Sometimes I feel bad when I hear parents complaining about their teenagers, like I should join in. I have nothing to complain about, though.
I’m not saying it’s not difficult to parent kids in their teenage years. It is, and it isn’t. It’s complicated. The tension between keeping them close versus pushing them forward is real. I want to protect them but I also want them to experience life. As a homeschoolerI have to be much more intentional in encouraging them to be in the world, always with the prayer that they not be of the world.
The public library could easily be the only place we go, but that’s not doing them any favors.
I want my kids to be in situations that will push them, force them to know themselves, and maybe even make them uncomfortable. Lee and I have worked very hard at having the kind of relationship with the kids that allows them to share the hard stuff, and most of the time they do. I find it easy to talk with my teens. I share my heart, they share theirs. I have never believed that they have to think the way I think or believe what I believe. I hope they follow Jesus, but it is not a requirement. I encourage them to explore deep truths for themselves, praying for them to find friends who are godly, and mentors who have admirable character traits.
The fact is I love spending time with my teenagers.
A few years ago, when my children were emerging teens, I realized that I was not so much parenting my kids as mentoring them. I have our years in youth ministry to thank for that.
Twelve or thirteen years ago, when we fell into youth ministry, I did not like the company of teenagers, especially when they were in a large group. It brought back junior high feelings of inadequacy. I felt I never had the right clothes or shoes, or fit in anywhere. I had flashbacks of walking into the school cafeteria for lunch and looking for a seat. Ugh. I can’t even go there.
Those youth group kids, though, they broke down those memories and dove straight into my heart. I fell in love with their over-honest ways, their answer-seeking questions, and the effort they put into growing up. Those youth group kids drove me completely crazy while winning my friendship. I figured out that they didn’t want me to be cool, or to impress them. They liked me just like I was; a young mom who was a little lonely, and really uncertain, but also eager to learn about the ways of Christ.
So we learned about him, and his ways, together.
Sometimes things were easy and I didn’t mind when youth stopped by wanting a peanut butter jelly sandwich, or just to hang out while I did the mom thing. They might even play with the kids or help me run errands. Other times kids from youth group would stop by and it would feel inconvenient to me, like one more irritation in my already irritating day. I wasn’t so great at saying no, though. Plus, life is always a little easier with company.
I’m so glad I allowed room for the interruptions. There is not one time I regret having a kid come into my home. In fact, I learned to find relief in the young people who became my friends. There were a handful of young women, in particular, who came to me the world to me. These young people became like family during a period of time when my life was not easy, and I’ll always been grateful to them.
That’s how I became an accidental mentor.
I didn’t know it at the time but these young people were teaching me how to mentor my own kids. Somewhere between 10 and 12 you transition from parenting to mentoring. You cannot force an adult-sized child to brush their teeth, shower, do their homework, get their chores done, or go to sleep – nor do I believe you should. I have high expectations for them, though, and the natural consequences of not doing the things they are required to do are the best teachers at this age. Real consequences are far more effective than any punishment I could come up with. (A huge shout out to Dr. Kevin Leman for all of his awesome books on parenting. (affiliate link) I love his Have a New Teenager by Friday, if you’re looking for some help.)
I love coaching my people in their teenage years.
It’s so exciting watching from the sidelines as they develop their own life skills, deepen their sense of self, and form relationships that will hopefully last a long time. This can be the hard part, though. It can be tempting to jump in and rescue them from themselves or bad choices or both. This is where prayer and faith come in for me – and hopefully for them, too. This is also where mentoring skills come in handy. Because I’ve helped other young people walk through decision-making I feel like it’s easier for me to act as observer in my own children’s lives as they get older. I’m learning how to ask questions rather than make demands, and how to wait on them to figure out what’s best rather than force them to do what I think is right.
Mentoring means accepting that the life your child lives will look different than the one you imagined. Mentoring means making room for your child to be their own person. Making mistakes is how I figured out some of the best stuff about myself and I want to leave room in their lives for them to do the same thing. Mentoring means not groaning when they say, “I think I might not go to college” or “I really want to major in music theater” or “I’m moving to England as soon as I turn 18”. No eye rolling, no laughing, or pointing out how out of the realm of possibility any of those things are.
Mentoring means supporting in success and failure.
I had to learn to face my fears of my kids failing. I remembered when some of the kids in youth group had huge blunders. While those moments were painful for them those experiences were also a huge catalyst for growth. That’s important to remember.
I’ve learned to get comfortable with phrases like, “You know what’s best for your life” or “You have good judgement, I trust you”. Young people know when you don’t feel they are capable of something. If I find myself wanting to step in for my kids, help them with a task, I have to remind myself of the message I’m sending when I do that. That’s not to say I don’t step in occasionally; I do. There are times it’s been necessary because I want them to feel supported not abandoned.
Mentoring means helping your kid find their dreams, no matter what those dreams are.
Part of the job as mentor is to help your child hone in on their skills and passions. Not many people know what they want to do with the rest of their life when they turn 18. I have to remind my kids of that all the time, and I think this is a major advantage in homeschooling. They don’t have to know their college plans by their freshman year of high school. We are able to explore their interests in a variety of ways, meet other adults who do things that are unlike anything my husband and I do, and experiment with jobs in a low key manner. I don’t think college is essential, and I certainly don’t think it has to be completed in four years between the ages of 18 and 21.
It is not easy, choosing this way. It would be much easier if I forced them into my way, made them learn from my mistakes. Our relationship would suffer, though, and that is a thought that I cannot stand. Years ago I chose relationship with my children over success in school. I told them their grades would never be as important as our relationship, and I meant it. What’s cool is that neither suffered; they each succeed in their own way in school and we still have a great relationship. We have rocky times, too, encounter stuff that we have to work through, but our foundation is solid.
Never sacrifice your relationship with your child on the altar of success.
It is not worth it. Who cares if they’re ahead in three subjects if they don’t know where they stand with you?
Next week I’ll talk about how to connect with your teenagers, as well as some of the unexpected joys that come with having teenage children.
Be brave, misfits and embrace the adolescents in your life.