Why parenting teens is kind of like fishing.

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I’ve only really been fishing once in my life.  I remember watching my grandpa at the side of the river, his hands working the fishing pole expertly.  When he would feel a tug on the line he would start to reel it in slowly and steadily and then he would stop and let the fish swim out a bit taking the line with it.  After some time he would begin to reel again and it went on and on like this until he had pulled some giant fish all the way in.

I’m not sure why this little dance goes on in fishing.  I didn’t ask.  Perhaps its to tire the fish out?  Maybe wear it down so it loses some of its fight?  These are just guesses, I assure you, but I’m learning that this way of fishing I watched my grandpa maneuver is much the same as how we’re maneuvering in the parenting of teens.

Scripture tells us that we are to train up our children in the way that they should go (Proverbs 22:6) and it’s very clear exactly what this ‘way’ is.  Quite simply, we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart and with all of our soul (Deuteronomy 11) and we’re called to teach this to our children in a myriad of ways, every day of their lives.

This is a call that we, as parents, take extremely seriously.  We know that we are our kids biggest influence, even at this point in their lives, (15, 13, 12, respectively) and that it is our sole responsibility to teach them the commands of the Lord.  Of course, this can be supplemented by other things including church, youth group, grandparents, friends, books, etc. but we are their main source of information and the command is for us to teach and so we do.

What we’ve found though, is that it was a whole lot easier to make them obey when they were little.  Our words held the utmost power in their life and because they weren’t making a whole lot of decisions on their own, it was easy to conform their actions to the pattern we wanted.

Announcing things like, “say you’re sorry,” and in return,  “say I forgive you,” were simply words they repeated whether they understood the ramifications or not.  When it came to caring for their bodies and health there was no room for them to mess it up because we controlled the hours they played outside, how much sleep they got, and exactly how much sugar entered their bodies.  Prayer time was a breeze because they had the cutest little voices that caused us to swoon and little chiclet teeth that melted our hearts and when they thanked Jesus for their dump trucks and for gamma and gumpa, well, it didn’t get much better!

But now that they’re in their teenage years we don’t want to simply be their puppet masters telling them what to do, how to do it, and what words they should speak.  We want to give them ample opportunities to make decisions, mess them up and try again.  In a mere 2 years our oldest could be leaving our little nest and we want him to be as prepared as possible to enter the world of living on his own and caring for himself and making life decisions with wisdom.

And so, we let the line out just a bit and we let our teens swim.  We let them make some decisions on what kind of things they’re going to watch on tv and what sort of video games they’re going to play.  When we disagree on the content we allow them to have an opinion and we debate with them and we always ALWAYS bring it back to scripture. Is it honouring?  Is it edifying?  Are you doing all things to God’s glory?   It’s in these moments that we pick up our fishing pole and reel them back in.  We state why certain things simply aren’t allowed and we pull the parent “because we said so” card, and we even use words like, “because we know the effects and you don’t.”

I’m thankful that at this point they have teachable hearts even when it’s not what they want.  Of course, it’s not always lovely in that moment, but obedience is something we’ve always taught at the highest level of the bar.  When we make a call, it simply is.   And while we are willing to admit that we may be wrong at times, we also let our kids know that we are responsible to Christ for how we parent, and as such, this is simply how it’s going to be right now.  We are always willing to dialogue if you disagree, you can have every opportunity you wish to try and change our minds, but that doesn’t mean we will.

And then we let them swim again.  We let them pack their lunch without me hovering around.  We let them hang out with friends on the weekends.  We don’t scan through their text messages at the end of every single day.

But over time, we often see that if they’ve been allowed to swim too freely, we need to reel them back in with grace and love.  Suddenly, I notice that lunches consist of pudding cups and wagon wheels and nothing that resembles health is included and we converse again.  We talk about why we treat our bodies with regard and what fuels them best and how they were designed to operate.  We relay that there certainly weren’t any wagon wheels in the garden of eden and we point out that we gave them opportunity to prove they could make wise decisions but where they aren’t seen, we will take back control.  So we do.

And for a time we monitor things and we talk it all through a bazillion times and then we know in time we need to let them swim again.  To try it out.  To see if they can take what they’ve learned and apply it in this world when they’ve got all sorts of options swirling around them.

I believe this is our job in these last years in our home.  To prepare our teens for the road that is ahead.  To allow them to make mistakes while they’re still here so we can talk endlessly and work through them together.  So that we can help to pick up the pieces when they’ve made a mess and guide them in new ways, smarter ways, when they can see that what they’ve chosen really wasn’t the best.

I’m so thankful that God’s word to children comes with a promise.  He tells them to honour their father and mother SO THAT it may go well with you.  (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:2) It isn’t simply because we deserve honour but because it’s the way that life will go well.

I hope that my boys are learning this as we let them swim out just a bit and that we would always know when to reel them back in.  I’m sure over the next few years their swimming will get further and further until they’re ready to break the line and swim off on their own into the world.

We pray that we will prepare them well.

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