If you’re not in your 50’s yet, I promise that by the time you get there you’ll have heard tons of stories about parents who, faced with the rigors of parenting, threw in the towel. They didn’t go away physically, they simply decided enough was enough, and emotionally detached from their relationship with their kids.
And man do I get it.
And I don’t have teenagers, though they’re coming like God’s justice.
And I find myself constantly asking, when my kids hit their teens, will I quit?
I could give you a very long list of personal, very painful quitting stories. Near the top is the time I attempted to start my own church. I gave it hell, spent a year out of state training for the venture (thanx Fellowship Associates!!), raised enough money to pay the bills for 3 years (thanx you-know-who-you-are!!), and started off pretty great. At the end of it all, my mentors and I decided it was time to “transition” out of the very small church that came to be after a couple of years.
I have bad memories of the early Sunday AM when I walked to the school where our church was meeting and taped the “sorry, outta here” sign on the double doors to the gym, then walked home to begin the difficult journey of patching up the marriage that was struggling b/c I spent every waking moment perseverating about the church (thanx wife, for putting up with all that).
There’s a shorter list of the times I didn’t quit, a few episodes where I pushed through tons-o-muck to reap what lay on the other side. It’s fascinating that I don’t regret any of the pain, lack of hope, relational hardship, etc. that always comes part and parcel to perseverance. I’m left with only fond memories, mainly because the good stuff has always redeemed the bad, and become part of the whole story.
I’ve persevered enough to understand that perseverance is a deal-breaking ingredient to any good life – can’t have what you want without it. We’re all going to have to walk through crap – relationally, vocationally, physically, spiritually, etc. if want to live.
No way around it.
Which might explain why so many of us Americans are compulsively unhappy. We talk ad-nauseum about things like “toxic” relationships, and soul-killing job situations. More than any culture before, we address perseverance like it’s a deadly poison. And more than any culture before, we bail when things get difficult.
When we attempt to stroll through the parenting brier patch, wondering why things aren’t easier, or better, or more akin to things as they are in the movies, we excuse ourselves from what our kids require. We still provide for their safety and physical well-being, but deny them something that they can’t live a good life without.
At first, they don’t seem to mind. They love us – we’re their everything. Our “departure” hurts them, they feel it, but they can’t stand it, so they pursue us, sad as that is, push their hurt deep inside, and sally forth.
Until they reach early adulthood, when all that hurt comes to the surface.
The technical, psychotherapeutic term for this is “payback,” and it usually happens some time around the teen years – rebellion, disrespect, mouthy BS, general-all-around anger, etc.
It’s such a prolific phenomenon in our culture that we’ve come to believe that all teenagers are unruly, unhappy, mean-spirited schmucks.
I know not thing one about parenting teens, but the mentoring/coaching/counseling/reading I’ve done has taught me a powerful, painful truth – jerks aren’t born, they’re made. 99% of the time, anger is a symptom of hurt that someone else gave us.
I know, our teens are dealing with a ton – tricky social situations at school, hormones, new found sovereignty, and the impending unknowns of college and beyond. But that doesn’t make people angry, mouthy jerk-wads.
Hurt does. Every time.
And because our culture’s constantly peddling the notion that bailing from difficult relationships is the best thing for everyone, our kids enter their teen years with a mountain of it. And because of the way we think about teens, we blame them, and further distance ourselves.
Taking responsibility for someone else’s junk is something us ‘Mericans don’t do.
As people who want to do parenting right, we’ve been saddled with the horrifying responsibility of telling our kids who they are. If we don’t do this right, our kids will enter their early adult years with a shaky sense of self-worth. They won’t be asking “who am I?” They’ll have already answered that question, and it won’t be good. We’ll have communicated very clearly that they’re not worth the effort.
And if they survive their hurt-fueled, angry teen years, they’ll enter the professional world trying to prove something, starving for applause/attention/accolades – every moment and every ounce of emotionally energy spent trying to “get somewhere” they’ll never get, working like mad to silence the “you’re just a piece of crap” soundtrack constantly looping in their soul.
They won’t do well at parenting either.
For my part, I’ve decided that I’m not going to quit my kids. I’m going to pay attention to the hurt they’re carrying – the behaviors they exhibit when they’re feeling bad about themselves – and do something about it, like, now. I’m going to apologize, set and enforce boundaries, plan fun, lecture when appropriate, drop what I’m doing when they want to connect, have the best marriage I can, and in general grind whatever grist the mill requires to set them up for their teen years.
My number one goal is to send them into 16 with a strong sense that they matter, that they’re valuable, regardless of what they do or don’t accomplish.
Unconditional self worth.
This is another thing that bugs me about our culture. We don’t like to talk about inward, emotional things. That stuff doesn’t matter. It’s just another way that we distract ourselves from the real stuff of life – character, hard work, accomplishment. I’m not knocking any of that, but without a solid sense of self worth, those things become more difficult to attain, as does a “good” life.
It’s easy for me to talk about teens having no experience. I sound like one of those newlyweds who’s just written a passionate blog post about “the wonders of marriage.” Because of my ignorance, you may very well find me, four years from now, printing a very humble retraction to this AM’s thoughts.
But, if nothing else, my understanding of parenting, along with the legion of stories I have of parents who didn’t raise abominable teens, is keeping me in the game.
You stay in the game, too, comrade cat herdsman.
If you’re my kid, reading this years from now as an adult, I’m sorry if I didn’t live up to what I’ve written here. But if I did, to any significant degree, give glory to God Almighty, ’cause it’s a freaking miracle.