We live in a land of perpetual sunshine punctuated by fog. It’s not a very dramatic weatherscape. However, if you grew up in a different place, you know about true storms and that there are basically three parts to them: preparation, the storm itself, and the aftermath. Preparation begins when you see the signs – clouds on the horizon, the wind begins to blow and the sky darkens. It’s the same with the teen years. Adolescence approaches on every child’s horizon and, while it’s not a disaster (in fact, there is wonder and beauty, adventure, and fun in this season of life), it is a storm to be sure. Like every storm, it is also something for which we need to prepare. From my corner of pastoral life, I frequently talk to parents who are either: (a) dreading the adolescence that has not yet arrived for their kids; (b) they are in it and are either drowning or relieved it isn’t as bad as they feared; or (c) the storm has passed and their kids are launched. I’ve wanted to write an article for some time about adolescence, but have been so perpetually “in it” myself that I’ve wondered if I have enough perspective or credibility. Yet because something is gained from watching others muddle through life and attempt to be faithful in it, I’m going for it. Here it is: some reflections on adolescence, and storms, and how they are sometimes similar.
When I was a child, we lived in Kansas for a couple of years while my dad was in grad school. A tornado ripped through at least once while we lived there and, though I don’t remember all the details, I do remember two things: the sky, and our curtains. The sky was the color of a bruise – purple and green and yellow. It was unlike any sky I have ever seen since. I also remember my dad calling my mom in a panic and telling her to open every window a crack, so that the suction of the tornado going by wouldn’t blow out all the glass. As we ran for the basement, I still remember a roaring sound and seeing the curtains sucked through the open crack of the windows.
Or… there was the grapefruit-sized hail when we lived in Texas that shredded roofs and battered cars.
Or… the flooding and the blizzard back in New Jersey. You get the idea.
The point is simple. Storms are a reality. Preparation is key. In every one of the above examples, we could have seen it coming and allowed ourselves to be frozen in fear. Instead, we prepared by opening the windows a crack, putting cars in the garage, sandbagging, and the like. In the same way, adolescence is a reality and we can either deny the inevitable, freeze in fear, or we can prepare ourselves. Assuming we choose the latter option, the following are some suggestions from the storm-trenches:
First, watch the weather. We watch a forecast in order to anticipate what we can’t yet see in front of us. This means we look ahead instead of grasping onto the past or the present. Sadly, I talk to many parents who would prefer to live in denial rather than preparation. I get it. The world is a scary place, and we want to protect our children. We also love them and often would like to “freeze” them in their most adorable time of life. However, when we choose to ignore the adolescence that waits around the bend, we are not being good stewards of the little ones that God has entrusted to us. By the time any child has reached age 8 or 9, we should be thinking ahead and beginning to strategize how we are going to parent our kids toward greater independence. What does this even look like? How do we prepare for this?
Gather “supplies”. As you prepare for your child’s adolescence, acquire the following:
• Knowledge. Read some books. (See the end of this article for some recommendations.) More importantly maybe, is to talk outside of your peer group. There is something very satisfying about being in the same season of life as dear friends, but this is the time when you will benefit greatly from some parenting mentors. Build relationships with those who are a season ahead of you and be encouraged!
• Compassion. You are not the only ones who will be enduring a storm. Your child will be embarking on one of the most challenging times in his or her life. Pray that God would give you love, compassion, and patience – even when things are heated.
• Solidarity with your spouse. Nurture your marriage. You need to be on the same page. If you are a single parent, invite some families to walk with you in this season, praying for you and encouraging you.
• A “Rock”. This rock is your relationship with God, and you simply must prepare your heart for greater and deeper dependence on Him. Remember how the wise man built his house upon the rock? The storms came and his house stood firm. Child-rearing isn’t just about turning out a good product – it’s more about being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Make sure your foundation is secure.
The Storm Hits
Some storms have a slow build-up, and some seem to blast out of nowhere. Regardless, that cute child that you distinctly remember being sweet and funny and loving might disappear for a while. Your house may be suddenly –and perhaps icily– silent, or it may be the opposite, with arguing you didn’t think possible in your home.
If the storm is mild, be thankful and enjoy it! Don’t credit it to your great parenting, although I’m sure you did a good job. Just be humbly thankful.
If the storm of adolescence is severe in your home, stay calm. The surest way to freak out as a parent is to finish this sentence: My child would NEVER _______. If you routinely finish sentences like that in your head, you might not be prepared to handle what happens if and when they do the very thing(s) you thought they’d never do. In fact, if you suspect your child is going down a bad road, pray (hard) that they would be caught. God may use this as one of the most pivotal times in their lives.
It almost goes without saying that your prayer life deepens and grows (or should) when your child is an adolescent. As your child tugs for independence and you face the learning curve of how and when to release him or her, you will face unknowns, worries, and a loss of control. This is about the time you figure out that you never had as much control as you originally thought anyway. You also learn that God does. Pray for yourself, your marriage, for your child. Again, remember the Rock you stand on – cling to Him when you’re tempted to cling to your child.
If you are overwhelmed by the storm in which you find yourself, do not attempt self-rescue. Get help. It’s like those scenes on the news we sometimes see of someone standing on their roof in their underwear, a rising flood around them, energetically waving for help. You might need to be that kind of parent. My husband and I have been those parents. Adolescence is no time to stand on pride. Talk to older parent-mentors. Talk to a counselor. You are not a spiritual failure; you’re just being smart to ask for help.
Like any storm, adolescence doesn’t last forever. The sun comes out and a new day dawns, but we have emerged, hopefully wiser people. Just like labor pains get you ready to give birth, adolescence gets us ready as parents to release our children into adulthood. And it’s good.
Todd and I have had a rich and wild journey in parenting our kids. It has also been full of mistakes and learning – and some storms. We are still “in it,” and we are still clinging to the Rock. But this time, we’ve found some great anchors and handholds. Our Rock is more familiar.
As we parent our adolescents, I try to remember that God is parenting us as we parent them. And that is such a hope-filled and loving assurance!
• Like Dew Your Youth, by Eugene Peterson
• The Age of Opportunity, by Paul David Tripp
• Parenting your Teen with Love & Logic, by Foster Cline & Jim Fay