I have a teen.
My teen is intelligent and funny. He can be tender-hearted, wise and insightful. He doesn’t take drugs, doesn’t drink, and drives carefully. He is polite, considerate, and caring to strangers. He is kind and patient with fatherless boys, who seem to be drawn to him, and with the disabled. However, he is also very strong-willed and stubborn and, at times, can be unteachable and self-centered.
I always love my son very deeply. Most of the time I like and enjoy him. Occasionally he is not pleasant to live with. When JJ was preteen, we read about adolescence together, and the physical and emotional changes he could expect. He said, “Mom, do you think when I become a teenager, you could just lock me in my room until it is over? You could slide food under the door for me.” I have occasionally been tempted: Get to your room NOW!
It is my personal theory that the teenage years are a second toddler-hood.
Both toddlers and teens experience great change, physically and emotionally. They both are exploring and learning about their world. There is a blossoming independence, a wanting to do things themselves, in their own ways, but at the same time, they aren’t quite ready for complete separation from Mom and Dad so there’s a push and pull in the relationship. Both toddlers and teens have big emotions and everything is dramatic. The world revolves around them. They are sweet if everything is going their way, but throw tantrums if told to do something they don’t want to do. Their favorite words are “No, “Me,” “Mine,” and “Why?” Just when you begin to wonder “who is this little monster and why did I ever want one?” they do something sweet and your heart melts.
I understand that teens are reaching toward adulthood and maturity. Every day they are gaining new adult freedoms, but they think they are not gaining them fast enough, and they struggle against the boundaries that they aren’t yet ready to have removed. They don’t understand that responsibility goes with freedom. Life is opening up for them, and they idealistically dream of what they can accomplish. They think they know everything, but are unaware of everything they do not know. They are learning about life, but have not yet experienced life. They know what life should be, but not what it is. They complain about what they want and don’t have, but can’t see what they have been given. They can be a bit self-righteous, pointing out the imperfections and failures of others (i.e., parents). They aren’t yet aware of their own faults, they aren’t aware of the love and sacrifices made for them, they have not been broken by suffering. They haven’t yet learned to see others with eyes of kindness and compassion. Everything is black and white.
The last week or so, my teen has been difficult to live with. I don’t mean for this post to be a lament about the faults of my teen. The fact is that he’s going through a normal period of transformation, he’s better than a lot of teens I’ve seen, and I occasionally get glimpses of the awesome man I believe he is growing into. Our struggles and discussions has stirred up thoughts, and it is those I’d like to share because there is something to ponder through it all.
Last week EJ couldn’t find his coat and in his search, he took all the coats off their hooks and dumped them on the floor of the coat closet, grumped about never being able to find anything, and left for work without picking anything up. I quietly picked up the coats and hung them up. “How can you be so calm when Dad does something like this?” JJ asked. “Why do you let him treat you that way? Why does he get a ‘free pass’ when he does something wrong, but you get after me when I do something wrong? Why do you serve him and you don’t serve me?” These are interesting questions, and I gave them thought. They actually go along with things I’ve been considering over the last few months.
JJ saw a father who was a grumpy jerk, and who wasn’t being nice. He saw me not stand up for myself, and not yelling at his Dad for a fault–while he gets yelled at for the slightest thing (he thinks). He sees a man who doesn’t always do what JJ thinks he should do when JJ thinks he should. He felt frustrated by having to bear the faults of his father. Although throwing the coats on the closet floor was not the nicest thing to do, JJ made a quick judgment based on his own immaturity and incomplete knowledge, understanding, compassion, perception, and assumptions.
What I see when I look at EJ is a man who endures chronic pain and health problems, who goes every day to a difficult job where he gets little recognition so he can support a wife and son he loves deeply and is faithfully committed to. I see a man who listens to me, who is proud of me, who encourages me to accomplish things (like Hebrew), and who is generous. I see a man who deeply loves his son and would die for him, even though (at present) his son doesn’t appreciate him. I see a man who wants to teach his son characteristics that would help him survive in the world: things like working hard, being honest, being faithful. I see a man who helps others and makes huge sacrifices without anyone ever knowing. I see a man who is very intelligent, but also unpretentious, and kind, and real.
I know EJ’s faults and weaknesses, but also his pain. I know that more often than not, EJ needs loving support, not nagging or criticism. I know that “confrontation” doesn’t always mean angrily pointing out faults. It can be gentle, or it can take the form of prayer. I know that sometimes I have confronted EJ and discovered later that I was wrong. I am aware that EJ has to endure and forgive me for as many faults as I have to endure and forgive him for. Knowing this helps me “put up with” his faults and weaknesses…because he has to put up with mine. And what JJ didn’t know was that his Dad humbly apologized to me for the coats on the floor–and I didn’t have to say a word.
I am not my husband’s Holy Spirit or mother, but EJ and I are our son’s parents, and it is our role to teach and train him. We try to teach him to love God, be honest, be hard-working, be faithful, be compassionate, be respectful. It’s not easy to teach a strong-willed child. What JJ sees as “attack” is really correction given for his benefit because we love him. He doesn’t always see that many consequences are due to his own choices. For example, when he does his chores faithfully and well, he receives a “thank you” and “well done” instead of a “go back and do it the way we told you to….”
JJ is not aware (apparently) of how much I “serve” him. However, I serve EJ because I know how tired he gets and how much pain he endures. Also, EJ often serves me without complaint even though he is tired and in pain. EJ knows how to give and serve sacrificially. JJ needs to learn to serve others when it doesn’t benefit himself.
When he’s acting like a toddler, JJ sometimes acts as if it’s a burden to live with us, but what he doesn’t always understand is that he’s not always easy to live with either. And while he thinks his Dad is free to do wrong while he is not, what he doesn’t see is all the times we show him mercy, and compassion, and grace, and forgiveness for his “impossible” faults.
I wrote all this because it applies to everyone and not just teens. It’s really easy to make quick judgments based on incomplete knowledge, understanding, compassion, perception, and assumptions. I remember once, for example, when EJ parked close to the entrance at church. A woman chewed him out for not giving the parking space to someone who needed it more. What she didn’t know was that usually EJ parked far away so others could park in the closer spaces, but he was in physical agony that day, and he was the one who needed a close parking space.
It’s just something to think about…