You become a parent, so full of hopes and dreams for your child. Those fat little baby hands reaching for you, the awkward toddling steps that seek you out, the insatiable curiosity of the growing student that so trustingly soaks up your answers and advice – you wonder what you ever did without that precious child. Then somewhere around age 14 you wonder who that strange person is that kind of resembles your son or daughter.
Gone are the days of you being so wonderfully wise and amazingly beautiful. Gone are the days of hugs and kisses and strolls in the park. They’ve been traded for head bobs, attitudes and even sometimes, “I hate you’s,” which are quickly followed by entitled demands for you to drop everything you are doing and drive her to the mall. Oh, and hurry up, you need to go pick up Britney! The little boy who prayed his prayers with you each night suddenly looks more like a praying mantis tapping away on his mobile phone, the one you pay for which is never cool enough and always seems to be off when you call and would like him to actually, incredulously, answer it and talk to you.
OK, even if it’s not exactly like that, parents of teenagers struggle. You want to be their hero, but because they are growing and learning to naturally be more independent, they change and turn outward to learn about the big world. What do you do? How do you stay connected? Where do you draw the line? Well, look to the example of the Holy Mother Church. Here are five reminders that will keep you grounded during confusing times.
Be a parent, not a buddy. Imagine if the Church tried to be everybody’s buddy, and a life of faith was all about feel-good undeserved praise and uncritical acceptance of anything people did. Don’t risk hurting any feelings, just let people do what they want to do, and tell them they are all wonderful no matter what. Right? No, the pews would be empty and souls would be lost. Just like we crave guidance and authority, so do teenagers even if they don’t show it. They need mothers and fathers more than ever. They can get their own buddies, and they’ll learn soon enough that buddies come and go – but family is forever.
Be a rock in any storm. The Church guards 2,000 years of Truth and it is there for anyone to access. She proposes, not imposes, but for anyone seeking truth there is abundant instruction. And that truth does not waiver, does not change with the times or styles, it is objective. People need this, teens need this especially. It’s so tempting today in our culture to compromise what we know is right. Primetime television and social media often promotes the idea that truth is subjective, that whatever makes us happy in the moment is right. But actors on TV don’t care for your children the way you do. Whatever it is – drugs, sex, music, clothing, food – tell them the truth without compromise and in love. If they don’t seem like they are listening or if they act like you have lost your mind, don’t worry and be a nag. Someday they’ll be glad they heard it over and over again.
Never let them forget where they came from. The Holy Mother Church teaches that we are all in communion, with the past, present and future of the entire Church when we pray. We belong, and the desire to belong is innate in us because we are made in the image of God, an internal life between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, distinct and real relations of one substance, the utter repose of the Three dwelling within one another. A parent remembers the origin of the teenager. A parent remembers things the child cannot. A parent has stood beside the sleeping body and prayed the humble prayers of gratitude and resolve. Every once in a while, look your teen in the eyes and tell her you still see your baby. When he’s strapped in the car beside you, tell him a story about himself.
Pray. Pray for the grace to know what to say when you need to say it. Pray for your teen’s future, for her future spouse, for his future vocation, for future health, for abundance of grace in his or her life too. There is no guarantee that a young adult will remain faithful to the Church or even to your family. There could be discord for a time. They will certainly make mistakes and need to experience the pain that teaches. Cover it in prayer. Don’t hesitate to enter the room of the teen, sprinkle the electronic devices with holy water (enough to silence them if necessary), and make a giant sign of the Cross as you pray for protection from evil. It lurks, and it lurks heavy for teenagers. They need your constant prayers, and have faith because God loves them even more than you do.
Speak of the Trinity during hard times. Proclaiming unity heals relationships. It lifts you above the pain and allows you to turn your gaze to what is true and good. Proclaiming unity is to affirm faith and hope. Don’t just think it; say it out loud and with conviction. “This is your family. It will always be your family. I will always be your mother. You are you, I am me, but we are one. Life will never be perfect, but no amount of imperfection will ever destroy the love that I have for you child. I am not perfect. You are not perfect. But by, through and in the grace of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are united permanently. If there is anything of this created world you can rely on without fail, it is my love for you, on good days and on bad days. It will never end.”
During it all, keep a sense of humor. Teenagers can be wonderful companions and insightful conversationalists. They will, God-willing, someday reach their mid-twenties and suddenly realize, as Mark Twain once remarked, that you have become quite wise indeed in the last seven years. Remember, the foundations that you lay will truly allow your family to endure the tests of time and to be (2B) best friends forever (BFF) eternally in Heaven.