Sunday, November 20, 2011


 Maybe I'm like a rabbit who hasn't learned to run for cover at the sound of a hound baying, but I don't fear parenting teens.

I view it with a healthy dose of caution, no doubt about that. Teens are emotional rogues. They are hormonal tempests. They are immature, though their options aren't always. There's a lot there to give a parent pause, for sure. But I don't fear it at the same level that I hear in the voices of my fellow moms.

"Ugh. The teen years."

"You have a teenager? God bless you, honey."

"Better you than me."
Jo, 14, being all the the things that are GOOD about teens

Raising teenagers seems to be something a little less pleasant than waking up to a big, fat cold sore on your lip on your wedding day. When asked, most folks would take the cold sore; at least you know that some lemon balm or peppermint oil will take wipe out the virus in a week to ten days.

Parenting teens? Well, it's the gift that keeps on giving. For seven years or so.

I'm not a professional, but as I see it, the problem with parenting teens is that we want to slow down, stall, or even arrest the process that we ourselves were so keen on starting the moment they were born. Be honest--how thrilled were you when your newborn held her head steady for exactly six seconds before letting it flop unceremoniously to the side? You were over-the-moon titillated. And why? Because your wee babe was showing the very first signs that she would some day be an independent, physically capable, adept human being.

You celebrated his first solid foods. You clapped when she took her first, stiff-legged cruise around the couch. You hung her first attempt at writing her own name on the fridge with pride, and even sent pdf'd copies to all of the grandparents-- and your Aunt Lily, in Boston. You cried when he learned to read. You celebrated her first goal with a family trip to the ice cream parlor.

And now, here is your child, crashing through firsts left and right ... and the last thing you want to do is applaud.

Bee, 15, stretching her wings
The first time she realizes that girls often stab one another in the back. The first truly poor choice in friendships. The first opportunity to look back on something with real regret. The first chance to take responsibility to the next level. The first time making you worry over a later-than-expected arrival home. The first flared temper over not being heard.

When we look at our teens, we must realize that standing before us is a project nearly complete. Nearly, but not entirely. This is a butterfly who has emerged from her chrysalis and is searching for a warm, safe spot in the sun, where her wings can dry, be stretched, and make their first tentative motions mimicking the miracle of flight that will be her daily lot for the rest of her days.   

Maneuvering friendships. Overcoming disappointment. Learning from mistakes. Tackling new challenges. Being accountable.

Those are grown-up things. Grown-up things. Does this mean that you can't teach them to your teen? No? Does it mean that you can't lay the groundwork early on, even in their preschool years? No. But it does mean that holding a teenager to the performance level of an adult is unfair.

They aren't adults. Not yet. Praise the Lord!

There are still precious, precious years to be poured into a teenager. And yes, some of them are going to stalk off like the Prodigal Son. Some of them are going to leave us, their hapless, hurt parents, stunned and sobbing on the floor, crying out to the Lord and trying desperately to figure out what led us to this place. Some of those wayward kids will not come back. Some of them will kick us while we're down. Some of them will break our hearts again and again and again. I know that this happens, and I'm not denying it. I'm not saying that parenting teens is a sunshine and lollipops walk in the park.

But for most of us--the blessed majority, really--parenting teens is really not the root canal we've been told to expect. Like any exercise, there are days when it is bliss. Then there are days when you stare, gape-mouthed, and wonder why on earth the Lord ever thought you could handle raising the clearly demon-afflicted sinner who calls you "Mom" (to your face, at least).  But these are just moments--and moments set the tone for the tapestry of time, but they do not have to define it.

I am still a newbie at this whole game. I still have a lot to learn--and I'm eager to be educated. My mantra is "I'm not raising children, I'm raising future adults." As such, I don't expect lock-step zombies to populate my home at any stage--most especially not as they are finishing the job of preparing those wings and are eying the surrounding horizon, looking for the right direction in which to fly. I want individuals. I want people ready to change the world. I want the same fire that spurned a child on, on, on until she mastered how to pedal her first bike.

The teen years have much riding on them, yes. They are the closing session in the nearly two decades of very hands-on parenting that we are able to give most of our children. They are the years where we throw in as many, "Oh, by the way ..." addendum as we can, hoping to give our children an edge as they enter the ominous-sounding Real World. There's a lot to sneak in before your child is no longer under your roof: off to college, maybe married, perhaps working his or her first actual career-type job. It's a big job, parenting teens. No doubt that.

But fear? Fear doesn't get the job done. Fear only pushes us to inactivity, misgivings, or worse. I didn't inherit a spirit of fear. So while I may have very real reasons in the next few years to be afraid of the repercussions of specific choices or circumstances as my children navigate into young adulthood, I'm not going to claim fear as my rallying cry for the next season of parenting. Instead, I'm going to keep walking on towards the goal. One step--and teen--at a time.


Susan in the Boonies said...

Only time will tell. What else can you do, but pray for vision, and do the next thing?

Each kid is unique, and it will be what it will be.

But if I've learned anything, it's that Christians are not immune to the struggles that are common to man. But fear certainly won't keep the struggles at bay. It just paralyzes.

Tara said...

We've really struggled parenting our teen, now 15. 13 and 14 were ROUGH. I told dh that we'd better figure it out soon because we're going to have at least one teen in our home for the next 19 years. Ah, the joys of seven. Now, though, I really, really enjoy her. It's fun to have a near-adult in the home who has a more sophisticated sense of humor than the bodily fluid gags of the little boys! :)
Parenting by fear is a very bad idea, no matter what the age.