You know that old saying about how it takes a village to raise a child? It doesn’t just take the hands and feet of the village–it takes the love and prayers and best hopes of a village to raise a child, too. I’ve seen the truth and blessing of that statement in my own life. And I hope upon hope as you and I are about to embark on a difficult conversation in the next couple of paragraphs, you’ll hear me as a godmother and a friend, as someone who is praying for you and praying alongside you.
In a few weeks, many of your children will be out of school for summer break—and so will all their friends. As my godmother used to say to me when we would have difficult talks, “You be frank, and I’ll be earnest.”
Parties are going to happen. The vast majority of them will be super boring and awkward and pretty smelly, featuring parents or chaperone-types who will be far enough away to avoid the smell of teen spirit but close enough to intervene if things go sideways. A party that goes sideways can be full of laughter one second and colored red with blood the next. Will your child—or the children you love—know what to do when the poop hits the fan?
In that godmother spirit, here are some frank and earnest questions to consider. Will our young people know who and how to call for help? Will they be afraid of getting into trouble and panic, instead of doing the right thing? Do they know what the right thing is in a situation they’re not supposed to be in? Will they know how to keep themselves safe in unsafe situations? That’s a lot of questions, and I frankly don’t know all the answers, or even some of them.
I was really lucky to grow up with two parents who lived full-time in my home and parented very well together. This is how they navigated these conversations with me—and I realize this may not work for you, but I offer it as a place to start.
My parents talked to me about parties that end up going sideways with no adult on record from their own growing-up. These were vulnerable conversations wherein my parents talked about choices they weren’t always proud of, things they wish they had done differently. But they were honest. Their honesty played a huge role in the decisions I made about which parties to stay at and which ones to leave.
My parents had honest conversations about their expectations about my behavior at parties. I was supposed to leave a party whenever alcohol or drugs appeared—and if I didn’t have a ride at the party, I knew whom to call to come pick me up. And even though it would have made me die from embarrassment, I knew I could always call my parents or my godparents to come pick me up.
There were some questions we didn’t talk about—like what to do if someone has had a dangerous amount to drink, or overdoses, or ends up bleeding? I don’t remember us ever talking about what to do if the police showed up someplace—the general understanding was that if the cops showed up, I better not be anywhere around. But these were 1990’s realities in rural Texas, and you and I both know different things about the world now. And that also means that, if your kids are white and able-bodied, you have to talk to your children about how to advocate for their friends of color or differently abled friends–and if you are the parents of children of color or differently abled children, there are a whole other set of difficult conversations to have. And I’m praying double for you.
I know I’m asking you hard questions. I’m only asking because I’m one of those outside grown-ups who loves you and loves your kids, and wants us all to feel safe and free to celebrate. If you want company when you talk to your kids, I bet you can call on those godparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other folks in your village to help you find the words and pray with you as you come up with your talking points.
You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be honest.
As with every other single conversation—Jesus loves you, brush your teeth, hang up your clothes, eat food, drink water, wash your face—you have with your teenager, you’ll have to have this one multiple times. You can do this. For the love of those smelly, amazing, beautiful, and growing not-quite-yet-adults, we have to. Let your village know how we can help.
I’m praying for you, as we all move forward in growing Christians, day by day.
Have you had those hard conversations? What helped?