“the degree and intensity you have to fight for something is directly related to how much it matters to you.” Jon Acuff
In four short years, this beautiful child of mine will be an adult.
Which is so odd, because exactly four days ago, she looked like this.
In four short years, she will be working and driving and dating and voting. She will be doing her own laundry, buying her own clothing and choosing her own food. She’ll have a bank account and a car. She’ll be getting ready for college. Probably moving away from home.
The changes over these next four years of high school will be rapid and radical. I know that.
And I’m scared.
I’ve got my work cut out for me. Not only for her sake, but also for the two younger children coming up behind her. As I sit here—the first day of summer break with an emerging high-schooler, middle-schooler and first-grader—the reality of the passage of time strikes me more severely than ever before. I know I’ve got to get my head on straight for this next season.
I won’t sugar coat this next statement: middle school was hell. For her. For me. For Jon. For me.
While I hear other parents swear to me it gets better in high school, I’m not counting on it. (They lied to me about the Terrible Twos. They can’t be trusted!) That’s not me being negative. That’s me being realistic. I mean, even if high school brings with it growing maturity and balanced hormone levels, I’ve got two more entering middle school behind her.
No matter how you slice it, I’m screwed.
Without disclosing too many details, I will tell you that our middle school experience was probably typical on some levels—but, it was so NOT typical on others. We fought battles involving mean girls and bad attitudes and appropriate boundaries and adolescent depression and my evolving and ever-changing role in all this.
We fought each other. A lot.
For the record, I’m not a fan of battles. In fact, if this season of parenting has done anything for me, it’s revealed what a wimp I really am when it comes to battles. More and more, I find myself retreating in battle. Running into a locked room and crying into a carpeted floor because I don’t know what the hell is happening and how I’m supposed to navigate it.
I don’t know if I’ve always been such a wimp, but without a doubt, parenting a teen has unveiled my complete disdain for tension in the home. I will do almost anything to avoid it (the tension, not the teen) (okay, sometimes also the teen) including but not limited to
- Failure to set firm boundaries, in hopes she’ll just do the right thing on her own.
- Failure to follow through on consequences when she doesn’t do the right thing, because I don’t want to rock the boat (see previous statement about disdain for tension in the home.)
- Coming down too hard on the kids who actually DO obey me, because it’s easier than coming down on the one who does not.
- Outright refusal to confront my teen because I’m sick of being Bad Cop, thereby handing over all necessary negative confrontations to the loving hands of my capable husband (who always gets to be Good Cop).
- Who, turns out, also hates tension in the home and will avoid it at all cost.
- Causing me to be angry and frustrated with my capable husband for lack of follow through in administering consequences that I am trying to avoid.
- Causing me to retreat to the nearest locked room and cry into the carpet.
It’s a vicious cycle, this wimpy parenting.
Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a confusing or difficult situation, it helps to pretend I am counseling someone else with these same problems. It seems like I always have words of wisdom and encouragement for others. But when it’s me, I don’t know which end is up.
So, this morning, I’m giving me a pep talk. It’s by me, for me. But it’s also for you, if you happen to be a parent who is also in need of a pep talk.
If you were sitting across my table having coffee with me, telling me how weary you are from the incessant battles of parenting your teen, scared for what the next four years and beyond might bring, this is exactly what I’d tell you:
1. Be Strong. Don’t avoid confrontation because it’s uncomfortable. When your child makes unwise choices—and she will—it’s not a reflection of your bad parenting. It’s a reflection of her immaturity, combined with her sin-nature. It’s a reflection of her need for parental guidance and clear boundaries.
Though every-last impulse inside her maturing brain tells her she does not need you, she does. She needs (needs!) a stronger, wiser adult to guide her.
You are that Stronger, Wiser Adult.
And when she recoils at your instruction —and she will— this is not the time to second-guess every boundary you just put in place and every consequence you just implemented. It’s time to stand firm and confident that you’ve done the right thing.
And even if the “right” thing ends up being the“wrong”thing—even if you make a mistake and over-react
or put up the wrong boundary
too high or two low
or let your emotions override your better judgment
or hold on too tightly
or too loosely
or yell at the wrong kid because he’s an easy target
or crumble before your face hits the carpet behind locked doors…
God’s grace is sufficient to cover every parenting mistake. Every. last. one. Oh, thank God for His grace. What would parents do without it?
And BTW, you are not (repeat, NOT) permanently harming your child when you take away a cell phone for the day.
Or restrict internet usage.
Or forbid a certain social media outlet (or all of them) for now or for as long as you see fit.
Or insist she participate in household chores.
Or make her miss the sleep-over.
Or require that she stay seated at the table until everyone is finished with dinner.
Or ask that she respond with “yes m’am” instead of rolled eyes.
Yes, she will fight you and huff at you and blame you for ruining her life or her weekend or her evening. She will accuse you of embarrassing her. She will misread and misunderstand your motives. She will use her best hyperbole to attempt to convince you that you are extreme and terrible and clueless…and tell all her friends that you are extreme and terrible and clueless…but it doesn’t matter.
You are The Parent.
You hear God’s voice for this child and seek Him daily for His wisdom. Sure, she will make you feel like you have lost your ever-loving mind. And she may make you temporarily question your sanity or at least the sanity of the choice you made. You may need a break
or a friend
or a glass of wine
but you are not crazy.
You are The Parent.
2. Apologize. There will be times when you make a mistake. You will make them daily, probably. So what? It’s fine. We all make them. And when you do, here’s what you do: go directly to your child and admit you were wrong, humbly, sincerely. Model for her the humility and sincerity that God expects from you and from her.
Because, really, isn’t that ultimately what you want her to be? Humble? Sincere?
In your mistake-making, The Enemy will try to convince you you’ve irreparably damaged your integrity and/or your Christian witness and/or your relationship with your child.
Parent, that is a LIE. A lie from the Pit of Hell. (Which consequently, is also where middle school was created.)
One of the most compelling arguments for the amazing grace of God is the way He so freely forgives and restores when we make mistakes. God uses those mistakes to sift you and refine you and strengthen you. Please don’t fear mistakes.
3. Mine for Gold. Every day, dig and dig until you find ANY reason to celebrate your teen. It’s not easy when you are blinded by a trashed bedroom and erratic emotions. But dig, you must. This adult-child is the display of God’s splendor. Hand-crafted by the Master. Useful. Precious. Uncover the beauty in her—the beauty even she, herself, fails to see.
Did you know the same Enemy that’s been whispering into your ear that you suck as a Parent is also whispering into hers that she sucks as a Kid?
Dust off the gold, polish it up, and present to her what you’ve extracted:
Thank you for being on time this morning. I know you were up late working on that report.
I heard you speaking kindly to your brother. That was nice.
Thank you for straightening up your room .
I love when you enjoy time with the family.
Great job on your Chemistry test.
I’m proud of you for making it through this school year. I know it wasn’t easy.
I think it’s great that you reached out to your friend when she was hurting.
You look beautiful with your hair like that.
I saw the way you encouraged that girl on Instagram. You are a great witness for Christ.
Thank you for playing with your little sister while I worked in the house. It really helped me.
Mine and dig and extract with every bit as much passion and backbone as you do the boundary-setting and consequence-implementing. This will balance it all out and let your teen know she is safe, even if she does feel like she is temporarily imprisoned.
4. Tell her often, “There is nothing you can do or say that will make me love you more or less than I already do.” It’s good for her to hear. It’s good for YOU to hear.
Hang in there, Parent.
Cling to Jesus, always.
Cry in the carpet, as needed.
You are not alone.
And you are doing a fantastic job.