Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Peace Pickle: A Tale of How My Parenting is Changing Along with my Teenager

The Shower Wars have begun. 
What happened to those calm, evening bubble baths with toys? My little boys have suddenly turned into little men, demanding I-must-have-a-shower-in-the-morning-so-my-hair-will-be-perfect. Forget the challenges of geometry class or research papers, the battle for who gets to shower first in the morning is concern number one this school year. 

I want to sit down and mourn the passing of the sweet childhood bath ritual, but I am too busy trying to find my bearings in this new business of raising teens.

Only God can truly see our hearts, but there are times in my mothering that I am almost sure I can actually see meanness enter into my child’s heart. It may be a moment like this morning, when one chose to defy another and jump in the shower ahead of him after being expressly told not to. For a tween, being locked out of the bathroom by your teenage brother and made to wait in humiliation, is torment. 

The result of this little moment of rebellion, of I-want-what-I-want, was War that reached into the rest of our day, seeping like poison into every attitude of every member of the family.
My compulsion was to restore order, to restore relationship, by force. He. will. say. sorry. 

However, order and relationship restored by force is no order, no relationship at all. Instead, it results in destruction, distance, and harder hearts, especially with our teens.

After my attempt to force-fix my teen’s heart, he built a wall higher than the Empire State Building, and shut it tight. There was no sign of regret for what he had caused; rather there was satisfaction and triumph splashed across his face. We drove to school in silence. 

I was acutely aware that I had no power to convict my son’s heart nor to change it. I needed God’s help, and so did my child.

My old ways of doing things just seem like stale bread now that needs to be thrown out. The child I used to look down at and make him hug and forgive just looks down at me now like I have two heads. If he looks at me at all in a moment of conflict.

The boy who once showed great compassion for a turtle found on the road is growing into a young man who is learning to show compassion for his younger brother, albeit often  with reluctance. He is changing, and the parenting methods I once utilized with success need to change with him. They are no longer as relevant, as effective, as they once were. 

Deep in my gut I know that the days of simple training are over. Now it's game on. My son against the press of the world's defense, and he is battling his way down the court armed with the truth we have given him. I have become a coach, encouraging, exhorting, correcting his use of the skills he has already been taught and must now learn how to use wisely. 

Somehow, I must now pass on the responsibility for heart-search to this young man. He must take on the role which I have so long performed for him, guiding him, that art of bringing one’s heart to God and allowing Him to change it.

My yelling, my anger, my frustration, could not facilitate this process. As I prayed, I could hear the words of Proverbs instructing my heart. Patience, they whispered. A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. (19:11)

OVERLOOK? YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING!!!! This conversation was going on loudly, but inside my hot head. It had become an all-out, one-sided, shouting match, me shouting, God whispering and waiting. Being patient with me. Waiting for me to get what He was trying to tell me. 

Parenting me so I could parent my son.

I decided to shut up. No lecture, no Biblical exposition of Scripture proving that my son was wrong and needed to repent. 

I just shut up.

Can this work? I wondered. Can I just trust God to show my child his heart and soften it? Can God speak to my children without my mouth?

Throughout the morning, small jabs continued, eyes rolled, body language disallowed my presence. I continued to be kind, to refrain from lecturing. I was silent, waiting for God to do what I could not.

By noon, we were nearing a record for the Silent Treatment. I hunkered down for the long-haul and began mentally making a back-up plan of privileges I could remove from him if he continued this attitude at home after school.

Glorious, sunshiny lunchtime came none too soon. Forgetting his state of War momentarily, he asked me to sit with him outside. It was after we sat down and opened our lunches that we saw the pickle.

God may use anything He pleases to teach us a lesson. Today He used a pickle. Sour, green, and a bit bumpy, I guess it is a fitting symbol of the condition of both our hearts when conflict arises and we are mad as bulls. 

Slimy and encased in plastic, the pickle sat right on top of my deli sandwich. I put it aside and dove into my turkey wrap, oblivious to the melting glacier sitting beside me. Little by little, my son began to talk. Thawing out like Mount Everest, he talked about school, talked about ants, talked about the day he rescued me from an ant hill in Africa. 

I had waited silently so long, God had quieted my heart and I had forgotten to be mad at him.

Looking at me with his laughing deep green eyes, those eyes I have rejoiced in since I first held him in my arms as a tiny baby, that man-voiced-teenager asked me, “Can I have your pickle?”

I paused, and remembered. He was mad at me! He’s not now! He is smiling! He is sorry! His heart has softened.

“Can it be a peace pickle?” I asked. 

His face splitting into a wide grin, he replied with a laugh, “Sure it can”. And then came the gift. He leaned in, that teenager of mine, and hugged me big and man-strong.

Forgiveness mingled with repentance washed over both of us like a sudden afternoon shower while the sun shines. 

That Empire State Building wall had dissolved, and God did what I could not do.

I think I did see my son’s heart pretty clearly in that moment. It had forgotten to be angry just like mine had. The War was over, and both our hearts were soft again. 

Some days I think the book of Proverbs was written for parents and their teenagers. Here are a few juicy, possibly painful, examples. I’ll let you decide whether each applies to the parent or the teen, or both, depending on the moment.

A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating. (18:6)

A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. (17:27)

The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. (12:15)

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (12:18)

The only heart we can really control, parents, is our own. 

We cannot convict or change the hearts of our children. We can certainly train them, influence them, encourage, and strengthen them. But we cannot take a heart hardened by rebellion and make it soft. We cannot create a self-controlled heart nor a listening spirit. Just look into the defiant eyes of your teenager the next time she or he challenges your authority and you will realize how powerless over the heart you really are.

Good conflict resolution always begins with doing what we can do, and that is bring our own hearts to God for examination. 

Stepping back for a moment, silencing our emotions, listening for God’s instruction, will change us. And we will be able to wait for the change in our child that only God can bring. This practice is relevant for every parent, no matter where he or she is on the journey of personal faith or parenting.

We both, teen and parent, need our hearts to be changed, every day. 

In the process, our parenting will change along with our changing teenager. 

Have you a tale of conflict resolved like the Peace Pickle? I would so love to hear it in the comments section below. 

Permission granted by said teen to share this story. Note to parents: Don’t embarrass your teen in the name of helping others!


The only heart we can really control, parents, is our own. (Click to Tweet)

Teens aren't the only ones changing. Our parenting needs to change with them. (Click to Tweet)

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