I feel relieved every day to be parenting teenagers instead of toddlers. Our kids are 16, 14 and 11 now—and I’m learning how to be a good mom to teenagers (and one tween) despite years of feeling inadequate when they were little. 

Raising teens can be a scary proposition, with fights about social media and fears around substance use and mental health challenges and relationships. For me, it has also been a time to learn from my mistakes as a younger mom, remember my own needs as a teenager and recognize my limitations and strengths as a parent.

Related: 7 things people don't tell you about raising teens

I used to feel guilty that I wasn’t a “baby person.” And then I felt guilty that I didn’t want to “hold onto every moment” with my small children. Older women would say with a tone of sorrow, “The days are long, but the years are short.” 

When my kids were little, the days did feel long. The months also felt long. The years felt long too. We had moments of delight and laughter and wonder. But I felt inadequate and impatient. Every day.

Each of us brings our own strengths right alongside our very real limitations as parents.  

The shift began as soon as our youngest turned three. We had marked her birthday as the day she would start sleeping in a big-girl bed, stop using diapers and say goodbye to her pacifier. Somehow, those declarations worked, and all of a sudden we had three children who were on a clear road to semi-independence. They slept and ate and used the bathroom by themselves. And every year after that, I enjoyed being a mother more and more.

For a while, I thought these facts pointed to my selfishness. I thought I was unwilling to sacrifice in the ways mothers are supposed to. I thought my dissatisfaction as a parent of young children made me a bad mom.

But as our kids have grown, I’ve moved from guilt to gratitude. I’m grateful not only for who they are but also for what they have taught me about who I am. My sense of inadequacy in their early life helped me learn that I need a lot of grace, we all need other people and each of us brings our own strengths right alongside our very real limitations as parents.  

When our kids were younger, I tried to conform to a theory I had about an ideal mother—a mother who did handcrafts and decorated for the holidays and cultivated an extensive vegetable garden. I had never sewn a stitch, planted a carrot or hung twinkle lights before I had children, but for some reason I thought some latent domestic instincts would kick in once there were toddlers underfoot. It took many failed attempts, much seething resentment towards myself and a few tearful breakdowns for me to realize that I couldn’t conform to the idea of motherhood that I had created.

Related: My daughter has entered the tween years—and I'm not ready

As our kids grew up, I began to recognize that my limitations could be invitations for us to connect with and rely on other people. Seeing needs as opportunities for relationships helped me realize I didn’t need to do it all and helped us connect to our community. 

For years, our kids visited my aunt and uncle to help them plant and harvest their vegetable garden. They look forward to their grandmother’s house at Christmastime, with its extensive decorations. They now have webs of relationships and support—coaches, teachers, youth group leaders, friends’ parents. 

I am glad their dad and I can’t be all that they need. For me to accept my own limitations has meant we all learned that we are humans who can’t do it all—and who especially can’t do it all alone.

I suspect that all parents have seasons of feeling incapable.

I don’t need to be good at every season or aspect of parenting in order to be the parent our kids need. I’m just not great with physical care, but I really enjoy engaging with the emotional needs of teenagers. I’m impatient with two-year-olds, but I can sit next to a thirteen-year-old for an hour and take delight in asking questions about their life. I am no baby whisperer, but there’s nothing I love more than one of our kids keeping me up past my bedtime with stories about their day. 

I empathize with their relationship drama and how distracted they become by social media. I remember my own teenage years vividly, and with great compassion for my perfectionistic, overachieving self. I now have a chance to parent my kids with words I wish I had understood as a teenager: You are loved for who you are and not for what you achieve. I now have a chance to follow up those words with actions that focus on being with them rather than simply checking in on their assignments and watching their performances.  

I suspect that all parents have seasons of feeling incapable. Mine came early, and now I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful not to be changing diapers anymore—but I’m also grateful that those years helped me understand that it is a gift to be a limited, fallible, inadequate parent. Those limits led me to connections and community. Those limits led me to recognize my own strengths. Ultimately, those limits led to more love.