Do you remember the day you brought your (now teenage) son or daughter home from the hospital? If it was your first child, maybe you (like me) assumed mastering feedings and getting that baby to sleep through the night would be the greatest challenges of your parenting career—maybe your whole life.
Obviously, the complex issues we face in the final years of parenting at home—the teenage years—make those early challenges look easy. What doesn’t change as they age, though, is our love for our grown children. Despite disrespect, poor choices, and/or general moodiness, deep down we still love our sons and daughters as much as the day we brought them home. We may just have to work a little harder at showing it when we receive fewer sweet, slobbery kisses and more irritated eye-rolls. Here are ten ways you can do just that.
1. Focus on How They Feel Loved
While we can each feel love in many different ways, most of us have one or two primary “love languages” (as coined by Gary Chapman): certain acts and attitudes that particularly fill our emotional buckets. Do you know what your teen’s are? Does he light up when you play hoops together? Does she cuddle up next to you on the couch?
We usually default to showing love in the way that we most feel loved. So be intentional to givelove in ways that target your teen’s heart.
2. Step Back in Time
Pull our your yearbook, those old tapes, and your dusty trophies. Make yourself remember what it was like be a teen. Were you hyper aware of how others viewed you? Did you do stupid stuff to fit in? Were you mean to your family even though you didn’t really want to be? Were you nervous about the future? Did you have any wrong ideas about faith or relationships?
Being a teen is hard—remember? Instead of focusing on all the growth that needs to take place, we show love to our teens when we empathize with the struggles they’re facing.
3. Ask Questions
Many of us make the mistake of assuming we already know our kids. We’ve witnessed their entire lives, after all. But do we know them—really know them—today?
Teens themselves are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. Their evolving personas require us to become master question-askers. What does he fear most? Who is your daughter’s closest friend, and why? What does he or she like most about themselves?
Don’t we ourselves feel valued when someone makes an effort to discover us? We show our teens love when we make an effort to get to know them—and then re-get to know them next week.
4. Free Them to Fail
Maybe it seems counter-intuitive to give more freedom to people whose minds are still developing, but how will our teens learn to be resilient and to take responsibility for their actions unless we allow them to mess up? Hovering over them (helicopter parenting), and/or mowing the field in front of them (lawn mower parenting) both do our intelligent children a disservice.
Freedom, in appropriate levels, is good for our kids, and the trust it takes to give it to them shows tremendous love too. So release control, and then allow them to face the consequences—good or bad—of their actions.
5. Fight Fair
The combination of hormones, desire for independence, and plain old sin means conflict in the teen years is just shy of inevitable. The good news is that we can actually use conflict show love to our teens.
The goal of any disagreement shouldn’t be to pound our “rightness” into our teen’s head, but to gain a better understanding of him or her—to hear and be heard. Fighting fair looks like:
- Keeping a cool head.
- Sticking to one issue at a time.
- Listening to genuinely understand.
- Calling a truce when necessary.
- Avoiding shaming, yelling, threatening, injuring, and withdrawing.
By the way, if we’re asking our teens to be masters of their emotions, then we had better be modeling it for them. Proverbs 17:27 says, “The intelligent person restrains his words, and one who keeps a cool head is a man of understanding.”
To bless someone is to speak words of life over them, to affirm and invoke God’s blessing on their lives. In our science-based culture “talking” doesn’t sound revolutionary, but words hold tremendous power!
Think about how many negative words and messages are spoken over your kids daily by the media, peers, advertisements, and their own negative self-talk. No wonder many teens feel inadequate, ugly, objectified, and even hopeless. What could happen if we made a point to speak life-giving, favor-invoking words over our teens? At the very least, they will know they are loved.
7. Believe the Best
We know our teen’s shortcomings, perhaps better than anyone. (Who else would know that he hasn’t showered in three days, or that her room looks like a war zone?) As such, we sometimes fall into the habit of assuming the worst behavior and outcomes. For example, we might go right into lecture mode instead of asking questions to get at the root of what really happened to make our teen late for curfew.
First Corinthians 13:4-7 reminds us that pure love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, never gives up hope, and always perseveres. We show our teens that we genuinely love them when we believe the best about them today, and about whom they will be in the future.
8. Take an Interest
You and I feel loved when someone genuinely wants to know more about us—our interests, talents, experiences, and dreams. Our teens are no different. Break free from the tyranny of the urgent and join your teen in doing something they enjoy doing. Read one of their books and then talk about it, take them to see one of their favorite bands, or ask them to show you their newest favorite app.
9. Give Grace
God has explained to us (His children) His framework for discipline (i.e., sin deserves death, Romans 6:23). That framework is exactly what makes His grace toward us so phenomenal and, to our point, shows us incredible love.
Where can we show our teens grace? As long as we have a framework for discipline, grace can be a powerful tool to show love. Do they owe you a debt you can forgive? Is there a punishment you can lesson? Remember to explain why you’re offering grace, reminding your teen that you are dependent on the grace God shows you too!
10. Make the Most
Go back one more time to the day you brought your teen home from the hospital for the first time. Didn’t it seem as if that baby in your arms would be small forever? Like those early years, the teen years might feel never-ending. But as a parent, you understand how quickly the calendar pages turn.
One thing is certain: Your teen won’t always be a teen. Apart from atypical circumstances, he or she won’t always live under your roof. Some of the resulting change will be positive, but some will leave you reminiscing about the “good old days.” Remembering the seasonal nature of parenting is one of the most loving things you can do, because it reminds us to make the most of today.
Adapted from Family by Jessie Minassian. Copyright © 2017. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.