Does A plus B always equal C when parenting tweens? Raising kids certainly gets more complicated as they get older, doesn’t it?
Recently I learned that parenting tweens is a lot like how God parents me.
The question is: Am I willing to step up and parent in this revolutionary way?
I heard the sound of glass breaking, and my heart sank.
I ran from the other room to find the scene: A broken drinking glass, water spilled everywhere and two befuddled-looking tweens.
That was it. I’d had it.
Was it the fact that we’d broken something in the vacation home we were renting? Partially.
But mainly I was livid because, once again, the same behavior I’d been seeing for weeks from my tween boys had caused damage. For me, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
When we spoke to our boys about it, they finally admitted that, yes, their behavior in this area for the last few weeks had been inappropriate, and they apologized.
But what I heard in my ten-year-old’s voice (and saw in his actions) had me concerned.
When Dejection and Shame Sets In
My ten-year-old’s behavior become more and more dejected as the conversation went on—face falling, arms crossed and body turned away from us.
He knew that what he’d been doing was wrong (which was good because we wanted him to repent and live differently).
But this repentance had crossed over into shame, feelings of rejection, and—an emotion I am all too familiar with—a desperate need to be perfect in order to be acceptable.
My soul grieved watching him, knowing all too well what that heavy burden felt like.
In a moment, I knew that this conversation was about so much more than changing wrong behavior. God had given us an insight into a terribly damaging lie taking root in my son’s heart.
Doing What Was Right (Instead of What Was Comfortable)
I looked him in the eye and told this precious child exactly what I would want someone to tell me when I’ve been in those deep, dark places.
“Son,” I began, “I want you to know that we love you exactly where you are at. We love you when you make the right decisions, and when you make the wrong ones. You can never make enough bad choices (or enough good choices) to make us love you more or less. You are loved because you are our child, and that will never, ever change.”
He turned his head to look at me, eyes filling up with tears.
I knew the best way to back up my statement was with action. He needed proof that what I was saying was true and that it wasn’t just lip-service.
“And that’s why we would like you to join us for our game night tonight, even though we previously were going to exclude you from it as part of a consequence for your behavior.”
He nodded, tears streaming now.
“You see,” I said, “We can tell that what you really need right now isn’t time by yourself to think about your actions. You really need fellowship and to understand that we mean exactly what we said: ‘You are loved fully and completely at all times.’”
I’m happy to say that our entire family enjoyed a raucous, four-hour game of Monopoly that night. At the end of it, as I kissed my kids and sent them upstairs for a much-later-than-normal bedtime, my soul sang when my ten-year-old hugged me tight and said, “Things are so much better, Mom. That was exactly what I needed.”
The Heart Work of Parenting
Lately, as I’ve been reading more and more about parenting tweens and teens (and as I’ve been doing my best to guide all of our four kids), I keep hearing this message: Look beyond the behavior, and guide them from their heart’s needs.
I am not a perfect parent by any means. There are times when my desire to “make them feel the consequence of their behavior” wins out over what their heart might need.
And I do still believe that bad behavior brings consequences (this principle is seen not only as a part of biblical wisdom, but as a general facet of real-world living).
But I’m discovering that parenting—especially parenting tweens or teens—must mean that we are constantly considering the state of the heart. A plus B doesn’t always equal C, because there are complex issues driving the behavior that perhaps weren’t there when they were toddlers who needed to learn not to touch a hot stove.
These are the years when they will discover their own identities, form their own definitions of a what makes a good friend; decide if they’re going to follow what’s biblically right and wrong; and discover for themselves their own relationship with God.
Critical years to be sure. Years where I’d rather be the one who is their sounding board for these issues than the closed door that they’re railing against.
The Prodigal Son (and Me)
As I think through my role as a parent, I think of the revolutionary way that God parents us. And God’s incredible parenting style is on full display in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15-11-32).
His acceptance of us has nothing to do with the bad or the good things we do. He loves us, regardless.
He greets us with open arms—restoring us to our right place as a child of the King—the second he sees us coming toward Him.
We don’t have to prove our devotion. We don’t have to do “enough” to be accepted.
His love is complete and perfect, accepting us in our dirty state (whether that’s from being involved in sin and unrighteous living, like the younger son who ran away; or from having a heart mired in a works-based mentality that has kept us from experiencing the joy of his full unconditional love).
I want to be that kind of a parent. I want to love my kids in that way.
I want my children to know—and I want to show by my actions—that they can still be their imperfect selves and still be fully loved by me.
I need stories like the Prodigal Son to remind me that I am loved like that by my precious Creator, and that I can love others in that same way, only through His power working in me.
How Can We Parent Tweens with This Radical Love?
It takes time for my husband and I to grow into being able to give that unconditional love; and for our kids to understand that this is the type of love we desperately long to give them.
It’s simply looking each day at the source of all love—the author and inventor of it; the one who proved his devotion by paying the ultimate price to be in fellowship with us. It’s walking in deeper and deeper levels of faith with Him as we trust, moment by moment, that He will use our misshapen hearts and imperfect circumstances to teach us this perfect love.
This is the confident hope I am reaching for as my children grow:
To allow my roots in Him to grow deeper and deeper so that this broken vessel can be filled with that kind of supernatural, incomprehensible love that keeps imperfect kids of all ages and stages close, and at the same time, gives them the wings they need to fly.
Encouraging Bible Verses for Parenting Tweens
I don’t normally include verses like this at the end of a post, but truly, I want you to experience for yourself this deep, amazing love of God so that you can not only parent from this mindset, but that you can be filled with and confident in God’s great love for you.
“May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. They you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:19
“May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 3:5
“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, ‘For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.’) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39
Other Posts on Parenting Tweens and Teens:
How does understanding God's great love for you inspire you parent differently? What situations have you encountered in your parenting where you felt led to show unmerited grace?