I like to joke about having three teenagers and a tween in my house, and people tend to gasp when they hear it. But the truth is, they are an absolute joy at this age, and I am in no hurry for it to end.

Sure, the hallway often smells like a few bottles of AXE body spray, the bathroom counters are covered in splattered water and an array of soaps and creams, the laundry absolutely never ends, and the toothbrushes?…well, according to the sheer number and variety of them in the toothbrush holders, I may have a few children who have simply gone unaccounted for.

Lucky for them, it’s just mom here in charge, and I am about as laid back as they come. The blessing of already having two older children who have grown and flown, is it leaves me all too aware that I will some day dearly miss the messy charcoal soaps, water spotted bathroom counters and mirrors, the ridiculous loads of laundry, extra mystery toothbrushes, and the sounds of my energetic teenagers chasing each other on skateboards through the house…yes, literally through the house. This is the stuff that makes me smile in life. I know I am odd. I probably should have had a dozen…and a reality show of course.

In my life I have raised five teenagers, and three are still in “raising” mode. If you want to learn about who you are, what you regret, what you’ve done right, and what sort of patience this world has bestowed upon you – raise a teenager or two.

Teenagers will worry you, melt your heart, break your heart, then heal it again…and that is all before lunch time.

They don’t do all of this on purpose. It’s just who they are. I am well aware my teens are trying to break free from me, to naturally find their independence, while at the same time still needing me in many ways. My goal as mom right now, is to continue to fulfill those needs, while all the while letting them think they don’t need me to. It is a gentle art.

Little do they know, behind the scenes I run like a mad woman, desperately getting everything into place on a daily basis, to make their lives safe, easier, and fulfilled, as they haphazardly navigate this sudden new path of independence.

It’s sort of like a stage play. They perform, as I run in front of them and behind them, picking up the costume they have dropped on the floor, as they switch into another one…cleaning up the set, so I can set the stage for the next production. Meanwhile, they take the bow after each performance, hearing the many applause from those who love them, never knowing I am applauding the loudest behind the curtain, and falling more in love with their every flaw and every gift, on a daily basis. And I will happily and eagerly begin again the next day…quietly and sometimes without their knowledge, getting ready for the next act…while also, little by little, trying to work on my own stage play, as I know soon they will no longer be a part of my daily show.

To my dear friends who are mothers…you are quite something. I hope as you read what I write, you start to see just how amazing you are. I don’t know about you, but if you are anything like me, you have some goals for yourself. And those goals probably often get placed up high on a shelf, because your children come first.

You set that dream or goal up there, with the intention to take it back down next week or next month. Then before you know it, years go by, and when you pull it down, it is no longer shiny and exciting. Instead your passionate goal is covered in dust, and looks unattainable, like it will never shine again. But why? Who cares how many times you have to scrub the dirt off of it…grab that thing off the shelf, and try, try again. That is why, as mothers, we are so unbelievably strong. We simply do not give up.

However, we riddle ourselves with guilt, because to achieve a goal we have to take time away from our children. I do it ALL the time. (the guilt part) When they are little, we assume as they get older, they will need us less. Nothing could be further from the truth. Teenagers are like soldiers walking through a mine field. As mothers, we often try to walk it for them, or at the least, walk in front of them, clearing the path, preferring a bomb go off on us rather than them. I am not insulting teenagers. I love mine more than my own life. But being a teenager is sometimes messy, and this world is tough. We are constantly trying to clear a safe path for them, and it can be difficult because…well…we can’t always be there.

Thankfully, once every few months I remind myself that I am setting an example for my children. Do I want them to feel guilty when they have to leave their own children for a day here and there, to pursue a career they desperately want? No way. And the silly thing is, my children are supportive. My youngest may pout a little here and there, but then the older ones step in and keep her company so mom can go do what she needs to do. We are a team. We are supporting each other. They want to see me succeed, just as I want them to succeed…so I truly have no excuse.

I’m a single mom, so things may be different for me, as compared to how things run in your home. But there is one thing we most likely have in common…we eat, sleep, and breathe our children. And if you have teenagers like I do, you have now added concern and worry to your life in a way you didn’t see coming. Now it is sometimes even more difficult to be “selfish” with your time. The stage production I referred to, is now happening on a daily basis, and with some sort of speed that reminds you daily that they are leaving you, and you don’t want to miss a minute. It’s part of the process.

What we need to remember is, the time you need for yourself is not selfish at all. You see, those sweet babies you nursed, rocked to sleep, and lost sleep over as you waited for the car to pull in safely after their night out with friends, are going to leave and live their lives, as they should. That is our goal…to raise independent, strong, kind humans. As we teach them to set goals and follow through, fight for their dreams, and go seek adventure…what kind of example are we setting? I am scolding myself as I write. I can’t just tell my children, “Only you can make your dreams come true. No one can do that for you.” I have to model it.

So the next time you need to take some time for yourself, whether it is self care, career time, or just a damn break, think of your children, and how much they may actually need you to go away. They need to see it, so they will in turn do it for themselves some day.

And don’t worry – they will surely trash the house while you are gone, lovingly reminding you that they will always need you, and they aren’t completely independent…yet.