I am a good parent.
I don't say that as a statement of pride, but more of a confession. Let me explain.
Good parents do the research. They buy the safety version. Put up the baby gates. Say no to that second candy bar.
In the tween and teen years, good parents set the boundaries. They put their kids in the right activities. Offer to be the carpool mom. Brave awkward conversations like “the talk”.
But good parents like you and me have trouble with one thing. And I'm learning that “one thing” proves to be an incredibly important aspect of raising confident, healthy teens.
Good parents don't have trouble saying “no”–we have trouble saying “yes.”
Good parents have trouble letting go.
You see, for a really long time we've figured out how to successfully create a world where our kids are pretty safe because we hold the reigns. We determine what they eat at each meal. We figure out their fashion choices for them.
We are the gatekeepers, and although it's not always easy to hold the line, what should be done in each situation is relatively clear (especially as we go through the stages of early parenting multiple times as new children are born).
And then suddenly our babies want cell phones. They want to watch non-PG-rated movies. They want to have sleepovers and text their friends and to talk about dying their hair.
They want to experiment with freedom, and suddenly, we have no idea where to grant or deny that freedom anymore.
It was easy when they were little and wanted to play outside by themselves on a busy street (that's a no) but now the lines are way more fuzzy.
To make it worse, the things they want to do are scary (“But mom, I just want to take her to a movie”) and the stakes are higher than ever.
What's a good parent to do? With a 13 year old, an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old currently in my home, I'm learning the answer to that question right now too.
I want to share with you what I'm learning as God guides my husband and I through this process, and encourage you with confidence and hope that yes, you can successfully guide your kids through these sometimes-tricky teen and tween years.
Parenting Teens: Gatekeeping Is No Longer Just Guarding
Parenting is full of gateways–places where we must let the gates to one area open so that our child may be lead out into another.
And yet, this “opening” and “closing” goes directly against every nurturing and protecting parental instinct we've developed.
I'm always afraid of opening those gates too soon and of giving too much freedom because I don't want my kids to believe that my letting go means I'm abandoning them (see? there's that overactive nurturing drive!).
And of course we parents can imagine every single bad thing that could happen should we choose to open those gates (thanks to that well-developed protection instinct).
However, we must live with the reality that every day our tweens and teens move closer to that moment where they will be completely without our provision and protection. And our job as a parent is to guide our kids along that slow transition from utter dependence to utter independence.
Little by little (and guided by intense prayer and deep discernment), our “good parent” role of provider and protector must make room for a new role: Preparer.
Two years ago, it was very difficult for me to let my always-homeschooled son start going to a Youth Group where I knew none of the kids. Then six months later, I was challenged to let go again as God lead our family to move toward a hybrid homeschooling option where the kids would be taught in a school three days a week.
Both times, anxiety of the unknown filled my heart and I was terrified to let my tweens and teens step into these new roles of freedom.
But looking back now, I see how much my kids have flourished because of these decisions. They've grown immensely, and these freedoms have prepared them for the next level of freedoms we're prayerfully considering for them now.
Accepting New “What Ifs” When Parenting Teens
The “what ifs” are what keep us from opening gates, right? “What if he… ?” “What if she… ”
The “what ifs” are incredibly important protection mechanisms for parents since they help us hold those much-needed boundaries.
And please hear me when I say that “what ifs” are still incredibly important during the tween and teen years because, oh boy, do we still need to hold the lines in many areas!
I just want to challenge you with a different set of “what ifs” that God has been challenging me with lately:
What if it all works out?
What if our kids really do turn out just fine? What if the worst doesn't happen, and if fact, things turn out even better than planned?
He's given me Romans 3:20 to pray over my kids:
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”
Yes, our job as parents is to keep our kids safe from those scary “what ifs,” but we also are tasked with trusting in our kids and believing in the work that God is doing in their hearts too.
Consider these truths from Ephesians 1:19 and Jeremiah 29:11 as well:
“I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God's power for us who believe him.” Ephesians 1:19
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'” Jeremiah 29:11
These truths keeps me on my knees asking God for guidance, but also for insane courage to believe that the hopes and dreams He has for my kids (which are much greater than mine) can come true!
From Overprotective Fear to Waiting Expectantly
I heard recently about a teen girl whose mom would always check her breath after she'd been with her friends to see if she'd had alcohol. One day the girl finally decided to have a drink “because it seemed like that's what my mom was expecting me to do.”
That story really hit me hard. This was obviously a well-intentioned mom, but she'd let her fears overshadow her belief that her daughter actually could be trusted, and that choice had let to her daughter making the very choice she'd feared.
That story scares me because I would be that “good parent” that would check for alcohol over and over. I would be that mom that copes with the freedom by obsessively trying to make sure that everything is above board.
What if instead of clinging to control and fear, we shared in His great expectations for our kids and let that also shape our everyday parenting decisions?
It's not that this “letting go” is done with our heads in the sand, but instead it's not allowing control and fear to become an idol. It's about walking forward with our child in the freedom, finding that God-directed balance between trusting a child and periodically verifying that they're still trustworthy.
Releasing our loved ones to the unknown can be such a frightening place because, as good parents, we can see the dangers in this new freedom. And yet, there are those moments when God (and our child) are saying, “It's OK. It's time to let go. Let's embrace some new freedoms.”
From a Good Parent to a God-Led Parent
I'm praying to be that kind of a “good parent.” I'm praying to know where God is saying “hold the line” and where he's saying “open the gate.”
God has been so faithful to not only prompt my husband and I about when it's time to open those gates, but He has been such a gentle, comforting guide to this overprotective mama through the process.
Friend, I know He will faithfully guide your kids (and you!) through this unique journey too.
What are you struggling with as you figure out the balance of still being a good parent and allowing your tween or teen to take on new freedoms?
Let's share in the comments below. I'd love to hear your thoughts and encouragement too!