I guess Mom wasn’t as surprised when, a few years after my sisters, my emotions began to change, because she was quick to assure me it was normal.
I remember one of the first times I got over-emotional about something. My dad had brought me a miniature glass piano back from a trip to South Africa.
It broke, and I broke down.
I felt stupid, even guilty, for crying. What was wrong with me? I wasn’t a child anymore, so why did I feel so weepy over this souvenir?
Mom was right there to explain that these kinds of strong emotions were normal at my age. (What a comforting word normal is!) She reassured me that I wasn’t strange and that nothing weird was happening to me. I could expect more strong emotions in the future and not to be overly concerned about it. By the end of the conversation I think we were probably laughing about it all.
My mom’s calm, even lighthearted, response was steadying for me. At that age you have so many questions about life and about yourself. So much is changing and it is confusing. It helped so much that she didn’t chide me for my outburst, or act like something was wrong with me or she just couldn’t understand me.
Mom helped me to feel safe in the midst of my changing emotions. By reacting calmly, but even more, by explaining that this was a normal part of growing up, she made it easy for me to ask more questions about my emotions.
Her response also helped me be receptive to her teaching and her leadership throughout my teenage years. I didn’t feel like she was looking down on me, and so it made it easier for me to come to her with my struggles and questions, and to listen to her advice.
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). Mom not only shared this verse with me but I knew she believed it. She told me stories from her own life to back it up. Hearing how she struggled with her emotions at my age made me feel so much better.
I hope that one day I can serve my children as well as my mom served me. I want to tell them how normal they are, and I want this to be the first of many more talks about their feelings.
My two oldest girls, Nicole and Kristin, are fourteen months apart. Growing up, they were more like twins—doing everything together, including becoming women.
I read lots of books on how to help girls through puberty, and I talked to them, at the appropriate time about the changes their bodies would undergo in the very new future. I was careful to explain that this was a normal, and even a wonderful process, and nothing to be scared of. I didn’t want them to be surprised. I wanted them to know what to expect.
But I was surprised, completely caught off guard in fact, when my girls emotions began to change. Nicole first, and Kristin close behind. It felt like someone had swapped my two girls out for two strangers.
Where were my little girls who used to be so happy? Why did they cry so easily now? What were these moods that, like an afternoon thunderstorm, seemed to appear from nowhere?
I may have been surprised and confused by my daughters’ emotional changes, but God was not. Just as he designed a young person’s body to change and develop into manhood or womanhood, he also ordained for their emotions to develop and mature.
Remember, God is the one who created our children to be emotional beings, and feelings are a good gift from him. And so it is a beautiful thing when a child’s capacity to feel begins to blossom and grow. This season of mothering does come with all kinds of challenges, but also exciting opportunities to help train and tend those emotions into deepening passion for God.
These years of change aren’t meant to be a battle: parents vs. our children’s emotions. Rather, by the grace of God, they can be a grace-filled season of learning. We can lead our children to understand and appreciate who God has made them to be and teach them how to cultivate and enjoy God-glorifying emotions for the rest of their lives.
Janelle’s up next with a story about her transition from youthful to mature emotions.
“In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.” ~Timothy Keller
There were varying degrees of appreciation for cows among my herd today.
“[Our emotions] are the part of us most vulnerable to outside influences, and in this sense, they are the part of us most easily manipulated….Not only are our emotions easily influenced; they are highly influential. Once persuaded, they become the powerful persuaders, and here is their danger….Reason is cut down, obedience is thrown out, and for a while the rule of the emotions is as sovereign as it is violent.” Os Guinness
The author isn’t talking about teenagers, but he might as well be. I mean, in what period of life can children be more unreasonable or disobedient? When are emotions as sovereign as they are violent than during these critical years?
As parents we can sometimes be slow to recognize just how vulnerable and easily manipulated our teenagers’ emotions are. Puberty ushers them into a stage of life full of strange and strong emotions they never felt before.
But these fragile emotions, these susceptible sensations can become the ruling factor in decisions our teenagers make about their friends, their relationship with us, with the church, and most of all about God—all of which will have massive implications for the rest of their lives.
The stakes are high. Once persuaded, our children’s emotions become powerful persuaders, and so we as parents must persuade them first.
There is danger; and there is also opportunity, a chance to help our teenagers harness their emotions so that they become powerful persuaders toward godliness.
How can we prepare and protect our tween and teenage children through this emotional minefield so they come out safely and even stronger on the other side?
How can we guard and guide them into strong, God-glorifying emotions?
These are critical questions with biblical answers. So let’s consider the wisdom of God’s Word for our teenagers’ emotions.
From the 3-year-old: “Mom, look! It’s a dead chip!”
Before we move on to tweens and teens, here’s a quick summary of our thoughts from the past few weeks on how to help our children handle their emotions.
Self-control is the priority in the toddler years. Behind a strong wall of self-control, godly emotions can flourish. Depending on the child, it may take years of vigorous and intense training before we see progress in emotional self-control. But if we persevere, the fruit in our child’s life will be abundant.
During the elementary years, we will probably need to continue to help our children reinforce their wall of self-control; but we can also begin to teach them how to express godly emotions such as cheerfulness, gratefulness, and passion for God. Through simple, intentional, plans, we can teach our children godly emotional habits that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
Simple steps, big goal. We want our children to learn to express their feelings in the way that God, our Creator, intended—to prepare them for a life of passionate worship and whole-hearted obedience in response to our Savior’s death and resurrection.
Here is love that conquered evil,
Christ, the firstborn from the grave
Death has failed to be found equal
to the life of Him who saves
In the valley of our darkness
dawned His everlasting light
Perfect love in glorious radiance
has repelled death’s hellish night
Here is love vast as the heavens,
countless as the stars above
Are the souls that He has ransomed,
Precious daughters, treasured sons.
We are called to feast forever
on a love beyond our time
Glorious Father, Son and Spirit
now with man are intertwined
~New verses by Matt Giles to the old hymn, “Here is Love”“