I had to get really brave when my teen’s mood or body language felt like rejection–like he was rejecting me. This brought up a lot of my own personal stuff, and if I responded from this place, it just made everything worse. When I learned to accept that his mood or attitude had very little, if anything to do with me, I could be the sturdy place of love that he needed. Otherwise, I was just adding to the drama. Teens don’t need more drama.
This took years for me to learn, and if I’m being honest, it’s still something that I have to consciously work on. I was born with a sensitive and responsive heart, and when combined with the big feelings, attitudes, and emotions of my own children, well, it’s a lot. I was pretty good with letting this assortment of moods bounce off of my heart when they were little, but when they entered into their teen years and our eyes met at the same level for a season, this got a lot harder.
My boys were busy–they had hard classes in school and were always playing on a sports team. They got part-time jobs when they could, and had full social lives.They were on their phones a lot, gaming a lot, and always seemed to be running late or scrambling to get to the next thing. These were the things I saw on the surface, and it all seemed pretty normal to me. Busy, but normal.
There were the typical tempers and attitudes flying around our household that just seem to happen during these transformational years. I understood the hormonal changes that were going on, and gave a lot of grace for this when I could, but I often felt this pang of hurt during these lopsided exchanges that we were having. I thought I was approaching all of this with love, support, wisdom, and guidance. It felt like they were responding with annoyance, aggravation, frustration, and even dislike–of me. I was feeling hurt and I couldn’t make sense of what was happening. I was definitely taking their responses to me personally, and when I would confront this, it just seemed to make everything worse.
I think at some point, many moms might ask themselves, “Why am I trying so hard to do everything for my child if they don’t even appreciate me”? “How come when all I seem to do is love and sacrifice for them, they don’t seem like they even like me”? “How do I keep entering into this difficult process without getting my heart crushed, and how am I supposed to hold all of my own feelings together”? I know I asked myself these questions many times. There were days that I felt so dejected, I thought my heart would just shatter.
And then one afternoon on a long car ride home from practice, my son shared with me a story that changed my perspective on everything. He said, “Mom, you have no idea how hard everything is for me”. (I had been thinking that his life was pretty perfect–definitely manageable). He said, “There is so much pressure that you can’t even see–homework is impossible and I hardly have time to get it done with the time I have. Soccer practice is fun and I love it, but it’s physically exhausting. And then there are cliques, girls, and gossip, and the weight of social media and my phone–and then you and dad expect stuff from me. You just have no idea how much is going on”. Wow. I really hadn’t considered the weight of everything he was carrying.
I came to realize in this conversation that the way he had been responding to me had nothing to do with me at all, and everything to do with him trying to hold everything together himself.
This is when I began to learn to be the sturdy place of love that he needed instead of making all of this more difficult for both of us with my emotional entanglement. Once I could accept and really believe that all of this teen angst is just part of the process of moving from being a child to being an adult, it freed both of us. My role was not to be buddies with my teen, it was to be a healthy and firm foundation from which he could waiver and fail and just move through this messy process safely. This didn’t mean that he could be mean or disrespectful–it meant that I could now allow him to feel his feelings without them affecting mine so much. It meant that, while I still am a feeling human being, I don’t have to feed or contribute in any way to the drama. If I needed to, I could tell him that his words or actions hurt me, but this was rarely necessary after I accepted what he was going through–his moods or attitude had very little, if anything to do with me.
As moms, we bring our past into our parenting relationship with our kids–it’s impossible not to because it is just a part of who we are. All of us were wounded in some way or another in our lifetimes, and most of us likely never healed these places in our hearts. When our teens begin to stretch and grow away from us, even in all of the normal and natural ways, this seems to bring up some of our old hurts. I don’t think we are aware that this is even happening. When our teens are inadvertently hurting us, we immediately look to them to correct this behavior–to prevent this from happening to us. But, what if we recognized that what they’re experiencing and how they are acting isn’t personal to us? What if we could allow them the space, grace, and freedom to get through this complex transformation without getting our hearts all tangled up in their process? Once I was able to see that some of my teens' postures were triggering the unhealed places in my heart, I could begin to work on myself. It no longer felt like rejection now–like he was rejecting me, and it became possible to allow him to just be himself. Perhaps a lot of this difficulty during the teen years is less because of them, and more because of us.