Kids are amazing! I had no idea what I was getting into when I became a dad. They’ve taught me so much about myself and about growth and about my relationship with my Heavenly Father. And it never seems to stop. They’re just always showing me new things. And even when they’re not showing me new things, God is showing me new things through them. I can’t count them times I’ve been disciplining the boys for doing something and God suddenly says, “I hope you’re listening to what you’re saying.” And through their bad behavior, God sharpens me. It’s so crazy.
And now that the students in my first couple youth ministries are getting married and in the baby-making stage, I always say the same thing when they ask me for advice: “there’s nothing that I can say to prepare you”. And it’s so true! The only way we become better parents is through being parents. Books might help. Advice might help. Blogs might help. But to be a good parent, you’ve just got to be a parent.
One of the cool things about being a youth pastor is getting the opportunity to see what’s in store long before it gets here. When I was new in ministry, I’d be shocked by the things some kids are doing. Now, nothing surprises me. Seriously, it’s almost scary the things I hear that don’t make me bat an eye anymore. By the time my boys get to be teens, I’ll have seen everything a hundred times already. I’m not even sure they could invent new ways to mess up. It’s always the same, playing on repeat. The Bible says that there are no new problems under the sun. We’ve seen it before. We’ll see it again. Just wait.
But when talking to teens about their parents these last several years, certain themes keep coming up over and over. And since most of our kids are still young, I feel like we can pull something away from each statement, so that the same might never be said by ours. And if they’ve been said before, we can gain a little wisdom in how to grow going forward So in the name of gleaning some wisdom from our ministry and growing our kids, lets look at some things I hear from students all the time…
My parents are so out of touch.
What do they mean by that? I think the answer may surprise some of us. Because guess what, our kids could care less if we know how to dab. Their view of us has nothing to do with acronyms they use while texting. They don’t care if we know the newest songs or have seen the trailers to new movies. They don’t care. And so we don’t necessarily need to be in the middle of pop culture. So stop watching MTV and take TMZ off your list of shows you’re recording. You don’t need them. Perhaps stop dancing while chaperoning their formals though. For everyone’s sake.
What these kids are saying is that their parents are out of touch with them. And to be honest, most of the time, they’re right. We parents have a way of thinking that if it’s not on fire, it doesn’t need our attention. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. So often, we truly are out of touch with our kids.
Here’s a test: What’s your kid’s favorite show? Who’s their best friend? What did they talk with their friends about last weekend? What are they excited about this week? What are they nervous about this week? What prayer request has been on their list these last couple weeks?
Hopefully you did pretty good answering those questions. Maybe you did awful. But here’s the even scarier part: it only gets harder. When kids are young, they’ll help you out. They’ll tell you everything unprovoked. Later on, you’ll have to pry such simple things from them. And they might even act like they don’t want you to know about them. But in my time in youth ministry, I can tell you with absolute certainty, that teens desperately want to be known by their parents. They want so badly to be understood. But so often they’re distant. So often they hold things in. Why? I’m glad you asked. Because statement number two that I always hear is…
My parents only love me because they have to.
Maybe they say my parents only take care of me or my parents only spend time with me. But the sentiment is always the same. It’s because they have to.
“That’s not fair,” all the parents cry as one. But take a step back and think about it. They are almost completely without responsibility. Sure, we give them chores and rules. But they’re really not completely accountable for anything. They don’t pick out cars and make loan and maintenance payments. They don’t make a budget, buy a house, and pick out a mortgage plan. They don’t have kids of their own they have to grow into adults. They have school. That’s as close as it comes. And while school is important, you and I both know from living on this side of it, that life in school truly effects very little of our current life outside of school.
My point is that they don’t have very many things they have to do. They don’t understand the responsibility of paying a mortgage or putting new tires on the car. They don’t get that we do these things, not out of obligation, but out of care. They only have one responsibility: school. And they despise it. So when they recognize that you are their responsibility, they assign that same emotion to it. You care for them because you have to.
See where this is going? They see responsibility as awful. We see it as a privilege. We want to own a home. We want to have a nice vehicle. We want to love our children. Those are responsibilities, but they’re ones that we take on with gladness. Remember how elated you were when your babies were born? So do I! But they don’t. They know that they require money, rides to and from everything, grief over disobedience, on and on we could go. But they recognize they’re a pain. They don’t recognize that they’re our joy.
So how do we remedy this? Well, I’d like to say it’s by doing something simple. But truthfully, it’s a long process. And the process is this: allow them to witness you choosing them. Not just once, but over and over again. Let them see that you had an opportunity to go out with the guys, but you chose to go to play a pickup game of ball with them instead. Let them see that you could have seen a movie with the girls, but you stayed home to watch a movie with them instead. Let them see that you had a big dinner planned, but you did frozen pizzas and a couch fort at their request instead. Let them see you repeatedly choose them. And make sure they see it. Make sure they hear it too. Tell them that you chose them. Tell them that your time is best spent with them. Be careful in doing this though, because when done wrong, you’ll only exacerbate the problem. They’ll think that you’re sacrificing for them. And while there may be truth to it, the purpose of the whole thing is to show them that they are not only more important, they are more desired. They need to understand that you’d rather have a relationship with them than any other person, outside your spouse.
So show them and tell them. But be sure they see and hear your heart, not just your sacrifice.
My parents don’t care.
Here’s where we’ve gotta own up. Because most of the time this isn’t just an errant thought. It’s taught to them. By you.
Can I be honest and say this is where I struggle the most? I’m absolutely terrified of this one. Growing up, my uncle was a pastor. And his youngest son, my cousin, was my best friend. But he would always comment that his dad loved the church more than he loved him. If Oz or Jax ever said that, I’d be devastated. The scary thing is they’ve come close. When you put shoes on Jax, he says, “church, church”. His assumption is that if we’re not at home, we’re at church. Life isn’t spontaneous or joyful. It’s lived in one of two places. Owen has said on more than one occasion that I’m never home or I’m always working. This isn’t their fault, it’s mine! I’ve shown them, through the use of my time, that some things are more important than them. And I would tell you all day long it’s not. I would sacrifice anything for those guys. Literally, I would give up anything. I’d walk away from my ministry right now if I needed to. But I doubt they know that.
I don’t think I’m alone here though. Actually I know I’m not. I hear that said all the time. And to be fair, sometimes it’s completely undeserving. They’re hurt or want attention or something. And they just say it to be proved wrong. But most of the time, it’s just an observation of theirs. They make time for what’s important to them. So should you. “But it’s harder for adults!” You’re right. But it’s also more important.
I’m reading a book right now that I’d recommend to anyone. It’s short and you can read it in a day. It was written by Andy Stanley, one of my favorite pastors. He was the guy in the clip last week on marriage. He’s awesome. But he wrote this book called Choosing to Cheat. And the premise of the book is that in life, everything and everyone wants our time. And not just some time, as much as it can get it’s greedy hands on. No matter how great we are, our boss always wants more. No matter how effective we are, our ministry always wants more. Everyone always wants more. And when it comes down to it, we need to learn that someone’s gotta be cheated. God forgive us if we choose to cheat our family. The last people in the world I want to feel cheated is my family.
But that means we’ve gotta be intentional. We can’t just hope. We have to choose who gets the best of us. So often it’s not our kids. If you want to have any voice in their lives, make the change now. Because our words are useless. They’ll believe what we live, not what we say.
And while we’re on the topic of balancing work and play, there’s yet another way we need to balance work and play. Some parents only discipline. Some parents only act like friends. The goal isn’t choosing the right one, it’s choosing both and finding balance. I lean more heavily on discipline. I’m pretty hard on my boys. I need to look for ways to play more. Some parents are like me and they discipline and not play. They’re going to raise sad, distant kids. Some parents only play and don’t want to discipline. They’re going to raise horrible entitled monsters. Finding that balance is just as hard as balancing anything else in life. But we can’t hide from it because it’s scary. We’ve gotta face this head on.
So these are the three most common things I hear from our teens. Will I one day hear them from your’s?
I encourage you to take a moment and pray. Ask God where your parenting needs to be more intentional. He’s probably been telling you the whole time you’ve been reading. But join me in prayer and see where God leads you. Then have the wisdom and courage to do it. No matter how hard it is. For the sake of your kids.
God, thank you for my family. Thank you for my kids. I love them so much. I understand that they’re on loan from you. I understand that you’ll one day ask for them back. God, in the meantime, help me to be a good steward of them. Help me to invest in them and grow them so they live a life that honors you. Lead me to lead them. Dad, I don’t know what I’m doing here. So I submit to your plan and will follow your leading. I’m listening…