Archive for the ‘Empowering’ Category

Stressed Out Kids and Teens

Curled in a ball on her bed after a long day at school, Kaylie hypnotically skims through selfies and snippets of her friends’ lives on her phone. When she hears the door slam and her mom’s voice calling out, she suddenly wishes she could instantly teleport herself somewhere far away. When her mom’s voice gets louder and harsher, Kaylie reluctantly moans back. Unfolding her weary body, she wipes away a few tears, gathers herself together and heads downstairs.

After a quick greeting, her mom begins to question Kaylie about homework, music lessons, applications and whether she talked to her teacher about that one grade. Annoyed by her mom’s tone, Kaylie answers her questions and heads back upstairs…to hide. She can feel her chest getting tighter and the pit in her tummy forming as she enters her room again. “And, this is my life,” she mutters as she plops in her chair and begins to work.

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Kaylie is an ordinary high school kid growing up in America. She’s my kid. She’s your kid. And, she’s doing her best to live life consistent with what she’s been taught. Unfortunately, if nothing changes, she will live in a chronic and consuming state of stress that will set her up to cope in a number of unhealthy and destructive ways.

Kids were made for relationships. When they begin to form friendships, they soon realize that people can be mean. And, pain hurts and sometimes isolates. To cope, many learn to display only what they want others to see. Social media makes this easy. They create personalities, construct their words carefully and make sure it all presents a desirable self. But, when the outside displays do not equal the inner reality, the dissonance only leads to more pain, in the form of stress.

Kids were made to find pleasure in ordinary things and to see God in each of these.  As children this comes easy. But, as adolescence approaches, many realize that these delights can now lead to status, admission to elite clubs, teams, organizations, even colleges! They learn that they can use these to appear special and passionate. So, even if feelings of delight are replaced with dread, parents, coaches and teachers encourage them to keep at it, even to the exclusion of other activities. But, when play becomes work, the pressure to perform can easily lead to feelings of fatigue, irritability and burnout.

Kids were made to dream about their calling and contribution to the community. Early on they are told if they don’t do well then they won’t get into college. Before you know it, their performance on homework, tests, and projects feels like a linchpin that will cause the gate to a bright future to either open up or close before them. When the future is solely linked to today’s accomplishments, many kids will throw in the towel and give up or they will do whatever is necessary to make it to the top. Perfectionism and stress are best friends.

Our kids were made to worship God and be satisfied in Him. By the time many reach adolescence, however, their marginless lifestyles make it hard to find space for God. As a result, they can’t find room in their schedule for Him. Many wonder how He is even relevant to the treadmill they are now on. They have no idea that He is THE One who placed the desires within them and therefore is able to satisfy them. Believing that God is far off, uninterested or non-existent, many choose to worship the god of self instead. This always leads to more striving, more doing, more possessing and more stressing.

God created our kids for relationships, for discovery, for dreaming about His plan for them and for worshipping Him above all else.

IF WE

  • don’t foster relationships,
  • can’t encourage them to engage in activities for delight’s sake,
  • make them figure out they’re calling on our timing instead of His
  • don’t encourage them to leave space for God and His community of believers

THEN…the joy of living this glorious life will be reduced to waking up and resuming where you left off on the treadmill.

I’m so tired and saddened by the number of kids I meet who are popping pills and reaching for possessions and pleasures to numb their stressed and depressed emotions. No wonder suicide is still the number one killer of teens and young adults. As parents, we must commit to counter the stress-filled messages and make home a place where kids can do relationships, dare to discover, daily dream and most of all delight in God. This is part of their Creator’s plan for them.

KEEP ON TALKING ABOUT “THE TALK”

‘I have exciting news!” Grace said as she bounded past me and plopped on the couch in my office.

Wondering what she had to share, I quickly closed the door, spun around and excitedly inquired, “What?! What wonderful thing has happened?”

With a huge smile on her face, Grace squealed, “Kyle and I are officially dating!”

“Wow, this is big news!” I said as smiled from ear to ear.

Dating pic

Like many teen girls at the start of a relationship, Grace had trouble talking about anything else. Knowing this, I let her share more details about this new development. As she talked about their dates together thus far, I asked if they had set physical limits or talked about temptations.

Her eyes grew big as she hastily responded, “We are both definitely waiting until marriage to have sex!” “At least I am,” she emphatically added.
“Grace, that is so awesome,” I said, “but you need to know that a lot can happen apart from sexual intercourse.”

Wide eyed and quiet now, Grace agreed. As we talked more about this, she shared how several of her friends had already given in to sexual temptations with their boyfriends. Even though she was disheartened by their decisions, she hoped that her commitment and determination to stick to it would be enough. She never really thought about the challenges that might make it hard to remain committed to purity.

Grace is not unlike most high school girls I meet. Regardless of their commitment to remain pure, many teens do not have a plan to resist the physical temptations they will face in their relationships with the opposite sex. Not surprisingly fewer and fewer stay the course. One large nationwide survey indicated that 80% of “evangelical” adults between 18-25 years of age did not wait until marriage to have sex. (The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2009)

Over the years, I have read many articles that try to explain why abstinence movements seem to have failed. Most cite a combination of reasons which often include the media’s perverted portrayal of sex, the prevailing “if it feels good, do it” philosophy, the exponential rise in pornography as well as a blatant misunderstanding of God’s intention for this limit.

While I would certainly agree that all of these play a role, from my vantage point as a counselor working with teens and families, I would add another. I believe there is an enormous void when it comes to open and ongoing discussions AT HOME about sex, sexual desires and temptations, and the ongoing challenges kids face as they spend more and more time with the opposite sex.

Too many parents (and kids) think that a verbal commitment, a purity ring, a ceremony, or one candid talk about the consequences of sex before marriage is enough. Some avoid the discussion altogether because of the awkwardness or resistance they get from their kid. Still others hope the talk at school or occasional admonitions from a youth pastor or youth worker will be enough.

We need to wake up to the reality that in order for kids like Grace to keep the commitment they made, they will need one or more adults in their life who affirm their desire to want more in a relationship but who remind them that God’s limits come from an incredible heart of love for them. They will need someone who is honest with them about how challenging it can be to remain sexually pure. They will need someone who will lovingly set limits, hold them accountable, and regularly ask them tough questions. If and when they mess up, they will need someone who will reflect the amazing grace of the Father and who will lovingly urge them not to throw in the towel because of their mistake but instead to run toward a God who remains crazy in love with them regardless of their failure.

Ideally, this message, does not come from just one person nor does it happen in one day or in one conversation. Instead, it comes from many people and it continues before, during and after relationships with the opposite sex begin or end.

We can’t wait for our kids to initiate this discussion because most tell me they don’t know how. They are waiting on YOU to begin the dialogue. They need YOU to keep it going. They are listening even when you don’t think they are. When you do this, you get the chance to reflect the heartbeat of the Father and His ultimate purpose to refine them as they courageously trust in His perfect plan.

So, will YOU be that person? For your son, your daughter, their friends, your friend’s kids? Because the dialogue out there has already begun. And, our kids are listening to it because they aren’t hearing much from YOU.

Your Story in HIStory

Walking in the door after a long day, Sara slowly made her way to the family room. She had so many things to accomplish, but all she could do right now was plop on the couch. Exhausted from morning battles, Sara leaned over, tucked a pillow beneath her cheek and curled into a ball. Images of her life begin to roll through her mind like a silent film reel.

“Today was hard,” she thought. Daily disputes with kids, never ending chores and the disenchantment in her marriage seemed to be poking bigger holes in the reservoirs of hope that often buoyed her back up. Thinking ahead to the future didn’t help either. The horizon seemed to reveal more of the same. For the first time, the weight of her tightly held yet unmet desires became palpable. Overcome with grief, tears streamed down her cheeks as she whimpered aloud, “This isn’t what I hoped for.”

Sarah hadn’t even realized she’d fallen into a deep slumber until she was suddenly awakened by the obnoxious ringtone her kids had secretly programmed into her phone. Relieved to have been temporarily rescued from the colorless tunnel she’d entered, she instantly altered her disposition and cheerily greeted the caller.  After listening intently, Sara fretfully responded, “Yes, of course. I’m on my way.”

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We don’t really need to know what happens next because Sara’s story mirrors our own in many ways. Like hers, many of the dramatic twists and turns, the delights and disappointments still remain untold. And, even though her tale and our may contain very different details, beneath it all, the ultimate desires of our hearts are really quite similar. We all want the majestic pieces of life on earth to endure forever and hope we can avoid or stave off the unexpected yet inevitable betrayals of this world. All the while, our hearts know too well that even the pinnacle moments will not last nor will they ever fully gratify the longings that live there.

Master novelist and theologian C.S. Lewis captures this truth better than anyone in his book The Weight of Glory when he wrote,

The books or the music [or marriage or family] in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

The peaks in our earthly stories are only scents and echoes of something we have not yet encountered. And, the valleys? These are meant to awaken our desire for the denouement, that perfect ending we are desperately hoping for. This is written on our hearts so that we can recognize how our personal story exists within a greater and far grander narrative – a magnificent and matchless tale that promises us enduring peace and beauty without betrayal.

This story began with Chapter One – CREATION – when God designed a perfect place for His glory and for human flourishing. This peaceful era was followed by Chapter Two – FALL –when man rebelled and rejected God’s rule and authority. These actions not only tainted a perfect story, they brought death, destruction and separation from God to mankind. Thankfully, the loving and merciful Author of the story continued to write on. In Chapter Three – REDEMPTION – He revealed His Master plan by sending His Son Jesus to earth to rescue and redeem His children. As we now celebrate the birth of Jesus into a world that was desperately lost without Him, we can rejoice that the redemption offered to those who believe was only the beginning of the end. We are given a sneak peek of the Final Chapter – RESTORATION – when Christ will again return to earth. At that time, the world will be completely purged of evil and peace will prevail as He reigns and resides with His children.  In that country we have not yet see God, “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain [because] all these things are gone forever.” (Rev. 21:4, NLT)

Sarah’s story, my story and your story are pages in the middle of THE greatest story. It is the one that our heart dreams about yet promises to be far better than anything we could imagine. Though we cannot see it now, we can rejoice knowing that all of His children will, indeed, gasp with delight over the very splendid ending to tHIS story.

What Every Parent Longs to Hear

I read an article recently by a mommy blogger who invited moms of older kids to share what they would tell their younger mom self. Their responses didn’t really surprise me too much. Compacted into a few sentences, their advice boiled down to these three tips:

Enjoy the journey. They will be leaving home in the blink of an eye. 

Slow down. Busyness will keep you from seeing the beautiful gifts that surrounds you.

Take time for yourself.  A balanced parent is a better parent.

I really don’t want to be a negative Nellie or bash the author’s good intentions. But, I have to say when my kids were young, I heard or received advice like this frequently. And, while I agree that all of these statements are true, they didn’t offer me the encouragement I often craved. Instead, phrases like those often pushed buttons deep within my soul labeled “strive more” and “not good enough”.

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I was already trying so hard to enjoy each season of development.  In fact, I remember taking mental snapshots on both simple and extraordinary days and saying “Remember this” quietly in my head. Even so, in the midst of uphill battles, there were so many times when I secretly wished we could just get to the end of all of this. The journey was anything but enjoyable. I also secretly dreamed about what life would look like if we could just slow the pace down. But, a full plate seemed tightly tethered to being a committed wife, a mom of three, a house manager, an active member at my church and a part time therapist. There were long seasons where very little could be removed from my daily or weekly schedule. I did take time for myself when I could but often that came in the form of itty bitty chunks. It was all I had and it was better than nothing.

These frequently offered words of wisdom have led me to wonder what I would choose to share.  Since I can’t narrow it down to just one statement and because this is my article, I’ve decided to share two words of encouragement I think my younger mom-self desperately needed to hear. The first is this:

Today, you are most likely doing the very best you can with the resources you have been given.  Trust God to fill in the gap between what you have to offer and what is really needed.

In all my years working with families, I haven’t met a mom who isn’t already giving all that she can give to her family, her friends and her job on any given day. Moms don’t start the day deciding to hold back emotionally, physically or spiritually. Instead, like the little boy who shared his lunch with Jesus to feed the crowd, we tend to give our kids and our families all that we have. Even though there will always be a gap between what we have and what may be needed from us, we can trust that God will miraculously supply exactly what is required as we lean into Him. Instead of looking back at the day or the week or the year and wondering what you could have done differently, remember that there is a strong possibility that in the moment, on that day, or during that particular season of life, you did the very best you could with what you had in you and around you.  So, grace to you, devoted mom. Let God satisfy the difference.

Following these words, I would then tell myself this:

There isn’t a thing that you are experiencing today that didn’t first pass through the hands of the Father. He is sovereign, so try to find rest in His perfect plan.

God isn’t surprised by anything you are facing today. In fact, because He loves you so very much, whatever comes your way is His very best for you. He is too good to offer you anything less. Although it is hard to comprehend on this side of heaven, He has allowed the pain and the ongoing difficulty for your benefit and for His glory. On days when the unexpected occurs and you don’t know how you’ll move forward, get in the habit of whispering upward, “I will choose to believe that this is your best for me.” So, very weary mama, don’t forget that He’s got this. He knows what He is doing and what you really need.

The truth is, the advice I would offer my younger self are really phrases I still need to hear today. Even though two of mine are grown and the last one looks and acts like he’s all grown up as well, I’m still a parent who wonders if I could’ve done something different.  At the end of it all, I will choose to hold on to the fact that each day I did what I could and He lovingly allowed me to encounter just what I deeply needed. Grace and goodness. They are at the center of the gospel and they always go hand in hand. They are rather inseparable, if you think about it.

To the mom who is trying to enjoy, attempting to slow down and who really wants to create a balanced life, I pray that you will hold on to the grace and goodness that God bestows upon you as you trust Him with every aspect of this blessed journey called parenthood.

LET THEM GET WET

I’m not a runner. For a season, I tried to act like one, but that didn’t go so well. My knees hurt and my back ached way too much for someone my age. Because the only thing I loved about running was being finished with my run, I decided to mimic Forrest Gump. I stopped running altogether. I don’t think I have run one since that day many years ago. That all changed recently.

After approaching my normal turn-around-point on my regular walking route, I felt a light mist coming from the sky. Within minutes, the dainty little drizzle turned into a major downpour. Since I was pretty far from home and the rain kept falling harder and harder, I decided to pick up my pace and run. I was certain my knees would cramp, my back would lock up or lock up, or worse yet, I would trip and fall on the muddy path I was on. But, none of that happened. In fact, I marveled at how fast I was able to run and how wonderful I felt. If a car had pulled over and offered me a ride, I would have refused. This unexpected storm had suddenly become a rather sacred moment.

 As I marveled at how my legs were moving so quickly, I could hear Him whisper,

“I will give you just what you need for now.”

Even though the sky was rather ominous, He gently reminded me,

“Like every storm, this shall pass and you will find rest.”

When fears about terrible possibilities arose, He kept saying,

“Abide in me. I will lead you home.”

And, when I lifted my head and noticed how far I still had to go, I heard Him say,

“I am your shelter, your refuge, your help in time of need.”

God had used this sudden shower to reinforce what He had been trying to teach me in the midst of other rainstorms going in my life.  When I was forced to run through this inconvenient and messy rain I was finally able to hear His voice so clearly.

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I desperately want my kids to know and hear God’s voice like this. Even though I can tell them all about my experience the other day, I know full well that their most intimate encounters with God will happen when they personally experience drizzle, downpours and deluges that come in many different ways throughout our lives. Yet, every time their lives begin to get a little muddy, I always find myself battling this automatic urge to rescue them or rid them of the storm. I guess it’s a momma instinct within me. I also think it’s pretty counter culture these days to let kids weather their own storms. It seems like too many parents have made it their personal mission to make their kids’ lives pain free. “Helicopter parents” who were known to hover over their kids have been quickly replaced by “snowplow parents” who constantly force any obstacles out of their kids’ paths in an effort to ensure their success. According to many college administrators, however, this new breed of protective parenting is depriving them of the grit and resilience they need to make it through college.

Our kids gain these two essential traits when they get wet and have to figure out how to personally navigate their way through their difficulties. This doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t encourage or even offer direction or wisdom to their kids in the midst of their storm. It does mean, however, that as they grow older we remain on the sideline more and let them battle on their own.  This ultimately empowers them to fix the problem they caused, to reconcile with the person they wounded or to face instead of avoid the difficulties they face. When we plow the snow for them, they will never gain the strategies, the steadfastness or the spiritual and emotional strength that is essential for them to experience the abundant life God intended for them in college and beyond.

So, fellow parent, let your kids run in the rain. Let them confront the mud, the muck and the mess. As you let them go, I pray they will hear you encouraging them to press on. And when you are not around or cannot do a thing to make the mess disappear, trust that the storm might just give them the perfect opportunity to recognize and respond to God’s beautiful and voice that will always offer them just what they need.

Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

Living Freely

Red, white and blue. These colors represent America. They remind us of our flag and the freedom we have in this country. This privilege came with great sacrifice. Men and women gave their lives for the freedoms we have in this country. They fought hard so that we could become separate and distinct. Even though the fourth of July is behind us now, we should always take time to thank God and our service men and woman who have given us this gift.

Even though we enjoy the many benefits that come with living in a free nation, I fear that as a nation we are more enslaved than ever before. We may not be living under the tyranny of a dictator or under the control of a corrupt and evil ruler, but there are powerful forces within us and around us that daily threaten to mentally control us more than we realize.  If we are not cognizant of these influences, in many ways our lives will be no different than a person who is subdued by a greater power.

In no way am I trying to diminish the great freedoms we have been given in this country. But, our ability to speak freely, or assemble or vote nor any other right granted to us by the constitution will never compare to the freedom that comes from a spirit that is fully alive.

St. Irenaues once said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” I would add that a person who is fully alive is the most free. They are not chained to empty philosophies or perpetual lies. Instead, they are redeemed by Christ, bathed by His grace, and fully released to live the life that He has granted them. This is freedom.

Though Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and eventually martyred he offers us a picture of true freedom. It is not dependent upon our ability to move about freely. Instead, it comes from a spirit that has been redeemed and a soul that has been bathed in grace. And, though we have been given this freedom because of the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf, we must daily choose to embrace this gift. Otherwise, we will find ourselves enslaved to the deceptive messages of our day or the defeating beliefs that may derive themselves from the pages of our past.

As a woman, a wife, and/or a mother, take a look at the dominant messages that surround you and your children every day.  Do what you like.  Tolerance means you don’t disagree with the majority.  Follow your heart. These ideas, beliefs or principles run counter to the messages that come from God’s word and while they may seemingly sound inviting and even rational, many of these enslave us to a way of thinking or behaving that actually crushes us.

The internal forces often come from our own head. These can fears, voices of shame and lies. Quite often they originated from a painful past, a bad decision or a powerful and controlling relationship. Phrases and passages linked to these experiences pop in our mind when we are in the midst of dealing with a new disappointment, doubt or unwelcome disruption. While we may not always recognize these enslaving messages, they can powerfully control how we live our lives on a daily basis.

Remembering can be a powerful exercise because sometimes we simply forget what we have. When it comes to being a free nation, we must make sure that we take time to realize the gift we have been given.  Even more importantly, for those who have placed their trust in Christ, we must daily remind ourselves of the freedom we have been given in Him and assess whether we are submitting to the empty deceit of the world of our mind or to fullness of God that invites us to a freedom that the world cannot offer.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,  and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— Colossians 2:8-10, 20

A One Word Resolution Solution.

Hello there! It has been a long time since I’ve posted on my blog! Happy New Year! Happy January! As you know, this first month of the year offers us the opportunity to make a resolution, to start over by setting a few goals and looking ahead. By now, you either were gung ho, made a resolution and are hopefully right on track. Or, maybe you’re like me. Resolutions stress you out and overwhelm you as you recognize just how many areas of your life need a little help. Making healthier decisions. Working harder at my marriage. Being kinder to my kids, especially when they’re in trouble or I am just plain grumpy.  Maybe, just smiling more. Staying more focused and disciplined in my walk with God. I could go on and on.

Way back when, I tried to set a few resolutions each January. Sadly,  it seemed that after just a few days or weeks, my best intentions went by the wayside. A string around my finger, Post-It notes, phone reminders, alarms, or even giant signs pasted on the bathroom mirror or refrigerator didn’t seem to help at all. These little devices that are supposed to help us remember, didn’t really work for me and never really helped with the motivation factor.  So, instead of feeling guilty about my inability to remain committed, I avoided making resolutions altogether.

A few years ago, however, I was introduced to a book called My One Word. The author, Mike Ashcraft, is a pastor in Wilmington, NC who actually agrees that making a list of resolutions isn’t always the best way to make lasting changes. Instead, he invites his congregation to “choose one word that represents what you most hope God will do in you, and focus on it for an entire year.” Each January they each pick a word and tie it to a Scripture that will help them cling to a biblical truth or promise related to the area where a transformation is desired.

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Inspired by this new twist on New Year’s commitments, I decided to do this two years ago. In 2013, my word was “believe”. After God led me to a series of challenges, I wanted to finish the year steadily believing that He was at work even if I could not see what He was doing. This past year, I chose the word “today”.  Since my second teen would be entering his Senior year in high school, I wanted remain fully present and focus on what God had for me each day. For both words I chose a relevant scripture and put it on a bookmark in my Bible. I also made something artistic that depicted the word and displayed it somewhere in my home. After two years of picking a word instead of a resolution, I continue to be amazed at how God used just one word combined with His word to continually refine me throughout the year. Sometimes someone would say it at just the right time, even though they had no idea that it was “my” word.  Other times, I would heard “my” word on the radio, in a sermon or in a song. Throughout the year, God continually used the word in creative ways to remind me of the desire I had laid before him in January.

As I begin this year, I decided to alter this tradition a little by picking a second word that specifically applies to my relationship with my teenagers. I challenge you to join me in doing this as well. Consider selecting a word and then sharing it with your teens or an accountability partner to let them know what you are asking the Lord to form in your relationship with them this year.  Remember to find a Scripture that is connected to the word that will help you lean on Him as He molds you and shapes you this year. To inspire you to think about what you might like to do differently in your relationship with your teen, here are a few possibilities: Delight, Pursue, Wait, Listen, Love, Engage, Encourage, Mercy, Watch, or Discern.

So,if you haven’t made a resolution yet, or if you’re like me and you’ve already failed to keep the one you made, try this for a change! For more ideas you might want to check out the book or the website www.myoneword.com. Both offer many ideas to help you use this simple little tool to bring about lasting change in your life. Ask God to lead you to just the right word and expect Him to use this word as a powerful reminder throughout the year. After you pick out a Scripture associated with your word, write the word and the verse down and post it where you will regularly see it. Most of all, make sure you spend time in His word so that He can refine you and mold you into the parent that He has called you to be for your teen. Regardless of what happens in the year ahead, we can take heart in the fact that our faithful God is always at work in the life of a mom who is yielded to Him.

But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.   Isaiah 64:8

 

 

CALLING ALL MOMS OF YOUNG KIDS: Here’s the truth about parenting teens.

Years before many parents are even close to raising a teenager, it seems that many already dread the day when their preschooler becomes a high schooler.  They’ve heard the frequent complaints and concerns about raising teenagers.  They’ve endured the countless admonitions that come from distressed or disgruntled parents. “Enjoy them now,” they say with gloom in their voice. “Everything goes downhill once they hit those teen years.”  These frightened parents of younger children just nod their heads, look at the sweet faces of their children and try hard to soak in these good years since what lies around the corner doesn’t sound too wonderful.

Well, I have made it around that bend and am now a mom to three teenagers (ages 19, 17 and 14). While parenting teenagers has certainly come with its ups and downs, I am on a mission to tell every young mom about the joys of raising teenagers. Even though I have genuinely enjoyed every stage of my kids’ development, I have to say that this season is undoubtedly my favorite. Here are my top ten reasons why raising teenagers is far more awesome than awful:

  1. You will laugh a lot, if you let yourself. If your kid is funny now, just wait. Our silly son did and said the funniest things when he was a little guy. At 17, he is just plain hilarious. Even though he can cross a line at times while displaying his wit, I love the everyday laughter he brings into our home.
  2. You get to see their gifts and talents blossom like never before. When they’re little you wonder what they’ll be like when they’re older. When they’re older, you look back and trace their gifts and talents back to the early days when you had no idea that this would flourish from that.
  3. You will see independence and strength arise when you least expect it. You will be so amazed at their ability to stand alone when challenges appear. You will be so proud of the strength and courage that blooms as they grow.
  4. You will love having deeper, thought provoking conversations. Your teen’s newfound abilities to question, debate, and discuss just about anything under the sun will delight you and drive you crazy as well. Some might tell you this is a negative trait. But, I am here to tell you that heated discussions can be a wonderful opportunity to connect with your teen as you make room for them to find their voice.
  5. You will see glimpses of who they will be as a man, woman, husband, wife, father and mother. While these may make you sad at times, they will also motivate you to equip them for what lies ahead. These often encourage me and remind me that they will be just fine.
  6. You will make wonderful memories doing things everyone enjoys. When we were finally able to play games and sports and do outdoor activities that my husband and I love, the competition and the fun went through the roof. Beating our kids was sickeningly satisfying. And, when they beat us? Well, let’s just say, the fun multiplied for them too.
  7. You will love their unfiltered, unbridled perspective on life. Even though their opinions might come flying out of their mouth at the wrong time, a teen’s honest take on things can be a breath of fresh air in a world where truth seems to be a disappearing commodity. Not only that, you may need to hear their honest take on you at times.
  8. You definitely won’t get bored. Teenagers are passionate and exuberant about almost everything and anything They might not always be fervent about the things you want them to be impassioned by, but their zeal will bring an energy into your home that you will need as yours runs dry.
  9. You get to live with a dreamer. Your teen’s dreams about their future will inspire you to begin re-imagining what yours will be like as well. Our teenagers can teach us how to take risks and trust God as we lean on Him to start writing the next chapter.

 

And, the #1 reason is…

You have the privilege of knowing that you faithfully walked beside your kid and cheered them on as they complete the last stretch of childhood and cross over into adulthood. Even though I still ache at the memory of my oldest packing up to go to college, I also feel grateful that I got to walk beside her every stretch of the way.

Parents of young kids, enjoy the season you are in and look forward with anticipation to the coming years when you will be raising a teen. And, you parents of tweens and teens, know that even in the midst of the hardest days, you are smack in the middle of one of the most awesome and awe-filled seasons of parenting. Soak it in and enjoy the gifts that God has to offer you in the home stretch.

Paying Attention to Our Words

This article first appeared in the September 2014 issue of Sophie Magazine. 

One of the most powerful resources we have as parents are our words. What flows from our mouths has the power to build up and encourage or tear down and dishearten. Many great books have been written on this topic. A favorite of mine is How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk, by Faber and Mazlish. In it the authors use humor and helpful illustrations to give the reader with skills and insight to motivate kids with words. Another favorite is the Bible. Throughout God’s word we are repeatedly offered nuggets of wisdom to help us guide our word choice. Some of the most profound are found in the book of Proverbs.

proverb

The words ofthe reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.Pr. 12:18

A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. Pr. 15:4

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Pr. 29:20

The gist of these verses is that words have great power. The wise parent should learn to be intentional and prudent in speech.

Believe it or not, even those words that are hidden in our heads carry great influence. These are the phrases that we instantly form as we make observations throughout our day. They shape how we feel and then respond to what we see. In my work as a counselor, these secret perspectives offer a critical insight about the paradigm from which a person may be operating.  For example, one parent might say, “I’m afraid my daughter is emotionally sinking from all of the stressors she is facing.” While another parent may say, “I have noticed that my teen daughter is lacking some key coping skills to manage her stress,” about a similar situation. The difference may seem subtle and unimportant but the variance in word choice is quite significant. The first parent’s fear may actually drive the way they helps their daughter address the problem. The second’s parent simple observation will also affect the tone and manner in which they come alongside their teen. Even though the differences may seem subtle or overly analytical, when we are addressing problems, a slight distance like this can significantly impact the hope we feel and the solutions we generate as we help ourselves and our teens.

Of course, both our thoughts (observations) and feelings have enormous value.  But when we pay more attention to the fear we have, we actually engage a completely different portion of our brain. Because fear is experienced in our primitive brain, fear-based responses to situations tend to lead to one of two extreme reactions. The first is a tendency to be more passive, which may lead us to withdraw, ignore, or even to create a barrier of protection between the problem and our teen. We may pull away from actually addressing the problem, hoping it will all disappear. The second is a tendency to hold a more aggressive stance. This may cause us to become threatening or overly controlling as we strive to control the situation and the outcome. Both of these fear based responses provoke a roller coaster of emotions, especially if we shift from one extreme to the other.

When we choose to pay attention to what is required instead of focusing on our fears deep fears, however, a completely different part of our brain is activated. This region is known as the cortex and it operates very differently than our more primitive and protective portion of our brain. When we operate from this region we are more able to generate the most rational, creative and thoughtful responses to the difficulties we face as parents. Not only that, it is as we use our cortex that we are able to fix our eyes on Christ. Utilizing His help and our best brain, we will find it much easier to minimize fear and maximize our hope. Above all, we provide our teens with a godly example of stress management.

Words matter.  So, pay attention to what is coming out of your mouth. The way we audibly or mentally combine them greatly impacts how we address the dilemmas we and our kids face each day. I challenge you to notice your first response to a predicament you may be in. If you are reacting or coping out of fear adjust your posture to a more hope filled, Christ centered observation. You will be amazed at how this slight adjustment can positively impact how you and your teenager individually and collectively move through the next problem that arises.

Creating Conversations with Teens: Personal Observations and Insights

Two weeks ago I shared a challenge I had given myself.  Recognizing that much of my conversations with my own teens revolved around COMMANDS, CRITICISMS OR CORRECTIONS, I decided I needed to be more intentional to create conversations centered upon creating a richer CONNECTION.   I invited my readers to join in this challenge to increase our efforts to create deeper conversations with our teens. Whether you were able to join me or not, I would love to hear about your triumphs as well as your struggles in this area.  And if you have any great ideas or insights , please comment on this blog.  My own observations and insights are listed below.

Before I say anything, I must say that God sure does have a sense of humor.   Because of winter weather, school was released early one day. The next two days were snow days and the final day of the week, they reported to school on a delay. The Lord definitely increased the amount of time I had to work on this area with my teens!  And while I absolutely love snow days, I am not a fan of the messiness that seems to be associated with these days in our home.  I think you know what I mean- wet snow pants, boots, jackets and gloves all over the place; empty cups, plates and snack wrappers; socks, blankets and pillows left in the family room from after they lolligagged on the couch for hours.   While their time at home was indeed a blessing, there were definitely moments where it was much HARDER for me to minimize the three C’s in conversations with my kids in order to increase the connection!  Throughout the last two weeks, however, I did learn a bit about what interfered and what added to my ability to remain intentional in our dialogues with each other.

Here are a few things that hampered my willingness/ability to focus on connecting conversations.

Amnesia: Simply put, I forgot what I was trying to do.  When this challenge was not on the forefront of my mind, I sadly found myself commanding, directing, correcting or even criticizing.  While my goal was not to completely avoid directive interactions, if I wasn’t consciously thinking about my desire to be intentional in my conversations, I often failed to create deeper dialogue.  Change is hard and it’s easy to forget about our goals.

Agenda/Activities: My agenda, my wishes, my needs.  These all trumped my ability to have deeper conversations.  Rushing from one activity to the next, wanting/needing something for myself and getting caught up in the busyness of my day kept my eyes and heart turned inward instead of outward.

Attitude:  Just like our teens, our own emotional state can interfere with our desire to discover what is going on in the heart and mind of our kids.  Exhaustion, anxiety, and irritability often made it difficult to move beyond the three C’s.  If I was not in the word daily and talking with the Lord on a regular basis, oh how I could become a big grump.  Lord, how I need you.

Despite the problems that hampered my ability to remain intentional, there were some things I noticed that really aided me in my challenge to be more intentional.  Perhaps, they will spur you on in your efforts.

Continual Prayer/ Surrender:  Constantly praying, confessing and leaning into the Lord helped me to stay present, focused and committed to creating a deeper conversation.  Thankfully, when I am weak, He is strong!

Communicating with a Confidant: Sharing this challenge with my husband as well as a friend helped me to work harder at minimizing my commando language and maximize my caring words.  God bolsters us up as our friends spur us on.

Connecting with their Friends: This may seem odd, but when my teens had friends in our home, it seemed easier to create dialogue with all of them.  The conversation with friends in the kitchen or family room seemed to offer me a bridge to my kids’ hearts. Even after their friends left, sweet conversations often continued.

Creating an Atmosphere: Snow days most certainly helped me in this regard.  A fire, bowls of chili, hot cups of cocoa, and delectable delights all seemed to foster connections in our homes.  With two teen boys at home, I was repeatedly reminded that good food or lots of food surely is a way to a young man’s heart!

Calling on their Expertise: I am a techno-dummy and my teens are techno-savvy.  When I asked my boys to help me out with anything to do with media or technology, they jumped in and longed to show me all that they knew.  This jump started conversation about their interests and passions.  I now have a Sound Cloud account and can tell you about “all the cool things you can find on there!”

Whether my observations and insights help you or not, remember that Jesus offers us the perfect example of selflessly interacting with others.  Read the Bible and study His example.  And, remember with Christ in us, we have the ability to deeply love and connect with our teens as well.   Romans 12:1 says,  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.”  I think it is awesome when we consider that listening and loving our teens well as a “spiritual act of worship”.   As you consider being intentional in your conversation with your teens, I pray that you will find streams of living water flowing out of you as you ask Him to help you move toward a healthier connection with your teen.

REMEMBER, share your thoughts by clicking the comment icon above.  We would ALL love to hear from you!

 

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