We recently celebrated our son’s 16th birthday. Trust me, Jeff and I spent more than a few moments wondering where the time had gone. How was it that we now have a daughter in college and a son who is allowed to get a drivers license?!
The celebration was simple, involving a dozen of his friends -- some new, some he’s known his whole life. We laughed, we bowled, we ate pizza and cake. He planned it all himself . . . and it was glorious. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But to be honest -- I originally didn’t think it could be this way.
I still remember the conference volunteer who picked me up at the airport when my kids were small. When she said she had four teenagers, I responded, as many people would, “Oh my! Bless you! How are you surviving?” I had the impression that the “adolescent years” were something to brace for. I dreaded the idea of my sweet little ones morphing into distant and disrespectful teens.
The volunteer smiled. “I have to tell you: I think that stereotype is so wrong. And dangerous.”
And I can honestly say that what she said next was the single most important piece of parenting advice I’ve ever received -- especially for the teen years, but really, for any age.
What You Look For Is What You'll Find
The event volunteer continued: “I loved the stage when my kids were small, and I love the teenage stage even more. Sure, there are challenges, but there are challenges in every stage. Every season with my kids has been better than the one before. I think that is what we’re supposed to expect.”
She then shared a belief that I have since officially studied and have seen over and over again in our research (and in neuroscience): What we expect is what we will look for, and what we look for is what we will find. If we expect difficulties (terrible twos, threenagers, difficult tweens, disrespectful and moody teens, etc.), those are what we will notice -- and probably cause us to overreact!
She said, “I would urge you to look forward to every season of parenting, so you enjoy the blessings of each one, rather than getting hung up on the challenges.”
Decide The Best Is Yet To Come
A number of years later, after talking to this mom of teenagers, my 10-year-old daughter and I were driving in our minivan when she gave me her first serious, no-holds-barred, legit, pre-teen eye roll in response to something I said.
Now, normally, my head explodes at signs of disrespect -- and so does my voice! But suddenly, it was as if God flashed my mind back to my conversation with that mom. I had to make a decision about how I was going to view and communicate in this new season of parenting before me.
I took a moment to be calm, and said to my daughter, “Honey, let’s have a conversation about this. You may not realize it, but you were really disrespectful right there, and that’s not okay. I know you think dad and I just have random rules, and we don’t understand you. You think that we don’t know what we’re talking about. And you might have those feelings again. So here’s my request: Can you have grace with us for, oh, about the next 10 years?”
My daughter laughed, but then stopped as she realized I meant it. “I’m serious, honey. Can we agree that until you go off to college, whenever you think we don’t know what we’re talking about, that you’ll have grace with us? Because otherwise, these next 10 years might be unpleasant for all of us.”
She looked at me for a minute. I could tell she was suddenly taking my request seriously. “Okay,” she said. No eye roll in sight.
The next time another eye roll made an appearance, I reminded her, “Remember our agreement? That isn’t okay. And this is one of those times when you can show grace.” And you know what? It worked.
How You See Something Determines How You Handle Something
When Jeff and I started looking at parenting this way, suddenly, we had so much more peace. We viewed the disrespect that arose (and yes, it still did happen at times!) as what it actually was: isolated occurrences, rather than as a systemic pattern of behavior or character flaw that needed to be strongly addressed.
Although we wouldn’t let poor behavior slide, we were determined to address it with calmness, humor, and logic instead of highly charged emotion. (And let me tell you, if we hadn’t decided to view these as one-off incidents, there would have been some highly charged emotion from my side!) Then because we didn’t jump all over her, our daughter was more willing to listen to what we had to say.
We still had high expectations for our kids, but they were reasonable expectations. We had begun to anticipate the best -- not the worst -- through the various stages of their lives.
And I don’t think that ever would have happened if that one event volunteer hadn’t gently corrected my thinking.
As we journey through the seasons of our children’s lives, rather than dreading the coming stage or clinging to the current one, let’s be excited about how our kids are changing and who they’re becoming. Transforming our outlook will transform our interactions with them. Yes, they might have difficult moments, but let’s anticipate that we will not only get through those seasons, we’ll also enjoy them.
Relax, moms, and take heart -- the best is yet to come!