Big Emotions & Growing Up

Big feelings.

Confusing feelings.

Hard-to-define feelings.

What do we do when we find ourselves swirling in emotions that aren’t clear but simultaneously feel all-consuming? Better yet, what do we do when we find one of our children in this place of emotional turmoil? 

Our oldest is now in 6th grade. She is a stunning beauty, inside and out, and watching her grow is one of our greatest gifts. With her growth comes periods of confusing emotions and pre-teen angst. While totally normal, I’m still trying to find my footing as a parent of a middle schooler. 

I have found that on days when she is in a “meh” place and doesn’t know why, I have to lean deeply into a 1 Corinthians type of love. I all but chant, “love is patient, love is kind” as I move through my days and seek to help her through the big feelings. I know that when she is in the swirling confusion she is not able to see or hear clearly enough for my guidance. I have to wait. I must be patient. I must be kind. In those moments, I have to love big.

The opportunity for impact and understanding happens on the other side of the emotional swirl, while it is still a fresh memory but not as intense. That is when I can come alongside her in a way that can help her pull apart the knot of emotions she experienced.

Recently, she and I took an evening walk around our neighborhood, just us two. I brought up her really bad attitude from the day before and shared how I was at a loss as to how to help her. I was honest that I had been praying for wisdom and clarity from the Lord on how to mother her well in her pre-teen and teen years. I expressed confusion and even some frustration on feeling like I was re-learning how to be a parent.

In that calm, and as we strolled along the sidewalk, she shared a profound insight that I will carry with me in the days and years to come. It was sage-beyond-her-years. She shared that she knew she wasn’t her best self when her attitude was bad. She said:

You know how when you lose something you retrace your steps to figure out where you might have left it? When I have hard feelings, I can usually retrace my steps and figure out the moment that they started. That helps me know how to fix things. But yesterday, I couldn’t retrace my steps. I couldn’t go back to when it started. They were just there.”

Wow. Just wow.

On that walk we made a deal that when she was feeling “lost” and in an emotional swirl of angst she will use those words to tell me. Our plan is that moving forward she will simply say, “I can’t retrace my steps right now.” 

While it may not immediately change her attitude or emotions, my hope is that it will trigger increased empathy within me as I realize my daughter is caught in a whirlpool of confusion and is doing the best she can. I will wait wrapped in patience and love while, she weathers her storm. I’ll be her safe place when it all settles. 

My other favorite part of our walk was when we talked about our dreams for a great relationship as she becomes a teenager and grows up. We affirmed that we love each other, we have fun together, we are both smart, we both love God, and we both want to be intentional about staying connected. We realized we have the recipe for relational success as she grows and changes. It felt good to say it out loud and claim our intention together.

While I am certain that there will be many moments of tension, frustration, and big emotions as she continues to grow, I am equally certain that we are going to put in the work to continue the special relationship we have built since the day she made me a mom. I’m also grateful that she is putting in the work to explore how we can stay committed to loving each other well.

As my journey through motherhood continues, I am strikingly aware of the honor it is to be a wayfinder when she can’t retrace her steps and the person who will always point her to her True Wayfinder. It is a privilege I hold both with tenderness and fierceness.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” – Proverbs 3:5-6

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