A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my journey into accidental mentoring. I’ve put a lot of work into my relationship with my young people, and sometimes connecting with my teenagers can be hard. Every now and then I look at my adult or almost adult children, and wonder who the heck they are. It feels like one day you’re wiping bottoms and the next day you’re sharing coffee and arguing about politics.
Here’s some things I find really useful when I’m wanting, or, needing to relate more to my teens.
1. Remember who they are.
Nothing cures disconnect like pulling out baby pictures. It’s good for the kid that was the baby, and it’s good for the parent. Looking back at baby pictures also transports me to the time when connecting was simple. I just picked up my baby and loved on them. We shared everything when they each were little; food, stories, beds (and sometimes we still do!). It was a simple, exhausting time in our lives, but also a period in our lives that solidified our relationship.
There’s a lot of debate on when a child’s personality solidifies, but I think that even as babies their personality shines through. I look back at how each of my learned how to walk and talk, how to ride a bike, and I find myself nodding and saying, ‘yep, that’s how they’ve always done it’.
During rough patches I pull out pictures, show them to my kids and say, “Look at you!” It reminds me of who they are, but also reminds the child of how much they are loved. It’s fun to recall memories or fill in the gaps on my kids’ memories. I love seeing their faces as they look back on their personal history, their sweet baby faces still reflected in their almost-adult faces.
(Mental Note: get #4 child’s baby photos off of Facebook so that I have actual pictures to show him when he is a teenager in 6 years. Yikes.)
2. Participate in their life.
It can be easy to drop them off and go, but kids want us in their lives even if they’r not super wiling to admit it. When your kid looks at you, though, to make sure you’re watching you know you’re in the right place. Especially when that kid is 14.
Having a house full of teenagers can be loud and require lots of food but is a ton of fun. I want our house to be a home where kids know they can eat and drink and hang out. It’s not always convenient but it is always fun.
I take the time every week to hang out in my kids’ rooms. I read somewhere years ago that laying in your child’s bed helps you see their perspective. I think it’s true. I also learn more about what makes them tick, about what they love and what they think is beautiful. Remember that Beach Boys song In My Room? There is something cool about your room when you’re a kid.
I’ve also learned to love listening to my kids’ music. Somewhere between 10 and 12 each of mine has expressed wanting to listen to their own kind of music instead of audiobooks or whatever I’m into at the time. I let them make their own choices when it comes to music and books, mostly. Between 12 and 14 there were a few books I said no to after reading first, and several artists that I said absolutely not, ever, ever, ever even when Jesus comes back, to. They were cool with that.
Thanks to my girls I’m Twenty One Pilots’ oldest fangirl, I know who Panic! At the Disco is and I’ve fallen head over heels for YA fiction. Thanks to my boy I love Minecraft, Weird Al (again) and Legos. Thanks to me they know the lyrics to Queen songs and appreciate Jane Austen. Thanks to their Dad they love the Beatles and understand the complexities of 80’s music. I think connecting through art, art that we love, teaches us a lot about each otters.
I’m always shocked when one of them wants me to hang out wherever they are, even if it’s for just a little bit. I do remember being a teen and being secretly pleased that one of my parental units was at an event. Which leads me to the next one…
3. Think back on your own teenage years.
I know, I know, it’s not necessarily the favorite time of life to look back on. I do think it’s important to remember the feelings, the tumultuous, overwhelming, wonderful, maddening feelings, that ruled life during those years. It’s a time of extremes to be sure but it’s also a time of growth.
This is a good time to pull out pictures of you as a teenager. Share music, books, and movies that you loved. There’s nothing better than watching your kid’s jaw drop when you know all the words to Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. Reveal worst and best moments. It levels the playing field, helps them see that you as a fellow human.
It’s good to remind your kid that you really do get it – that you’ve been there and survived. Sharing my teenage (and current) insecurities gives my kids insights into who I am. It’s way easier for my kids to share their stuff with me after I tell them about the time I had my period all over my chair in World Civ class in 10th grade.
I should warn you that hard questions will be asked when you go this route. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
4. Allow them to explore their passions.
This is the age when most kids struggle with who they are, what their skills are. I think it’s pretty typical to be plagued by thoughts of not being good at anything and feeling like a failure at life. You, the parent, have the best insight into their passions. You know better than anyone what they’re good at, what fuels them. Use this knowledge to your advantage to feed their passions.
It’s inevitable that they’ll have days that feel crummy, it’s part of being human. I remind them of the things they’re good at. I may encourage them to keep trying or to take a break, whichever is most needed. We find personality tests to take, talk over tea, snuggle and discuss favorite books or movies.
Allowing my kids to try things that I maybe wasn’t so sure about has also been revealing. I didn’t understand computers or YouTube, but my oldest daughter wanted a YouTube channel, so she taught me. I didn’t like science much when I was in school but child #2 really likes it, so we’ve ventured way more in that area than I would have chosen. Turns out I do like science!
Child #3, who will be a teenager next Friday (eek!!!) grew interested in carnivorous plants. He’s always loved nature – dirt, frogs, turtles, rocks, they’ve all resided in our bathtub at some point. My mom bought him a little greenhouse and he’s learned a lot. Like, adults ask his advice about their plants or animals. I love that! These may not be things they stay attached to permanently but it’s been so fun to watch them explore the world.I learned that my discomfort or ignorance of a subject was no reason to hold my kids back.
5. Let them be who they are.
Shoulds and and have to’s have taken up more space in my life than I like. I had no idea how much I valued other people’s approval until my children became their own people. I mean, they were always their own people, but as young adults they begin to assert their opinions and feelings ALL over the place.
I learned real quick that I had to get rid of every should and have-to in my life. I did not realize that I wanted my kids to learn certain things, dress a certain way, and talk about certain things because I wanted others to be impressed with my parenting. Waking up to that realization was u-g-l-y, friends. I had to walk right away from that business because that kind of thinking, that kind of ideology, is only going to cast the shadow of shame onto my kiddos and that has no business in my home. Everyday I remind myself that I, and my children, and everyone, is made in the image of God. Fallible.Correctable. Transformable. Loved.
Welcome home to grace.
So, they want to dye their hair, dye it. Just clean up the mess and find the least chemically stuff out there. They want to wear mismatched shoes. Yo, it’s a free country. I still want respect and kindness out of them but who they are is who they are. I don’t want to force them into some mold that wasn’t made for them.
While they live with us I want them to explore their doubt about God, their faith, their education, politics, and literature. I want them to know that under the shield of our family they will always be safe, free from shame.
I have to say, I really love my teens. I enjoy parenting them much more than I intended. I respect them each so much, and Lee and I never pass through a day without commenting how cool they are.
If you have or had teens in your home, what are some things you do to connect with them? If you don’t, what are some things that scare you about having teenagers? Let me know in the comments.