If one more person says to me “well that is just how teenage boys behave,” I will hurl. Whose teenage boys? In what country? In what decade?
It reminds me of all the wise tales women shared with me during my first pregnancy. Everyone wanted to tell me about having a baby–especially the gory, awful birth gone wrong stories. Why? Why do women feel compelled to share these stories with first time pregnant women? Is it to normalize their experience, to prepare new moms for the worst, or just to freak other women out?
A wise friend said to me that the elementary years provide a restful time. Changes are happening to your child but not as fast as the toddler and teen years. My friend Patsy says in her book Parenting Your Teen Through Chaos, teen years supply us with a parenting “do-over”. Patsy focuses on positive God-centered ways to participate with teenagers rather than be their battle target. Read a review of Patty’s book here.
Toddler and Teenager Comparisons
Personally, I believe she is right. In the toddler years, my little boys were learning to walk, talk, pick up social cues, play with others and generally understand the world outside their home and Mom.
All of this learning is rapid fire. No time to process just do–crawl, walk, feed yourself, learn to poop on the potty, explore the outside world, attempt friendships, go to preschool.
During this time I read books on how to help my child socialize, how to play with my child, how to get my child ready for preschool. Really how to get myself ready for my child going to preschool.
I did not assume my child knew or understood anything about each new situation. Instead, we experienced it together. If he made a mistake we tried it again. If he disobeyed we had age-appropriate consequences. We, his adoring parents, went to class to learn how to parent better. We did not look at him then “throw up our hands” and say your brain must not be working right!
Teen’s experience the rapid-fire learning of the toddlers often without a safe place to fall. They are learning to navigate academic demands, manage their time between school, work, sports, changes in hormones, feelings, friendship and awareness of the opposite sex.
What do parents do when this person living in their house disappoints them by not working through one of the growth stages as well as we would like? We throw up our hands in disgust? fear? Why? Why do we not look at this new phase of learning as just that–a new phase of learning and exploration? Why do we let the almost man or woman sized body confuse us?
Did our teen stop being fearfully and wonderfully made by God just because he turned 13? As toddlers when they knocked over a stack of blocks, we as parents clapped our hands and encouraged them to do it again! Build it again, knock it down again, build it differently this time. We encouraged them to enjoy the feel of the block and the power of manipulating pieces into a shape of their own design. With teenagers, we seem to shake our heads and glare at them when they make a mistake and them lecture them on the life consequences of continuing on the present course of behavior.
Where have we Lost the Courage to Encourage?
I walked by the Spanish class in my son’s middle school and thought; oh wow, there are adult bodies in there. Fear, fear was really my thought. Why?
The blocks are bigger, the stakes are higher and I can’t control the outcome. The crux of the matter for most parents appears in the form of control. We know or think we know the ways of the world, the rules to follow that guarantee safety, prosperity, and a happy life.
If you laughed out loud at that last statement you and I must do lunch. I struggle every day with those specific issues. Just like a young teenage boy who Samuel anointed as the future King of Israel, I often approach God with a lament about my life.
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Every day I wrestle, I experiment; I turn my will and my life over to God seeking Him and the way he designed for me to live and love.
The teen in the adult body who bravely steps out to challenge life, his parents, the world, is wrestling. Wrestling with the truth he understands and the truth he must find for himself.
Just like the toddler finding gravity as he tumbles the new block tower to the ground, our teens have to learn to experience life with themselves, others and God.
Repeatedly when my boys were toddlers I encouraged them to try new things, build and tear down, enjoy the pleasure of standing and then falling. Where did I lose my courage to encourage? to watch the struggle without judgment? to encourage the attempts, revel in the failures and rejoice in the successes?
Why Parents Discourage instead of Encourage
They do mostly out of love. Raising our children in Christian homes with God-centered values we want the best for them– limited suffering, no pain, and a good life. We love, we give and we discourage. We know for certain that the teen’s choice we so disapprove of will lead to a difficult life.
As adults, we cling tightly to the illusion of control. I choose who I work for, where I live, how I live, who I worship and how I spend my free time. Teens challenge these assumptions. Filled with possibility, new ideas and choices they challenge our control over our own world and theirs. How much chaos can you live with? How willing are you to let the teen control the outcome of their life? Can you encourage the building and tearing down rather than tearing the teen down for failed attempts?
Reflection of Self:
Plus, how we see ourselves. God is presenting us with a new lesson. The teenager as the teacher. Many of my mistakes, my ugliness, my poor choices I see in my son’s behavior and I lament. How can I face this? How can I love in my son what I see as ugly in myself? My own failures in life and as a parent.
What if I can’t save him from the world? What if he can’t correct a mistake? What if this failure costs him a job, a marriage, a life?
Our Father God Teaches Us to Parent
Our beautiful baby, our courageous toddler did not lay aside his robe of divinity from God as he stepped into being a teenager.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13
Your eyes saw my unformed body
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:16
God knows all the plans for your teen. Your child’s days are written in the greatest parenting book ever written. You can know that God never sleeps or takes his eyes off your child.
Let your laments bring you to God. Psalm 13 starts with the belligerent teen, you don’t love me, you don’t give me what I need, you are not here for me, I have to do this alone, you are ruining my life. Where are you?
Let this run over you. Hear your heart whailing out to God for all the reasons you struggle, for all the reasons your teen struggles.
Go ahead and lament to God as David did in Psalm 13. Cry out in all your anguish over your child and yourself. Then ask for wisdom for your self and your child.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139
Lamenting is the journey of the soul from misunderstanding pain and anguish to trust in a loving God. As David cries out in Psalm 13 he stretches, searches and pours out all that is eating him. He longs for things to be different. His frustration brings him to the bottom of what he knows to be true at the core.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me. Psalm 13
Writing Your Own Lament
This is not a complaint against God, but a lament to God. An unburdening of your soul, a pouring our of your self for God’s ears only. Complaining and grumbling do not allow God to work in your life.
A lament casts our cares on the Lord with the understanding that he can and will transform lives for his divine purpose. Are you praying for your teen as much as you are lecturing or worse yet stonewalling him?
Free yourself from the burdens of parenting a teen alone by sharing your struggles with God. A lament comprises three parts:
Asking for help
Returning to the Truth of Who God is
The release is wholly tangible. Don’t let the simple method of grace for you and your teen slip by you.
Find a template for writing a lament here. (Dad not written yet)
Most of all as parents I think we need the courage to encourage. I want to give you this whole list of printable scriptures for the courage to face even the uglies about yourself. Better yet grab the screen saver “pic” for your phone. Let it be a gentle reminder that your teen is still the fearfully and wonderfully made divine child of God you held in your arms 13 years ago.