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Prayer for the mother of adolescents

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About Jerusalem

Jerusalem Jackson Greer is a writer, speaker, retreat leader, former pastor, nest-fluffer, urban farm-gal, and author of A Homemade Year. Jerusalem lives with her husband and two sons in a 1940s cottage in Central Arkansas. She blogs at jerusalemgreer.com.

True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice” – St. Francis of Assisi

Five years ago, I worked part time teaching one sixth grade home-economics class at the end of the day.

Sixth grade is often the turning point for a lot of kids – it is the year that the adolescent insecurities begin to bloom in full force, the seeds of self-doubt about whether they are lovable, whether they are enough just as they are, begin to sprout.

This is the year when the walls go up, when a torrent of emotions flows barely under the surface, overflowing and flooding even the smallest of situations.

Biology creates a scenario in which the sixth grade girls live in a world that is completely colored by their cares, insecurities, and emotions, while the boys are all legs and arms and awkward growth spurts, completely incapable of sitting still at the end of a long day.

Between the tears, the bruises, and the roller-coaster hormones, it was a challenging year to say the least. There were many days when anyone of them could driven me to drink or tears (or both) faster than a bounced check.

It wasn’t long after teaching that home-ec class that our family decided to raise chickens in our little urban homestead. We began with three baby chicks, and watched them grow from fuzzy yellow balls of fluff to beautiful caramel colored hens. During this time, I noticed a startling amount of parallel between my hens and my sixth grade students.

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By the time the chicks were preteens themselves, they were traveling in a tight pack, unsure of leaving each other’s side for fear of what they might find on their own, or what they might miss out on if they left the group for even a minute.

No matter how much room we gave them to spread out, they remained a tight clump – constantly climbing and stepping on one another in order to establish once and for all their proper pecking order. They were, not unlike their human counterparts, always talking, with only two volumes – a loud ruckus and muttering clucking.

Also, like most adolescents, they were primarily concerned with whatever was directly in front of them. They concentrated so hard on getting what they wanted from the ground below, pecking and scratching at such a furious pace, that they would stick their hind ends straight up in the air, heads almost buried in the sand.

Chicks

But perhaps the starkest similarity to my former students was the chicken’s sudden distrust of me. Almost overnight it seemed as if my birds had left behind their sweet baby chick natures, prone to cuddling and following me everywhere I went, in exchange for distrust and blatant disregard.

Instead of following me, they ran the other direction. Instead of sitting still for me to hold, they pecked at my hands, obviously annoyed with my interference with their plans. But I soldiered on, not to be scared off by some pesky birds. I kept at it, returning to their coop daily, talking to them even when they appeared to be deaf, and throwing them scraps even when they ran from me.

Eventually, the chickens grew into adulthood, mellowed out, and came to love me again. They did not spend quite as much time staring at the ground, their bottoms to the sky. Instead they looked up more, noticing the world around them, forging out into their run alone. And once again, they trusted my touch.

Much like my birds, by the end of that home-ec class, my students had turned a corner. They did not run me off, and I did not alienate them; we survived each other. As the last semester drew to a close, I spied cracks in their resistance. They begin to look up from their navels to see a world that included more than just them.

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I noticed the surprise twinge with happiness in their eyes when they realized that I had stuck around, had not given up on them. Those sixth graders are now tenth graders, and I am grateful that so many of them still come to see me, greet me in the hallways, give hugs at the grocery store and welcome my questions about how things are going.

These days, I am raising one adolescent, with another following quickly on his heels. The pulling away, the navel gazing, the emotional tilt-a-whirl of moving from childhood to adult has begun. A new season has begun for our family.

No longer defined by diapers, sippy cups, and sleepless nights, it is tempting to think that I can coast from here on to college admissions. But the truth is quite different. Now more than ever is the time to be engaged, to be present in their lives. Not to hover, not to be overbearing, but to be present as they travel the road of transformation from boys to young men. It is here that the words of St. Francis become part of my prayer as a mother of adolescents:

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; To be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love. Even when they push me away. Even when they pretend to not hear. Even when they bristle at my touch. May my love be tougher than my ego. Amen.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for this post. It could not come at a more perfect time. I have a 12 year old daughter and the rollercoaster of emotions over here leaves us all exhausted! It’s certainly a different world than when I was 12 and I know how hard it is for these girls today. I am printing this out and taping it inside my closet door. That way I can start the day with a prayer that will help us all get through. Thank you!

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    Kaye Edwards says:

    I have also taught this age group and completely agree with your analysis. You put into words what I knew but never could describe very well. Thank you for encouraging all of us to patiently ride out adolescence especially with those close to us.

  3. My kids are 2 and 4 and I can’t fathom them as 12 year olds. But this peek in to the reality of life then helps me to better appreciate life with them now–when they want me close. all. the. time. :)

    • Oh yes, 2 and 4. I thought they would be little forever. Now I only have 4 years left with my eldest at home. It seems as if time went from dragging on to flying by. I won’t tell you to “enjoy them now” because it can seem so patronizing, but I will tell you that this season won’t last forever, hard as that is to believe in the moment.

  4. Thank you so much for this post. As a mother of a teenage daughter…. this REALLY hit home for me. I too will be printing out your St. Francis prayers and referring to them often for reassurance!!!!

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    Dana Moore says:

    I found your post very comforting – Thank You!

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    Sara Breeggemann says:

    As a mother of both adolescents & chickens, I can whole-heartedly agree with everything!

  7. Oh, I am so right there with you. SO RIGHT THERE. And also raised chicks a couple of years ago and can relate to both descriptions. I have a sixth grader in the home and we also are suddenly in that place of my mere presence is annoying to him at times (and it snaps without warning). I wasn’t quite ready for it and was feeling particularly down this morning so thank you for your post. Between yours and Ann Voskamp’s yesterday I can tell I’m very much not alone. Staying the course is the key I think. And you spoke to that too. Just keep on loving, keep on showing up even when you’re being pushed away.

  8. This was great. I have a 12 year old daughter, and although we are very close because we homeschool, I do at times feel her pulling away, and this is hard. I’ve been through this before- she’s the 4th of 11 children, but it doesn’t make this period any easier. Thank you for the reminder that perseverance on my part will inevitably pay off.

    • I was homeschooled at that age and I remember it being a funny dance my mother and I did. Being so close but still wanting independance. We are closer than ever now, so there is hope!

  9. These words really spoke to me, “Even when they bristle at my touch. May my love be tougher than my ego.” My 16 year old son, who use to be such a snuggler, now bristles at my touch. Thank you for reminding me it is still important to hug him and not let my ego get in the way!

    • Mine is almost 14 and I know the pulling away has only begun. There is comfort in knowing that this is normal and that others are going through the same thing.

  10. Right on the money!! And that last line of the prayer: “May my love be tougher than my ego.” WOW!! I need a poster of that in my kitchen so I always remember it, and not just when it comes to dealing with the kids.

  11. My husband taught sixth grade for 31 years, and as spring approached his first year he plaintively asked me, “My little girls were so wonderful at the beginning of the year, and now they are turning into witches. What is happening?” (He was an only child.) “Puberty is hitting them — hard,” I told him. “Do you mean I have this to look forward to every year?” he asked. “Yes.” The year our daughter was in sixth grade was the worst, because her dad was so tired of dealing with the girls at school he didn’t have much patience for the one at home.

    The good news is that, if we just hang in their with them no matter what, they do get more comfortable in their own skins, and most of them turn into pretty cool human beings.

    Thanks for a wonderful post. – Fawn

  12. I do like the last bit, ‘May my love be tougher than my ego’.

    So proud to hear stories of people, who out of their busy schedules, still find the time to be there for others – to shine a light in their lives when change suddenly grabs them.

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    SarahEllen says:

    “May my love be tougher than my ego.” Thank you for giving me my new mantra.
    Mothers of adolescents, unite! We need to be open in admitting that it’s hard. Wonderful, yes. But hard, too.

  14. I am on both sides of the spectrum one grown up baby and one coming around the bend of the storm.
    I have been through the turmoils of a teenager. Lived through the first broken heart, the dissapointment of not getting into the favored college and then seeing the joy of being accepted later into a very good program peppered with working CEOs and causing them to stop and stare at his brilliance. But oh my gravy and biscuits those teen years were tough on this gal.
    Some days I cried because I thought I had failed and then he would call me mama and ask me for an opinion or hang out with me exploring kitchen tools becauase that was our common ground and I would realize at heart he is just a good young man. I am just so damn proud of him.

    The little one is coming around the bend and I am just praying that I have the energy and heart to do it all over again.
    I trust that God will provide me the strength I need to make it through round two.
    Peace and hope.
    Pam

  15. This post really hit home, thanks for sharing. Though my kids are both young it was great to read and think about what I might be expecting in just a few short years.

  16. avatar
    Heather P says:

    This is a blessing in its timing. We have a 15 yr old boy who went from an honor student his freshman year to almost failing this year. We know that it is not because of drugs or anything like that, but because of the influence that school has on kids. Whether it be from other kids whose parents give them way too much freedom or even the school itself. The laptop program is not monitored as tightly as I would like and it makes us look like the bad guys. We only wants what’s best for him and constantly encourage him to be the best that he can be. Technology has been both a blessing and a curse. His cell phone is almost permanently attached to his palm, and we have to constantly tell him to put it away. It is very refreshing to know that we are not the only ones just as frustrated. THANK YOU to all those who share the same beliefs.

  17. avatar
    Janet Hawkins says:

    I have raised chickens. Your analogy of them is spot on. I was raising them as I was raising my 6 children. You are right, they are much the same. Now I am watching my 13 grandchildren and I still see some of the same things as I did before. Really great post!

  18. Thanks for sharing this! I have a son in puberty and I can really say he is so unpredictable. I didn’t understand what my parents are trying to say to me before not until I became a parent. It is indeed a lifetime commitment to have a family and you truly needs to devote your time.

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