Grace, Love, Judgement and Parenting Part I:

I don’t think anyone gets unconditional love if they haven’t had a teenager.

Parenthood teaches you much about loving someone unconditionally.  Whether the diaper is dirty or the vomit was cleaned from the TV, the couch and the chair or the crying child was held deep into the night, as our kids grown, our understanding of how to love someone unconditionally continues to grow.

So naturally, most of us parents assume we’ve got all the foundation we need for when our exceptional children hit puberty.  Until we get the proverbial rug pulled out from under us and our foundation crumbles to a pathetic pile of rubble.  Within months, we are dragged from the lofty perches of successful Fatherhood and Motherhood to a decrepit pile of dead leaves near the garage.  Nothing sets us up for failure like having good kids.  No book seems to be available to teach us about the depths of despair parents find themselves in once it is woefully obvious that their child is going to be a teenager too.

It’s not the age or any kind of magic about middle school or high school.  We go into this thing as parents thinking that we’ve established a good strong relationship that will get us through the turmoil of the adolescent years.  We’ve told ourselves that other parents really struggle, but they haven’t built the foundation that we have.  We have spent years looking down our noses at the poor, misguided parents of teens that just don’t seem to have any control over their bratty, spoiled, and even downright rude kids.  Our kids have looked down their noses at them as well.  “Mom I hope I’m never that bad.”  We hear from their completely naïve 12 year old lips a\nd nod knowingly, in that sad, reflective, parently, way, showing our offspring that we understand their concern, and we, too, cannot imagine them becoming this way.

So when the wrecking ball comes through the window and shatters our family glass all over the pristine living room rug, we have absolutely no idea how to handle it.

So, psst.  You, over there.  Come here, let me give you a little bit of very, very hard earned advice.  Yes, I’m the miserable, the poor, the misguided parent of a veteran teenager – two even.  If you’ve seen the wrecking ball, let’s chat.  If you haven’t seen it yet, but sense that things are changing and there’s a big round shadow off the left side of your living room window, then listen up.  There’s a chance I can save you several years of excruciating pain.

Do you remember the feeling when you were in Junior High or early High School and you liked that guy or had that crush on the first girl you really noticed?  Remember when they utterly rejected you in favor of your brother/sister or undoubtedly uglier friend?  It’s okay if you don’t remember it – you’ll get it back soon enough.  That’s the reality of your next few years.  Get ready for rejection.

It will come in snide comments in the car – “Seriously, Dad, do you even know how to drive?”  It will rear its head in conversations with your daughter’s mom, “Dad, I’m asking Mom, you wouldn’t know anything about boys.”  It will happen when you’re with your child and his friends with just a look that says, “You have completely embarrassed me by even being here, please go away.”  You’ll see it subtly, like when your son comes home and has a very elaborate story to tell in a very animated way…until you show up.  Nevermind.  You will have no idea how to write an essay, when you majored in English.  You will not know a thing about his anatomy class, though you were a nurse.  Your wisdom about technology is worthless (unless, hey can you fix my phone?).  You’ll get it very clearly when your daughter leaves the room with a grunt or a heavy sigh as you enter it.

While I was writing these things, I had very good retorts all developed.  That’s what I’d use at work if some smart alecky newbie said any of these things to me.  I’d give them the old sarcasm, right back in their face.  Hey, worked for Roseanne in the 90s, right?  Every sitcom in the world has that as its focal point – you face teenage idiocy with sarcasm.  Always gets a good laugh.  Teenager realizes they are being ridiculous and the show closes with a good dessert.

Now, let’s get back to your life.  So you know – this is a fantasy.  Sitcom writers all had teenagers and most of them got divorced during their kids’ teen years because they couldn’t figure out how to deal with it – the resulting sitcom is the comic’s way of writing their utopian world – the world as they wish it was.  You’ll take refuge in some of these sitcoms during your journey through these years for precisely the same reason – it’s the world the way you wish it was.

Here’s a bucketful of reality right between your eyes:  Life doesn’t work that way and you’ll never make it through these years with a relationship if you go there consistently.  I know, I tried and it didn’t work.

I also tried addressing each time I was disrespected.  “Wow, that was rude.”  “Is that the kind of thing you say to your Dad?”  “Do you really have to walk out of the room angry every time I come in?”  “Why are you so angry at me today?”  These statements are all made in the desire to not leave the elephant in the room, but to actually work through stuff.  That’s what the counselors all tell us, discuss, work through it, talk about it.

Unfortunately, we’re not dealing with adults here, we’re talking about teenagers.  The same one who told us during driving lessons that we didn’t know what we’re talking about because driving had changed a lot since we learned to drive.  I first realized this when I heard Dave Ramsey say that teenagers are literally brain damaged.  Their brains are not fully developed until around 23 years old.  This explains a lot.  However, with the most clarity I can muster, please understand that it is not useful to explain this to teens.  They won’t understand.

So if sarcasm doesn’t work and direct confrontation doesn’t work, it leaves my parental arsenal fairly depleted, what can I possibly do for the next 5-10 years to survive?

While I won’t go into a ton of detail on each, let me give you a couple of other things that don’t work:

  • Quoting scripture and telling kids they’re sinning by not obeying their parents and respecting them.  Works well if your goal is to distance your kids from God.
  • Doing Nothing.  It makes them feel like you don’t love them.
  • Getting away from them.  (see above)
  • Pouting or otherwise giving the silent treatment when offended.
  • Acting hurt everytime they say/do something offensive
  • Working hard to be their best friend and never fight with them.  It seems like this diminishes our role in their life and makes us look very weak and pathetic.

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