I know all our families are imperfect. The older I get, the more it seems that if you can talk about the imperfection, the hard things, and even repent over the things that were hurtful (not that it makes everything better, but it brings things to light that need to be brought out of the darkness) — it can help you find a way forward. I’m smack dab in the middle of this kind of stuff, seeing as how my kids are in their 20’s and are looking back on their childhood and unpacking just about everything.
It’s hard – but I know it’s necessary. Every now and then I will be talking with my kids and will unknowingly bump into a memory that for them is completely different… and its hard hearing their side as a mom, but as my youngest will lovingly remind me: “intention doesn’t equal impact”… So I am starting the practice of listening and hearing their side, mourning of what needs to be mourned, repenting and asking forgiveness where needed, and trusting this is somehow helping us to build a much more authentic relationship as adults going forward. Yes, it involves tears. And prayers. Lots of them…. Just like their teen years.
Thank God for counselors!
But today – today I want to share a happy memory from our imperfect family, because somewhere out there, a mom or dad or set of partners need to be encouraged that all that love and energy they are pouring into their teens that is costing them a ton emotionally and financially is worth it. What you are doing to love and try to connect with your teens might not seem to be paying off right now, but you have to trust it is building the basis of what can sustain relationship when they move out.
When our kids were teenagers, their dad and I had a coffee category in our budget. I kid you not. And woe to me if I ever suggest that we cut it in half for any reason. I know for some of you this is going to seem ridiculous and wasteful. I know this is a first world luxury. I know we can make coffee drinks cheaper at home – and we did sometimes. But there is something we found that was magical when we offered to pay for a trip to Starbucks for both the kids. This was especially true in the middle of the long, cold and dreary winter days living in the west suburbs of Chicago. Somehow, when there was not much we had in common during those years, taking a family trip and all sitting around the table, warm drink in hand, made a difference. We’d bring with us a deck of conversation cards [for us it was The Ungame, Family edition]….. and before long laughter replaced the silence and disinterest with which the kids had arrived.
The cards asked basic questions, which were answered either by the person reading or the ones listening. They varied from discussing favorite childhood holidays, to things you wished were different about your life. They asked about opinions and insecurities and hopes and dreams…. and ridiculous topics too. My favorite one was probably the card that asked the following question: “What one article of clothing would you get rid of from [insert each person at table’s] closet?”
Oh the insight. The kids quickly voted I should ditch my whole slew of turtlenecks (hey! it was cold there, and I needed warmth!) But the girls loved it. By this time they had become fashionistas and had very distinct opinions about what mom and dad should and shouldn’t wear.
There were more serious questions too, like “Share something you are scared of” — which gave us the chance to take it in a more serious direction for a minute, sharing things we fear as parents: Losing each other, losing one of the girls. Sometimes the things we shared with them, or they shared with us, were sobering. It gave us insight to their world in a time in their lives when, like all teens, they didn’t like to self-disclose much.
It also modeled for them what their dad and I valued raising them: staying in communication as a family. I was floored at how many of their friends we would invite to join us or have over for dinner, and they would sit there silent, not because they didn’t feel welcome but because they were NOT used to a family being able to talk with each other about things, laugh together and not always yell or dig at each other. It was foreign to them, and that always broke my heart a little. Families are supposed to be able to enjoy being around each other sometimes, and laugh. It’s good for the soul. But I have seen over and over – it has to be forged, it has to be practiced – it doesn’t just happen automatically.
The primary reason we did this – forked over the $30 for latte’s and cookies from time to time – was precisely because our kids were as different as oil and water. Family dinners, which were a key thing in our home, had turned into times where we ate, we tried to have conversation by asking about their day, name one good thing, how is so-and-so, but sooner or later they’d be firing off at each other, or sitting in silence as we tried to drag conversation out of them. Dinner wasn’t always the great “family time” that I had hoped it would be. Yet for us and the kids, something magical happened if we could find the right time to all go out for latte’s. I don’t know if it was the different location, or the fact they had something they loved in their hand that eased the conversation – but for us it worked. It gave me hope that we’d make it through the years they didn’t get along.
For you – you may be raising boys or girls that are in sports and its all going to a sporting game together, and out for pizza afterwards. Or your budget may not allow going out much but you make a mean picnic out of dollar tacos and sodas. When your teens naturally push away from you, it’s easy to think they don’t need you any more and that you can check out. Please don’t do that. Your teen needs you more than ever. They need to know they still matter to you, that you are still interested in their lives and in what they are learning and how they are processing the world. I can promise you, they are dealing with more than you know, and mentally cannot possibly handle it all. Not that they will tell you all of it – but you have to find a way to fight for that space where they can if you want to.
It most likely will be at 11pm at night when you are about to fall into bed, or it could be after some movie or in the middle of something you are trying to do. But if you want to keep a relationship with them in their teen years, you have to find ways to take those moments when they come… or find a way to join them in their world and let them happen on their terms. Take them and their friends hiking or fishing, or have them over for burgers and a fire in the firepit. Just listen and be there.
Don’t try to be the cool parent (you’re feeding them, right? trust me, you already are). Be the one who is safe, who they know they can talk to because they know they are accepted and you’re there when the waters get rough. They may not let you in, but they will know you have not abandoned them. They will roll their eyes or give you the “yeah, I know” line when you share bits of wisdom with them from your life, but when shared in love and not judgement, they will know you are on their side.
Thanks for listening. Hope you have an encouraging day!