Wednesday, February 19, 2014

To Parents of Teenagers

Taft Family 2011

I'm sure you have heard it said that parenting is not for the faint of heart and as much as I love being a parent, it honestly is a really tough job. Some days it feels like they are growing up too fast, and other days it doesn't seem like it's fast enough. Two of my girls are already grown and its funny how they go from being your babies....to a child that still wants to cuddle, to a sometimes mouthy, frustrating teen with "that tone" in their voice and you wonder if you will make it through those teen years. Even the best of kids test the waters with their parents at times. Sometimes the "tone" of their voice triggers the temptation to put them in their place.....and it's all I can do to bite my tongue so I don't say something I regret. Sometimes, I have to deal with regrets because my self control has sprouted wings and flown out the window due to one bodily posture and hard roll of the eye. Moms of teens (specifically girls), do you know what I'm talking about?  It seems like just the other day, my two older girls were teens and I went from moments of exasperation and frustration and feelings of downright anger at their attitudes, to feeling despair because I walked right into the "trap" and the juvenile "me" came pouring out of my mouth with the shocking maturity of a twelve year old.

There is always something to be learned in the tough moments of life. God wastes nothing. Since every teen goes through the pulling away process in one way or another, the mouthy moments though difficult and frustrating, are often a part of their development. We can set our boundaries as to the way they address us, but we need to understand that it really isn't personal. Much can be gleaned through them, both for us as parents and for them as they develop into adults. I handled those moments very poorly with my oldest daughter. I felt threatened and reacted accordingly. I didn't realize that's what I felt at the time, but in retrospect, it is exactly what motivated me to react to her in anger, instead of responding to her in love. There was something about the way she questioned me and challenged me, that seemed to undermine the very core of who I was as a person....everything I believed and cared deeply about, seemed to be mocked and ridiculed. I couldn't, at that time, separate the facts from the overwhelming feelings. Not only did I feel threatened as a person, but I feared she would reject the family and even more importantly, God. I feared letting go of the reigns and watching her make decisions for herself. I feared she would cause herself pain and scars in the process, and potentially never come back. As a result, I failed big time, in the way I handled it.  Instead of putting aside my feelings about her challenges, I reacted to those feelings irrationally on emotion. I should have addressed the challenges themselves logically with love and kindness, but I didn't. I took those moments personally and hurt us both in the process. Instead of seeing those moments as a positive thing, because she was questioning me, rather than blindly believing everything I had taught her,  I could only respond to the negative vibes. Many times I have wished that I knew then, what I know now, but I didn't. I spent countless nights pacing the floor, praying, reading my Bible and parenting books, fervently searching for wisdom and praying for protection over us both during that time. Eventually I learned that when your child questions you, even if they don't do it perfectly, it is actually a good thing. If they question us as parents, there's a great probability that they question everyone else and everything else outside the home as well. They need to know the facts. They need to be one hundred percent convinced in their own minds, that embracing the teaching of their parents is the right thing for them....that's it's real....concrete.....and worthy of their faith and trust. If they can't trust their parents and the things we have taught them, what can they trust? This is the question they are searching for an answer to, although many times they don't even understand that themselves.

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Our older girls did make it through those trying teen years and so did we. They eventually got married and/or moved out on their own and we transitioned from parenting them to enjoying them more as a friend, on an adult level.

When my first daughter was placed in my arms shortly after she was born, I was in awe that this was my very own baby girl and I had dreams of rocking her and cuddling her for hours, and watching her crawl, take her first steps, say her first words and as she grew older I dreamed of happily cooking and baking together, singing together, reading books snuggled up by the fire, playing on the beach, braiding her hair, decking her out in stylin' clothes, sharing secrets and hanging out as best friends as she grew older. I was convinced that if I was the best, most available, understanding and caring mom, she would feel free to talk to me about everything for the rest of her life..... and then reality hit. It wasn't long before I realized her number one goal was to suck me dry of all energy through sleep deprivation, demanding that I be at her beck and call at ALL hours of the day and night, and that she could punish me with one blood curdling scream if I didn't submit to her wishes. AND....then she started talking...and I quickly learned that she was definitely her own individual who was intent on making her will known. I thought I had signed up for parenting. Turns out, I had birthed a tiny dictator who was bent on breaking me. HA!  Isn't that how it feels, though?  Not all parents have fussy babies who don't sleep at night, but for those that do, can I get a sympathetic nod? In spite of it all, she turned into a beautiful little curly haired toddler who was a joy and delight to me. I rocked and sang her to sleep, prayed with her, laughed at her little antics, took tons of pictures and loved her with every fiber of my being and I did my best to parent a child with a very strong will. I had no idea before I became a mother, just how much love I could feel for a child and the amount of joy a child could bring to my heart.

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As much as I love my daughter, we are so very different ....and we really have never "gotten" each other. Our relationship has been frustrating and difficult for both of us at times, but she is still just as precious to me now, as she was then, even though things haven't exactly been easy.  I learned some great lessons through parenting her...lessons about myself and what is really in my heart. Our struggles have caused me to run to God for wisdom and comfort and He has helped me to examine my own heart and learn to see things from a different perspective. He has also developed discernment in me through some of the difficulties we have experienced in our relationship.

Each family is a blend of unique personalities that will challenge us and bring us joy. Through the crazy conglomeration of personalities in our family, I was thrust into Parenting (101-107) classes complete with testing and lots of it.  One of the tests has to do with self fulfillment through parenting. I failed miserably on that one, initially, but my grade is rising little by little as I'm learning that parenting isn't about "fulfilling me" personally. Obviously I have had to learn that the hard way. I think as a young mom, I expected that because they were my babies I could train them and love them and teach them all the things that were important to me, and they would follow my lead without question, that they would love me and everything I embrace. It's not unusual for young moms to expect their babies to love and fulfill them in some way, but over time and through a lot of trial and error, God has shown me that it's my job to love them unconditionally, without expecting anything in return and instead of hoping they love me and fulfill me. As parents, we are to be a sign post directing them to Him. It's our job to pray for them, teach them, hold up the standard of God's Word in our home, address character issues directly and with love, kindness and honesty, protect them from themselves and from outside dangers, stand up for what is right even when they resent it, and love them anyway . Being a parent calls for sacrifice, a listening ear, wisdom....lots and lots of wisdom, patience, tenderness, thick skin, tough love, a sense of humor and most of all, laying down pride.

If my kids make the right choices or turn out okay, it is by the grace of God. It's funny how we are tempted to take pride in our kids when they do well, yet if they rebel, we feel embarrassed somehow, as if our parenting is the sole cause of their success or their choice to rebel. The other temptation is to beat ourselves up for messing things up....for reacting the wrong way and causing the problems to multiply. Although we may contribute to their lives in ways that help them make choices, good or bad, the reality is that they are their choices to own. Not ours. It is not for me to take pride in their good choices, or to be embarrassed by their bad choices. It is my job, however, to give God the glory for His work in their lives and trust Him during the times they are running away from Him, that He is going after them because He loves them much more than I can ever imagine. He created them with a plan and a purpose for their lives and realistically, I am just the nanny with an incredible honor and responsibility to be a parent to the children He has given me.  It is also my responsibility to repent for wrong actions both to God and to my children when I sin against them.

God is teaching me through the difficult task and amazing honor of raising kids, to trust Him more and to allow my kids to question everything about our beliefs, values, morals etc., as long as they do it respectfully. It's healthy. If I don't know how to answer in that moment, it's okay to tell them I need time to think and pray about it before I answer that. If their attitude or tone of voice is tempting me to react in sin, it's okay to say "I can't discuss this with you right now. When your attitude is kind and your voice is gentle, we can revisit this." In other words, setting boundaries is a good thing and it's okay to admit you don't know the answer in that moment.  Another thing He has shown me, is that as a parent, I can not fulfill all of my kids and their desires/needs.  I just can't. It's impossible because I am an imperfect human being with an overwhelming amount of responsibility, not a miracle worker. But God is perfect. He loves perfectly and He is perfectly capable of fulfilling them in every way.  If I were capable of meeting all of their needs and fulfilling their desires, they would never see their need for Him. We as parents have a great deal of pressure on us to be "perfect parents" and to do everything right, but God does not expect us to meet that standard. He is the only one that can. Every single parent messes up and makes mistakes. Every single parent will say and do things that hurt their kids. The vast majority of parents don't intend to hurt their kids and most parents strive to be the very best parent they can be, but there is only one perfect parent and that is God. He and He alone can enable us and give us the grace to parent our children effectively.

I love this passage in light of raising kids:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.  I Corinthians 13:4-13

My goal is to grow in my faith and knowledge of God and to love my kids His way. I enjoy them immensely, love them unconditionally, pray for them fervently and ask for His wisdom while they are still in our home, to guide them and prepare them for whatever future He has planned for them. When they are ready to leave our home, I pray for the grace to let them go and trust God with the outcome. After all, they are His creation and He loves them even more deeply than I do.

These are a few family pictures we took a couple of years ago.

The kids have already grown and change a lot since then, but the memories we made that day and the fun we had together is priceless.

I love the look on the younger kids faces here:

kids, 2011

Our four girls

my girls 2011

My girls and me

my girls and me, crazy 2011my girls and me, 2011

Our three boys

Taft Boys

The men and the boys in our family.....minus two of our grandsons.

Taft boys and men

My husband and me

Taft parents

The two of us and all of our grandchildren, except for our youngest grandson, who wasn't born yet.

Taft granparents and grandkids

I look at these pictures and I see that in spite of all of us and our flaws, God has blessed our family immensely and for that, I am very grateful.

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