He sat across from me at the restaurant, having just ordered a man-sized burger, extra-large fries, and a paradise iced tea. His legs stretched long and awkward, bumping me unintentionally with extreme force. It was as though he didn’t have control over his own muscles, limbs, or the disgruntled scowl that spread across his face multiple times each day, seemingly out of nowhere.

I had said “no” to something, I don’t even remember what it was, and he let out a whine that reminded me of his most ornery toddler days—except he wasn’t a toddler anymore, but a teen. The toddler-ish whine warbled with his changing voice, and he looked around to see if any of the strangers at nearby tables had heard him. He was always looking over his shoulder, looking to see who was looking. No one ever was, still he looked.

For a moment I pitied my oldest son. I often joke that I don’t have bad memories of Jr. High, because I blocked that cruel life-stage completely from my mind. But the truth is I do remember the awkwardness of my changing body (size D cups by age 12), the bigness of my hair (hello eighties), and my all-consuming, self-centered fears (that everyone would notice each new pimple and the times I walked  from one class to the next all alone).

I felt a twinge of compassion mix with the pity, and scooted back from the table to give his legs some extra room. Unfortunately, as I slid away, the chair beneath me screeched like a siren, calling everyone’s attention. Suddenly, the entire restaurant turned to look at us then. The man-child I’d given birth to turned beet red and rolled his eyes, as if I’d done something intentionally unkind.

When he scowled again I just about lost it.

Having just co-authored a book on mommy anger, I was shocked to feel such a strong and sudden urge to raise my voice, wag my finger, and deliver another lecture about how good his life was, how much he had to be grateful for, and how his “haughty eyes” needed to be kept in check. There may have also been the urge to bend all seventy inches of him over my knee. Instead, however, I took a deep breath and privately texted my co-author, Amber Lia, under the table:

WE SHOULD HAVE ADDED A CHAPTER ENTITLED TEENAGERS!

Last year Amber and I wrote the book Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses, where we addressed 31 common triggers (the things our children do that cause us to explode appropriately at them.) While we do address many teenage triggers from screen-time addiction to backtalk, I realize now that we could have had an entire chapter dedicated to the wonderful (albeit weary-making) season of life we call the teen years.

Just recently I read a book on the development of the teenage brain that helped me to understand (some of) what is happening in my boy’s developing body. While there’s much scientific jargon intertwined with biblical counsel, shared in the pages of Your Teenager’s Not Crazy by Jeromy and Jerusha Clark, I kept coming back to this main theme:

Our children need us to understand what’s happening inside of them, so that we can respond with compassion to what’s happening on the outside of them.

Compassion.

Sure, they seem ruled by emotional, self-centered impulses, but they need us to respond with compassion and not passion as they transition from our little people, to their own big people. And it’s near impossible to respond compassionately and not passionately when we don’t understand what’s happening inside their bodies and brains.

Years ago when I was up to my eyeballs in potty-training, with sticker charts and Thomas the Tank Engine underwear, I read all the books and tried all the latest parenting techniques. Today many of us have moved into new seasons and onto new challenges, and are desperate for new wisdom to apply. Your Teenager’s Not Crazy (affiliate link) is a wonderful resource to help you exchange your passionate reactions with gentle, compassionate responses.

I’m also currently enjoying Emerson Eggerichs’ new book, Mother & Son: The Respect Effect (affiliate link). The more I learn about my pre-teen and teen boys, the more I see their natural need for both compassion and respect. Those two go hand in hand. Unfortunately, so do an exasperated mother’s passionate reactions and disrespect. (Anybody else know this to be true?)

We want our sons to grow up into men who are able to control themselves—even their bony knees and haughty eye rolls. We want them to respect others, respect the Lord, and even respect themselves. Well guess what, sweet mamas of teens, we can help them in their slow-maturing process by showing them what respect, self-control, and compassion looks like each, long mothering day.

You’ve heard it said, perhaps, that motherhood is a marathon not a sprint. Oftentimes we hit the teenage years thinking our work here should done. Oh my word, no.

Amber Lia, in the pages of Triggers and even via text that day, reminded me again to “Keep doing the good parenting.”

Though we took their sticker charts down long ago, our teens still need us to parent them. Commit to doing a little bit of research, (grab one of the books mentioned above or talk it through with a mentor mom a few life-steps ahead of you.) It’s essential that we understand what’s happening inside of our children as they make this awkward transition into adulthood.