Monday, January 17, 2011

Long Time Coming

Friends, in the comments of this post, many of you said you enjoyed my previous posts on parenting.  Which made me cringe, I must admit.  We are certainly doing a lot of it, but parenting is a sore point with me, these days. This post has been a long time coming, but I think I am ready to share.

I read lots of books on parenting when my kids were all younger, but nothing really prepared me for teenagers.  In our case, our teens--especially #2 and #3--"came of age" just as we moved to a new state, pulling them away from established networks of Christian friends and adults in their lives, their church and Christian activities like theater and homeschool classes.

Without Christian friends at first, they struggled to make good choices.  Even now, with a Christian school and Christian friendships, we are still adjusting, and it's hard to sort out what is character stuff we would have been dealing with no matter what, and what is still regrouping and regaining what was lost in the year or so after our move.  It has required a lot of time and attention, and these struggles--so consuming and painful--just aren't topics one can post on a blog.

But maybe, as one "a little further down the road" now, I can share some of the feelings that have surprised and thrown me.  Maybe I didn't read the right books, but it would have been helpful to anticipate not just "dealing with teenagers" but "dealing with your emotions about having teenagers."  No one told me, but it's a double whammy:  their stuff, and your own stuff, simultaneously.

If you are a parent, you are probably aware of your own issues.  Parenting just brings out the control freak, the perfectionist, the idealist, the nag, the preacher, the drill sergeant or the ostrich in us. It brings out the best and the worst, and for many years, I think we have hope that the best in us and in our kids will win out in the end.

Having teenagers does a number on parents because we suddenly realize that the finish line with this child is in sight.  In just a few short years, they will be gone, and we worry more than ever about their deficiencies and the things we want them to have--character, skills, values--before they leave home.  We renew our commitment to character-buiilding at the same time that they begin to show interest in doing without our advice and help.  In fact, they often violently reject it.

We are so concerned for their well-being and for their future, that when they reject our concern, our wisdom, and our direction, it hurts.  It makes us angry.  Then we say things we're not proud of, and we are rotten examples of the character and values we want so badly to instill.  It's humbling.

Plus we want them to like us.  They aren't little kids anymore; you can have a grown-up conversation with them and enjoy grown-up activities with them.  They can keep up with you, physically and mentally. And you've put a lot of good stuff in there over the years, and you enjoy it as it starts to come out and become uniquely their own.  You can just see the fabulous human being that's in there, behind the attitudes and dumb choices they make, and you redouble your efforts to parent them wisely and helpfully.  And they push back, and it hurts, because we care so much, and we get angry, and the painful, humbling cycle continues.

We know we have to start letting go, start letting them make some of their own decisions and their own mistakes.  They become involved in activities that take them outside of our homes.  We lose some of the control that we've always had, logistically--they have teachers assigning their workload, employers arranging their schedules, other parents giving them rides.  They start telling us their schedule instead of us telling them what our family is doing this week.

It's all normal, but it's so disorienting!  I went through a grieving period, as I realized that I would never again have all my chicks in the nest together, under my wings, under my protection and my direction. That homey, happy thing called "our family" and "homeschooling" was changed forever as my older chicks began to leave the nest for longer and longer periods of time.  Things are different even with the younger kids, as their eyes are also on the goings, comings and doings of their older siblings, and they get ideas that they should be entitled to similar privileges and practices.

Actually, I'm still grieving, still adjusting to the new norm.  I'm trying to re-form my nest around the younger three, while still supervising the fledgings who are often far from home, and it stretches me thin.  I second-guess decisions we've made: at what ages we gave them cell phones, their access to friends through texting, the music on their iPods, the movies they watch, whether we should have homeschooled them into high school.  

I keep concluding that we've made good choices, overall; so why have we had all these difficulties?  As a young parent, it was easy to assume that if we did our best as parents and kept our kids' eyes on God, then with God's help and lots of His grace, we'd navigate, as parents, as happily and hopefully through the teen years as we did through the terrible twos and threes. And part of me is clinging gratefully to the truth: that our teens do love God, and us, and want to please us both.  But another part of me is reeling from some of the other truths about my teens and their attitudes and mistakes they have made.

And I am helpless.  I can't fix them.  I can't change their histories, though I have great hope that someday these errors will be blips in their testimonies.  I see them walking with the Lord in the future, but I feel helpless to change who they are in present.

I can demand their respect, but I can't make them be respectful.  I can ask for their cooperation, but I can't make them cooperative.  I can value things that are good, true, beautiful, worthy, but I can't change their tastes and appetites for some things that are not worthy of their attention and energy.  I can love the best and the worst in them, but I can't control their thoughts, words and actions.

And I begin to second-guess myself.  Would our relationship be better if they had not been homeschooled? Were all those years of investment in them misguided?  Should I have done something different with my time and energy?  Would they be more humble if they had gone to school for junior high? (Certainly the low point of my own life.) Should I do things differently with my younger children?  Am I the problem? Would they be better off in school?

Yes, it's been painful.  It's been humbling.  I have grieved in the most tender places of my heart, and I have burned with anger in the stony places.  I have felt farther from God than I have in years, and I have felt closer, in the helpless, hopeless, wordless prayers that fill my times with Him right now.

And that's just dealing with normal stuff, folks.  They're not into drugs or alcohol or getting pregnant or even getting tattoos, although Blondechick did get her belly button pierced for her 18th birthday (with our half-hearted blessing, which she wanted, even though the whole point was to do something she didn't need our permission to do!).  Our teens are following God as well as they know how, and they are working hard in school.  They struggle with being respectful and responsible at home, but they're not in open rebellion.  It could be so much worse.

And yet, that day-to-day stuff has been so much harder than I expected.


Mrs. Smith said...

You are doing a MARVELOUS job... even though you may not see all the results right now. As one whose parents didn't walk with the Lord for many, many years, I am so grateful for the investment that my husband's parents (who are strong believers) made in him. Now, as an adult, I can see the differences in my teenage "hood" and that of my husband's.

They homeschooled Alec up until high school. It paid of immeasurably, especially in college. I was a nightmare in middle school and high school, but thanks to Honey Rock and Wheaton and the prayers of my parents (once they came to Christ), I'm walking with the Lord. All things considered, I think I turned out pretty well. Now that I am married with children, I feel like I am crawling back into the nest. My parents and in-law's wisdom, prayer, and support is absolutely sustaining my sanity and spirit.

Believe me, the attitudes will vanish eventually, and they will see you for what you are... incredible parents. I am now SO proud of who my parents are, even with their faults and the mountains of "stuff" they still carry. I'm so grateful for them.

Crystal said...

I remember some of the angst that you are feeling but mostly I was just so busy with everything that I never had / took time to ponder much! Now I firmly know and believe, that God had a plan for my children and that He carried them through all those years, right straight into the places where He wanted them. Yes, they wandered. Yes, they sometimes took longer. Yes, they didn't do it the way I wanted sometimes. But - He was with them every step of the way. AND - He was with us too AND He has brought them life partners and into His goodness, far beyond anything I could have ever dreamed. The power of prayer is a marvelous thing and I used that power alot.

Something I often reminded myself of was that it was a good thing when the kids challenged us because that also meant they were standing up for themselves and they would challenge others in situations too. Then they could stand up to peer pressure and for themselves with adults too. And I repeated the mantra, "What does this mean in the big picture?"

Give yourself a break - you are following God's guiding the best you can. And your kids are pretty awesome, from what I read. ((( HUGS )))

At A Hen's Pace said...

Mrs. S & Crystal--

Thanks so much. Your comments brought tears to my eyes and and a booster shot of hope to my heart!


william2233 said...

Nice site, from a children author

Linds said...

There is one thing that I really want to add here, but, like Crystal, I am at the other end now and see my children all adults and making wonderful decisions about their lives, and I KNOW how God has had them in His hands and has done all along, even with all the angst and gnashign of teeth for this Mum. That one thing is the conspiracy of silence. The one when things go wrong, and you agonise and wonder what you have done wrong, where you failed and all the rest. We all come up against it at times, and yet, when we gather with friends and they ask about the family, we smile and say they are all great. We neevr admit that times may be difficult because we are afraid of being seen as failures. Remember those impossibly wonderful Christmas letters?

I was at our bookclub once many years ago, and I told them something which has helped so many over the years. Mine were the oldest children, and I said something about kids being disrespectful,disobedient, name calling, etc, at times, and just said - you never hear anyone saying this will happen to your kids. I hope it doesn't, but believe me, it probably will, and you are not alone. It happens to us all, only we don't talk about it. It is a normal part of flexing wings and trying on the garment of independence, and it will pass. If we were just more honest, we could help each other so much more.

You have no idea how many - in fact every single one - came to me over the years and said, thanks so much for warning us. You were right. We were not alone, and it did indeed pass.
Honesty when raising kids, is just so important. We all face battles. It is rare that there is no rebellion. And we have all been blessed. Our children learned by their mistakes. They had to. And it made them stronger and more able to cope in a world outside our homes.
I believe in love, but tough love as a parent. But we cannot control our young people's will. They all have to make the choices, and some of them will be dire. But we get the privilege of helping them deal with the consequences, and watching them learn. And we ultimately have the wonderful gift of standing back and lettign them fly and then watchign them soar high high above us.
Kepp on trusting, Jeanne. It was never meant to be either simple or easy! Maybe only Mary had an easy time, but then, even Jesus had a separate path He had to follow, and it wasn't his mother's choice, was it.....

Linds said...

And please ignore all typos. I was on a roll......

Nancy B in Ipswich said...

Thanks for the encouragement and reality check, Jeanne: Our eldest turns 14 in a few days, with our second turning 13 in the spring. And yes, we're in the midst of the to homeschool or not to homeschool questions. Still grateful for your example in taking it a kid at a time, a year at a time, and hoping that no decision is irreparable. Miss you and Eirik. Love to you both.