Parenting teens can be like walking a tightrope. You want to connect with them, to demonstrate you care and understand where they’re coming from without stepping away from your God-given role as guide and protector. It’s easy to swing from one extreme to the other.
The other day my daughter and I went on a long walk. It’s amazing what comes out once you take some time, one-on-one with your child. Our daughter normally doesn’t share right away. It can take a month or more for her to process events then share her heart with me. And often, the times she shares have been totally unexpected. One minute we’re painting each other’s nails, all giggles and silliness, the next, she’s in tears, sharing something that happened days, even weeks before. This always reiterates my need to spend unscheduled, just-hanging-out time with her.
I’ve noticed a pattern, and rarely does it venture.
First, we connect, whether on a walk, or over cocoa. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, but it seems she needs a transitional period–like a safety net, maybe, or assurance that I’m there and ready to listen. And I don’t blame her. There’s nothing more painful than sharing your heart to a distracted ear.
Next, she’ll sort of test the waters by mentioning what’s concerned her in a non-challant way. Like, in the middle of conversation, she might throw something out, very casually, about how someone teased her about her hair. And if I’m not careful, I can easily miss this, and assume she’s fine. But what she’s really doing is checking to see if I understand. Do I get her? Is her heart safe with me?
Praise be to God, He has helped me understand our daughter and I’ve learned to read her subtle cues. It is at this point I try to show her I understand, and care. Normally a simple sentence is all it takes to get her talking.
“That must have been hard.”
And then the words, and often tears, flow.
That’s when it gets hard, and I’ve gotta fight my Momma-bear or “Sunday School Teacher” instincts.
Now don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying I don’t attempt to speak truth in her life. But I tread lightly, and slowly, with an eye on her and a heart set on prayer. I’ve found she normally knows what she needs to do–what God wants her to do, which is clarified as she talks. In those times, my job is to listen, and be supportive.
Other times, she’s unsure and in need of guidance. The easiest thing for me to do at this point would be to pop off a long list of do’s, with rational justifications for each one.
But…what’s she going to do in four years, when Momma isn’t there with her point-by-point game plan?
It is at this point I put my ten-year parenting cap on, meaning, I try to evaluate the situation from a long-term perspective. When I do that, I realize developing decision-making skills are as important as making wise decisions. (Actually, the two go hand in hand.)
Which is why my first response is normally:
Did you pray about it?
Normally (actually, always…so far) her response is, “Yes.”
Then I ask if I can pray with her. This does three things. It tells her I care, that her concerns and feelings are valid, and reiterates the importance of seeking God’s guidance. It has also led to some very sweet moments together, thus creating a positive association with prayer and love.
If at all possible, I normally encourage her to wait a day or two to give God time to work and reveal His will. Often, the problem will erect itself by the next day. If it does, I make a point to remind her to thank God. This teaches her to see God’s hand in her life.
If the problem remains, we discuss is it again, only now she’s had time to process it, has shared her feelings (which helps defuse them) and is better able to discuss that point-by-point game plan I bloodied my tongue to keep from spilling.
Although I don’t unleash my tongue entirely. You probably remember your teen years. You knew it all, right? And adults TOTALLY didn’t understand you! In fact, most of the time they didn’t even take the time to try.
There’s nothing teens hate more than being told what to do. Now granted, there are plenty times you’ll have to, which is why it is imperative to throw the ball back in their court whenever you can.
I do this by offering options.
“Well, you can do one of three things.” Then I explain how I see things. By this point, she’s ready to listen.
By not pulling a freak-out, I’ve encouraged her to come to me again, and by resisting the urge to be her “best friend” I’ve spoken truth into her life and helped her see the situation from an adult and spiritual perspective. And hopefully, by throwing the ball back in her court I’ve taught her how to make decisions and given her the confidence to do so.