Letting Go of My Own Way

My teenage son finally gave in to the sleep that he so badly needed, literally collapsing onto his bedroom floor while it was still light out. As the morning alarms went off, I crept to his room and could see he was stirring. 

A sense of relief washed over me like those early days when my fitful baby would finally give us a night’s sleep. As I walked into his room in the morning, he woke up surprised and refreshed. 

What surprises me most about this transition to the teenage years is how its rhythms feel oddly similar to the baby years. As a new mom to my oldest nearly fifteen years ago, I was struck (and often overwhelmed) by the whole-hearted focus that a baby required: how those early years are a time full of absolute heart-swelling joy, but also a time of confusion, exhaustion and slowing way, way down. You’re up late, your sleep is disrupted, your time is not your time, and you are forced to let go of how life used to be.

I think I’m going to stop saying to new parents that “it gets easier” and start saying “you learn to adjust.” Because with my son’s transition into teenage years, I’m right back in those early days again.

There have been plenty of confusing moments with my teenage son. Moments where I’ve been confused and wondered to myself, “did I just yell?” when he gave me a stormy look and went to his room. Moments where I’ve had to figure out how to care for someone who used to always tell me his feelings, but now leaves me guessing at times. In this sense, the teen years can be just as confusing as the baby years when it’s 3 AM, and you’re wondering, “what is possibly wrong?” as your baby fitfully resists sleep.

When he was a baby, I knew he wasn’t doing challenging things, such as refusing naps, to spite me (though in my exhaustion, it sure felt like he was). And so too, I have to realize that as frustrating as the  challenging moments can be, he isn’t retreating to his room or losing his patience with me to make my life hard. He is learning how to make decisions independently. And sometimes, it causes him to experience a wide range of feelings because it’s just where he’s at, for now. In realizing this, I could hear the wise voice of a social worker in my school district saying, “separate the behavior from the kid.” 

But isn’t this how God looks at us—separating us from the behavior and loving us through it? Watching and loving us in those hard moments of parenting where we resent our child for their midnight cries and big feelings? Watching and loving us when we explode on the child who has changed our course of plans for the day and challenged us beyond belief? 

Part of being totally, unconditionally beloved by God means that he totally, unconditionally loves us in these moments where we lose control of our reason in a moment of frustration—for example, when we are transitioning to new stages of life and parenthood. In these transitions, we lose a sense of control that we thought we had and knew, but actually don’t. 

But to lose control and let go is what God desires. 

In 1 Corinthians, Paul spoke of the way of love, writing “love does not care about its own way” (1 Corinthians 13:5). As I read these words one morning in prayer, I looked up and laughed. I wasn’t really seeing my son fully. I was seeing him in my “own way.” 

That old feeling of ridiculous and misdirected spite that I had when he wouldn’t nap as a baby flooded my heart as I thought about whatever silly argument we had had that day. I could see how I was mostly just upset because I had no control.

As I meditated on this idea, I could see what God was doing in that moment—how he was moving my heart toward what Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., refers to a “light grasp” of the situation. Fr. Greg’s advice is that we stay “anchored in the moment” because change is inevitable. To have a “light grasp” is to give up control. According to Fr. Greg, when we have a light grasp, we are “free to love…without putting people in debt to [us].”1 

Ha. It’s control that I need to let go of, isn’t it, God? To love my son fully, I have to let go and let him grow into himself. I have to love him unconditionally regardless of whether or not his behavior is easy or downright difficult. 

But before I could even say, “how, Lord, how?” I realized that the Holy Spirit had been lighting a path before me. In the past few years of my faith practice, I can see how God was at work, preparing me for this phase of life. He moved me toward this “light grasp” by helping me to slow down, breathe deeply, and find joy in the ordinary. And now, God was showing me that I needed to keep a “light grasp” on my ever growing boy.

This time with our teens is sacred. It’s hard, but it’s sacred. It’s fast, but it’s slow. It requires a different view—one that is like those early years of parenthood. Instead of just praying “help!” when I am confused, irritated, or angry, I am trying to keep a light grasp, realizing that the kind of love that God calls us to is total and unconditional. 

Do I find the teen years tiring and uncharted? Absolutely. But I’m trying to shift my perspective in these moments. And with that, I am again reminded of the deep and powerful love that I’ve come to know in motherhood never has been my “own way.” 

[Cue laughter from the heavens.]


  1. From “A Light Grasp on Life,” a meditation by Fr. Greg Boyle in the “Growing in Compassion” series from the Ritual App

This week’s sponsor for Mothering Spirit is the Ritual app, a wellbeing app with daily lectio divina prayer, poetry, gratitude practices, and more. Ritual offers audio experiences from compassionate leaders in faith, self-care, and culture (including Fr. Greg Boyle) to strengthen your wellbeing and nourish your spirit. Try out Ritual’s practices for free!

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Lauren Nizol dreamed of being a writer when her oldest of three sons was a baby. After her return to teaching a year later, it took some time before she began to write again. Aside from being a wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend, Lauren is also a high school teacher and literacy interventionist, and an eighth grade catechist. For Lauren, writing draws her close to God's "still, small voice." She enjoys travelling with her family, surrounding herself with nature, art, and books, and finding joy and laughter in life's ordinary moments.


  1. Alissa on 30 March 2024 at 9:28 am

    Really loved this essay. As we have just launched our first baby into the world I am grappling with how to have a lighter grasp. Thank you.

  2. Elizabeth A Berget on 25 March 2024 at 11:35 am

    I so needed to read this! I find myself in such similar moment lately…this stage really does remind me of the early days of mothering. Thank you SO MUCH for the reminder of what God’s unconditional love actually looks like!

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