“When Jamie gets to that age, you’re going to help me, right?”
“How can I get my kids to turn out like yours?”
“Why aren’t you writing all of this down?”
As a mom of three spectacular daughters, I get asked these questions on a regular basis, as if I’ve come up with some magic formula for parenting teenagers. All of my parenting comes with a lot of love, respect, and heavy doses of honesty. And, God.
So, to begin to write it down, I asked my girls what they thought held our family together. Here’s what we came up with:
10 Ways Faith Is Easy in Our Family
1. We have God in our lives, individually and collectively.
Our framework as parents has always been that our children don’t belong to us; they belong to God. We’re given the gift and the opportunity to caretake them through their childhood into adulthood. Knowing that God is there with you on that journey helps a lot! Recently, Kaia worried about a dental procedure, and I mentioned that God would help her through it. She replied, “I don’t even know if I believe all of that.” Whoa! We stopped, dropped, and talked it out – and she realized that she does believe all of that. We took our time and made that conversation a priority. Whew!
2. We follow God’s rules, and keep trying when we fail.
My girls call this one “No letting us get away with stuff.” We take the commandments seriously, and try to live like Jesus wanted by loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We hold ourselves to this standard as parents, which makes it easier to talk about when we fall short. We have a framework for behavior that we didn’t make up ourselves – God did!
3. We have a foundation of love that is verbalized often.
When I think back to my teen years, the thing I missed the most is being told that I was loved. I knew it, but sometimes parents think it’s uncool to tell your teen how you feel. Tell them! Tell them in front of their friends! Believe me, their friends are wishing someone would say those things to them. Telling my girls that I love them lets them know that God loves them, because I talk to them about how God is inside all of us.
4. We talk – a lot!
Talk to your teens as often as possible. Ask them what’s going on in their lives. If you’re able, talk to them as soon after school as possible, before they forget the details of the day. Listen actively – ask questions, give your feedback when the moment seems right. What is your teen not telling you that they wish they could? Ask them. They may surprise you.
You’ll likely find lots of opportunities to talk about good and bad choices in behavior ranging from rudeness to… well, you can imagine. Being interested and listening – that means put down the device and look at your child – will keep them coming back to you with more.
5. I always know where my teens are.
Please don’t think that the teenage years are the time to give your kids more space. Teens need us more now than ever, especially since they’re convinced they’re not supposed to need us! As appropriate for your family, create a system to know where your teen is. It may seem like you’re invading their privacy, but consider the fact that God always knows our hearts and minds. I believe our children want our guidance and protection, just as we want that from God.
6. I spend time with my teens.
Seven years ago, my then-fourteen-year-old point blank told me: “I need you home more.” I’ll never be thankful enough to her for telling me that. I rearranged my work schedule to be home more, which means we make way less money than we used to. I know that can’t and won’t work for some families, but we were able to make that choice and we did. For me, there’s no amount of money that can buy the time I spend with my girls each day.
7. We have a faith community.
The importance of having a faith community, whether it’s in a church or outside of one, cannot be overstated. You need other adults around your kids who support them emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. It also helps to have other adults reinforcing what you’re doing at home. God is at work in each of us, each day; spending time with others who are also on this journey will enrich your kids in ways you can’t plan.
8. I’m not afraid for it to be difficult.
Being a parent isn’t easy, but you knew that already. My approach has been to stay focused on the moment. And lots of those moments are DIFFICULT. Like when your daughter fills the tank with diesel instead of regular. And another daughter worries for eight weeks about a dental procedure that turns out to be relatively painless. And another daughter who has asthma doesn’t want to take her breathing treatment and insists on sleeping with the cat.
The great news is that we’re not alone. God stays with us, and offers us little miracles each day. Don’t fear challenges with your teen. Believe in your love for your child, and know that God loves you both exponentially more than that.
9. I’m as real as I can be.
It’s important for my kids to know that I’m a person first, and their parent next. I have a life of my own, and I love myself. Remember “love your neighbor as yourself?” Jesus said, love yourself! I let kids see me fail, make a mistake, and own it. Try it – you’ll teach your teens to do the same. Teens love to be respected and told the truth, just like kids and adults.
10. I strive to do this: “Be who you needed when you were younger.”
This is my ultimate goal. May God be with us all on our journeys parenting our teenagers!
What wisdom can you share about practicing faith together in the teen years?
Thank you for this post! The “faith community” concept really got my attention. Our teen (now college Freshman) really got a lot out of finding the right church after we moved to our current home. We are fortunate that her Rector, Sunday School teachers, and many of the adults genuinely took an interest in who she was becoming, particularly as she the high school days drew to an end.
Of course a “community” extends well beyond where your church, school, or neighborhood, but a church with a caring, hospitable nature can be a real blessing to a teen.
Debbie foster says
Thanks – this is an honest and real response !
Miriam McKenney says
Thanks, Debbie! I hope your parenting journey is a blessed one.
Amen. You gave some good suggestions. As I think of my own childhood, my parents used a lot of the same strategies. The suggestion about spending time with your teen us paramount. I had a hard time making friends in high school and my dad was my best buddy,and yet was still the guardian/authority figure I needed to become a good man.
Miriam McKenney says
Charles, you’re so right. One of my daughters has that same issue, and is glad that she has a family she’d rather be with than “faking it” with friends. Thanks for your comment!