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As we greeted those sitting next to us in church that Sunday, one of my dear children accidentally kicked over my husband’s full — very full – cup of coffee. Creamy brown liquid dribbled in rivulets from our seat in the back down to five or six rows ahead. When my husband and kids hurriedly left to grab paper towels, I whispered to the young mama with three small children next to me, “See? Little kids aren’t the only kids causing a ruckus during church.”

She laughed, and I didn’t miss the layer of relief that relaxed her grin.

So, while most people in church listened to announcements, my husband, kids, and I patrolled the aisles in front of us and cleaned stray coffee streams. Thankfully, our church home is laid back, and nobody seemed bothered by our activity — or my clip-cloppy heels.

I wasn’t bothered, either, not even a little. I found the whole thing more shake-your-head funny than embarrassing. But ya’ know, I only wish I was as laid back about all my kids’ mishaps.

Because let me tell you, I’ve yelled when I should have held and counted up their shortcomings when I should have been long on grace. I’ve swung like a crazy pendulum, parenting like a Chinook helicopter one minute and then too un-involved the next.

Heaven knows all the times I’ve stormed its gates with prayers, asking God to please undo what I’ve done, to cover what I’ve left exposed.

I never want to give the impression that in my home things here are perfect blue skies and trouble-free times. My kids can make choices that almost spin my head off my shoulders, and I can bring some series smack-down. But most days, you aren’t going to hear about our more angsty moments because, understandably, teenagers don’t want their difficult business all over Mama’s social media. Honestly, they don’t always want all their good business on my social media, either. And they have the right to feel that way. They have the right to keep parts of their life sacred and private, and I would rather lose all ten fingers than disrespect that or them.

Of course, no matter the age, a kid deserves to have her thoughts and feelings respected. But when considering a toddler or young child’s shenanigans, there is a cutesy (albeit exhausting, frustrating, overwhelming) factor to them that makes sharing easier. And those teen shenanigans? Well, they ain’t so cute, y’all.

So in general, the older kids get, the easier it is for a mama to feel more isolated.

Not only that, but mamas of big kids are continually met with an awareness that limited time remains to instill in our people all we want to teach them. It all feels immensely heavy, weighted with responsibility.

A few years ago, I shared with my longtime friend Cheryl about a particularly challenging day with one of my kids, and she said something I’ve never forgotten. With her trademark Texas accent, she offered,

“Kristen, sometimes you just have to look at him and say, ‘Baby, I’m gonna hug the mean right outta you.’ And then do it.”

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In other words, I have to keep moving toward them. So I use my words as well as my arms to wrap them in love and security. I hold their faces and look in their eyes and tell them: You are my treasures! How in the world did I get the honor of being your mama?

Oh, yes, we Strongs have streams of mess that run down our four walls and we get things wrong with each other. But we don’t ignore the muck or stare at it with squinted eyes and crossed arms.

We get down on all fours and wipe up the sopping mess and say I’m sorry and embrace the grace of a fresh start again. We reach towards these big kids and do our best to love the ugly right out of them. Even when it feels the opposite of what we want to do.

Especially when it feels the opposite of what we want to do.

It’s hard to be a teen. It’s hard to be a parent of teens. It always has been, and it always will be. But may my own see our home as a safe harbor and know that the flawed people in it are genuinely for them, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Especially when it doesn’t feel like it.

And may we mamas always find in Christ a safe harbor as well, the One who continually moves toward us and wraps His arms around our shoulders and His affirmation around our hearts. The One who elbows His Father and says, “Just look at her and the amazing job she’s doing!” And may we believe it, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Especially then.

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  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Kristen,
    I love what your friend told you and I can only imagine it with a Texas drawl. My children are “grown” as I say. What this basically means is that now they have real adult problems and I am still their mother. And, I still have a choice on how I’m going to react when they do and say things. Once as momma…always a momma…I still try to hug the mean out of them and I still have to pray to God to ask Him to fill in the gaps where I fall short with my words and actions. The bottom line is that these relationships continually keep me going back to God…because that’s where I need to be. Great post!
    Blessings sweet friend,
    Bev

    • Jas

      How hard life would be without Jesus!! So thankful we can go to our Father again and again with each new phase of life!

      • Bev @ Walking Well With God

        Amen!

  • Jas

    Hey Kristen, I’m a mama of three but my kids are 9.5, 6 and newly 5. I love your “I yelled when I should of held” it made me laugh as that’s how I sometimes feel after the guilt arrives after the storm has passed. I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time, parenting is hard and it’s not all roses but although my oldest can push my buttons and has no problem to yell and scream…at the end of the day he is a lovely boy, they are all healthy good kids and I’m so lucky God blessed me with being their mother. Thanks for sharing when things get heated- I’m going to use your “love the ugly right out of them” to hug them when I most don’t feel like it, and to do my best with fresh starts, gotta love a fresh start! Jesus affords them to me many times over!!

  • http://www.whatithinkiknowtoday.blogspot.com/ Ms. Witi

    I heard something similar to that on the radio the other morning…a mom said after arguing with her 8 year old for a bit….”I love you too much to argue with you anymore, so I am done”….she said the 8 year old looked at her with surprise and walked away too.

    Done. The End. HA!

    • KristenStrong

      Oh I’m going to need to remember that one! Thanks so much for sharing.

  • https://www.nighthowells.wordpress.com Jenny Howell

    Oh man… I’ve got miles and miles to run on my own parenting trail! Mothering hearts within a wide age span is not for the weak is it?! We are entering a huge transition and I am asking Jesus to bring me to many more held over yelled moments as we wade together! Thanks for writing these words Kristen.
    Jenny

    • KristenStrong

      No, no it is not.

      I’m praying the same thing for you and me both, Jenny. And when we have a bad day and feel like we might lose our minds, may we know His grace just the same. :) Much love!

      • https://www.nighthowells.wordpress.com Jenny Howell

        Thank you :) I’m learning more about Grace in my 40’s for sure!

  • Ashley Sykes Ball

    Thank you for sharing this. I have 4 kids and 2 of them are teenagers. The last 2 years have been my most challenging years of parenting. I also have swung the pendulum of hovering and then withdrawing.. and then second guessing almost every thing I do! I really appreciate your words and I pray too that my kids will always see our home as a safe harbour and more importantly.. feel compelled to run to Jesus as their everlasting safe harbour.

    • KristenStrong

      Oh yes–that pendulum and the second guessing. I know it all so well.

      I love your words right here, Ashley, “I pray too that my kids will always see our home as a safe harbour and more importantly.. feel compelled to run to Jesus as their everlasting safe harbour.” May it be so!

      Thank you for sharing here. Much love!

      • Ashley Sykes Ball

        Thank you, Kristen. May it be so for your kids as well. Blessings on your family!

    • Kim Duvall

      I can sure relate to your story !

  • KristenStrong

    So glad to sit next to you on this ride, Rachel! xo

  • Pattie

    Oh my friend, I feel this post. It’s so hard some days. Then I add in all the students I teach (as I’m one of those back-to-work moms who’s always busy) and it’s enough to overwhelm the most patient soul. Thank you for your kind words.

    • KristenStrong

      Yes–it IS enough to overwhelm the most patient soul. Thank you for saying this. Love you, friend. xo

  • Tami Harbin

    Ah! This is my fave part: “The One who elbows His Father and says, “Just look at her and the amazing job she’s doing!”” It reminds me of what I read w/my kids the other night in Rev chapter 3:5 (in the letter to the church in Sardis)…Those who overcome will also be dressed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life. I will speak of them by name to my Father and his angels. We were imagining Jesus speaking to his Father and the angels about us! How amazing is that?!?!

  • Beth Williams

    Kristen,
    Parenting is the hardest, most rewarding job in the world! There is no handbook for handling these littles, tweens and teens. Life happens so fast and they grow up to quick. It is great if you can tell and show you love them! Hug the stuffing right out of them. It is something they will never forget!!
    Blessings :)

  • Sharon

    Thank you for putting into words what I’ve not known how. How real family life can be.

  • Beth Pandy Bruno

    And especially when our own ugly gets in the way, right? They seem to draw it right out of me! Thanks for this.

    Fellow mama to teens

  • Kim Duvall

    Oh sweet sister in Christ I needed this – my 4 children range from 15-21 and boy do I feel isolated !! Thank you for sharing your heart! Sometimes I think I am the only one who feels this way and boy is it hard! What a blessing your blog is to me – may the Lord bless you today for your honestly and for encouraging me today ! Oh how I need encouragement !

    • Ashley Sykes Ball

      Hi Kim, sounds like we have similar lives.. but my kids are younger. My four kids were born in 5 years. In a few years, I will have four teenagers! I hope you have someone near you who can encourage you. I am thankful that I have some friends around me that I can cry with and pray with when I am about to lose it! It’s funny how we can feel isolated when the kids are toddlers because we are mostly stuck at home, but at least at that stage our children adore us! I found a different kind of isolation at this stage.. when the kids aren’t quite as cute and they are the ones who make me feel like I’m a failure or not good enough (well, at least some times they do..thankfully they can be pretty sweet too). Grace and strength to you!

  • http://www.amyfritzwrites.com/ amyfritz

    Kristen, this is so encouraging. Thanks for sharing it. I can relate to much of it.