A full day was behind us and as the sun was slipping away, I wondered when I too would get to slip away for some quiet time. I was navigating new currents of motherhood, having now two teenagers, one at each end, 13 and 19 years. As our eldest moved into adulthood I had made the adjustments to meet the new changes on my time. Teenagers I was discovering, stayed awake longer and longer and were usually up after I was in bed. The tide seemed to be shifting again as our just turned 13 year old son was lasting past his bedtime, and was it that time already? It seemed as soon as we settled into one season the winds changed again and we needed to adjust our sails. Motherhood I was learning, was never a finish line, but a life long journey. There would always be new waters to charter, storms would come but calm seas would also carry us. I realised there would be no final docking until we see Christ and until that day I needed to make the most of every opportunity to come alongside my children.
Therefore see that you walk carefully [living life with honor, purpose, and courage; shunning those who tolerate and enable evil], not as the unwise, but as wise [sensible, intelligent, discerning people], making the very most of your time [on earth, recognising and taking advantage of each opportunity and using it with wisdom and diligence],
because the days are [filled with] evil.
“I often must sacrifice my own needs and desires for the purpose of giving my children
what they need and modeling for them the depths of Christ's love.
"...make myself available in the routine tasks and myriad interruptions of daily life because
I believe it is God's will for me to serve my family through them.”
― Sally Clarkson, The Mission of Motherhood: Touching Your Child's Heart for Eternity
Motherhood was not what I had expected.
In fact, I had no expectation which was the problem, so when my children acted like children I was shocked, unprepared and lived in constant reaction. 'This is so tiring, it's non-stop; the laundry, cooking, cleaning, messes, squabbles, and they have tastes, opinions, hormones, personalities!', thoughts like these tried to dominate my mind. I had no framework, no pattern to follow. I'd never seen the life-giving model of parenting around me and was left to muddle through. I was lacking in training and as a result fell short in spiritual strength and maturity. I did not understand motherhood would require so much from me for all of my life and not just the time slots I allocated around my other pursuits. I had God, the Holy Spirit and my bible but I'd never had anyone point me to Christ as my example in parenting.
Jesus was my personal Saviour but I hadn't considered how he could save my parenting.
It was mostly a dead letter to me as I reached for books, formulas, lists, all scripture filled yet often
void of the love and life of Christ. Many voices pointed out what I should be doing to 'train them up in the way they should go' but neglected to disciple me personally. Most advice was pointing at my children and what they should be doing but not encouraging me to look to Jesus and start with pointing at myself, examining and discipling my own heart and relationship with God. I'm deeply grateful to God for his grace over those early years, he filled alot of cracks! Love really does cover a multitude of sins.
Maybe you're here today and you're exhausted, feeling defeated, overwhelmed, lonely, or like a failure? These are thoughts and feelings common to every mother. Maybe you have a child with SEN, physical disabilities, a child who has left home in anger. Have you seen baby Jack Jack in the Incredibles? That's how I feel at times when my out-of-the-box child does something unexpected and new! But maybe they can go on to be 'the most powerful Super ever?' as we prayerfully consider them, seek to understand their hearts and commit to walk alongside them no matter what the cost. As we ask the Lord to grow and mature us as disciples he will help us see more clearly to lead the disciples in our homes towards him.
I hope you found last week's blog encouraging, for me it was so foundational, if you missed it I'd encourage you to go back and read Part 1. You see I used to have high ideals but I wasn't exceeding those ideals with higher grace. Like so many other mums I had a deep, sincere desire to please God, to
'do the right thing', tick all the boxes, but I was in danger of becoming lifeless and legalistic. This is why lists and formulas can be so harmful, we need to be encouraged to model and follow Jesus not follow models. This is why I'll include a Caveat for Part 2 :--
There are no magic bullets, we need to walk by faith not formulas because our children are all different, and that encourages us to trust in the Lord. We can ask God to show us keys into their hearts,they're the children which he's entrusted to us and he knows them inside out. Remember no one person has got all the answers or 'arrived' so we're seeking progress not perfection.
But we can imitate those who imitate Christ, we can follow their pattern of living and learn some
encouragement along the way. I am so deeply grateful for the right mentoring voices in my life today.
We need to be willing to exchange towels for titles and be mums who pray, ponder Christ and daily study God's word. The Lord delights to walk with us, lead us, guide us, to be the closest friend to us in our mum walk.
But, If you're like me you may also want some very practical tips on what the love of God can look like. I'm a 'hold my hand and show me' person when it comes to relationships as I needed my vision for parenting laid out from scratch.
So, what are some practical tools you can be inspired by? I've drawn up a simple list here to get you started but there are so many creative and unique ways the Lord can lead us in for our own children. I have specifically aimed some at teen boys but they can apply to all relationships, I hope you find it helpful.
Over the years I have kept a journal and asked the Lord to show me 'keys' into my children's hearts. It's great to take some time aside to still yourself, rest your mind on the Lord and bring your children before him. If you ask and seek him he will show you ways to unlock their hearts and build connection.
The next time he asks you if you'd like to play a RPG (after you Google what an RPG is lol!) or wants you to build a model plane, rollerblade, hunt for bugs, throw water balloons, read a bedtime story even though it's past his bedtime (yes my 13yo still requests this), just say "Yes"! And don't put it off, do it now. See where that Yes takes you. One time when Jonathan was around 10 years old he desperately wanted to go camping, this for me was an opportunity to practice saying yes because camping always leaves me feeling like I need a hip replacement! Spur of the moment and with little money, we put the tent up in the back garden, inflated the notoriously unreliable air mattresses and had such a fun night under the stars. The next day I felt as if I'd been dragged through a hedge, attacked by various bugs and in need of a massage, but it was worth it.
'Just us' Time:
My son opens up more if we're doing something together, not just sitting and staring across a table, yours may be different though. My daughter on the other hand loves to sit and talk at length, face to face, on the sofa or in our bedroom, cups of tea and a sweet treat. The important thing is to have some time where it's just the two of you. Write it on the calendar if you have a busy schedule, but be intentional and make it a regular rhythm. Whether you go for a drive, play a game, read aloud while they draw or do something with their hands, go for ice-cream, coffee, a movie, let them know it's 'just us' time, and that you relish spending it with them. Make the most of these opportunities by prayerfully considering what questions you might ask, what you'll share from your own heart and life. I have a relative who takes prospective people who wish to be mentored by him on 6 hour drives with lunch in the middle. He believes and I agree, that you need to get past the 3 hour mark with someone to get beneath the surface conversation. Maybe you need to go camping!
We need to out-love and out-last the storms. I don't know about '13' being the age when the hormones kick in, for us it felt like 11. Hormones play such a big part in our growing teen's emotions, thinking and behaviour. Hormones can make it feel like the world has been turned on it's head. This is when God's love takes us beyond our human limitations and as disciples ourselves, we grow in understanding what His love really looks and feels like.
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
while we were still sinners, Christ died for us"
He didn't die for the perfected, He initiated towards sinners. God demonstrated His love so we could see what it looks like and follow in His footsteps. When we love our children the way God loves us, we demonstrate to them the love of God and show them what His love looks and feels like. Don't withhold love and wait for your teenager to have it all together, love unconditionally, correct in all gentleness, provide boundaries where needed, but always love deeply, even when they've spoken unkind words. When I'm stung from a hurtful interaction I am often tempted to withhold love, but push past that and dare to show undeserved grace, this is when it's most needed.
Be Quick to Forgive:
Be quicker to say sorry.
Try Not to Judge Motives:
Believe the best.
Avoid Majoring on Minors 'Straining at a Gnat':
There are so many little things we could get frustrated about and of course we need to patiently keep training, but keep in mind the thing that will anchor them all their lives is knowing Christ, not taking dirty cups out of their room. As we can keep the bigger picture in mind we'll avoid many petty frictions which can separate our hearts from each other.
Keep things light, find fun activities to share. Laugh at the annoyances, it's easy to disarm tensions this way rather than have them blow out of proportion. Especially laugh at yourself and your own short comings with them, our children need to see we are human and flawed, that we're all disciples in need of God's grace.
That sounds like a no-brainer but everyday conversation leads to the deeper conversations. Practice chatting, discuss current events, interests, articles, music, art, technology, Lego. The aim is to develop the habit and skill of conversation (which involves alot of listening, see next point) so that when the time comes it will feel more natural to tackle weightier issues.
Become a Master Listener:
When you listen to hours of talk about Raspberry Pi, Minecraft, Warhammer, Star Wars, Lego, you've hopefully deposited enough to earn the privilege of listening to the deeper things when the time comes.
Eat Together as Often as You Can:
Ask him his favourites. Take him for a burger or one of those fancy milkshake shops which almost require a second mortgage! But if you can't afford a treat out, look for economic ways to make the things he likes at home, even if it's only every couple of weeks. Let him know you did this for him and when you do this for your husband he's sees that too ;) Have a rule of no phones at the table.
You can show respect by the way you speak, the tone of your voice. Posture communicates. Standing with hands on hips, pointing the finger, these can all speak anger. Gentle words and gentle body language helps disarm any perceived hostility. Ask him his opinion on things, get his advice, let him fix things or attempt new activities. Believe in him, cheer him on and follow some of his suggestions (unless it involves jumping from a rooftop into a paddling pool!) Even if you know he might fail, support him wholeheartedly, he may surprise you.
One of my favourite images is of my 50yo friend taking a dive off of a waterfall in her Kayak behind her teenage boy! Get involved in his passions and hobbies, let him lead you in those, it doesn't matter if you're a flop at it, that will actually be helpful! Find new pursuits you can share together, you may have to get out of your comfort zone and that's a good thing.
Limit Screens, Phones, X-box, TV etc:
I'm not wanting to offend anyone but we've got to be proactive and take initiative in seeking out ways to engage with our sons. If we leave time idle because we're so busy they will certainly turn to other sources for engagement. I'm not suggesting we constantly need to entertain our children or be driven fearfully to always be filling their spare time, but I think sometimes we can secretly use those screens and devices because it means we don't have to engage, we're happy for them to disappear into their room for hours as it means we can get on with other things or, that we don't have to deal with the messiness of relationships.
New figures from Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, show some '6% of children aged 12 to 15 are devoting the majority of their waking time at the weekend to online activities. A further tenth of teenagers (11%) are spending between five and eight hours a day online at the weekend, equivalent to about 300,000 children.'
Please hear my heart, I know what you're thinking, that I'm a crazy lady trying to hold back the tide with a feather! In our home we love some cartoons, period dramas and playing the Wii and as a parent I've enjoyed watching or playing with them and also leaving them to enjoy alone. But we can use these as a treat or as a reward, maybe we can try to be creative before being couched, taking little steps at a time if a weaning time is required. Parents, screen limitations need to apply to ourselves also, research is now showing the anxiety caused in children when parents are excessively on their phones.
* My son after reading this (as he's my proof reader and in his words my 'tactical advisor'), says I need to include that phones damage your brain according to one of his many trivia books 😉)
This really comes under some of the other suggestions but I know for myself and my personality type, I have had to be so much more intentional in this area. My default is to be structured in play, to find meaning or have it be educational (can you hear my kids groaning). It doesn't come naturally to some of us to be playful, we'd rather get into a book, discussion or debate! This is another area we can let our teens lead us and again, we don't have to be brilliant or perfect. What they will remember at the end of the day is how they felt when you spent time with them. 'Spending time' hits the nail on the head; you're investing into relationships that cannot be bought with money, only with time, but the return on that investment will be priceless.
If you don't have the freedom or ability to pray together right now, maybe you can write a letter or brief note with a blessing in it. I have a pillow journal for each of my children, a simple notebook in which I write a word of blessing or encouragement and leave under their pillow occasionally. They also like to write back to me. It's sometimes easier to write, text or email when the face-to-face connection needs relearning. You hear someone's heart when they pray, the words we speak over our children go in deep like life-giving balm to their souls. Take any and every opportunity to pray, don't wait for a prayer time or for a list, pray as you go, on the move and show them your heart. Before you know it they will be expecting you to pray and prompting you when you don't!
Work/Serve Together and Help Them Work.
Work is a blessing which the Lord gave to us, to cultivate chaos, bring order, subdue, and enjoy the fruits of our labour. It's been wonderful to see my teen son print a local map and then door knock for lawn mowing jobs. The smile on his face when the wages are placed in his hands is priceless, you'd think he got it for free! The benefits of work are many; confidence, money management, interpersonal skills, satisfaction, work ethic, responsibility, creativity, goal setting if saving, team work, submission to leadership, leadership skills, service, and they get to buy you coffee some time ;)
If you haven't already started with chores in the home this the perfect foundation. Cultivating a heart of service I feel is more of a priority than working simply for wages, yet balancing that with reward is key. God is after all a rewarder yet his love is freely given, although it cost Christ everything. Jesus, knowing fully who he was, emptied himself and took up the towel to wash the disciples dirty toes but he was motivated by what would be gained the other side of the cross.
Have you noticed yet there's alot of 'togethering'.
NEVER STOP PURSUING
Don't be discouraged, perturbed or put off by the response, or lack of response you get. If you find yourself in a place today where all seems lost, maybe your teen son is estranged from you, like the prodigal he's about as far from home as you can imagine, it's still never too later to start a new pattern in your relationship.
We cannot control our children, but we can lead them in good decision making. The choice though, is ultimately up to them, age dependant of course. We can model, love, teach, train, show grace, overlook, pray, provide consequences, inspire, but at the end of the day we may spend more time in prayer and patience than we had expected. But we walk by faith and can hope in the goodness of God towards us as we follow His parenting heart.
Hope has a forward action, keeping us moving ahead in faith; believing the best, trusting in God, believing all things, forgetting what lies behind, seeing life defined as a feature film not a snapshot.
"Now faith is the substanceof things hoped for, the evidenceof things not seen"
Hope sees where it's going because a picture has been painted by faith on the heart, using the brush strokes of God's promises. Regardless of how things look today, hope has a greater long term vision.
This, this is the work, this is my worship. Right here, in this place of domesticity, I am called to love, nurture, listen patiently, to become a mature and happy mum for them. Staying up late because they know they have my undivided attention, saying yes one more time, tidying a mess, making peace between siblings, teaching, training, correcting, laughing, creating, being available. Having an undivided heart, advising on career choices, study options, driving to and from their friends and work at inhumane hours, wiping tears, discipling broken hearts, bearing with hormones.
We're not through the teen years yet but I am loving them. I'm not an expert and certainly aren't perfect, I am speaking from the trenches. I didn't know what to expect as a mum but what I'm receiving is exceeding any expectation I may have had. God's thoughts surely are so much higher than mine ever could be and the rewards for being steadfast in them surprise me every day.
There is so much more which can be said. I'd love to hear how the Lord has led you in cultivating friendship with your teens, drop me a comment.
FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
The Mission of Motherhood
by Sally Clarkson
The Life Giving Parent
by Clay & Sally Clarkson