There are truths about parenting teenagers that every Dad and Mom needs to hear – mainly so we don’t go insane thinking that our own experience is unlike anyone else’s. Trust me, you are not alone in the spiritual cage-match that parenting teens can be. Our kids are all college-age or older now, and as we look back on our parenting journey we’ve noted at least 4 “miraculous” truths – truths that seemed to change our parenting with great effect – that helped us see our family through to today.
They may help you navigate these challenging years.
1. Teenagers Bounce – And Must Sometimes Fall Off A Cliff To Prove It.
Like the Bumble – the infamous abominable snowman in the old holiday TV show, Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, both you and your teenager will fall off cliffs (sometimes of our/their own making). It must happen. But like the Bumble in the story, teenagers will ultimately bounce back, and like Yukon Cornelius (the gold prospector who leads the snowman to the cliff’s edge), so will you if you fall with them. They need us to let them fall, and for us, at times, to fall with them.
I’ve blown it at least 435 times with each of my children, and we still love each other today. But it didn’t always feel like that would be the end result. I think our relationship survived, and thrives today, because 1) We were willing for them to deal with the ramifications of their own decisions without always rescuing them, and 2) they never doubted that we would be there for them at the top or the bottom of the cliff. In the end, even though the falling was scary and the ground was hard at the bottom of the cliff, we bounced.
2. Rolling Eyes Is An Art Form They Must Master – So We Must Create Opportunities For Practice.
When disaster strikes (i.e. Dad says something that will demand a response of character from a child), a teenager has an almost magical capacity to roll their eyes in a way that triggers a hidden deep emotional response in a Dad. Learn to lighten up, and ask them to roll their eyes in slow motion for you, once again. It will lighten the mood.
Here’s the greater reality. Your child must learn to develop character, and the rolling of their eyes, or their bad attitude, is just a distraction. Don’t get lost in their attitude. Move right through it like a Mack truck and lovingly demand they serve others rather than just themselves. End of story. When we get lost in the rolling of eyes or the attitudes that come with the teenage package, we get sidetracked.
3. If They Say They Hate You Now – They Will Love You One Day For Your Stand.
This is a big one. Some parents have teenagers who, by parenting and by personality, are seamless in their expressed love for their parents all the way through. Some of us, however, are called to parent a certain strain of Lions and Lionesses, who must cut their sharp leadership teeth on us. My kids, to a person, are power brokers. They are each strong, defined personalities, who are parented by two similarly strong personalities.
There have been times one or more of my kids have either said, or have come close to saying, the stinging words, “I hate you.” That hurts, yes. But if it happens, you must ignore it, push it aside, and keep loving them with firm yet grace-based parenting. One day, like my children, they will thank you (either out loud or by their actions) that you didn’t bend to their will (or bend over backwards to get them to like you). I’m serious. Ignore what they say and lead – that’s what they need.
4. If You Keep The Road Open Back To You – They Will Find Their Way Home.
Let me put the cards on the table. We had some dark years in the teenage phase of our kids’ lives. I wasn’t sure we’d all make it through unscathed. A dear friend once told me, “Just keep the road clear and open that leads back to you. Take away anything that would be a roadblock.” My goodness. We prayed. We struggled. We argued. We prayed more. We even started to be divided as a husband and wife (then, we rallied and didn’t let our child and their troubles get between us). In one desperate moment, we truly feared we might lose one of our children forever based on our next decision (it can feel like that when you’re in the heat of battle).
Yet after desperate times, hearts have all returned home once again. I think that is because we fought for our kids and our marriage, with the weapons of prayer and unconditional love. Our parenting was imperfect, and we fumbled often, but I can honestly say that the years of sleepless nights in prayer were worth every moment seeing who our kids are now. Sometimes in my time of prayer a “road block” was revealed – one that I was putting up so my child couldn’t hurt my heart again. Those all need to come down. To parent is to be vulnerable; to be hurt. It is also to be blessed. Keep that way open. Your teenager needs the way to be clear and open for the moment they decide to come home to you.
Hold Their Identity In Trust For Them
A good friend once said that, during the teenage years, we must often hold our child’s identity “in trust” for them until they are mature enough to embrace it themselves. That takes hard work, to keep calling them to be who they were made to be, and at the same time to firmly guide their immature hearts, brains, and bodies toward love, character, and wholeness.
The reality is, we are raising adults, not teenagers, and if we keep the above in mind we may one day see the real miracle of a mature young adult arise from within our teenager.