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Hey Mom, Please Keep Pursuing Me

“Hey mom,

Please keep pursuing me. When my door is shut, keep knocking. When my words are few, keep talking. When my mood is low, keep smiling. When I snap at you, stay. When I walk away, stay close behind. Please don’t give up. Please keep pursuing me. I need you now more than ever.

Your teen”

Despite the pulled-up hoodies, eye rolls, and turned backs, our teens really do want us to remain close. They want us to stay interested in their lives and to remain engaged in what lights them up regardless of this apparent new “do not disturb” sign feeling we get in every exchange with them. As they stretch and grow into adulthood, as they teeter back and forth from independence to reliance, they desperately need the assurance that their unpredictable moods, attitudes, and behaviors are not going to run us off.

And this is our job, after all. We certainly pursued them as babies. No matter how exhausted we were, we dragged our bodies out of bed at all hours of the night to feed them, re-bundle them, and make sure they were safe and protected. We pursued them as toddlers as we followed them around while they learned how to use their legs to walk and then to run. We blocked danger with our words and our bodies for them. We made sure they got sunlight and rest and conversation even though they battled naptime and threw their bodies on the supermarket floor in complete protest when they didn’t get their way. We continued to pursue them no matter how messy, frustrating, difficult, unpredictable, or exhausting they were for us. We pursued them because we knew their lives depended on it. We pursued them because we love them.

Unfortunately, when our kids become teenagers, we begin to take their attitudes and behaviors personally. As if somehow, suddenly, they are supposed to have acquired the skills and maturity to be nicer and to make our lives easier. We sometimes mistakenly believe they should know how to be more like us by now–more adult-like. We want respect and communication. We expect them to excel and keep their room clean and to willingly and gracefully share with us what is going inside of their adolescent brains whenever we feel like listening. And this is a lot to expect.

Our teens are just as messy a species as toddlers–just in bigger bodies. They are just as in awe of the world as toddlers. They are just as inexperienced in understanding the dangers that threaten their safety. They are just as determined to explore their new freedoms and opportunities. They are just as prone to frustration, confusion, fear, and disorientation of their direction as our feisty little toddlers once were. And trust me when I say this: They still want to be pursued.

Many of us might remember a  time when our toddler would not come to us when we asked them to. Maybe we were at the store, the park, or at a friend's house, and they simply refused to come to us when we asked them to. As our last resort we would pretend to leave them behind. “Bye” we’d say as we waved our hand to them in all of their business. “Mommy is leaving now”.  They would look up, watch to see if we really meant it, and when they saw us begin to walk away they came running (and often crying) toward us in a panic that they were going to be left there alone. They could feel in that brief instant, even though it was pretend, that they were not being pursued by us. It felt frightening and they weren’t equipped to deal with it. They need us no matter what. They need us to keep coming after them in all of their imperfection. And so do our teens.

So how do we do this? How do we pursue these big kids who are displaying attitudes and spewing words that are telling us the opposite? Where is the line between being over-pursuing and under-pursuing? How do we protect our own dignity in this process? Where does respect come into the equation of the pursuit of our teens?

I think it begins with compassion and empathy. These emerging adults really don’t know how to manage much of anything yet. They are learning about relationships and feelings. They are learning about responsibility and boundaries and respect. They are experiencing their changing bodies, and trying to understand and cope with new desires and emotions. They are confronted with new choices and opportunities and they have to do this while peer pressure, social media, and the internet all feeding them conflicting messages. They are trying to measure up to our expectations and the expectations of the fastest paced, noisiest society in the history of all time. And, just like our toddlers, they think they can do it “all by themselves”, but they can’t.

Pursuing someone we love in a healthy manner takes some finesse. The pursuit of our teens is really a decision of the heart. It doesn’t mean that we will follow them everywhere they go and just put up with these moods and attitudes that they are not yet equipped to regulate. It doesn’t mean that we embrace slammed doors, broken rules, or disrespected boundaries. It means that we are going to stay. It means that we are committed to love them and guide them through the biggest transformation of their lives as they are emerging from childhood into adulthood. It means that our teens will know that no matter how messy things get, no matter how many mistakes they make, no matter how unlovable they feel–we will stay. It means that in those moments when they think that they don’t even need parents–we will be there. We are not going anywhere and there is nothing they can do to make us leave them. Nothing.


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