Something odd is happening between us and our kids. We all seem to like each other…and I have teenagers. It is a weird phenomenon, I know. I keep wondering, “How did we get so lucky?” Why is it that in a day and age when it is so common to hear about parents and teens battling it out, do we seem to be escaping that fate? Now, don’t get me wrong. We have our moments for sure. Days when instructions were not followed, rules were not obeyed, responsibilities were shirked, and consequences for each were plentiful. But when it is all said and done, at the end of the day, when we say good night, we are all friends. How does this happen? What are we doing right? Well, luck has absolutely nothing to do with it.
As I thought about writing this post, I decided to ask my kids what they thought. They had a couple of answers that included things like, “we do things together that are fun,” or “dad made time to wrestle with us when we were kids,” but in the end they weren’t really able to articulate reasons why our relationship with them is so healthy or why we actually enjoy each other’s company. And although I don’t have all the answers, I do have a guess. Maybe the reason that they can’t articulate why we like each other is because they have never known anything different.
A good relationship with your teenagers doesn’t start when they are teenagers. It is something that grows out of a foundation that has been poured for years. So, while this is not a comprehensive list, here are some ways that we have invested in our family from day one:
- They know we love each other. My husband and I have been married for almost 23 years and our choice continues to be “until death do we part.” We make sure that we love and serve each other in front of our children all the time. They have also seen us argue, but in the end, apologize, forgive and make up. They have seen us hurt, they have seen us laugh, they have seen us love. But what has always been our desire is for our kids to see the real us, and know that through it all our commitment did not waiver. In the end we would always chose each other. In that they were secure.
- They are listened to. When that toddler walks up to you for the millionth time and says, “Mommy, look!” and you actually look, instead of rolling your eyes, something happens in their heart. They begin to feel validated. This is where it starts. If you want your teen to talk to you, you must be willing to listen to it ALL. I don’t always listen, but when I do, I recognize the door that is being opened and I don’t take that for granted. When they know they are being listened to, they will talk. They will know that what they have to say is important to you. You will earn their trust.
- They are given attention. We date each other all the time. But we also date them. We take time with each of our kids one on one, on a regular basis. We take time to do what they like to do. There is something very special about individual attention from a parent. Our kids still talk about some of the things they got to do with just one of us. Carving out this kind of time speaks volumes to a kid. They begin to feel respected at a very early age. They learn that they matter. They are important.
- They know we are human. We talk about our dreams. We talk about our fears. We always have. They have seen our silly side, but have also seen our tempers. Authenticity has always been something we strive for, not only in our relationship, but in the one with our kids as well. They know when we have had a bad day. They even know when I start talking about hormones, it is time to leave mom alone! When we share our struggles, they in turn, will share theirs. They feel understood.
- Their feelings are respected. We all know what it feels like to open ourselves up and become vulnerable in front of another person. It is so easy for us to dismiss our kid’s feelings and think they aren’t old enough to feel rejection. But that simply is not true. In fact, you can sometimes visibly see it on their face when you have dismissed them too quickly and crushed a part of their spirit. I know from experience. But by God’s grace, that experience has taught me the importance of cherishing my child’s heart. A cherished heart is a whole heart.
- They know we are not afraid to discipline. In today’s world this is a touchy subject, but I’m going to address it anyway. We spanked our kids. (gasp!) Guess what? It works. It is tiring, exhausting, and sometimes you feel like the discipline will never end. But guess what else? It does! I don’t remember the last time I spanked anyone, but I firmly believe we are much better off because of it. They probably don’t even know it, but a child who is held accountable for their actions appreciates it. They know that their choices matter and that they must make the right ones. A child who has boundaries, grows into a teenager that thrives within those boundaries whether they realize it or not. Mutual respect is the fruit of discipline.
- They know family comes first. We work with a missionary aviation organization and my husband’s hours are anything but normal. There is always some trip around the corner or late nights because there is a flight schedule to keep. But as soon as he steps foot in our house we all know who is most important to him. Sometimes we have to say no to other things just because we need some time as a family. We have taught our kids the importance of priorities and made it very clear that our bonded, tight-knit family is at the top of that list.
- They have forgiven us. We don’t always get it right. I wish we did. But when tempers flare and patience is low, angry words get said and feelings get hurt. As soon as we recognize that we could have handled it differently we have had to humble ourselves and ask for their forgiveness. They readily give it. Giving our kids the chance to forgive us teaches them that everyone makes mistakes, but taking responsibility for them is where the real character is formed.
- They have been forgiven. As our kids grow, explore, and test the waters of life it seems that “I’m sorry” becomes a part of their daily vocabulary. They are going to blow it. That’s just what kids do. But sometimes they make choices that just twist my gut and bring me to my knees. I know that I need the strength to forgive even before they ask it. When they see unconditional love and forgiveness freely offered, their guilt melts away and restoration begins. They learn what it means to be forgiven, what it means to be free from guilt.
- They know that it all comes back to God. We love God. This fact permeates everything our family is about. Our kids are now 10, 13, & 15 and we still pray together as a family every night before they go to bed. We don’t have it all together. We don’t have all the answers but we want our kids to know that at the end of the day, we know who does. We are here to bring glory to God. The more we teach this to our kids and live it out, the more we learn.
Parenting is hard. It is not for the faint-hearted. But as we are faithful in the little he gives us much. I am seeing the fruit of that, and what I see brings tears to my eyes and a gratefulness to my heart that is hard to put into words. God redeems it all. Don’t give up. In the hands of God, our mistakes become works of art, our successes are celebrated masterpieces.
I had my 15 year old son read over this before I posted in here for you. He told me that he remembers when he was younger not really knowing the meaning of “I forgive you,” but he just knew that it was something good. My heart smiles when I hear how he “gets it.” He recently had his first semi-formal event and as I stood there looking at this man in front of me, I couldn’t have been more proud. How did we get here so quickly? I could not end this post without adding a picture of this guy…What a heart-breaker, right?!!