I Have Teenagers, and an Elf Still Visits Our House for the Holidays


I recently sat through a presentation during which several prominent Central Ohio employers shared about the careers their companies can offer. It was fascinating to learn about these opportunities, but when they started talking about how their recruitment efforts have now extended to middle school-aged kids, that was rather alarming to me.

Yes, it’s important for kids to know what paths are available to them as they begin to consider their careers, but am I alone in thinking that these tweens and young teens shouldn’t be worrying about their future jobs just yet?

Or perhaps it’s just the season of motherhood I’m in, where I’m encouraging my kids to test their wings a bit while also continuing to feather the nest so they have a soft place to land (or crash, if needed). I’m excited to watch them become these amazing adults while also wishing I could have held their chubby little hands just a bit longer. It’s a constant tug of war with my emotions; I find myself tearing up as I watch them achieve their goals but also tear up when I remember how their tiny little voices used to sound.

The holidays really bring out these emotions in full force. I recently realized that in just two years, I’ll be anxiously awaiting my daughter’s visit home from college for Thanksgiving. Those two years will fly by, and that’s exciting and sad all at once. As she ramps up toward her senior year, I see the pressure she faces: standardized test grades, saving up for college, choosing which schools to submit applications, securing enough volunteer hours, polishing up her transcript and resume. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for whimsical holiday fun, you know?

So when my oldest son, who has Down syndrome, reminded me that our elf makes his triumphant return from the North Pole after Thanksgiving (as he’s done since the kids were very young), I paused. We’ve told him that we’re the force behind the elf (and Santa, and the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy), but he chooses not to believe us (and who am I to wreck his fun?) If I have the opportunity to bring a little bit of extra holiday cheer to my busy, hard-working teens, why shouldn’t I take full advantage of it?

That’s why an elf still visits our house for the holiday season, even though these kids are definitely older than most kids who enjoy these antics. Does he wreak havoc as he did when they were younger? No way. I don’t have the time or energy for anything that elaborate. But does he bring little treats to brighten up their days? Absolutely!

elf on the shelf
A couple times a week for the few weeks leading up to Christmas, our elf leaves fun items to help our kids remember the wonders of the holiday. For example, when he first arrives after Thanksgiving he may bring them fun new holiday-themed t-shirts, or small gift cards for a festive treat at Starbucks, or cozy new blankets to snuggle under as we watch a Christmas movie. One day he may bring donuts for breakfast, while another he may leave “tickets” to drive around and look at Christmas lights in adjacent neighborhoods. Sometimes, they may stumble into the kitchen before school to find that their elf is hanging from the light fixture or is perched precariously on top of the cabinets. If I’m feeling really creative, he may even decorate their bedroom doors.

The trinkets he brings don’t need to be extravagant (in fact, if someone tells me they need something – like a lip balm or a new hand sanitizer to keep in their backpack – the elf will probably leave that for them!), and the antics don’t need to be as ridiculous as they once were (one year when they were little, our elf gift wrapped the living room furniture – and a couple of toilets!) in order to have a little fun with the teenagers during the holidays. Hopefully our elf brings some joy into their stress-filled teen days, and makes their troubles seem a bit lighter.

And watching them enjoy all of these silly holiday shenanigans, like they did when they were small? That’s a gift to this mom, who sometimes secretly wishes they were still little kiddos even though she loves cheering them on as they get ready to launch out of our nest.

It’s a win-win, sprinkled in some holiday spirit.