Parenting is paradoxical.
For 18 years, give or take, you’re training and teaching, tender and tough loving, all the while growing up right alongside your children. A mama and daddy might be born the moment their first child arrives, but it takes buckets of patience, persistence and time before you feel like you’ve made any progress.
Amazing how we practically knew it all before we had kids, making judgments about the way others parented, and swearing off the things we’d never do.
My mother-in-law still laughs at my declaration that we’d have just one play area for our first born, and she would just have to learn and comply with the boundaries we established.
Over the course of three babies, I’d eat those words 1,000 times. We learned soon enough where all the perfect parents lived: in the land of unicorns and fairies. So we simply did the best we could in the world in which we lived: the real one.
At least we always tried to parent with purpose. The choices we made were intentional ones, designed to shape desirable character.
Enter the teenager.
As I’ve shared here before, I’m a strong believer in cultivating age-appropriate independence. To continue to micromanage your teen’s life when it’s time for him to make decisions is a disservice to both of you. And yet…
Sometimes we just need to feel like a mommy again; even if it’s in the smallest of ways.
One of the by-products of encouraging your child’s independence is that he will become accustomed to making his own decisions. And this is mostly favorable, especially if he’s a good decision maker.
But what about when they make decisions you don’t agree with? I don’t mean obvious poor choices, I’m talking about morally neutral choices where you hoped they’d answer differently.
Parents of teen drivers learn this soon enough: once your children receive their driver’s license, once they taste the freedom of going where they want when they want without Mom or Dad having to take them there, family dynamics change.
By this age they’re less likely to be required to accompany you on what used to be family outtings; if presented a choice, they’ll often decline – which is okay. Grown-ups and teenagers have vastly different interests and opinions on what constitutes fun.
But sometimes you need to throw the Parent Card.
On occasion, you’re going to have to be the boss of them and remind them who pays the bills. Your son or daughter will not be happy when you make them do something, but remarkably, the fact that we’ve lived longer and have broader life experience really does mean we know what’s best.
Even when they can’t see it today.
A recent example: at the beginning of the year, I added “Attending Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School Class” to my Bucket List. It is astonishing to me that a former U.S. president made a commitment to teach Sunday school at all, let alone, as in Mr. Carter’s case, for over 30 years! If he’s home, he’s there on Sunday mornings leading his class.
Unfortunately, no one else in my family shared my interest or enthusiasm.
We currently live less than two hours from Plains, Georgia, so I put a visit to Marantha Baptist Church on my calendar. My husband ended up having to go out of town, but my youngest was free to go and my sister decided to join us.
Initially, I invited my 16 year old to join me, hoping he’d understand the significance and rarity of this opportunity; I had no interest in dragging along a teen with a bad attitude. This is my cheerful, flexible kid who has a track record of adapting to most anything, and it’s rare for him not to go with the flow. For a lot of reasons, I didn’t want to make him come with me, yet I couldn’t imagine him not wanting to. I was wrong, however, and his initial response was no.
But then I changed my mind. I’m a woman and a mother–my prerogative, right? I took time to explain why it was important, not just for me, but for him, to attend.
He was not happy.
He flashed me his disgusted face.
He grumbled, he complained and he freely expressed indignation over my demand that he join me.
I smiled sweetly, told him I understood his frustration…but remained resolute in my decision.
You see, in this case I knew best. I understood the value in this experience and that both of us would eventually regret it if I didn’t require him to go.
Ten presidents have served as Commander in Chief during my life and Mr. Carter is the only one who will give you a non-political, free audience for close to an hour…and stick around for anyone who’s interested to have a photo taken with him.
He’s agile and fit and as sharp as ever, but at 89, it’s logical to presume he’s had more teaching years in his past than his future.
So I played the parent card. I dared to demand that my son attend with me, even though he didn’t say a word on the drive over and glared for the hour and a half we waited (I wanted to be early to assure seating in the sanctuary, not watch on TV in the Fellowship Hall).
And, perhaps not so remarkably, on the way home my son quietly admitted, “I’m glad I went.”