Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Battle for the Heart of Your Teen

by Danetta Kellar @DanettaKellar

We had stepped around his dirty socks, wet towels, and discarded candy wrappers long enough. 

One day as I pulled out of the dirty laundry basket a stack of his clothing clean and still folded from the past week’s washing, I decided that the gentle, be-friends-with-my-teen approach was no longer effective. The whole family was increasingly bearing the responsibility that belonged to my teenage son, while his attitude toward us grew harder.

Around that time someone mentioned to me a woman who had trained her 8, 6, and 5 year-olds to do their own laundry. That’s harsh, I thought to myself. But on this day, suddenly, up to my elbows in clean clothes thrown carelessly in the dirty laundry bin for me to wash, that idea began to shine with sheer, brilliant wisdom.

Quietly and without lecturing I changed our system. I created a laundry bin for each child, labeled with his or her name. Knowing this was primarily for my teen, I also realized the pay-it-forward benefits this would have for my younger two children. I could imagine, as I daydreamed over the washing machine, the next two teenagers doing their own laundry without complaining, without mixing the darks and lights. A beautiful arrangement.

Morning one came and I gently explained to my teen his new chore. He glared at me as if I had ordered him to prison. Defiantly he refused to get up from his school work and pick up his dirty clothes which were strewn across three rooms of the house, announcing that he would do what he wanted to do. 

You must understand that I have painstakingly cultivated a gentle patience toward my children. Gentleness and patience have not come naturally for me, but I had the privilege of wonderful role models around me in my early parenting years, and I learned from them how to curb my natural inclination to give in to my ferocious red-headed temper. (I am a brunette among a family of red-heads, but I surely got the temper.) 

I pride myself on responding, instead of reacting. I am careful to make sure my children feel respected, understood, and heard. However, on this day, this Day of Pattern Change, there was no place for quiet subservience to a heart that had become hardened to responsibility and swollen with entitlement.

I loomed (yes, I towered, even grew taller) above him and with my best booming voice I demanded his respect. I was not angry. I commanded him to get up and face his responsibility and the underlying pattern of disrespect that was encroaching upon our good relationship and his future. 

Yes, I enforced my expectations of taking responsibility for himself upon this child, this one who is emerging into young adulthood but yet so much in need of guidance and coaching. 

And this boy who I have loved so long, since warm kisses on the back of a small fuzzy head, sweet toes pushing off tiny socks, the one who has been covered in mud from head to toe in an attempt to make himself dark like his African neighbors, the one who saved me once from a hurricane… this boy, he obeyed even though he did not want to. He got up, he picked up his own soiled laundry, he sorted it, he completed the task of putting it in the washing machine.

Sound elementary, trite? It is anything but. 

The small things, the mean tasks, the mundane responsibilities of life, are exactly where greatness is etched in the character of mankind. It is not in the great moments of history; they are but a culmination of a thousand little moments of inane obedience, of obeying even though we do not want to.

And a little slice of irony tucked right in there with my son’s discipline was the discipline of my own soul as well, being sharpened to obey even though I did not want to. To obey God’s command to train up my children, to teach them wisdom, consideration for others, responsibility. It had been somehow easier for months to just pick up his laundry for him. I hate confrontation. 

But today was my day of obedience and my son’s as well.

The laundry battle, the responsibility battle, will likely continue. I will still have to follow through, and so will my son. I will have to face him again and again as he struggles and resists. And I will likely have to tower over his hardened heart again.

But in the midst of this deeply challenging season called parenting teens, I see the sprouts of hope and promise. 

Obedience is a seed that promises greatness. As long as I see it, though it come with resistance, I will hope.

I won’t give up hope, and I pray you won’t either. I will continue to ask God for wisdom to know when to be gentle and when to tower over a hardened heart. In our children is the potential for greatness. May we help them see it and attain it. 

Later that day, while the second load of laundry swirled around quietly in the washing machine, we headed out for the coffee shop, homework in hand. Over white chocolate mochas we discussed Odysseus. The question was asked, “Have you had a time where you needed to “grow up” like Telemachus, Odysseus’s son, in order to protect your family?”

That green-eyed, braces-wearing, charmer of a boy of mine looked at me and said, without blinking, “I guess taking responsibility and doing my laundry… that’s growing up.”

I knew right then that we had come through the battle, not only unscathed, but bursting with hope for the future of this one’s character.

Some battles are worth it. Our children are certainly worth it.

They grow and we do too when we obey even when we don’t want to.

God, give us wisdom to know how to choose our battles.

What do you think are the most important battles to choose with your teen? Please join the conversation in the comments section below!


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