Today is the last day we will parent a teenager.
That may bear repeating: Today is the last day we will parent a teenager!
Amazingly, this day has come far more quickly than I would have ever imagined the day my oldest daughter turned the ripe old age of three. Sequentially thereafter, the age of three went by ever so slowly for our other two daughters as well. So how did this day get here almost before we could blink our eyes? How did we traverse the teenage years with our three lovely daughters with fewer (that doesn’t mean there were none) problems, blow-ups, rebellious moments, sarcasm, disrespect, pain and separation than I would have ever dreamed? Truly, by and through the grace of God, with continuous prayer and much time and conversation!
As parents we are warned and conditioned to beware “the terrible twos” and then the even more horrible “teenage years.” As I said, our “twos” couldn’t hold a candle to our “threes.” Yet, our almost 15 consecutive years of parenting teenagers have been, in effect, absolutely delightful.
We have made a point of really sharing these years with our girls, their friends, teammates, classmates, churchmates, teachers, pastors, coaches and anyone else who was playing a part in their lives. If our girls were involved – – sometimes to their chagrin – – we were involved. And what a blessing and privilege that has been for us (and I think for them as well)! We have gotten to know many remarkable young people along the way, and have spent time and effort not only getting to know, but helping and supporting those who were speaking into our girls hearts and minds. Our little world is larger, richer and oh, so much better for these often –dreaded years!
We’ve had countless teenage girls in our home and around our table. We’ve had a few select young men as well – but I’m going to focus on the girls for now! These young women have graced our lives with their talents, intelligence, hearts, minds, love, dreams, hurts and even a few heartaches. We’ve eaten, laughed, eaten, danced, cried, eaten, slept a little, eaten, played, eaten, watched movies, eaten, had bible studies, eaten, prayed, shopped, eaten, taken pictures, eaten and eaten (yes, there is a pattern – even with girls!) with remarkable, loving, kind girls – some now grown, married, working, mothering, teaching, and hosting young women themselves. It has been an incredible circle to be a part of. We wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world. If you have been a part of that circle, you are now an indelible part of our home and family. You are embedded deep in our hearts.
We are often asked how we have had the joy and blessing of parenting our girls through the rough waters of teenage years. I will say, I’m glad a portion of that parenting came before the onslaught of social media and its prodigy. I think parenting with social media, social issues and social breakdowns that seem to be accelerating in more complicated trajectories by the day serve to challenge and complicate the task in ever-increasing ways. Yet, as I have been reflecting on all of the days and years leading up to this final teenage parenting day, there are some basic, unchanging thoughts and routines we have put into practice that have served our family well. Some we were taught; some we just “fell” into; some we figured out by trial and error. This isn’t a complete list – just one to maybe offer an idea or two to those parents still in or about to enter the dreaded “teenage zone.”
- Be Authentic! They know! Be the same person you are at home as you are at work, church, school, anywhere and everywhere! It develops a sense of truth and integrity in you, your home, your worldview, your words, your beliefs, your character – and as a result – in your teenager.
- Be Content! If your teenagers see your contentment with your life, your home, your family, your body, your marriage, your possessions, it will help them be content with who they are – with who God created them to be.
- Pray with them, for them, about them. Always, continually, furtively, realistically, completely, visibly, audibly. Pray, Pray, Pray. And truly have a relationship and know the God to whom you are praying to through His Son Jesus Christ. Again, they know!
- Be Available! And Listen! A wise friend told me years ago, your teenager will only want to tell things once! And once it’s been said, they’ve said it. They won’t want to repeat it – and they don’t. Here is the challenge – as best you can, try to be the one they tell it to their first and only time!
- Talk with them! Talk, Talk, Talk – – – even if they are rolling their eyes, looking at their phone, watching television, seemingly not listening. You are still focusing on them, spending time and words on them. It matters! Don’t let silence beget silence! And watch your tone! Which is REALLY hard to do sometimes! Kindness does matter! Though I think our girls have kind of liked a little salty sarcasm from time to time. We are “real” people after all!
- Eat together! As much, as often as you possibly can! This will take a lot of finagling if you have busy, active kids. And as you are eating, talk, challenge them, listen to them, teach them.
- Fight for them (not with them or on their behalf)! Whether it’s an issue at school (so long as you truly think they are in the right); in a relationship – especially one that is not encouraging or beneficial; for their honor, character, reputation. Fight for their love, time, energies. Fight for your family. If you aren’t fighting for them, who will? This is not, as you can guess, literally “fighting.” It is being their strongest supporter, advocate, encourager, teacher, truth-teller. It’s being on their team no matter what! They need to know they can count on you; that you won’t give up or give in when the going gets tough! We’ve had awesome girls, and my husband loves to say that the only time we have had to go to school to address a problem with one of our daughters it has been because of the behavior of the adults in the situation. And gone we have! Respectfully, seeking the truth, and not assuming our little “darlings” were always in the right.
- Correct them! Discipline them! Teach them! It’s okay! If done in kindness, love and truth – – with respect and understanding – – they will respond, they will learn, they will change. Be persistent. Be relevant. Be consistent. Be the parent! It’s okay for you to set their boundaries. Just explain them and maintain them!
- Ask! Then ask again! Then ask the follow-up question! My girls have deemed me the Grand Inquisitor! They haven’t meant that as the greatest compliment – but they do know this – because I’ve reminded them often – “I will ask . . . and God does know!”
- Keep them out of their rooms! It is sometimes so much easier and simpler to allow your teenager to slip away quietly to their rooms. Unfortunately, this time alone and away from the active heartbeat of our families sometimes expands and grows because we are too tired, busy, enjoying our own quiet, and just not in the mood to deal with the surly attitudes or needs of our own tired, busy kids. I’ve spent many a night sitting on our couch watching some television show that I wouldn’t ordinarily watch just so I could sit next to, spend time with and have something in common with my girls. These shows have been conversation starters, great object lessons, and sometimes not very useful for anything of great worth or intelligence. But the cherished moments sitting together have been priceless!
- Listen! Listen! Listen! Argue if you need to! Then listen some more!
- All of these things take Time! Precious Time! Not a lot of money – just Time! It is our number one resource as a parent. It is also our most fleeting one!
I could go on and on! But the sunlight on this final day is waning. Tomorrow the day will mark a wonderful new chapter in the life of our family. Adulthood will, undoubtedly, be filled with new challenges and worries that neither our three year olds nor our teenagers ever faced.
Our years with teenagers have been filled with blessings beyond measure; precious young women, both ours and many others, have crossed through our lives to grace them as only they uniquely could leaving an indelible stamp on our hearts. These years certainly haven’t been perfect, but they have, without a doubt, been precious
Thought to Ponder: Review the list above. Are there things you are already doing that have made a great difference in the life of your family? Are there some you can work on to encourage a better relationship with your teenager? If there are some you haven’t thought of, it isn’t too late to begin.