Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Be the parent

This is a hard post to write. I'm pretty sure that it will ruffle some feathers, appear judgemental, or maybe even result in some nasty comments. But maybe, maybe it will encourage someone on the fence. Maybe it will be used by the Holy Spirit to convict someone who's been feeling a tug they can't name. Maybe it will shore up someone's sagging confidence in what she feels called to do. If any of those things happen, well ... I'll be grateful to God for nudging me to write what I feel uncomfortable putting out there.

Why, why, why do so many parents--and yes, I'm talking about homeschoolers here-- feel like the moment their child passes through some magical, invisible line, they cease to have the power to actually parent said child?

Really. What is that?

Why is it that it's o.k. to tell a 9 year-old that you don't allow certain words to be said in your house, but that's denying a 14 year-old his right to expression?

Why do you actually take the time to meet the friends that your 10 year-old likes to spend time with, but not even know who your 16 year-old is texting?

Why is having standards of modesty for a 6 year-old acceptable, but the 12 year-old can wear whatever she brings home from the mall?

Why do you take the time to teach the 3 year-old that temper tantrums are not o.k., but let your 13 year-old slam their bedroom door in your face?

Please don't think that I'm living in la-la land. I know that parenting a teen is a whole different ballgame from parenting a preschooler. I am not unaware of the fact that the parent/child relationship grows and (hopefully) matures. I am not expecting a high schooler to blindly obey or to bow to every whim of their parents.

No, that's not what I'm saying at all. What I am saying is that so, so many people I know seem to just throw their hands up in the air the minute their child hits an age that even remotely resembles independence.

Every event, activity, etc., becomes a drop-off affair. The mom who led the Brownie troop never even darkens the door of the youth group. Standards become incredibly lax. The dad who required his son to open the door for girls and ladies suddenly doesn't mind the same child talking to his mother through a closed bedroom door. Fitting in with peers becomes more important than following family rules. The family used to forgo rated-R movies, but all the other kids have seen it, so why not? The youth pastor suddenly takes over the spiritual education of the child. Those family Bible times are a thing of the past. And, worst of all, parenting becomes non-existent. "I wish she wouldn't do X, Y, or Z, but it's not like I can stop her..."

I have been so disheartened over these past few weeks listening to fellow homeschooling parents with children on the cusp of their teen years. The vast majority of them seem to have already assumed a defeatist, hands-off type of approach. I've heard, on more than one occasion a parent lamenting the peers their child has fallen in with, the poor instruction in the youth group, the behavior of their new teen. You know what every. single. parent. followed their complaints up with?

"All I can do is pray I guess."

Excuse me? All you can do is pray? Obviously, all parents need to be praying for their kids, no matter what their ages. And I don't just mean those generic, "help her to be a good person, Lord," kind of prayers. Specific, directed, goal-oriented prayers that help the Lord hone your vision for His vision--those are the most effective parenting prayers, imo.

But beyond that, do you have any control? Of course you do. Be the parent. If your family has rules, enforce them. If you feel led to have specific expectations, keep them. Respect your child's newfound independence and sense of self, yes. But still require him or her to be a loving, working, functional part of your family.

Please don't get me wrong. I do not ascribe to the theory that has all children bowing to their parents in all things up until the day of their wedding. I firmly believe the axiom "Rules without relationship equals rebellion." I don't expect the kind of mindless obedience that some Christians impose in their homes. Growth, freedom, and maturing are good things. They are part of God's design. I'm not talking about stifling any of that.

What I am talking about is staying involved. Asking questions. Not assuming that your teen (or pre-teen) is ready to handle anything and everything simply because he or she has graduated to youth group or has a double-digit age. Be the parent.

How? Volunteer for whatever activities your child is involved in. Not every week, but on a regular enough basis that you know the leaders, the routine, and the other kids attending. Keep a family devotional time going. Now is not the time to let that slide! If anything, this is the most important part of the discipling process--moving from general knowledge to real application! Maintain a sense of respect for your child, and also insisting that he or she respect you (and your rules). Insist that family stay more important than peers by nurturing sibling relationships. Read a book together that inspires you to walk forward into the teen years with a shared vision. (I recommend "Do Hard Things," but there are many others). And remember: Rules without relationship equal rebellion. Having your child's heart makes all the difference!

Doing these things is no assurance that you won't find yourself on your knees praying for a prodigal. God gave all of us free will, and that includes your kids. You can do all of the "right" things and still find yourself doing the heavy lifting of parenting a child who is simply lost, who abuses drugs, who makes you a grandma before you're 40.

But if you've been the parent, at least you can say you did your part. Your heart will still be broken, and your faith will be stretched ... but in the end, you will hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Remember, God will hold you accountable for the job you did stewarding the blessing he entrusted to you. Not your child's peers. Not the church's youth pastor. Not Hollywood. Not the author of the latest book fad. Not society at large. YOU are the one given the job of raising your child to adulthood--and it doesn't stop until that child really and truly is an adult. If you wouldn't want your 14 year-old getting married, then he or she isn't an adult. If you can't say the same thing for your 20 year-old, the same thing applies.

Be the parent. All the way.


Karla @ Ramblin' Roads said...

As the parent of a 17yo, heading-into-her-senior-year, let me say a very loud and emphatic "AMEN!" I totally agree with and have lived by everything you have said, and in our family we have the "fruit" to back us up. It breaks my heart to see parents settling for anything less.

Sheila said...

And here's another AMEN!!! Really excellent post.

ThyHandHathProvided said...

My oldest is only 7 but I think now is when we need to get in this mindset. It will be much easier than trying to reinstate rules after becoming too lax. Thanks for telling it like it is, Mary Grace.

Beth said...

Like the last poster, my oldest is also 7, so my first hand experience is minimal. I agree with you completely, and have often seen older kids walk all over their parents. Of course, I have seen plenty of parents let their little kids walk all over them, too!

I think what bothers me the most right now, being that it's pool season, is swim attire. Seeing 15 and 16 year olds who I know belong in Christian homes, wearing almost nothing! Strapless bikinis with a tiny piece of fabric on their lower half. It's INSANE. I could write a sermon on this, so, I'll stop while I'm ahead.

Anyhow, amen, to a well written post.

Talitha said...

My daughter is 10 1/2 and very much entering into pre-teen drama. I started thinking seriously about parenting a teen this spring and came across a book called Age of Opportunity, A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens. I haven't read it yet (seriously, my to-read list is WAY too long) but the author grabbed me right from the intro.

"Parents are afraid of their teenagers. Even as they are enjoying the early years of a child's life, they are looking over their shoulders with dread, expecting the worst, knowing that in a few short years this precious little one will turn into a monster overnight. They've heard enough stories from parents who have gone through the dark valley of the teen years to know the dangers that lie ahead. They are told to expect the worst and to be thankful if they come out of the valley sane, with their teenager alive and their family intact. [S]omething is fundamentally wrong with the way we think about this time in a child's life. Something is inherently wrong with the cultural epidemic of fear and cynicism about our teenagers. Something is wrong when a parent's highest goal is survival. We need to take another look: Is this a biblical view of this period in a child's life? Does this view lead to biblical strategies of parenting and biblical hope? We need to examine what is wrong with the cynicism about teenagers that is endemic in our culture."

Amen and AMEN!

Joyfulness said...

Great challenge. It's a ways off for us, but I can see how the time will pass all too quickly. It's already so different parenting our oldest (8 yrs) and our youngest (2 yrs).

Liz said...

wow. standing ovation here! i have said this in my head so man times. Go MG!!!

Heidi said...

Wonderful post and I couldn't agree more. I'm reading Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham Jr. right now and would highly recommend it to any of the parents who have the mindset you described above. Awesome book - and it's affirming some of the decisions that I have made for my 16-year-old. :)

A friend referred to his 14-year-old daughter as an adult the other day and I thought "what?!"

Jill in Kentucky said...

I'm not so sure. I have five adult children, 21-32, and I agree with some of what you say, as far as I would never toss my hands up and act like I couldn't do anything with my own teen child.

But, on the other hand, if you have done your job right and held your children close in the younger years, established boundaries and respect, then I think you naturally have to let them go, little by little as they become teens.

I think you need to draw back, bit by bit, allowing them to pick up more and more personal responsibility. And maybe you think this too. Maybe you have just seen too many parents abdicate their responsibility for their teens. But I have seen too many parents who let their littles get away with too much, not show respect and so forth. THEN, as the child becomes a teen the parents try to reign in this little monster they have created.

I call this inverse parenting and it rarely, if ever works. There usually is a lot of rebellion and tears involved in this type of "being the parent."

I agree that you have to remain interested and somewhat involved in your teens life, but I also strongly believe that you have to let go, bit by bit, so that when adulthood comes, our children are equipped to handle it.

I love this statement: And remember: Rules without relationship equal rebellion. Having your child's heart makes all the difference!

But, I think that if you have the child's heart, then you don't need to be overly involved in their teen years. I think it is a time for stepping back [not tossing hands up in frustration], and becoming more of a mentor-parent and less of a in-charge-parent.

Thanks for your thoughtful post.

Camille said...

Another wonderful post Mary Grace! Oh how we need the LORD to parent ANY child...regardless of age! Well written! :)

For anyone who wants to know a GREAT resource that is based on God's Word and offers REAL answers and help...get yourself a copy of "Age of Opportunity" by Paul David Tripp...a WONDERFUL and convicting book about HOW to parent teens in a God-honouring way. For those parenting younger ones..."Shepherding a Child's Heart" is a fabulous resource by Tedd Tripp ~ the brother of the author of the book mentioned above.

Both of these books are "must haves" for any Chritian home!


Camille said...

Sorry...should read "Christian" home.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more.... fantastic well stated post!

Jodi said...

Nicely said...

Anonymous said...

My 14 yaer old dd would die of embarassment if I showed up at her youth group. Not to mention what she'd say if I told her not to dress like all her friends. I am choosing to let God take the lead. We planted the seeds and feel comfortible seeing how God waters them.

Anonymous said...

I have a 15yo and an almost 13yo girls. Parenting them is different from when they were small, but we still parent. There are ways to help them be modest and feel good about themselves at the same time. They usually have good ideas. One good thing to do is to talk about the behavior of other kids and what is good or bad. This removes the emotions from it and allows them to learn at the same time. Often I will be able to say 'What would you do?' One of the big things lately has been learning to handle disappointment gracefully. My daughter had a pretty hard year last year and today a woman commented on it and told her how proud she was of Caroline and how great an example she was. It means a lot when it doesn't come from your parents:)

Sarah said...

What a terrific post! As a mother to five...the oldest being 16 and the youngest being 2, I couldn't agree with you more...and this is across the board, nothing to do with homeschooling. I don't homeschool and I see the same thing. I don't get it...I think more than ever I have to be involved and know what's going on and ask questions. I have a couple hunches on those who refuse to do these things...wanting their teens to be popular, and fit in, or maybe just not wanting to be the "bad guy"...because being the "bad guy" is a lot harder when they are 16 then when they are 2. Two year olds forget in 3 minutes and adore you again, you know?

Julia said...

I couldn't agree with you more. We are just entering that field and we are so determined to relinquish freedom....with a guiding hand. My children are 12 down to 3yrs and I can see the value in "being the parent" at all stages. I see children with lack of guidance all the time and sometimes it is such a sad situation! Thanks for touching on a hard subject!!


Rodna said...

Totally agree, and in fact have written similar things myself. Good job following your heart.