Life and my blog have taught me how desperately we need to hear others admit to the struggle. Once the first person breathes a word of it, you can almost hear the collective exhale of others finally letting go of holding their breath.
This is true whatever the struggle. But there’s something about parenting that magnifies the response. Maybe it’s because this is the one thing we most want to get right.
And when they are young, we are lulled into thinking we might actually BE getting it right. Ah, the illusion of control.
One month you are tiptoeing through the tulips with your child, holding their hand as they look up to you with complete admiration.
Just a few months later … Boom. That landscape has become a minefield.
You’ve exchanged holding hands for “you aren’t going to stay are you?”
And that look of admiration has become eye rolling.
A CHINESE BUFFET
It’s not always rough.
There is SO. MUCH. GOOD mixed with the hard.
Those moments …
… when he comes up from behind and hugs you spontaneously and then doesn’t ask for money.
… when she responds with more than “fine” after you ask about her day and you actually get a glimpse into her heart and mind.
… when you sit on the sidelines or in the audience at a concert and watch them reap the reward of practice, perseverance, and obedience to someone in authority.
They give us so many reasons to smile.
“Except when they don’t. Because sometimes they won’t.” (Dr. Seuss)
Teens are like a Chinese buffet: Lots of sweet and sour and as rational as the inside of a fortune cookie.
The mixture of indescribable joy and unspeakable sorrow throws you for a loop. It’s a lot to keep up with.
THE GOOD 'OLE DAYS
When my oldest two were toddlers, I met on Fridays with a group of other mothers from church. We brought food and kids … and laid it all on the table. The issues, that is.
~If your child had a rash, there were three other moms who could identify it because their child had the same thing last week. (Yours likely got it from theirs.)
~If you needed advice about a toddler who kept getting up during the night, you wouldn’t lack for input.
~If you were on your last nerve, they were there to sympathize and say, “It will get better; you can do this.”
As the kids got older, not only did our time shrink, the range of issues expanded.
It’s not so simple – or accepted – to talk about the struggles at this stage.
Thanks to social media, we can still keep up with each other. But on that screen, we see the PR version – the highlight reel – of our friends’ lives.
(That’s how it should be, btw. “Praise in public; criticize in private,” is a cardinal rule of parenting teens.)
If only we could get back together for a playgroup.
Put all the teens on the floor as we sit in a circle around them and talk. (Great idea for a skit, don’t you think?)
Just like when they were young, we’d observe each other’s chaos. Let the eye rolling commence.
Seriously, though, it’s just so backward.
This is the parenting season when we really need to know we aren’t alone.
It’s the stage when we are craving hope.
And sadly, it’s the one where we feel most isolated and lonely.
A ROLLER COASTER OF EMOTIONS
It’s so easy to begin to believe that you (the parent with fears, doubts, and heartache) are in the minority, but you are not.
When I was a young mom with two in diapers, exhausted from just trying to keep the oldest safe and alive, a sweet lady at church looked at me and said, “Huunneeeeeee, (Honey), this is the EASY part.”
Seriously? Who says that to a frazzled young mom?
I thought she was out of her mind.
Turns out, she may have been right. Two in diapers versus two in their teens? I’m taking bets.
This time of life can leave you just as weary as endless nights of teething.
But whereas those exhausting baby days were also full of heart overflowing moments, this season sometimes brings a sense of loss and empty spots. As your kids begin to separate, they take a piece of you with them.
How can you feel both full and empty at the same time?
You ride a roller coaster of emotions – your own – while your teen is on one of those horrid "amusement" contraptions that takes them up 400 feet in the air and then drops straight down at 90 mph.
It’s a blueprint for explosive collisions, thrilling moments of joy, and, alas, thoughts that run off the track.
ART IMITATES LIFE
I watched a show explore this exact dichotomy as the television teens were growing up and away from their parents. At the end of the program, the parents looked at each other and said:
Dad: “They are growing up. They don’t need us as much.”
Mom: “Well, that was the plan. I just didn’t know it would hurt so much.”
Fade to black.
Art imitates life. Well done.
It was the kind of episode that makes you wonder if your home has been bugged.
Just when you think, “You can’t make this stuff up,” someone does and puts it on screen.
I am captivated by shows and movies that are so well done that I see my struggle on the screen.
But they are over in less than two hours, with some version of resolution and release of tension.
And that’s where art’s ability to imitate life truncates.
Because life is full of transition periods that we can’t just insert into a video editing program, apply morphing effects, and create the illusion of time all in the span of minutes.
THE LONG TRANSITION
Transitions take time. Transitions are hard work.
We see it in nature.
... Going from winter to spring doesn’t happen in a day.
... The caterpillar must struggle to exit the cocoon, for it is in the struggle that the wings grow stronger.
... The pearl emerges from an oyster's healed wound.
These teen and young adult years are no different. They are a transition time.
In effect, you are giving birth again. Only there’s no epidural for this one.
Ok, so maybe the birth analogy is a little much. Or maybe not. Think about it.
Whatever you decide about that one, think about this: You are a veteran at this transitioning stuff.
... That teen of yours is walking – even driving – right? He’s not still crawling. You helped that happen.
... She’s dressing herself, right? Oh, maybe we shouldn’t have gone there. But you get the point.
... And the toilet is mastered. You get credit for the assist on that.
Now granted, those younger transitions were short-lived. (Well, maybe that toilet thing took a while if you had boys.) But in general, you got through them in the course of months.
This transition will be the longest of all because it is the most important of all.
And that’s because this is kingdom work.
Really, really, important kingdom work.
And that’s good news because kingdom work carries kingdom promises.
IT DOESN'T FADE TO BLACK FROM HERE
Our heavenly father knows how hard it is to raise mature children.
Scripture speaks to our need to know that this is all worth it, that God is the one working, and that He provides supernatural hope.
“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58
“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1:6
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13
And finally, I love this promise. It is relevant to so much of what we attempt in life, but I think raising children takes a top spot in its application.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” – Galatians 6:9-10
Dear comrade, unlike that sitcom family, it doesn’t fade to black after you realize it is hard and it hurts.
You have hope and you aren’t alone.
And although you can’t rush through this transition, there will come a time when your memory will morph and resemble a sweet montage showcasing only the best moments from these years.
Most of the hard work of parenting will fade into the distance and you’ll be living life alongside these adults who look like you and who even begin to believe you know something.
Embracing the journey,
This was part 1 of a 2-part message. Read the second post here: 5 things parents of teens may need to hear (What to expect when you're launching)