Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Do Nascar Drivers Have Room To Breathe?

First, a disclaimer: I am not an expert. I don’t parent my teen or relate to any other teens I know from a place of PhD intellect and “expertise”. I parent and relate from my gut and my heart - and I screw up. A lot. But not always. I don’t know for sure what works any more than the next over-worked, over-tired, and over-stressed out Mom knows. What I do know is, my kid does talk to me. And I do mean REALLY talks to me. We’ve had conversations that began with a question of hers which caused a little throw-up to threaten at the back of my throat. She’s only 14, but so far, we’ve lived through it and come out on the back end of those talks both sighing in relief, with a better understanding of the topic and of each other. Thank you God for those late night conversations – Please keep them coming.

When I stop to think about it, and I often do, it’s incredible the amount of stuff teenagers today have to take in, process, deal with, be responsible for, face, learn, un-learn, do, or not do. They have instant access to more information, opinions, ideas, music, and images than I could’ve even fathomed during my own teen years – more than I can fathom now. As a parent it’s like steering them down a slick and winding road in a stock car approaching full speed with a death grip on the steering wheel while barely breathing. It’s hard sometimes to know when to relax and let off the brake a little, and when to buckle up and slam the brake to the floor.

I’m the first to admit that it takes an act of sheer will to “Mother” my daughter rather than “Smother” her. I have to verbally remind myself repeatedly, “Yes, she is my baby girl – but she is no longer a baby.” I worry about bullying. I worry about drugs. I worry about teen sex. I worry about alcohol. I worry that she’ll have her first kiss too soon, then I worry that she won’t have one until she’s 30. I worry about broken hearts, then I worry she’ll never have a boyfriend. I worry about… EVERYTHING.

Often, I think it’s easy to give in to our fears about all these things and to almost allow those fears to guide us in our parenting. We think, if I don’t talk about these things, if I don’t tell my child that this exists - my child won’t know it and will be spared. We convince ourselves, if I don’t let my child talk to anyone outside of a certain group, if I don’t let my child know anyone who doesn’t fit a certain mold – my child will be spared. In church circles, we feel security in finding a “Holy Huddle” for our children. It’s a false sense of security. Allowing our fears to drive our parenting is surely a failure on our part. I can’t think of a more sure or quick method of crippling and smothering a child on almost every level.

When we are driven by our fears we respond to our teens asking point blank about sex by telling them “Mom and Dad go to sleep and wake up pregnant.” Or we have conversations with teens asking them to consider whether “Justin Bieber is a “real” Christian or has he begun to embrace the dark side”. (I couldn’t make this stuff up folks. Has the Beibs even claimed Christianity for himself?) Newsflash: They know we’re lying about sex. They think we’re crazy - not the fun kind of crazy, but the “Um, her eyes look like Manson’s” crazy - when we ponder a 15 year old pop sensation’s ties to the Devil. When they know we’re lying, and they think we’re crazy – they then begin to dismiss and doubt everything else we tell them also. Think about it, do we respect, trust and believe people we know lie to us, or those who come off as a tad too much panicky (i.e. “crazy”) about some passing trend? No. We don’t. And we don’t hold any stock in anything they tell us. Well, our kids aren’t stupid either.

Please know that I do understand there are BAD things in this world. There are things we should protect our children, ourselves and anyone we care about from. I’m just saying that if you’re kid has read the “Harry Potter” books (mine hasn’t), or the “Twilight” books (mine has – and I did too – and they’re GOOD) – you’re kid isn’t about to become a Wizard or a Vampire. With any luck, they’ll decide to be a good student who cares about his friends like Harry, or they’ll decide to wait until marriage to have sex like Bella. (Can we as Christian parents ask for more than virginal brides and grooms? I meant this to be funny, but it’s so what I’m hoping for. Seriously.) I’m not saying there’s no badness, no darkness in the world – I’m just saying we shouldn’t be creating evil where it doesn’t necessarily exist, we should be celebrating the stage of life they’re in and pointing to a vision for their road ahead. Fear has caused a great many of us to usher into our teens a deep sense of apathy and shattered innocence long before Justin Bieber, J.K. Rowling, or Stephenie Meyer did. Instead of creating evil where only imagination has existed, why don’t we focus more on the real evils they face? The scariest of which is that deep apathy that seems to be swallowing an entire generation (or two).

Apathy is like hard rain on the windshield – one can’t see through it to the truth and certainly not to a bright future. I’m saying that when we allow our parenting to be fear driven, we parent in a panicked frenzy, holding our breath the entire time. When we allow our parenting to be fear-driven we make it hard for our teens to breath – we truly smother them. We make it hard for them to see - instead of giving them a vision to hold on to, we give them a picture of ourselves as liars and crazies. We should enjoy some of the teen angst with them – assure them they’re normal and “OK”, remind them that these years don’t last forever and give them a vision for their future.

If we want our teens to come to us with their burdens, thoughts, cares – we have to be able to really listen (instead of mentally preparing our lecture against them to correct them). We can’t lie, withhold the truth or go off half crazy about sex, movies, and just LIFE. We can’t feign mini-strokes when they say something we don’t whole-heartedly agree with. Instead we must hear them out and then calmly and honestly share our thoughts, opinions and beliefs. If we want our teens to have a strong, real faith – we can’t simply cram Bible verses down their throats and force them to worship when they’re “chill-axin” with their friends. Memorized verses don’t prove a relationship with God, and forced worship is no worship at all anyway. We can’t tell them that Edward Cullen is Evil (he’s not, he’s just HOT!). Most importantly we have to display real faith through our own trust of God. Truth is, if we are busy controlling every aspect of our teen’s life, every single thing they see, hear, say, do, etc. – and if we’re busy telling them half-truths or making evil out of the truly harmless - then we are too busy to be trusting God. Do we trust our teens in His hands? Do we trust Him enough to take our foot off the brake a little? Do we trust Him enough to give ourselves and our teens room to breathe? Do we trust Him enough to let Him drive?

As for me, I’m buckled up – and trying my hardest to stay in the passenger seat (No really, I mean it!). I’ve got the windows down. I’m breathing in big gulps of fresh air and I’m trying to enjoy the ride.


  1. I remember when rachel was starting to talk To me about sex and I was telling you I couldn't handle it! And this was years ago, and me and Rach still laugh at how you told me that if I acted "crazy" about it, she would never be able to talk to me about it. I wanted to cover my ears and sing out loud! She's 19 now and fabulous, outgoing, outspoken, driven, beautiful. I'm just a proud mama. I sometimes wonder what I did to have such an amazing kid and it's like you said--take your foot off the brakes. It's the hardest thing in the world to be a parent. You do a great job!

  2. I have to say that growing up with mom and you I was always so thankful for the open, honest talks we had because I knew if there was something I just felt I couldn't talk to mom about (which wasn't a lot) I knew I could always give you a call or knock on your door and you would be just as honest with me as she was and I love you and her so much for that. Its a strong open relationship that one day I hope Elizabeth and I will share as well.