I sat down to study today, and in the course of that time I spoke to one of my dear friends trying to stay above the demands of parenting children through the upper primary and teenage years. As we talked, I was reminded of my own parenting journey during that time. I was also reminded of the parent I spoke to just a week ago, and the one a week before that, seeking advice about how to navigate their children through the turbulent teenage years. I was so filled with conviction that I had to put pen to paper as a ‘shout-out’ to all those parents out there today desiring to take control of their family and help them flourish. Here’s my revelation.
An Inconvenient Vocation
Let’s just say one thing right from the start: parenting is not convenient! Right from day one, it is rather full of inconvenience– lack of sleep, sore nipples, birth recovery, adjusting to a new member of the family. While it is definitely full of joy and the feeling of love for a human being you never thought you could have, it is also full of self-mastery and self-discipline, of choosing the right thing above your emotions. And that means moving past convenience.
More and more I am talking to parents seeking advice about parenting their middle-aged or teenage children, and more and more I am having an unfolding revelation. The distance between what your hardships are in parenting and the breakthrough you desire – is plain, old-fashioned determination, passion, self-discipline and grit. The path of inconvenience.
The thing I’m realising more and more with family and parenting is the necessity of moving past inconvenience. Let me give some examples which I’m sure both many of you and I have certainly experienced.
- It’s not convenient to stand your ground with your teenager. It’s waaaay more convenient to give in and give them what they want. No one wants to listen to a child’s tantrums let alone a teenage tantrum loaded with emotional manipulation! By now they’ve also learned how to verbally hit you in your weak spots and make you feel guilty for being such an uncaring parent. Sound familiar? Persevering in the face of righteous teenage insistence is much harder to resist than a toddler simply whining they want their lolly back, even if it’s against your beliefs. Many parents give in – it’s all too hard. Don’t be that parent.
- It’s not convenient to spend time with your kids when you’re tired. It’s much easier to give in to technology – both for yourself and for them! Technology is a great babysitter. Your teenagers will not bother you for hours as long as they have undisturbed access to their smart-phone, Xbox or iPad. After all, they’re only doing what you do yourself to wind down.
- It’s not convenient to leave extra space in your day for your teenager – or your partner for that matter. Everyone wants to ‘give their 100%’ in everything they do these days. But have you ever considered carving out emotional energy for your real priority; your partner and family? I learned this the hard way. I would go to work, expend all my energy, be nice to people who might have been rude to me etc, and then come home with no energy left and take it all out on my husband and kids. Then I realised – these are the people I love the most in the world –to hell with this type of behaviour! So every morning I woke up and deliberately and emotionally prepared myself to carve out energy for my teenagers. I needed to have enough self-discipline not to expend it all during the day so that I had some left for my family. The result: I spoke up more, I had better personal boundaries and I felt OK to disappoint others instead. I had more emotional energy when I came home for the people I loved the most.
- It’s not convenient to be a human taxi. Can I add it’s especially inconvenient to get in the car on Friday nights– just the time you most need to wind down – to drive your kids to and from youth group so they can build positive friendships and influences. The challenge here is to pull yourself out of the short-term and think long term. ‘If I want my child to have positive relationships and role models in their life, then now is the time I need to do the hard yards to make that happen. And that means choosing above how I feel on Friday nights to get my teenagers into a space that will have a profound positive impact on their life’. Push past the inconvenience.
- It’s not convenient to stay home at night when all your friends are at a function, especially when your teenager is going through personal stuff and you don’t want to leave them alone.
- It’s not convenient to leave that meeting early so your teenager is not left at home too long with access to devices that make fending off sexual temptation a continual challenge. The conversation with your husband about that is not convenient either, but you need to have it. Together you need to be real and discuss a schedule that will set your teenager up for a win.
- It’s not convenient for dads to come home on time from work when that work is all-encompassing or engrossing in its challenge. Why? Because you have a 10+ son in the house who is in desperate need of your brotherhood and companionship, and there will be no challenge more important nor rewarding than this one!
- It’s not convenient to ask your teenager how they are or to sit in their room a little longer in case they want to talk or share. If we are constantly busy or distracted, we are screaming to our kids “I’m not interested in spending time with you.”
‘One day they will thank me, but today is not that day.’
We need to have long term vision when it comes to parenting. I also think what’s needed sometimes is a good dose of old fashioned perseverance and grit. So many times I had to say to myself ‘get your butt downstairs and say goodnight to those teenagers who are going to yell you out of the room’. Constantly I had to tell myself “one day they will thank me: but today is not that day!” Constantly I had to tell them “Look I don’t want to fight with you, but I’d be a crap parent if I let you keep going the way you are.” Constantly I would tell myself ‘think of the long term plan; think of how you want them to be as adults and run towards that.’
The view is constantly one of long-term character building: no thanks now, but fruit later. Pain now, pleasure later. As I said at the start, there’s a distance between what we all want for our lives and what we want now, but in between that distance is a choice that has to be made: Will I choose what is easy and convenient or what is challenging and inconvenient?
We want our kids to thank us for being great parents and they will! But today may not be that day. Be the parent you want to be now, so that day will come. And when it does, I can tell you, all that inconvenience will be worth it.