Seriously, why didn’t somebody leave me an instruction manual for teenagers? I mean, I have two and another one is nipping at the heels of adolescence as I type. The least James Dobson, or Pastor Tullian Tchividjian or Elyse Fitpatrick could do is send me a step by step guide to make sure I’m at least in the ball park of accurate on my parenting! Here’s an example of the kinds of conversations I am having lately with one of my teens:
son: watching your reactions is what I live for mom. (after making some crazy statement about hating an entire people group which I addressed)
me: you need a better purpose for living. my reactions are not that exciting.
son: okay, working out is what I live for then.
me: no, that is not a good purpose either.
son: I think it’s a great purpose. Once I’m “swol” I will be happy. (swol is one of his favorite words)
me: no, you won’t. Happiness is not something you find outside yourself. But even being happy is not a great purpose for living because sometimes we need to have struggles to grow. It’s how God shapes us, and struggles don’t usually make us happy.
son: I don’t care if I grow. Except my muscles.
I have about a million of these right now. Okay maybe not a million, but for sure two or three a day, which totally feels like a million. Our conversations generally fall into three categories: him telling me about working out, humor (which is his saving grace and how we will both survive to see him grown) and correcting an extreme statement that is oppositional to God’s truth in some way. Thus far those statements have brought up: hating others, steroids, gangster rap, underage drinking, why being part of a church matters, why feelings are important, what constitutes disrespect, reading the Bible, studying, sex and a partridge in a pear tree. They usually end with him still sticking to his original stance on the subject and me saying something like “Well you can choose to believe what you want, but it’s not true according to what God says, so it’s not okay with me for you to say it” and then wondering if that is even an effective thing to say. His father and I have discussed at length all kinds of issues as to what this child needs as he grows and if, in fact, we are succeeding in giving it to him. I generally feel like we are miserably failing and his father, who annoyingly refuses to overreact with me, takes it in stride. (Except when the child is disrespectful to adults and then not so much…) We have boundaries in place related to school, friends, church attendance, chores, etc. We hold him accountable for words and actions. We allow him to have any feelings but express them in respectful ways. We try to stick with the “say yes to everything you can and say no to things that are spiritually or physically dangerous”.
This is what I am coming to realize- this child who is currently struggling with a rebellious spirit is exposing all kinds of things in me. Pride, fear, control (which is about fear), impatience, selfishness- you name it, the picture is not the prettiest. I get so frustrated as I read off my check list of “positive parenting” traits to see his rebellion still surface. I get angry that he is not “fixed” or saying the right things yet. Which is all about me thinking if I am a really good mom, my kid won’t need a Savior. It’s also about me wanting him to make me look good. You know- “You’re such a great mom! Look at how neat your kid is!” But as much as that is true and God is showing me where I need to repent or surrender or let go- He is also showing me that this parenting thing is really hard and I don’t have to be perfect at it. As much as Jesus died for my son’s rebellion, He died for my pride and insecurity. He came for us both and I find great comfort in that. I don’t have to be my children’s Savior- I get to point them to the Savior! So when I’m all aggravated about some ridiculous belief this child is proclaiming, I remind myself of my own ridiculous beliefs and I explain that I’m not perfect either. I still address the things that aren’t true or good- but I make sure he knows I’m not any better.
Here is my encouragement and challenge to us all as we live life together and watch our kids grow: let’s all model grace to the rebellious kids around us. Let’s extend grace to the mom’s and dad’s in the thick of it! When I was a mom of young and compliant children I felt certain my kids would never_________ (fill it in with whatever behavior or attitude you find unpleasant) Now i realize I was delusional! Of course my child will find something(s) to do that creates his need to receive grace. The Bible has been perfectly clear about that. So let’s all quit being so shocked by it! For our own kids and each others. Instead let’s share what we’ve learned, let’s reach out to kids that push us away, let’s empathize with worn out parents and let’s quit believing that we have to hide our parenting struggles.