAT one too.” 

She quickly withdrew her throw-back request, but we both laughed. 

It’s okay to be silly with your kids. They’ll still respect you. In fact, they may respect you more. Because they’ll see a parent who cares about their hearts, their fears, and their dreams. They’ll see a parent who respects them. 

And that’s a parent who’s cool in every season, in every phase.