Yesterday, Josiah was at a friend's house after school and Elizabeth was playing outside in the snow. As I worked on dinner, I found myself spending time with my oldest boys, both who are entering a new phase of their lives.
It is the season we often fear. It is the part of parenting that pokes persistently at the insecurities we try to hide. The 'tween and teen years sneak up quietly and then jump up unexpectedly scaring us half to death.
With 13 years of parenting behind me and many years left to go, I have often wondered how to manage these upcoming years with purpose and love. As a momma with two busy 'tweens, I spend a lot of time thinking and praying about how to help my sweet boys grow through these years and come out the other side as ready adults. As many of you know, Mark and I had the amazing opportunity to spend the boy's early years living and working with college students. As we plan for the years ahead, we draw (again!) on our experiences with the students we so loved as well as our own lives and experiences.
So, where does that leave us? What goals do we have for parenting 'tweens and teens? Here are some thoughts to share:
1. I will not give up. Sometimes as parents, we get tired and discouraged. I will not give in to those feelings in a way that releases the responsibility I have as a momma to my children. I will continue to walk with them, talk with them and seek to understand them as we journey through this season together.
2. I will raise the standard, no matter what current culture commands. Ever look around and see adults turn a blind eye to the behavior and choices of 'tweens and teens? Why do we do that? I will not expect less from my children just because they are between 11 and 19. That is an 8 year span of their young lives that can be good and full of wonder. It is an 8 year span of life that I want them to reflect on as part of their whole in a way that is positive.
3. Discipline will remain. There is a difference, my friends, between discipline and punishment. I will set the latter aside and lean heavily upon the teaching aspect found in the act of "disciple-ing". When my children become "prickly" in their demeanor, when they stand apart from me in seeking their own independence, they do not need me less. Instead, they need me differently than they may ever have before. They need me to come alongside and gently guide them as they grow in wisdom and courage.
4. I will not be afraid to laugh. Every stage of parenting has held joy for us and I will not assume this will be any different. Instead, I will laugh with my children and let this stage be filled with the fun and funny that the past stages have held, as well. What causes us to smile may have changed, but I want to embrace to joy of this as I embraced it of the last.
5. I will stay close. A teen-age boy does not need less touch from his parents... instead, he may need it more. As he struggles to understand his place in and out of his family, as he wallows through emotions that will not always present as words, a loving touch by a connected parent may be the best and only way through. I will let my embrace, my hand on his back, my kiss on his forehead, say what words may not communicate loudly enough. I love you, son. More than you can know.
6. I will not diminish the feelings that abound. The first crush, falling head-long in love, a crushing disappointment... all of these are real. From my perspective, they may seem small but in the life of my child these experiences literally are their whole, entire life. I will not gloss over what affects them today with a lecture on the grand scheme of their experiences to come. Instead, I will come alongside and listen well and let myself remember what it feels like to be young and hurt or happy or lost.
7. I will foster the development of their faith with the same attentive fervor I tapped in assisting their childhood development. In seeking "teachable moments" with my children, I will work to refrain from preaching or pushing and lean instead on helping them to discover how very LOVED they are. I will encourage them to respond to their own divine calling and to cherish the plan that God has for them in Kingdom. And I will embrace the fact that my kids will grow into this truth as they hear it from a variety of voices. As teachers and pastors and friends encourage a growing faith in my children, I will celebrate the work of many that results in the growth of one.
When I dreamed of having a family, the picture was filled with shining faces of young children playing happily in their own backyard. But, parenting is more than pictures and has less to do with my old dreams and more to do with a gritty love that hangs in tough when the day is long and hard. Parenting is a job that calls us to cuddle babies, change diapers, potty train and teach. But, parenting also requires us to see this work as a lifetime position that will approach the 'tween and teen years with the same breathless anticipation that we felt as our children learned to take their first steps. The comparison is there... physical first steps lead to this place where steps are taken toward maturity and responsibility and growth. That picture holds beauty, too. And I want to embrace it well.
Last night, I had time to sit with my boys and laugh at their jokes. I watched them read and play. I rubbed their backs and kissed their faces. I offered to them something their friends cannot. Parenting and love. A constant in their lives. An acceptance that holds a full understanding of who they are and adores them through it all. No matter what they say, no matter what our culture might want me to believe, that is important and life-changing and good. I am a momma still... and I love my growing boys. What a wonder-full thing to watch the babies they once were grow into the men God has planned for them to be.
Blessings on your day!