No Longer Parents to Those Kind of Kids

For half of our marriage, we’ve been parents of teenagers. Prior to the 1920s nobody used that word to describe the years 13-19. We’ve been using it in our family since 2004. Those years end today as our youngest enters his 20s, a decade full of amazing opportunities he can only image. Happy birthday, Jeffery.

I feel for parents whose past or current experiences with teenage sons and daughters bring pain or who wish for the years to be over soon. While our years of parenting teens were not without drama, tears, conflict, and challenges, they were not horrible for us. In fact, the years of being parents to teens have been as enjoyable as, and maybe more enjoyable than, the years of toddling and cuddling were before.

Simply, we loved being parents of teens, and hope you do too.

They were busy years to be sure. Everyday always had somebody going somewhere. At 13 the family calendar starts to fill with youth group, sports, band, theatre, part-time jobs, and friends. Before one of them starts driving, the parents become Uber drivers without the tips – unless you count, “Love you, mom,” as the minivan door slides closed and off she goes to meet her friends.

The teen years are expensive as any parent will testify. Braces and blue jeans, Nikes and kneepads, instruments and smartphones, phone bills, music lessons, summer camps, youth activities, used cars, car insurance, curling irons and hair straighteners all cost more than parents imagine.

With teenage sons and daughters, conversations deepen. Meaningful exchanges about politics, romance, worldview, morality, betrayal, loyalty, justice, and commitment to Jesus Christ take the place of chatter about dolls and trucks, stuffed animals and make believe.

As an aside, I cannot explain why 13 to 19-year-olds desire to pursue these talks at 11:30pm at the foot of parents’ beds. But weary eyes in the morning are worth the talks that expose their hearts and bind hearts together.

It is humbling to see in teen sons and daughters the weaknesses of dad and mom. Honestly, we rode them harder than we should have when we observed our flaws on display in them. We could have handled that better, first by addressing the problems in ourselves.

As Brenda and I have reflected over the last few months in anticipation of this day, we pass along some thoughts to consider.

There is blessing from consistent parenting when children are little. More than strict or loose parenting style, consistency is key. It’s hard, I know. For a variety of reasons, some days you just don’t feel like doing this anymore, or least, give me a one-hour break and a little “me time.” Whatever behaviors you command, attitudes you exalt, expectations you mention, stay after it hour by hour, day by day.

The training of littles will pay dividends you will appreciate in teen years. Of course, if you neglect consistent, purposeful parenting, you will see the impact of that also in the teen years.

Momentary inconveniences and relationship struggles are worth the effort to overcome them. As children mature, their problems become more complex requiring additional time and effort to address. Some of our challenges were with a 13-year-old and others with an 18 or 19-year-old. It is unlikely the difficulties will be at convenient times. Your careful exercise of biblical wisdom, not merely circumstance modification, is critical.

Some moments will lead to relationship struggles between you and your teen. You must remain the Christian adult in the situation, working toward reconciliation and teaching in your reaction to circumstances how to respond to relationship struggles that await your son or daughter.

Allow for controlled errors in judgement. Not all mistakes are the same, and some mistakes provide key moments for guidance. Your teen will spend money foolishly, is likely to make a friendship you question, and may put off an academic assignment to his detriment. They will dent your cars and make bad decisions about hair styles and clothing choices. Do not ride them over mistakes. Show them how to recover. Help them recover.

The weight of Scripture is critical. We are stewards of God’s authority in the lives of our children. “Because I said so,” is the wrong answer. The right answer is “Because God says.” Allow the Word of God to be the heavy when sinful attitudes and behaviors surface and when immaturity slips out. Introduce God into daily circumstances by calling your teen to submit to what God says. Our wisdom is not enough. God’s is.

Keep on parenting. Now is not the time to stop parenting. I get it. Sometimes they talk back. Sometimes you have no answers for their arguments. Sometimes they do what they want to do despite the wisdom you offer to them. Combined they add up to the thought, “He’s 18 now. He has to live his own life.” 18 is just some random number. So is 21 and 30. Do not stop parenting. Keep giving counsel. Keep calling to Christlikeness. Keep asking probing questions. Talk, talk, talk, and talk some more. Never give up being their parent. You’re the only one God has commissioned for the job.

You don’t have all the answers, and you won’t have time, wisdom, and spiritual maturity to teach everything you should. This has been one of my greatest revelations about my limitations in parenting.

As I look at each of our children, there is so much I didn’t do correctly, wish I would have done sooner, or didn’t know I was supposed to do. I remember the conversation with Brenda one night in particular where I felt like a parenting failure.

As I looked at my fully grown child, all I could see was what still needed to be done, but the time had passed. In the quietness of our bedroom, I cried before Brenda and expressed my failures to do more than what I had done. Her wise counsel prevailed. “We better pray,” and we did.

While all of us are equipped uniquely by God to parent the children he has entrusted to us, none of us is equipped completely to parent the children entrusted to us. We need God.

Our limitations force us to cry out to God to change what we cannot change, to develop what we cannot develop, to incite love for God that we cannot demand, and to grow trust in God that we cannot manufacture.

Our parenting of children has come to an end. Our parenting of daughters and sons has not. May God take them from here and make them what we could not for the glory of his name and for the good of people.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.