4 Things I’ve Learned From Observing Parents
If you don't want insight into parenting from someone who isn't a parent then consider this a fair warning. I do have a cat that I’ve kept alive for 4 years. I also have a lot of kids in my life, including four awesome younger siblings, a niece, and two nephews who I let slide down my stairs in a cardboard box yesterday, and regularly talk me into getting them ice cream. I can't give perspective from one parent to another. What I can give you is the perspective of someone who spends time with teenagers and hears sometimes subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle clues about their relationship with you. I can give you the perspective of someone who has observed a lot of parents.
In order to learn from them, I pay special attention to the parents who have good relationships with their teen. I would describe a good relationship between parent and teenager as mutual respect, positive regard for one another, and a healthy process for handling conflict. I’m sure good relationships include a multitude of other factors, and I’m aware that what I witness and interpret as a good relationship might look differently at church settings than in the home. What I’m sharing here are things I’ve seen consistently in a handful of families over time.
Here is what I’ve observed, and some potential, hopefully practical, next steps to consider:
1. They don’t do it alone.
They ask for help, prayer, wisdom and insight. They give and receive support from others.
You are playing a divinely-appointed role. No one can be your child’s parent the way you can; you are irreplaceable. But, you’re not super-parent. I don’t mean that in a “you’re bad at this” kind of way. What I mean is that you probably don’t have all the answers, and you’ll probably never be able to execute flawless parenting. The hope that you ever could is rooted in a lie. The truth is that you were meant to do this in community.
As a parent, what is it you need? Do you need to be taught skills to control your anger? Do you need prayer for God to give you strength? Do you just need to talk to someone who understands? Your needs are valid, but those around you can’t read your thoughts or see into your family life to know what you need. It is your responsibility to ask for help.
Who can help meet this need? Is it another parent? Possibly someone who could benefit from a friend on their parenting journey? Is it a youth minister or another adult who interacts with your teen regularly? Is it a caring grandparent, young-at-heart type? Is it a counselor? Maybe it’s some combination of these.
Recognize your need, and persevere in searching for people who will walk alongside you.
2. They show themselves grace.
A lot of parents are really hard on themselves, but that rarely leads to productive change. Every parent has missteps, and your teen might point those out. But, if your value and security are in Jesus, then your shortcomings as a parent are opportunities for growth. Failure isn't doom, failure is learning. So give yourself grace, learn from it, and move forward.
Don’t loosen up on yourself and use grace as an excuse to keep dropping the ball in an area of your parenting that you know needs work. But, don’t be bullied by guilt into taking hard steps forward. Ask God and a few trusted others to help you take the next step. He will see you through making that decision, setting that boundary, or having that difficult conversation. Speaking of difficult conversations…
3. They have the difficult conversations.
As a teenager, the conversations I tried to strategically avoid, and resisted with heavy sighs, eye rolling, and sassiness were, in hindsight, some of the most meaningful and helpful long-term. It’s easy to talk about what’s for dinner, but it’s hard to talk about pornography. It’s easy to talk about college plans, but it’s hard to talk about doubting God.
If you aren’t giving your teenager guidance and coaching, I guarantee they are getting it somewhere else. Somewhere else may be google, it may be friends (the blind leading the blind), or best case scenario it may be their small group leader at church. You can play those odds, or you can take intentional steps to prepare for the subject matter, and then trust that God will use that difficult conversation to shape your teenager to become more Christ-like.
Spend time in prayer asking God to prepare you with wisdom for the conversation. Do your part to gain wisdom by reading up on the subject matter, and ask someone who is a few steps ahead of you for insight.
4. They seek to listen, understand, and know their kids.
They know things about them, like who their best friends are and what they’ve been watching on Netflix. But, they also seek to really know them. Like, what drives them, what makes them belly laugh, their spiritual health, and what kind of character they have. Your teen probably won’t know how to answer if you ask them how they’re growing spiritually, but if you’re looking and listening, they will show you.
Grow in awareness; provide opportunities for your teen to share their thoughts, ask clarifying questions if there’s something you want to know more about (i.e. “What do you mean when you say that?”), and listen well when your teen talks.
What would you add to the list?