I so enjoyed talking and getting to know many of you precious Canadian moms in Hamilton last weekend. I hope now that you are home from the conference, your minds are still fresh with ideas, input and encouragement for your home! Sometimes when I idealize away from home and then return, I have to work a little to remember just what it was I was thinking about implementing when I got home in the midst of the fray. A number of moms asked me about how to reach and motivate their little ones and especially how to keep the heart of preteens and teens when they start drifting away. I had at least 5 or 6 conversations in private about these issues as well as several emails when I got home. I thought I would just answer these questions on my blog instead of email so that if you are in the same boat, you might also be encouraged. I have definitely not been a perfect mom, but Clay and I have learned so much and see so much of His grace to keep us going along the way. I truly love my children as best friends and companions and though so many days were irritating, the fruit of remaining under the load of these years, cultivating patience, has paid off so much more than we could have imagined!
I think it is of the utmost importance to focus on the heart of every child--not on their behavior! There is a reason that God uses heart over 800 times in scripture--guard your heart; love with your heart; the Lord looks at the heart; man commits sin in their heart; etc.
Every child has a different personality and different capacities and abilities. If we really believe we are supposed to study our children and seek to release the passions and personality and drives of their hearts so that they can pursue God's call on their lives, we will seek to be winsome, gracious, life-giving, encouraging. If behavior in their lives is our only focus, then when they are young, because we are bigger than them, we can force them to submit to us through pain or force, but we can do this and lose their heart to love and obey and have joy in following our wishes.
If, when your children are young, in the midst of training them and holding up God's ideals, you also serve them and love them unconditionally, then you will be laying a foundation for them to be willing to listen to you when they are older--preteens and teens who are beginning to pull away.
There is a mysterious point when your children (all of mine have) will no longer be a child who wants to be "mommied", but turns away toward the process of becoming an adult. No amount of seeking to retrieve the innocent years will make this new phase go away. Suddenly, it is God's time for our children to begin growing up! Until that time, there is a window of opportunity to pour in foundations of morality, truth, values, habits, character, but then, suddenly, your whole relationship with your children will hit and you know that there will be a detour ahead--a different route to go!
You want your children to grow up and move toward becoming a healthy adult. What are the symptoms? For boys and girls, there will be more frustration and tears over seemingly small issues--moodiness and attitudes that you didn't see before! "I want to do it myself." "Oh, I don't have anything to wear. I am so ugly." This is all a sign of hormones surging--it is not about how good of a mother you are, but about your children growing up. I have learned some things over the years that have helped give me entrance to their hearts.
1. Remember a gentle answer turns away wrath, as it says so well in Proverbs. I think that if we could see a ledger of how high emotions surged, we would definitely have more compassion. Sarah, who has always been a jewel of a child, (and still is!) had lots of tears--even over things as simple as "Please empty the dishwasher." She was never rebellious overtly, but everything in her life was magnified--each event was exaggerated through her new emotions. Joel, also easy going, had more attitudes and frustration seemingly out of the blue. Nate went full fledged into more extreme emotions and some anger expressed. I feel so blessed to have seen all of the kids mature into wonderful adults and I feel so close to them.
But if you find yourself in the stages of new hormones and feelings expressed through your children, now, for a moment, ask yourself the question, "When I am having a bout with hormones and anger or rage or emotions come upon me with no warning, how do I want others to behave towards me? I want them to treat me gently and to give me grace, understanding that it is not my real self. And so my teens want this from me! Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
2. Recognize that the most important desire of most teens is to be liked and desirable to kids their own age. This is not bad, it is normal. We want our children to want friends and to begin being attracted to the opposite sex! It means they are healthy and preparing for marriage. To react to them in fear and harshness is not godly. We may have fearful feelings, but our children don't want us to react to them in harshness and fear of what they might do. They are straining towards us learning to trust them and to understand them. Though they don't always talk about it, kids want to have someone safe like us to tell their deepest feelings to. If we have kept their relationship strong throughout elementary years, we will have a foundation to continue building on during the teen years.
During this phase, it is more important to hold their heart in respect and gently, than it is at this time to choose treat them as small children and to focus on their failures. There are bigger issues at hand---more temptation and pull toward the culture and other teens--even "Christian" teens who don't have any of our values.
It is about this time of life when I begin making regular effort to take my children out for a date alone occasionally. Afterall, I remember that Jesus gently talked to Peter at a dinner that he served the very night when he would fall away--and it was at a breakfast when he reinstated Peter to "feed His sheep." Food and personal time open the heart to instruction. I have the opportunity, then, to share a passage from scripture, a warning of some issues I see in lives of their friends. I try to avoid approaching them to produce guilt (unless they are in rebellion or sinning blatantly). But I keep painting God's purposes for them as young men and young women in a winsome way--"You are such a treasure. I see you making good decisions. I think God has a real purpose for your life." I know that deep inside, all of us long to fulfill God's purpose as a drive. We want to feel that we are a part of something greater--His kingdom--it is what we were created for! I tell them of my trust in them, my belief that God will use them as a light--it gives them something to live up to!
If my daughter likes clothes, I take her out to buy a t-shirt and then for a treat. I take my boys out for breakfast or for coffee. I always try to set a stage of love and acceptance. It gives me entrance into their hearts. (Sometimes these dates take place in my bedroom or out on our porch--just away from the others."
I look at John to see what Jesus said about his own disciples. In John 17, Jesus said in the high priestly prayer, "While I was with them (the disciples) I was keeping them in thy name which though hast given to me.; and I guarded them, and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled."
I have realized that keeping them in His name means staying close to them, praying for them, being available for them--even at all odd times, so that when they want to talk (usually late at night--especially during back scratches or back rubs--that I need to be there, so that when they find themselves in any trouble temptation or danger, our personal time is already established. My children have a habit of telling us everything--everything! But this way, we don't doubt where they are or what they are doing, because we know they will tell us.
It is so tempting during these years to tire of these pushy and sometimes irritating kids, but don't stop! Don't give up and especially don't hand them over, in your weariness, to this culture. Avoid deciding that going to public school is a good option--just because you are weary. Polish your ideals and get back on track--have a rest if you want, but this is not a time to give up! The stakes are high as to what kind of scars will be made on their lives if you don't hang in there. Don't battle the small issues (taste in music) but make your battle grounds the things that really matter (morality, loving God, drugs, alcohol, bad companions.) Do what you can to take them on trips or to give them bigger arenas or jobs or make your home the place of fun--movie nights, dinners, parties.
All of this, of course, comes at a big cost-- To be this way, it costs us what it cost Jesus--everything!
I PREVIOUSLY HAD A GREAT QUOTE HERE FROM ANOTHER AUTHOR, HOWEVER, SINCE CLAY AND I DON'T SUBSCRIBE TO MOST OF HIS WRITING OR PHILOSOPHY, I REMOVED IT TO PREVENT CONFUSION. BUT I WILL JUST QUICKLY REWORD WHAT HE SAID THAT I LIKED TO GIVE THE SAME IDEA.
To follow Jesus, we must carry our cross. We must give up our lives, die to ourselves--our expectations, dreams, rights, in order to be surrendered to His kingdom and His work. This goes against the world and is not understood. To serve in this worthy battle, we must be singleminded as all good soldiers must be in a war--and give for this short time to everything that will focus on our end goal--to redeem, to win spiritual battles, to work hard, to not lose heart and to take courage and stay faithful. We are not of this world, but waiting for a time when we will spend eternity with Jesus in heaven. Therefore, we must prepare our children for this and model to them the type of sacrifice it requires from Jesus's followers to engage in the battle and to be a part of winning the war. Serving in love is the bottom line, even if it costs us our lives.
Moms, God is calling us to a work that is quite important--He will give us the strength and supply us with wisdom one day at a time. He will listen to our prayers. But most of all, we have to be willing to bend over backwards to meet needs and to encourage and to figure out a new game plan, because we are His guard in a fallen, tempting world; we are His hands and words of comfort and wisdom; and we are His voice to tell our children that we love them and believe in them, even in the midst of their immaturity. May He give grace to each of you today!