My husband, Gene, had given our daughter Katie permission to go to a friend's home. Later in the day, something didn't seem right, so Gene called the friend's house and asked to talk to Katie. He soon realized that Katie was not at her friend's house. And that's when I got the call declaring, "Katie's gone!"
Katie returned home that evening. Her story of going to a friend's house was a sneaky cover to see a boy we did not approve of. And it would only be the beginning of her stories.
The more Gene and I urged Katie to stay away from bad influences, the more she was driven to do the opposite. We tried reasoning with her. We tried defining safe and healthy boundaries. Nothing worked. We wondered if we were doing something wrong or maybe not doing enough things right. We vacillated between feeling angry and feeling inadequate — between feeling impatient and simply feeling embarrassed.
The truth is that we were not alone — I've since spoken with many parents who shared that their kids also made decisions they didn't agree with.
Katie's rebellion played out in many situations, so I understand that a teen's resistance can be both hurtful and frightening for parents. And because parents of "good kids" don't discuss the issue of rebellion, struggling parents often wrestle with embarrassment — and pain.
Making necessary changes
Once Gene and I acknowledged that Katie's rebellious attitude and actions would be our new normal, we knew we had to parent differently. If we were going to have a relationship with our daughter, we needed to adjust our parenting to focus on building relationship instead of simply enforcing rules. We couldn't throw the rules out, but our first priority had to be building a bridge to Katie that would transcend this difficult season of her life. Here are a few "bricks" that helped us build that bridge. Perhaps they will help you as well:
- Don't take the bait. Our kids know how to push our buttons. When your teen tries to elicit a reaction from you, ignore the challenge.
- Stay involved. Take an interest in your teen's life. I'm not talking helicopter-parent kind of involvement, but parenting that asks about friends and interests.
- Be available. As much as possible, be home when your teen is home. You'll get to know your teen better, and you'll be there when she needs to de-stress.
- Speak love. Does your teen respond to words of affirmation, time together, small gifts or a hug? Discover what speaks love to your child and then speak it often.
- Be real. Whatever your interest, involve your teen so she can get to know you as a person, not just as a parent.
- Never say, "I told you so." No one, at any age, wants to hear this.
Non-negotiables and relationship priorities
Gene and I discussed and defined our non-negotiable principles. This was a short list focusing on respect, safety and honoring God. Our goal was to keep our house a safe haven for the whole family.
Next, Gene and I adjusted our boundaries to allow Katie room to be herself with fewer rules to rebel against. One boundary we redefined had to do with the neatness of her room. Katie is an artist, and tidiness suffocates her creativity. We agreed that she was responsible to do her part of the weekly housecleaning, but she could have control over her personal space.
Even with these changes, Katie's teen years remained a challenge. An older, wiser mom reassured me, "This isn't the last chapter." Recognizing that we're all a work in progress, Gene and I adopted the motto, "It is what it is." That mindset led us to move on — enjoying life and choosing not to let one family relationship affect our marriage or our relationships with our other kids.
As you come to terms with your own "It is what it is," acknowledge and accept what your teen is struggling with. Your teen will always need your love and relationship, but there are areas in which a godly counselor or mentor can help unravel the knotted thoughts in her mind. Don't hesitate to get the professional help your teen may need as she struggles with anger, depression, addictions, bullying or any illegal activity.
I've found that when it comes to teens, relationship is more important than being right or avoiding embarrassment. Relationship says, "I love you no matter what." Through our struggles with Katie, Gene and I have learned that without relationship, we have nothing — no influence and no opportunity to hold open the door to God for our kids. And isn't that open door to the Savior what parenting is really all about?Brenda Garrison is the author of Love No Matter What: When your kids make decisions you don't agree with.