June 17, 2010
"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)
I stood on the edge of the cliff, the slender bar clenched in my hands. An old chant came to mind as I glanced past the rocky threshold to the thin strips of smoke wisping above two live volcanoes.
Fraidy cat. Fraidy cat.
I was in El Salvador working with children orphaned by previous civil wars. Kings Castle was their sanctuary, and after a hard days' work several children and a counselor had pulled me and others up the cliff with stunning views.
"Jump!" they shouted. The children pointed to the volcanic crater below, its depths inviting but very frightening. The children pointed to a circling boat below, trying to assure me. Then, one after another, children grabbed the bars and flung themselves away from the cliffs, letting go and plunging into the water below.
I looked over at my fellow team members. One shook her head vigorously. "Uh uh," she insisted.
I grabbed the bar, noting that my knees were quaking. I closed my eyes, pushed off and swung through the air, screaming when I let go and plunged downward. I hit the icy cold water with a splash. Several children above me shouted and clapped their approval. But I could barely hear them over my own whoops of delight.
I wasn't afraid of jumping that day nearly as much as I was afraid of the unknown. There were elements that were familiar, like water and diving, but when you toss in heights and volcanoes, it knocked me right out of my comfort zone.
Sometimes parenting teens is like that. When my three children moved from tweens to teens, suddenly things changed. There were familiar elements, but lots of scary new developments like driving, dating, and requests for freedom. I wanted to cling to the familiar. I'm the boss, so that's just the way it is. I don't care if everyone else has a later curfew, yours isn't changing.
One day I noticed that my oldest daughter, Leslie, had shut me out, and it hurt. She was 16 years old and I couldn't have been more proud of her. I treasured our relationship, and so was confused by her silence.
I finally found the root of her problem. It was me. I was parenting out of fear.
Fraidy cat. Fraidy cat.
I said no to her, not because of her character or the trust she had earned, but because I feared poor influences, or letting her go and her free-falling. I saw some of the teens that used to frequent our home making life-altering decisions, and it shook me. So I pulled her in closer, tighter. I refused to let go—even an inch.
Though I had worked with thousands of teens over 20 years, I made a huge mistake with my own. I forgot to parent Leslie based on who she was, and what I knew to be true, and allowed fear to dictate our relationship instead.
Worse, I made her feel that she was untrustworthy.
That day I stepped up the scary cliff of parenting a teen and took a second look around. I noted the familiar. Leslie had made good decisions. She was maturing, growing into a woman. She wasn't perfect, but she tried really hard to do the right thing, not for me, but because of her faith and her own convictions.
Sometimes parenting is scary. Sometimes letting go a little bit at a time feels uncomfortable, but it's also a key ingredient in shaping our teens into confident adults of character.
But what if they break the trust? Pull the reins back in. Allow them to take responsibility for their mistakes. Then allow them to earn the trust back.
Today Leslie is a 28-year-old married woman, an attorney, and soon-to-be-momma. I wish that I could say that I never faced fear again as a parent, but that simply wouldn't be true. But I learned to recognize fear for what it is—an ineffective response that distorts reality and clouds the decision making process. Stepping back and looking at the whole picture allowed me to say yes to the opportunities to grow—opportunities for me as a parent, and for my teen.
Dear Lord, help me to see my child clearly today. If I need to set boundaries, help me to set them with love and wisdom. If it is time to encourage my child to grow, to stretch, give me the courage to let go. Thank You for my child's destiny. Thank You that You have a plan for my teen's life. I trust in that today. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
The Mom I Want to be: Rising above Your Past to Give Your Kids a Great Future by T. Suzanne Eller
Visit Suzie's blog where she digs deeper into this topic. Enter a giveaway on the site for an autographed copy of Real Issues, Real Teens: What Every Parent Needs to Know.
Raising a Spiritually Strong Daughter: Guiding Her toward a Faith That Lasts by Susie Shellenberger
More encouragement can be found at In God's Hands
Has your teen proved trustworthy in the past?
If the answer is yes, what are your fears?
Is there information that would calm those fears (where the teen will be, who they will be with)?
If the answer is no, when were they last untrustworthy and on what scale?
If it has been a long time, are you willing to release the reins a little, with the understanding that additional trust can be earned?
"There is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in."
Psalm 27:1, "The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?" (NKJV)
1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love." (NKJV)
© 2010 by T. Suzanne Eller. All rights reserved.
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