How to Connect with Your Teens

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.

This is Liam. I can’t figure out how to scan the others in. You get the picture. (pun)

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.


My friend Autumn took this one when I was 17.

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.


Spencer, his own drummer.


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.

The Reality of Christmas

We made a quick trip to visit dear friends on Thursday, two days before Christmas Eve. It seemed irresponsible to do that, but we don’t visit family and I miss the hustle and bustle of packing and going. So we went and it was fun, and one more memory with my kids’ almost-cousins is catalogued on my phone.

I love traveling.I especially love traveling with my family. Lee couldn’t get off work so I had to navigate the highways on my own. My 18 year old daughter, Kiley, was the co-pilot calling out directions, talking me down when my voice got screechy.

I’m not a fan of heavy traffic.

Photo Credit: KW BOY Flickr via Compfight cc

Kiley said she didn’t feel very Christmas-y, and I could only listen, because some years are like that. She admitted that her sister told her that it was probably because she’s older now, almost 19. I agreed that was probably part of the problem. I thought back to the year I was 18, maybe 19, and recalled that on Christmas morning I didn’t have the excited pit in my stomach, or the urge to jump out of bed at 5 a.m. I think that was year that I had a cross-stitch to finish and was up until 3 a.m.

I also remember that I received a wide-brimmed felt hat from Santa, which I loved. It had a beautiful purple silk flower pinned to it. I wore that hat a lot that winter.  However, sitting on the floor playing with a felt hat doesn’t have the same draw as sitting on the floor tinkering with the Glamour Gals Cruise Ship. Not the same thing at all.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still fun, and that cross-stitch I nearly went blind completing hangs in my parent’s room today. I enjoyed watching my brothers with their loot. They were 15 and 11 so still got toys. For me, though, the sparkle was missing. Not even my memories of those early adult years  are glitter-covered.

I didn’t feel very Christmas-y.

Lee and I married and had babies and still Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas. We were stuck under Should’s and Have-To’s and and spent a lot of time trying to please others. We didn’t have a lot of money, either, and I sometimes had the feeling that we weren’t doing enough. I may have even felt shame over a few of the gifts that we gave family members. The message of the Little Drummer Boy was lost to me.

Then I met Jesus.

I used to scoff at people who claimed to be ‘saved’ thinking that they were a little goofy – in a quaint way, of course. I loved the ritual of putting up the tree, hanging decorations, visiting Santa at the mall, and wrapping the gifts. I still love it. Going to Christmas Eve service at 11 p.m. with Dad became a ritual, too, one that I looked forward to and picked out a new dress for.  When we turned all the lights out in the church, singing Silent Night with no help from the organ, passing the flame from candle to candle until the sanctuary was well lit always gave me goose bumps.

Those things may  seem like empty rituals, remnants of liturgy without meaning behind them to a non-believer. My encounter with Christ, though, brought all of those things together like puzzle pieces that had been scattered, just waiting for their moment to come together forming the word HOPE.


Getting to know Jesus revealed to me His glory, revealed to me the Reality of Christmas.

Christmas isn’t a feeling, and it’s not a time of year.

Christmas is a fact.

Our God loves us so much that He came to us in the most vulnerable way; as a baby.

Christmas is vulnerable.

Our God loves us so much that he came to have relationship with me, with you, with everyone, no matter what they look like, smell like, or act like.

Christmas is relationship.

Our God loves us so much that he supernaturally interceded on our behalf, freeing us from the law and binding us to grace forever. He didn’t come to live the good life, he came to live THE life, and then give it away painfully, freely for us. He never planned on celebrating anything in his life, certainly not his birthday. His Christmas wish was that we would be free from sin. Our Christmas miracle is Jesus.

Christmas is supernatural.

Photo Credit: Design_Ex Flickr via Compfight cc


Once I was exposed to the Reality of Christmas the sparkle was back.

For the most part. Every now and then I can get bogged down with expectations for the most wonderful time of the year. The should’s and have-to’s creep back up on me and my calendar can swallow me whole. That’s when I have to make like a Shepherd and follow that Star. I have to be intentional about putting Jesus first, remember His reality, and allowing all the other stuff to fall into place. It’s all just stuff in the end.

Still, the Reality of Christmas has changed me from the inside out. I may not look sparkly but I sure feel it. These days I rarely sleep on Christmas Eve, that excited pit in my stomach and unstoppable grin keeping me company through the night. (Coffee is my Christmas miracle, too) It is so fun to give gifts to my people. Watching them open their little presents always makes me reflect on how our Lord must feel when we accept His gift.

I know that Christmas does not only come in December.  Some of my favorite Christmas gifts have come in the other months. Heck, I know that Jesus wasn’t born in December, but I understand why the early church opted to remember the Light of the World’s entrance during the darkest month of the year. Symbolism is not empty if you know what it means. 

Sometimes I can get a little bogged down in wondering and worrying that the culture has a hold on Christmas. I read the books and blogs the Facebook meme’s demanding that we save Christmas.

I’m just not sure Christmas needs saving because you can’t change reality.

The Great I Am will always be.

So I choose to be part of His Story. I choose to know His light even in my dark. I choose to be awestruck by His goodness and mercy even while horror takes place in the world. I choose twinkly lights and sparkly paper because it cheers the dreary, gray days. I choose traditions and rituals that remind me of the King of my heart and His bold move to save us. 

Not every Christmas will feel holy.

That’s a reality, too.

Some Decembers will find us sad, out of sorts, in the hospital, or without family to love us. While Christmas may not always feel holy, the Holy One is always with us – no matter what we look like, smell like, or act like. The Reality of Christmas means that we get to reflect on Him every day, all the time. There are no mess-up’s with Jesus.

I pray that tonight, on Christmas Eve, you can find one candle to light, one song to sing.

Photo Credit: m.rsjoberg Flickr via Compfight cc


May Christmas be real to you, today, tomorrow, and all the days that come.

May you be real, vulnerable, and have loving relationship in your life, and may God’s supernatural love be tangible in your life.

Be brave, misfits, and Merry Christmas.

Lessons Learned In My Real Life (IMRL)

Sheesh. It’s been a month since I posted.  Once it’s been a week it’s easier to take a longer. When I move into the ten day territory of no writing I become paralyzed. I stack up all of my failures and block myself in. I let that bleed over into my every day life and before I know it I’m binge eating chocolate something’s and avoiding contact with humans.

Me hiding from the world.

There may also be lots of Minecraft going on when I am over affected by life.

One of the many things I learned in counseling is that reframing my situation is vital to moving forward.  So I had a little chat with myself.

“You’re not failing, you’re taking a break. You’ve had a lot to process this month, a lot of school to do with the kids, and lots of check-up appointments. Take this time to re-energize yourself by filling up with good stuff.”

Easy peasy.

I read  for pleasure not just improvement, and I started an online course I purchased last year but didn’t get around to (telling myself that I can go at my own pace). I had a couple of nice, long chats with friends, shared some stuff that’s been weighing on me, and felt a thousand pounds lighter. I baked cookies and made some recipes I had tucked away to try. The yard got some TLC, as did my school area, and I got a haircut. I went on a spending spree with coupons at Walgreens and bought myself some mascara and facial moisturizer and I didn’t even feel guilty about it. I quit Pinning and starting doing.

I think taking a break for a few weeks after Thanksgiving will become a tradition.

I’m finally learning that it’s okay if it all doesn’t get done. It really is. There were years when I packed kids who were literally puking into he car, made them hold a tupperware dish to hold their rejected bodily fluids, and drove 8 hours to be with family for Thanksgiving. They aren’t scarred are anything, at least not by that trip, but why did I push so hard? Two words, friends: people pleaser. I did not want to disappoint. Or fail. Or not be good enough.

People pleasing is an endless traps that ends feeling worthless. What’s weird is that the people you think you’re pleasing might not even know that you’re trying to please them. They might not even care if you please them. They might not even want you to drive yourself bonkers trying to do it all right.

The moral of the story is:  take a break if you need to. Don’t pack puking kids into the car for an 8 hour drive. Don’t drive your family crazy cleaning the house for people who don’t care if your house is clean. Don’t kick yourself for not getting cards in the mail, or buying the right gifts, or baking the right cookies, or making the best meal ever.




Watch Christmas Vacation and laugh at how ridiculous and true it is.

Play board game with your kids and do the dishes later.

Call a friend and tell them that you miss them.

Seriously. Take a break. Enjoy the view from where you are now.

Revel in the knowledge that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, that the sky is full of stars, that the ocean is always there even if you cannot see it, and that you are loved beyond measure.

Go on now. Get your revel on.

I dare you.


Other goings on In My Real Life:
  1. During my shower a couple of weeks ago I noticed a black thing in the corner of the tub. Further examination revealed that it was Spencer’s sock, his dirty sock, with a bar of soap in it. I was lamenting to my daughters the grossness of that discovery when I noticed Laurel’s extremely guilty looking face. I asked her what was up. She said, “I know what the sock was from. Spencer and I were playing hunger games…” I stopped her there and asked her not to explain any more. Ever.
  2. My husband found a library book that has been missing for three months. It was under our bed, where I have looked multiple times. I suspect he is gas lighting me.
  3. I have no socks. I’ve been wearing my Dad’s or my husband’s, alternating days so that they don’t catch on. I think they’re onto me.
  4. My youngest is 7 and still has not outgrown poop jokes. I fear he never will, because poop jokes are actually funny. Like, no matter what question somebody asks answering with ‘poop’ always elicits a laugh. From me.
  5. Speaking of poop, farting is also funny. Especially when I lock the windows on the van so that they’re trapped with the odor. Especially when I’ve eaten salami.
  6. I’m sorry about #5.
  7. We had our 21st wedding anniversary, which was not nearly as exciting as turning 21 was. On the upside no one threw up. Happy Anniversary to me! and Lee!
  8. While at the grocery I realized I still have some work to do. I loudly complained to my daughter that $6.99 was too much for baby potatoes, but that I really wanted them. As I cradled them I noticed the produce man was giving me the side eye and I worried that I had hurt his feelings by yelling about the overpriced produce. So, I did the normal thing and put them in my cart, only to circle around and put them back. PEOPLE PLEASING BEHAVIOR ALERT.
  9. I miss not living with my parents. Not because I don’t want to live with them, but because I used to take their stuff when I came home to visit. It cracked me up when Mom would say, “Oh, we have those same towels!” or “I have that exact picture at home.” The thrill is gone now and I’ve been reduced to hiding the spoons.
  10. I am trying to apply more fashion sense to my life because I’m 43 now and for goodness sake that’s what grown women do. Honestly, though, it just takes too much effort and the kids say that I cannot just knot a fancy scarf around my neck and call it fashion, particularly if I’m wearing pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt. They want too much, I tell you. The Coldwater Creek models make it look so easy.


Here’s to Sunday nights, Monday mornings and real life.