Have you ever surprised your kids when they asked for something – expecting a no and you said yes? One time that happened in our family and the teen doing the asking said they expected a no because I had said no in the past. They thought about it and came back to me and asked another question: Does this mean, every year I can do more? And the answer was yes. It was a good time to talk about growing up, maturing, becoming responsible. It was also a good reminder to me that parenting teenagers is about slowly letting go and letting them be responsible at the same time as giving them unconditional love.
Teenagers Grow Up – they need to!
As our children grow older we have to say yes to more and more things. We have to give them the freedom to make choices. We have to allow them to make mistakes. We have to let them grow up.
Growing up is a tricky thing – on the one hand you can do nothing about it, and on the other hand it is up to you to let it happen. Our children will grow up – they start as newborns, and before you know it they are a toddler, then they are at school and then they are teens and then leaving home. It happens. How you handle it is what will matter.
Our society seems to celebrate the growing up of the newborn and the toddler. The joy of new parents when their baby sleeps through the night, rolls, sits, stands, walk and says their first word. These are natural developments and every little progress is marked and shared with our friends. But as our kids get older we seem to want to put the skids on more than we want to celebrate – they want to choose their own music, spend time with friends, stay up later and watch different movies. These are indicators of growing up – just like the toddler is learning to stand and walk, the teen is also learning to stand on their own, and walk their life. We should be celebrating.
I think the reason we don’t celebrate is that we see the toddler walking towards us and we wonder if the teen is walking away from us.
Teenagers Grow up Different to Us – and that’s okay
I’ve asked myself the question – Just because my teenager likes different music than I do, have I lost their heart? Of course not. We are two individuals – we will have different tastes. As our children entered the teenage years this idea of having different tastes (and my response to that) has been a constant thought. What music we listen to, what movies we watch, what books we read, how we spend our time doesn’t define our relationship – it may shape us but not define us.
Our relationship is defined by
- God placed us in a family (we are the Letchfords)
- I am committed to unconditional love
Now, I have not walked the path where my child has intentionally chosen to walk away from a relationship with God and or a close relationship with me, but I have watched families who have and I know that the standard that I want to guide my heart and actions, should we ever be in that situation, is one of unconditional love.
But the thing that is on my heart, as I write today, is not the teenager who has decided to walk a different path, but instead the teenager who is simply making choices different than their parents. Before we react we need to ask ourselves, is this really a bad choice, or is it just a different choice. We need to allow our kids to be different than we are. They may all come from the same gene pool but God, in His creativity, has still made each person different.
My kids differ in so many ways – not just in their talents and learning styles, but also in the passions of their heart, their likes and dislikes, their taste in music, food and clothing, how they process choices and how they come to decisions, how they build friendships and maintain them. They are different: different from each other, different from Peter, and different from me.
Of course, our kids’ choices reflect their heart – and we may well be concerned about what is in the heart, but I have found that more often than not, when I sit and talk about what I think is going on, so often I am mistaken. More often than not, my teens have welcomed a guiding hand so they can express the things on their heart, to live out the things that they really believe.
They want to know why I choose certain music, movies and clothes. They want to know how I handle certain types of friendships and what I do in awkward moments. They want to know what I think about the things they read, see or talk about with their friends. Just like a toddler, when she is learning to walk, reaches up looking for a stabilizing hand, so too are our teens. How sad, that often they get reactions, presuming they are pushing our hand away, where they are really waiting for it.
How do you see your teenager? Are they stretching their wings, pushing boundaries? Are you reacting or are you walking along side of them? It isn’t necessarily a rosey path – there have been times that I have come along side one of my children, we’ve talked, and yet they still make another choice – sometimes it works for them, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t they’ve come to me and apologised because in walking through something that didn’t go well, they’ve seen what I’ve tried to say. Of course, I’m not always right either! We both need to walk in humility and forgiveness.
Parenting Teenagers with Love
A quote I’ve read somewhere: A lot of tension with teens is removed when parents relate to them as people – not teens.
Parents set the stage for the parent-teen relationship. Though teens may have a unique set of challenges they face, reality is every person we relate to is going through some sort of stuff. We choose how we relate to people – and we can choose how we relate to our teens.
The key thought here is that our teenagers are people – people who need love – just like any other person we meet along the way.
- When people annoy us, we choose graciousness.
- When people let us down, we give them a second chance.
- When people hurt us, we choose forgiveness.
Unless of course these people are those closest to us – our spouse or our kids. For some reason it is harder to offer graciousness, reprieve or forgiveness to those whom we love the most. Of course it should be the other way around, but I guess we are hurt more and it is harder to get to that place of healing with them.
But we can. We must.
So often we search the Bible for specific verses of how we are to parent a teen and yet the Bible gives us so many pieces of wisdom that shape relationships – no matter which relationship.
- We are to love, forgive, encourage.
- We are to serve and offer hospitality.
- We are to be patient and kind.
Have you thought of those words to describe your actions and responses towards your teen?
For some reason we place teens in a sphere all of their own – and yet they are just people. Often hurting people. Confused. Overwhelmed. Angry. Scared. Depressed. Lonely. Embarrassed. Guilty. Whatever they are going through they need the unconditional love of their parent.
“Those who are hardest to love need it the most” (Socrates) And maybe this applies to you and your teen.
Isn’t this the very reason why Jesus came – we needed love, we needed God and Jesus showed us his love. Jesus then charged us to love others as he loved us. He loved us before we reciprocated, before we wanted to be any different, before we even acknowledged him or our need. We were really hard to love and yet Jesus loved us.
Parenting Teenagers is a Growing Time for All (for both parent and teen)
Have you presumed your teen is walking away from you? Just because they are different? Have you reacted? Ask God for wisdom so that you can have a different response. A response that will help each of your kids be the person He made them be.
Sometimes what is on our kids’ heart gets muddled up in the translation to words, actions and attitudes. Let’s be slow to judge – instead spend time with them, help them and guide them, to find the true expression of what is inside.
A Note on Unconditional love: it isn’t about giving a person everything they want, it is about not expecting anything in return, loving without expecting them to change, loving without expecting a response. It is a tough call – but one that Jesus not only calls us to, but he also equips us, so we can do it!
Over to you – How are you handling your kids making choices different to the ones you’d prefer?
If Our Kids are Going to Grow Up, Change is a Good Thing: As our kids grow up change is going to happen – how we deal with it will affect our relationship and our family life.
Letting Go is a Heart Issue for All Parents: Letting go happens when we pull back from parenting our children and let them be autonomous and take responsibility for their lives.
It is easy to think it is a Heart Attitude – but is it? Parents need to discern between a heart attitude and a bad habit that need to be overcome. Download cheat sheet with 5 questions to help you discern.
Capturing Your Child’s Heart does not mean they’ll be Like You: We need to be careful what our goal and expectations are – capturing a child’s heart does not mean they will be like you – our desire needs to be that they follow God’s heart – not ours!