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Motherhood During the Teen Years

An open letter to moms of teens on Mother’s Day.

Hey, Mom.

Wanted to make sure I started this letter with something other than “Bruh” or “Dude.”

I’m right there with you this Mother’s Day, with my four teens. Maybe you’re wondering if your kids will remember there’s a holiday of parental appreciation coming up. Or if they still recall the concept of open-hearted gratitude.

I would suggest not seeking a Mother’s Day snack from the fridge, as I expect yours is as empty as mine, save the Worcestershire sauce and a couple of crumpled packets of Taco Bell Diablo sauce, remaining after the last band of teenaged locusts ravaged with their friends.

Pro tip: Your wallet might be similarly vacant.

Some of you may enjoy genuinely grateful preteens and teenagers, the kind who make you breakfast (whether or not they load the dishwasher after). Others of you may just hope for a day with minimal snark, rolled eyes, and/or entitlement.

Maybe you’d just value a day when someone respects you as a fellow human—let alone the person who pulled an all-nighter when they had strep throat as a toddler, or sewed an Oompa Loompa costume for the third-grade play.

Because historically, teens typically don’t make the Christian motherhood journey easy, too often they are not the most appreciative, attentive, thoughtful bunch.

In fact, your eyes may sting this Sunday from the pain that’s in your home, and the grief motherhood brings you right now. Teens can be startlingly self-centered, accompanied by searing sarcasm. They make hard decisions with high stakes. And too often, it feels (however unjustly) like a mom’s report card.

You might think things like, This is not the kind of kid I’m raising them to be. Or, They didn’t really tell me about this part at the baby shower.

Mother’s Day doesn’t always feel that celebratory.

But for this holiday, I’m refreshing my brain around these truths.

Motherhood during teen years is not an easy road. So, repeat after me: My kids are not my identity.

First off, my kids simply aren’t made to carry the weight of my sense of worth. Which is hard, when you’ve invested some of the best years of your adult life in them, to great sacrifice and at times, peril.

My kids bearing my identity would make them idols. Only God can fill those sucking holes in me.

Constructing my worth upon the hot air–and fluctuating levels–of my kids’ success isn’t enough to sustain the weight of my attention, my focus, my identity, my fear, my worship (see Jeremiah 2:13).

And that’s whether my kid spent all their money from shifts at the McDonald’s fryer to buy me a gift I actually wanted—or whether they barely remember to say “Happy Mother’s Day” as they ask to hop on Fortnite or borrow the keys.

Motherhood during the teen years.

This season is a wide-open window.

With one of my kids who’s frequently alienated me, I’ve chosen to set down some deliberate (righteous! I told myself) anger. I’ve had to choose to ask open-minded questions when I wanted to, say, spoon out their pancreas.

Leaning in felt like leaning toward hurt. But leaning felt important.

And I think God can relate. God’s newly-freed-from-400-years-of-slavery kids complaining in the desert and saying He’s untrustworthy, that He won’t give them what they need.

God knows that to love people, especially immature ones, often leads to a whole lotta grief.

Yet when is our steadfast, Godlike covenant love most tested? In pain. When those we’re loving are being unlovable. Or loving gets hard and long. When the beloved disappoints, or needs forgiveness or patience.

Loving our kids through their ugly, Judas-esque, gut-you-like-a-fish moments are your chance to show them, and the world, and yourself, God’s bear-believe-hope-endure-all-things love without an exit strategy (1 Corinthians 13:8).

And that’s whether your kid snaps at you, or acts like he’s entitled, or can’t find his way back to God right now.

Paul Miller observes in A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships,

Hesed [covenant love] is opposite of the spirit of our age, which says we have to act on our feelings. Hesed says, “No, you act on your commitments. The feelings will follow.” Love like this is unbalanced, uneven. There is nothing fair about this kind of love. But commitment-love lies at the heart of Christianity. It is Jesus’ love for us at the cross, and it is to be our love for one another.

Isn’t that the kind of love we’re celebrating in our motherhood during the teen years on Mother’s Day?

Maybe that “celebrate and adore Mom” ship has sailed for the time being. But God is clear that when we show this kind of love to others, He sees. He celebrates (Jeremiah 17:10; Matthew 6:3-4, 10:42; Luke 14:14).

And His is the praise we’re after, the brand of love we hope to play on repeat in our homes: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12).

My teens still need my delight in them.

In a recent season of alienation as an adult, I drew from the shelf a yellowed album of my own childhood photos. I pried up a black-and-white photo tucked inside. Tears quickly muddled my vision. My mom’s hospital gown downturns at the shoulder, and I am newly born, naked, on her chest.

But the look on her face is wonder.

Her mouth lies slightly open, perhaps uttering her first words to my swollen, squalling face. She maybe even looks besotted. My mom, a thinker, is typically not the openly besotted type.

On that day, looking at that photo, I needed to be reminded I brought delight to someone when I could give nothing.

Which one of us is like, If I could have a time machine, I’d go back to age 13! There’s nothing like feeling your body, your friends, the school, the world, your face, and even your own dumb decisions and insecurity are bent against you.

In our kids’ shining seasons and rebellion seasons and their average weekdays—and on Mother’s Day—we carry a unique position as their moms to express our delight in them. I have loved being your mom. You are an unspeakable gift.

This form of delight may require looking for places where it genuinely can be cultivated. Maybe it starts small—with the way your daughter laughs when she’s truly happy, or the way your son gets impassioned over social justice. Maybe on the flipside of their weakness is a profound strength to seek out, to thank God for wisely installing.

Because covenant love looks for delight when delight is hard.

And that’s ultimately what Jesus did. When we’d chosen to be His enemies (Romans 5:8), He chose to endure coming toward us “for the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). He chose to witness value in us despite our vehement attitudes and rebellion and blindness.

And Jesus absorbed the cost, even when we were rewriting the narrative between us. Like the father of the prodigal, God places the robe and the ring of His delight on the unwashed, weary body of the rebel.

My kids need me in their crash-and-burn failures.

Remember when Moses descends Sinai to the all-out idol-worshipping rave of two million people (who God just swiped from centuries of slavery and to whom is about to give the Ten Commandments)? Moses loses it and breaks the stone tablets in half.

Somehow this seems like a super-amplified version of a parent, say, coming home to a kegger and stomping on a phone-sized tablet.

After the Great Stupidity of the Golden Calf, I imagine Moses is feeling the hard when he approaches God.

“See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” (vv. 12-13)

Moses, and God—who calls the Israelites “stiff-necked”—get kids acting stupid. He gets parenting that feels like two steps forward, forty-seven-point-two steps back. If God were a mom, this wouldn’t be a “Yay, Mother’s Day!” moment.

I hear in his plea with God, Please, Lord. These people are the next generation, the ones carrying your Name around. Your wisdom, your change, are the only forces that can make this happen.

And just maybe, Help me with these boneheads You’ve given me.

(Am I projecting, here?)

It’s His presence in “parenting” the Israelites that Moses is after. More than miracles, Moses asks God to go with them.

Sometimes our kids need to walk all the way through their issues so change will last–like the prodigal son, who in order to encounter true intimacy with his dad needed to go to a “distant land” and starve, literally eating with swine. We want so much more than for our kids to just “make the right choices.” We want them to be God-enamored, Gospel-enthralled people.

Honor on Mother’s Day: It’s about More than Us

With preteens and teens, Mother’s Day can feel bittersweet. They’re growing in their capacity to truly see others; to see you.

Yet love in its truest forms mirrors God’s—full of both crosses and empty tombs. Whether you’re honored or not in ways you deserve this year, may Mother’s Day remind you of God’s own intentional journey toward you in every season of life and parenthood.

And that kind of love, central to motherhood during teen years, toward us and our families, is worth celebrating.

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