A Letter To My 16-Year-Old Son

Dear Teenager,

Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair. Do you know why? Because it isn’t.

But here’s a little something I’ve learned in my 43 years on this earth… life always gives you exactly what you need in order to learn the next lesson.

That’s what it’s all about here — stretching, growing, becoming who we are meant to be. Some learn more quickly than others. Some need many teachers and extra review tests. (Yes, I’m one of them. Your Dad will attest. You remember “Buffalo Math,” don’t you?) Some get it on the first try, but not many. We grow most from our challenges and roadblocks. Embrace them. Lean in.

I understand there are things in this life that you want, things that can only be purchased with money we may or may not have at the moment. I know you see other kids doing things you’d like to do — traveling extensively, attending expensive sports camps, buying top-of-the-line golf clubs. I know what it feels like to want what others have. Believe me, I get it. From the top of my head to the tips of my toes, I understand. I’ve lived it. I grew up surrounded by many who had “more” than I did, who had the privilege of seeing places I would only experience through my beloved books, to purchase things that were not even long-shot considerations in our very limited household budget.

Wanting more than you have is a tough gig. It always leaves you feeling unfulfilled, gypped, less than.

But you are none of those things.

You’re vibrant, smart, witty, handsome, larger-than-life, full of untapped potential.

It’s all in how you choose to see with those stunning baby blues of yours.

This life is not about keeping score. It’s not about she-got-to-go-to-camp-but-I-didn’t or he-got-a-phone-when-he-was-eleven-and-I-had-to-wait-till-I-was-thirteen. Keeping score that way is exhausting and fruitless. You see, my boy, life changes, circumstances evolve, nothing stays the same. What happened to you when you were fourteen is not what will happen to your brother when he’s fourteen.

You are not him. He is not you. You are both uniquely blessed individuals traversing your own paths to happiness and success. Separately, but side-by-side.

Do you see that path? The one with the light and the promise and the possibility? Take that one.

Take the one in which your vision allows you to see what you do have instead of what you wished you had. Leave that other path unexplored. Don’t give it one more second of your precious time or energy. Don’t look over your shoulder with a wistful glance. Forge on, son. Forward motion.

Sure, you’re going to trip and fall occasionally. You’ll skin your knees and twist your ankles and stub your toes. Perhaps your internal compass will malfunction and you’ll lose your way. Get back up, get on the path, dust yourself off, and go. You’ve got places to be, things to do, lives to touch, miracles to make.

If you really want something that only money can buy, go get a job and pay for it. You have a car. You have the means. You have a million opportunities that so many others don’t. Think about that reality for a second. You can work. You have a strong, healthy body and a fully-functioning brain. Go work. Everything feels better, tastes better, works better, fits better when you’ve earned it with your own two capable hands.

And when you’re done with your after-school shift, go volunteer in a soup kitchen. Pour some sustenance into the bowl of another man, one whose life circumstances have not been as kind and forgiving as yours. Offer an apple to a child with dirty fingernails and unwashed clothes. Tuck a $20 bill — one you just earned — into the hand of a Mama whose clingy brood is crying and hungry and tired and in need of a small kindness.

Then look at your life again.

I promise you’ll see things differently. Everything will be brighter, better, full of options that you hadn’t noticed before.

We’re not millionaires. We might never be. Or we might. Life is funny that way. Money, however, won’t change who we are or how we choose to live. Things don’t change us. Not if we’re running at full tilt and without regret. Things never really matter in the long run, anyway. They wear out, get broken, need to be replaced and repainted. But love? Accomplishment? Bravery? Fortitude? That’s what matters, that’s what sustains.

This family is blessed beyond comprehension. We know warmth in the winter and cool air in the heavy heat. We’ve dug our toes into sandy beaches and hiked through mountains. We sing and dance in the kitchen before we eat the food that more than adequately fills our bellies. We have tried and true friends who offer us their pillows and their hearts and their unconditional support. And laughter. Oh, laughter. We love each other in this little circle of goodness. That doesn’t mean we always like each other, but there is love, always. More love than you can even begin to wrap your overachieving 16-year-old brain around.

Life is tough. Life is unfair. Some will have what you want. Others will get what you think you deserve.

Life is also beautiful and fruitful and unlimited. Look at that life, see those possibilities. Live there. Grow and flourish in that space.

The choice, always, is up to you. Choose wisely, my brave, kind, brilliant, unstoppable son.

Choose half-full, where there is always room for more.

Choose big.

Choose yourself.

I love you with all my heart because all of my heart expands for those who want in. You don’t get a quarter or a half or a third. You get it all. So does your dad. So do your brothers. So does your sister. Love is funny that way. It multiplies exponentially.

Just like the blessings you choose to embrace.

XO, Mom

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155 thoughts on “A Letter To My 16-Year-Old Son”

  1. I want my 16 year old (and 14, 11 and 8 year olds) to know this, too. Thanks for expressing so beautifully what I want to say.

  2. I am going to print this and keep it for Max when he is this age!!!! I would also like to give this to some of my students!! Thanks for sharing this Katrina!

  3. Yep! Amen! Got it! And, yes, I want Brooklyn to know this also. If only we could spare them tough “Life Lessons”.

  4. Speechless. You render me speechless. The most beautiful words I have read in quite sometime. Oh, what a blessed son you have. You are wise, wise woman. What a gift it is to read your words and be your friend. xo

  5. Damn it you made me cry again! Why do you always say what is in my heart? Keep on doing what you are doing. I love reading your heart strings for they echo mine so many times.

  6. Katrina, this is beautiful! As some of the other posters said, I’d really like to give this to my children some day and also to some of my students!
    That being said, I’d like to ask your permission to translate this into Portuguese. I am Brazilian and teach English here, and although many of my students would benefit both ways while reading this (a wonderful text plus English practice) most of my friends only speak Portuguese and I would really like them to read this. Maybe I could send it to you so you can post it in your blog and then I’d link from here? Just let me know.

    1. I’d be honored for you to share this post in Portuguese, Andressa! And I’m happy to post a translated version here once you provide it. Thanks for asking… and for your kind words. I’m sending you an email now. 🙂

  7. I can’t wait for my 15 year old to read this! I’ve always hoped that one day he could really comprehend all I want for him in this world…and this letter truly expresses it. Such wonderful words…thank you 🙂

  8. Katrina, you speak from such a deep perspective. These words synthesize comprehension. Sixteen years old, 43 or 61 years old, this is the universal message. I truly embrace your knowledge and wisdom. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful gift. Wow! What a MOM!

  9. My son is 18 and just getting out into the world to find his way. I think I will print this for him. It could have come straight from my mouth! Everything I want him to know! Great advice and well put!

  10. Your kids are lucky to have you indeed. My kids are all babies still (yours may be in your eyes too). I write my 9 year old a handwritten letter each year on her birthday and her first day of school. It’s my thing to them I guess. I’m going to save some of this post and incorporate it into future letters. Many adults could use to read this as well as your teen son. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Gorgeous. You are a wonderful writer and your son is lucky to have you. Your message of hope and real world-positivity is not just for a 16 year old. It is a timeless message that anyone can learn from. Thanks so much.

  12. Oh mama, you have beautifully written what love is; proven your points eloquently and managed to wrangle words into form that will be captured by your your young mans soul. I love your writing!

  13. ahhh you know in my teenage year, I remember being so terrible….now this posting has made realized how much I love my mom and now as a mother myself I am scare for my little ones and I pray that my heavenly father will help me write such sentiment words as you have shared with us.

  14. As a mother & co-parent of 3 now grown sons@ 30, 25,20..oh how! I recall those days oh so well..Of watching them evolve! into who they’re going to BE ; alas who they also are..While also being pressed with peer pressure against the pressure of the right-from-wrong they were taught at home. I can at this point say that the MOST important & priceless thing to give children is Love, LOVE and love. And they never forget it; but they’ll certainly forget the “material objects” they wanted but couldn’t have. In the long run those things don’t matter. I’d give my last breath for my sons & they know it…that is what matters. And I’m ever so proud of having brought 3 progressive , beautiful people into the world. Your letter made me reflect on the beauty of being a parent…I thank you. Gained a loyal follower ….stay UPlifted & blessed

  15. Pingback: A Letter To My 16-Year-Old Son | குங்குமம் தோழி Web Exclusive

  16. Beautifully written and such great advice to anyone at any age. I have a 16 year old son too though he isn’t that interested in what other people have. His is another letter altogether! My younger daughter though is acutely aware of what her friends have and what she doesn’t. I hope as adults they look back at all the wisdom we try so hard to impart about what’s important and remember this story well.

  17. I remember my dad telling me so many of these things when I was growing up and it made me the person who I am … I may not be a millionaire yet but I am a happy being because I am cushioned by the warmth of love of my loved ones, lovely memories and a few successes.
    I wish your son all the best for his years ahead and am sure, with all the great guidance from his parents, he’ll be a man, you’ll be so proud of.
    Congratulations on being freshly pressed.

  18. well written, everything what i want to tell my sons, right there on your thoughts as if it was written for all the sons out there.Congratulations!

  19. I’m a 16 yo, and I showed this to my mum, and she said that it was everything she has ever wanted to say to me. Thanks so much for your beautiful words.

  20. Wow really amazing ! Im 18 years old and I can really feel how you love your son ! Being a teenager is a rough time….. I also lived it and live it roght now 🙂

  21. Although I’m in my early twenties, I still feel that this letter is for me as well. Passion for traveling extensively and discovering new cultures, desire to to be one of those rich youths, attending expensive conferences, impatience to get rich, desire to make lasting social impacts, and so on: these linger over my world. Thanks for the letter, as I hope it also is for me 🙂

  22. Wise advice that all parents should give to their children. You have given a real perspective of our world today and the challenges that young people face. If I could add one more piece of advice it would be to never forget your roots, where you’ve come from…keep it real!

  23. Gosh, it’s very touching..i have one little brother and same as my parent said to me: “You are not him. He is not you. You are both uniquely” and you once more touch my heart with same sentence but deeper than i heard before..

  24. I’m 19 and what you’ve done here is pretty much covered my life up until this exact moment, haha, and being a teenager my teenage instinct would be to give some sort of big headed response, in any of the situations mentioned above, but I can’t. I feel like I wasted 2, maybe 3 years of my life wishing I was other people, comparing myself to friends and family, but once I chose my path, forgot abut them, and just went for it, I didn’t become better than them at everything, but I became happy. I’m a designer and I have been since I made little lego towns on my bedroom floor, and i’ve loved every minute of it.

  25. Pingback: A Letter To My 16-Year-Old Son | jasonpak525

  26. I am a 73 yearold retireee (several times) who could not have tought of a better, more meaningful, expression of gratitude and how we shold be appreciative of what “we have” than was expressed by Katrina in this article. I hopeand pray that millions may read it and take to heart. God bless you.

  27. Pingback: A Letter To My 16-Year-Old SonPosted on May 23, 2013Dear | alwaysbeasharp

  28. I’m not a mom and I’m 22. I still remember my 16, 17 and 18 being my worst years (most of the time). Life gets so depressing when you are trying to grow up and do the right thing. Life can be unfair but sometimes, I think, the most important thing is not to forget the good thing in life and enjoy as it is without being sulky all the time. And well, I’m grateful that my parents keep me in the right place. 🙂 This is a beautiful letter, thank you for sharing.

  29. I really enjoyed reading your blog about your son, its something all us moms can relate and feel. My son will be 16 in Aug & Im not going to lie about how much that scares me but also feel greatful that I have such a special son. Is there any advice you can tell me that would help prepare me, how are you dealing with the huge change when a child goes from needing & wanting you around all the time, to him wanting so much space that I miss all the closeness before. Sorry for writing so much, Im new at this & still dont even know how to put my profile pic up. Well I love your blog & cant wait to read more:)

  30. Pingback: A Letter To My 16-Year-Old Son | drmomceo

  31. Reblogged this on Storm in a Teecup! and commented:
    The best of freshly pressed today! Such an inspiring letter! I don’t have any kids myself but i’ve been a mom to some. Hopefully I will be able to express something like this to my own some day.

  32. Reblogged this on BillsPlace and commented:
    A wonderful letter written by a mother to her son. It carries a strong message and I believe applies not only to sons, but daughters and grand children as well. In fact many adults can learn something from this…enjoy!

  33. Pingback: A Letter To My 16-Year-Old Son | FroiyoFication

  34. Pingback: Had to repost this: A beautiful letter from a mom to her 16years old son… really touching… | Fromahigherplace

  35. Great letter.. Infact much needed for current generation. We have to identify and define priorities in life without offending any one. At the same time, we should give respect to all people around us. Life is not about living or moving alone. Letter covers almost all aspects of life in beautiful manner.

  36. My 14 year old daughter is ‘graduating’ from middle school tomorrow. We have experienced some hard times as a family lately. I find your words to be a perfect thing to share with her as she moves onto high school. Thank you so much!

  37. Ah crap, you made me cry. Thanks for that. My son is 17… and smart, and funny, and kinder than I knew and more generous and loving than I even hoped. There is hope for all of us… our children shine.

  38. Great blog post. Thanks for sharing. In my 40+ years on the planet I have discovered that the things that really matter can’t be bought and the bright shiny objects we do buy and think we need always lose their luster pretty quickly.

  39. That was so beautifully written. From a mother with a 16,14 and a 12 yr. old I very much appreciate those heartfelt and wise words . You made my eyes well up and my nose all crinkly. :0) Thank you so much for sharing. Your son is very lucky to have a Mama like you!

  40. Kudos to you for not giving into your kids with whatever they want and giving them a sense of entitlement that I see in the faces of 18 year olds every single day. Thank you for raising children the way my parents raised me, to know that love is all around, be grateful for what you have and don’t harp on what you don’t have and learn to work for it if you really really want it. I worry about these kids that can’t make decisions for themselves and think that you owe them absolutely everything and all of your work, and think that they don’t need to do anything for themselves or rather that they literally can’t do anything for themselves. Thanks to you, your kids will understand the value of being greatful, thankful and hopefully become very responsible young individuals. Kudos to you!

  41. it is a splendid piece of work, very well expressed what is in your heart and i hope all teenagers will understand and adhere to it. all the best.

  42. Pingback: The Holy Book | HX Report

  43. Beautifully written and direct and touching extension of the things my wife and I have always told our adult sons throughout their lives. Fortunately for us, they listened and understood and lead happy, productive lives as a result.

  44. Pingback: A Letter To My 16-Year-Old Son. | ЯРИА

  45. I loved this. This would be helpful for so many others to read. My son is only 9, but so much of this applies to him as well. Thank you for sharing.

  46. Reblogged this on thewordpressghost and commented:
    Life is truly unfair. Unless you are born rich, it is never easy. And if you are born rich, the wealth comes with its own set of troubles.

    Stay true to yourself, follow what the good Lord laid down, and always love your parents.

    Ghost.

  47. Pingback: A Letter To My 16-Year-Old Son | theteenagerspeaks

  48. I am a 24 year old step-mother to a 10 year old child who seldom hears the word “no” about anything and is always comparing herself and her stuff to other children. My husband and I try to teach her that life is about more than things because of the trials and tribulations that we have both gone through in our lives. I also try to teach my 3 year old NOW about the fact that there are far more important things in this world than money, the “i wants”, & the “they’ve gots”. It’s a tough job for parents to teach and a tough lesson for children to learn.

    This is a beautiful, honest letter that parents should definitely share with their children. Thank you for posting this!

  49. Pingback: A Letter To My 16-Year-Old Son | Shine Therapy

  50. You are such a good mama, and your words ring true and beautifully so. I will take this to heart as I have talks with my little boy; it will be but a snap and he will be 16 too. xo

  51. Pingback: Hands Free Mama: A Book Review | Katrina Anne Willis

  52. whoah this blog is excellent i love studying your articles.
    Keep up the good work! You recognize, a lot of individuals are hunting round for this info, you can
    help them greatly.

  53. Ohmygosh! You expressed what I wanted to say to my teen. This was written so beautifully! Thanks for sharing!

  54. Bobbie Johansen

    Your words are amazing and true. They express pretty much all I want to say to my son. Also, taking in some of it for myself. Thank you for sharing this. Hope you don’t mind if I use some of it to express these feelings 🙂 Have a great day!

  55. Pingback: letter to my son from momLetter World | Letter World

  56. Absolutely beautiful. We have two little ones. Our boy just turned 8 and your words speak to me. I would say these words to my boy. Mothers, mothers. Thank God for mothers like you.💞

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