5 Things to Remember For Parenting Teens2
Our youngest child celebrated her 20th birthday last month. That means the Phillips house is teen-free for the first time in 23 years. Wow. Did I just type that?
As the parents of 7 and grandparents of 15, people sometimes ask us for parenting advice. Perhaps we’ve gotten to a place in our lives where we have something to offer, if only due to the fact that we survived 35 years of parenting, are still married and actually have a warm relationship with all the once-little people who are now giving us little ones of their own. Really adorable little ones.
So here’s our stab at hopefully helpful thoughts to the generation of parents coming behind us in the form of Five Things We Want Say to Parents of Younger Children Before we Die:
1. Expect your teens to be sinners just like every generation that preceded them. When we started on the parenting road over 35 years ago we thought raising our kids with biblical principles and seeking to impart to them a genuine love for Christ and His church would result in them being considerably unlike we were as teens who were raised by more hands-off parents. We hoped things like lusting after other 16-year-olds (or was it 13?); resenting us for being boundary setters; wanting to wear weird clothes or have weird hair; stealing answers from our homeschooling parents answer keys; or wanting to smoke or drink or think crude jokes were funny just wouldn’t invade our we’re-gonna-parent-differently-so-our-kids-will-BE-different parenting paradigm. The fact is every home is full of flawed, broken and weak people – beginning with Dad and Mom. One of the joys of the gospel is that sin (yours or your kids) cannot and will not trump God’s redeeming grace. That means sin must and will happen so grace can shine when sinners repent and turn back to God. So, yes, we had kids who struggled in those ways listed above that we hoped they wouldn’t, resulting in a lot of grace being evident in our flawed home.
2. Respond to failure (yours and theirs) with gracious guts. One trend we’ve observed in recent years is what’s called grace-based parenting. The inference is that this new parenting paradigm brings needed grace to what was formerly law-based parenting that focused on rules and discipline rather than mercy and relationship. In short, interactions with some parents our adult children’s age sound something like this: “Your generation spanked and controlled and laid out rules. We appreciate your hard work as parents, but the fact is some of your kids were pretty worldly and, honestly, it was scary to watch because we want something different for our kids. Please don’t take this wrong but we really hope our kids will love God and avoid some of the stuff we’ve seen in the kids raised by parents who we don’t think really understood grace. So we’re parenting in a more grace-filled way in hopes that our kids won’t struggle like yours did.” Wait. Today’s 30-something parents sound just like we sounded at their age! The fact is every conscientious Christian parent is highly motivated to raise godly kids who have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ and who avoid the common sinful choices of youth. Our parenting was flawed and there were times we sought to control our kids’ actions with rules and consequences. Yet all parents who seek to read and follow the clear instructions God’s word provides for childrearing, and do so while crying out for help from the God who sits on a throne of grace, are surely motivated by a longing to see their children know that God and avoid the heartache of being seduced away from God to the world. Enough time has passed to see that in some cases parents who called their parenting grace-motivated are walking through the same struggles with their kids as did we and our peers. Parenting has always required courage. This generation of parents will make their own share of mistakes as have every generation before them and every generation to come. The challenge today’s parents face is to have the gutsy faith we sought to resist the temptation to parent “like others” or “unlike others” and, rather, pour over the Bible to find the wisdom and practical help you need. Many in our generation homeschooled and spanked and didn't let our kids watch Star Wars until they were 14, possibly in reaction to the lax generation before us; many in this generation public school and don't spank and focus on having conversations with their pre-teens about why Mom or Dad had to skip several scenes in that movie last night. In both cases we believe grace was the desired goal and parenting styles still remain too much of the focus.
3. Focus on your relationship not your rules. One thing we worked really hard at with our teens was our relationship with them. This was due in part to the wonderful advice we heard from somewhere (sorry, we can’t remember where): Rules without relationship leads to rebellion. We walked through some serious and heartbreaking things with some of our kids in their young adult years. Gratefully, though, our relationship with them survived and remains warm and close to this day. In one particular situation with one of our kids whose moral compromise resulted in some weighty consequences, they were able to articulate years later what kept them from veering away from the family and God in the aftermath of those awful days. “My relationship with you and Dad was just too important to me, Mom.” Just as our relationship with Jesus Christ - who relentlessly loves and pursues us even and especially when we sin – woos us to repentance and restoration time and time again, our communicated and demonstrated love for our kids when their sin is on fullest display makes the gospel shine brightest. Parents, please don’t take teen compromise or full out rebellion too personally. Your teen’s issues are ultimately with God…not you. So make His love tangible when you’re most tempted to pull away; this will let your child see the gospel in real life.
4. Build lots of family memories…and keep it up. Over the years we’ve known numerous families who have survived the teen years with love still in tact. One of the common threads we’ve observed in these families is a commitment to building and protecting rich family traditions and memories. Some parents back off from this when teen disinterest sets in. School or work or the priority of other relationships results in many teens feeling family “stuff” is for kids; and they’re certainly not a kid anymore! We’ve watched parents give in to the understandable discouragement and weariness of trying to maintain family vacations, holiday memories, special birthday traditions or other happenings that were common when the kids were young by giving up on these things. But again and again we’ve heard now-adult kids say how much those traditions meant, even during years when Mom and Dad would have thought they meant nothing. Don’t allow your kids’ passive disinterest or pull from the family to result in dishing the things you believe are important. Maybe all of them won’t show up for each birthday celebration or family vacation, but fight for what you feel is important. You’ll probably be thanked later.
5. Pray! Pray! Pray! We prayed for our kids…but not enough. Certainly our prayers aren’t the key because God’s plan won’t be thwarted because kids don’t have praying parents. But God has designed prayer to be a mysterious partnership between the Sovereign and the dependent. Praying reminds parents Who is in control (and it’s not us!). Praying requires a humble recognition that only God can change and tenderize our kids’ hearts. And praying reminds us to look upward and outward rather than downward and inward for help and hope. Our most awful parenting experiences have produced the kind of humble dependence on God to move; restore; convict; comfort; protect and save – all things we cannot do but He CAN do. Praying parents are humble ones who aren’t ashamed to admit we don’t have it all together but are insatiably starving for God’s sovereign, good and wise plan to come to fruition in our children’s lives. In His time and by His power.
So there it is. 35 years of parenting boiled down to five simple points. Yep. That exhausts our wisdom. But please remember God has a lot more to say and His wisdom is inexhaustible. When we were young parents there were two Christian books on parenting. We read them both over and over. Yet mostly we read the Bible because it was the only other parenting book we owned. There are thousands of parenting resources out there from which you can choose. I’m glad we only had a couple or it’s likely we, too, would be looking to others for the help that can best come from God and then comparing ourselves to our friends to see how we (or they) are doing.
Oh, so we have one more bit of advice: Read God’s word and obey it. You won’t always like what you read and, like us, you won’t have the power or perseverance to obey it. But He does. He will help you, sustain you, strengthen and equip you. They’re actually His kids, on loan to you. And even your mistakes and failures will be used for good in their lives.