Teenagers. We have all been there and done that but then when we have teens of our own it's like we are embarking on a journey into the unknown. All of our own personal experiences and memories from "back in the day" are like dust in the wind when it comes to trying to understand and navigate life with our own teens.
Parenting through the teen years is a bumpy journey of highs and lows, celebrations and sorrows, embraced and even missed growth opportunities - on our part and theirs! Having been in full-time youth ministry for 10+ years Casey and I had a unique opportunity to see countless parents navigate this season through the best and worst of what life threw at them and we would love to share some of that wisdom and knowledge gained with all our other weary parents of teens out there! Is this an exhaustive list of how-tos or a guaranteed self-help guide? FAR FROM IT! But I pray these little nuggets will help you find joy, peace, and strength all along this bumpy and yet blessed road. So here it goes....
TIP #1 - Don't get too clingy
When our children misbehave our instinct as parents is to hold more tightly to them. To tighten the reigns, tighten control, and (as my favorite line from the Ernest movies so eloquently puts it) "put the hammer down, Bobby!" However, we would do well as parents to take a minute and make sure that before we start holding more tightly to our kids when things seem out of control we instead cling more tightly to the Lord - the one who is always in control!
Proverbs 3:6 "...in ALL YOUR WAYS submit to Him, and He will direct your path..."
Lord, help me to learn to parent with the same grace that you have for me.
TIP #2 - Don't confuse grace with consequence...
Yes. We know the truth that God's grace covers a multitude of sins and we would all be bound for an eternity in hell without the Lord's sacrifice, love, and grace but that doesn't mean we should give our kids a pass when they disobey! After all, the presence of grace does not mean the absence of consequence. Our actions - the good, the bad, and the ugly - have consequences, whether we like it or not. I encourage you to not just throw down a punishment to your kids but instead outline the consequences, making it clear why they are receiving the "punishment" they are receiving and how that consequence can be avoided in the future.
We have a saying in our house - "it's not what you said, it's how you said it". Now that phrase is GENERALLY directed at one of the kids for speaking harshly or having an inappropriate attitude but it is also a great "heart-check" statement for myself when I'm upset, angry, or frustrated with my kids. When I have to correct, redirect, and yes hand down all the punishments I want them to know at the end of the day I am doing it all out of love for them and not anger or disappointment. Even though my kids may not see it at the moment it is my prayer that in the days, weeks, and years to come my kids will look back and see that, more times than not, my words (even when they received punishment) brought life and not "death".
Proverbs 18:21 "Life and death are in the power of the tongue..."
Lord, help me to speak life into my kids! Help me to see EVERY opportunity to celebrate them daily and to speak correction with the same unconditional love with which You speak over me.
TIP #3 - Don't blame yourself!
I remember having a conversation with my mom years after my "hooligan days" as I like to call them in which she asked, "What could I have done differently for you to not have walked down that road as a teen?" I so wanted to be able to offer my mom some mind-blowing "key to the problem" that she could share with other moms and would help set every other teenager on a detour-free road to spiritual maturity with the Lord. Alas, that "key" simply doesn't exist. So parents - let me just offer you the most freeing and also terrifying bit of truth...
Your child's misbehavior doesn't always mean you have missed something as a parent! We can all say in hindsight that we should have done more family devotionals and we can all put up safeguards to what our kids hear, see, and read. We can make sure we have them attending and involved in church and can help make sure they are surrounding themselves with positive friendships that encourage them to chase Jesus rather than discourage them from it. We can do all the "good parent" things - and we SHOULD! I'm all about doing all we can as parents to help guide and protect our kiddos - but don't forget...at the end of the day they have been created by the Lord with the ability to choose. Being a teen living under your roof doesn't take away the fact that they, like us, are operating with free will. And unfortunately, that free will is not always going to line up with God's will or even with YOUR will!
So does that mean we give our teens a pass and chalk it up to "learning", "growing up", and "life experience"? Goodness NO! The Lord has entrusted these future world-changers to us and we would be remiss to not do all we can to help set their feet, heart, and minds towards the Lord. But I also want you to remember that your teenager's "fall" doesn't mean you have "failed"! You just keep on loving. You keep on leading. You keep on correcting, directing, and most importantly praying!
Lamentations 3:22-23 "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; GREAT IS YOUR FAITHFULNESS."
Lord, thank you for blessing me with my kids. I know this is a high honor that I don't take lightly. Speak to me on how to best raise them, especially through these teen years, leaning on your leading and wisdom and not my own. And God, free my mind from the burden of thinking this all rests on me. For through the highs and the lows, You are with me and You are for me.
Tip #4 - Don't forget...He's always with you
When we are in the midst of the battle it is easy for us to feel lonely but I encourage you to remind your heart and mind daily that God is working, moving, and fighting, behind the scenes, on your behalf. Sometimes that means He is doing something in your child's heart that you can't see and other times He is doing something new in YOUR heart in the waiting. Remember, there are no wasted seasons with God, so ask the Lord what He is speaking to you in THIS season.
Proverbs 3:11-12 "My child, don't reject the Lord's discipline and don't be upset when He corrects you. For the Lord corrects those He loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom He delights."
Lord, help me to accept your correction with grace and help me to give correction with grace. Help me to love, lead, and parent my family the way you love, lead and parent me.
As I wrap up this post I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes. I don't think it is intended specifically for parenthood but it has been so freeing for me as a parent and thought it might be a blessing to you as well...cause life is messy and I believe that sometimes our kids learn from us the most when we let them see us working through our mess...
"There is no need to be perfect to inspire others...Let people get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections." -Robert Tew