I’ve got four, count ’em, FOUR teenagers. Plus one who’s graduated into early adulthood (and trust me, sometimes that still counts). They are all good kids, each one making us proud in so many ways. I love them all to pieces, but holy moly, this season can be challenging!
Truthfully, all seasons of parenting are challenging. I loved my babies and cherish those memories, but you couldn’t pay me to relive those days again! At least now I get to sleep! Still, the older our kids get, the more complicated their lives and problems become. I don’t know if other people have children with similar personalities, but ours are as different from one another as they come. What works for one doesn’t work with another–each one requires a completely unique owner’s manual, if ever there was such a thing. And when all those teenagers come together at the dinner table, lively discussion often breaks out on topics that vary widely, from ‘who’s hot/who’s not’ to experiencing racial stereotyping. All of which are punctuated by attitudes. OMG, the attitudes.
Teenage attitudes often present the biggest obstacles to us as parents. It’s probably a fair payback for the attitudes we sported when we were teens. But no matter how much we may deserve our comeuppance, it is still downright annoying to regularly be confronted with disrespect, disdain, or disinterest by the people we love the most. So what are we supposed to do? If I knew that for sure, I’d be blowing that horn all day. I don’t. I’m a work in progress, trying to figure all this stuff out, just like my teens. But I have (begrudgingly) learned a few valuable lessons from them that we all can apply to our other relationships:
- Don’t always take what you see at face value. Behind every eye roll and sarcastic word, underneath all the negativity and outrage, lives confusion, uncertainty, fear, and insecurity. There are deeper issues at play that they don’t have the language to articulate. Try to discover what those things are without succumbing to the temptation to reflect their own attitudes back to them. You can learn to understand their language without speaking it yourself. Then you can help them find a better way to communicate what’s really going on.
- Resisting offense facilitates relationship. Taking offense shuts down communication and the possibility of real growth in relationship. That doesn’t mean you must passively receive offensive behavior and become a doormat. You can (and should) have boundaries on what you will allow. But we often take offense so quickly and so easily, we don’t allow the conversation to evolve and the underlying causes to emerge so we can deal with them. I’ve basically just figured this one out and it has been such a valuable lesson. I have come to see resisting offense as my choice to work towards a better relationship rather than see it as operating out of weakness. When you put aside offense and keep working to gain ground and deepen trust, you actually teach and model the behavior you would like to see in them.
- Humor can disarm and steer the conversation towards a more positive outcome. Laughter is one of the most bonding elements in a relationship, and as parents, we can use humor to our advantage. With wisdom and a little creativity, you can take all that negativity and jadedness and turn it on its head. A few moments of laughing together creates a warmer, safer atmosphere, and from that place, you can continue the conversation.
These three little lessons have helped us to not only become better parents, but also to become better leaders and better examples of Jesus’ love in our other relationships. Some people are more difficult than others (attitudes and all), but we must still love them. We need to learn how to love better so we can allow the Lord’s healing to reach more people through us. And this can start at home. However, it cannot stop there.
Relationships are classrooms on how to do life and love. We can learn so much from them–what we need to do and what we need to avoid. But we have to stay active and engaged in order for them to achieve (what should be) our aim: healthier, more whole relationships that reflect and point to the love of Christ. So while we are taking on our teenagers, their attitudes, and their sometimes challenging behavior, we need to remember we are also in it to learn. Then we can allow ourselves to be grateful for the lesson in the midst of being annoyed.