When Your Baby Becomes A Teen, And You Need To Give Them Some Slack

Lately, my oldest son as taken on the household chore of helping me dry and put away the dishes. As I stood next to my 12-year-old son, Oliver, I glanced sideways only to discover that he is nearly taller than me. I don’t know why I hadn’t realized this before! I’ve probably been in denial! One thing is certain; my baby has become a teen!

Oliver is about to enter the sixth grade—the exact age and grade level I started my teaching career with over twenty years ago now. Back when I taught middle school, I remember having to wear high heels so I could stand just a tad taller than my students. When I transitioned to high school, there was no hope for my 5’5” frame as most of my students towered over me—5 inch heels didn’t help me.

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After nearly 10 years teaching teenagers, I couldn’t wait to have my own family and see them enter this chapter of life as a teen. I’ve always felt that teenagers get a bad rap. Parents would often come to me, befuddled, by their teenagers behavior.

Why is my son not turning in his homework again?

Why is my daughter always on the phone?

Why doesn’t my child want me to drop them off down the block instead in front of the school?

Whey does my teen talk to his friends online at midnight?

When our kids are young, we can easily track their development. We all notice when they take their first steps or learn how to swim. We see their growth right in front of our eyes. But when our kids developmental changes happen under the surface, we don’t track with them as easily.

The maturing process catches us off guard. We are used to being involved in every aspect of their lives. Suddenly, they begin making choices for themselves. When those choices seem to land outside of what we do, or what we thought we trained them to do, we struggle. When they are little, we can direct them, shield them, and point them in the right direction. Letting them make their own, sometimes poor choices, goes against our instincts. Even just accepting that they don’t always want to be with mom and dad as much, can sting.

In 1 Peter 1:2-3 (NIV), we see a parallel of the maturing process spiritually:

”Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

We spoon-feed our kids when they are young, but when they are older, they will taste food for themselves. They will discover what they like. What the don’t. Spiritually speaking, they will also make choices for their own personal relationship with the Lord. I venture to say that if we want our kids to work out their faith, we need to chill out on letting them also work out other areas of their lives—like how often they should wash their clothes or how much time they spend on the phone.

I’m not suggesting we are hands off, but slackening the rope to learn by experience and trial and error, is a healthy approach with our tweens and teens. It’s far better for them to learn that staying up all night before a test is not a good idea while they are in high school and the stakes are fairly low, than when they are in college before a midterm exam or on the job and responsible for a major presentation.

It may very well be the hardest chapter as a parent to let our kids explore their independence, but I have often found that it can also be an amazing and positive chapter. Our babies will always be our babies in our hearts, but let’s be mindful that they are ultimately God’s children whom He has designed to grow and set off to accomplish the things He has prepared for them to do. I for one do not want to stand in the way of God’s process of maturing my kids by holding them back because of my own personal desires.

Oliver is becoming the kind of young man I prayed he would become when I nuzzled his sweet little head as an infant. I’m grateful. Still, I know that in his immaturity, he won’t always land on his feet. He knows that when he stumbles, I’ll be there, ready to offer love and advice, and then encourage him to step back out into the world. And more so, to remind him that His Heavenly Father is always with him, even when I am not. For now, I’m cherishing these moments drying dishes together and breathing life into his heart. I’m also committed to believing the best about him, offering him opportunities to prove his responsibility, and giving him the support he needs to pursue his passions.

Being proactive in ushering them toward independence instead of reactive when they seek it out for themselves keeps our relationships intact and healthy. Understanding that our kids are approaching adulthood, and that doesn’t mean our relationship is ending, simply shifting, helps me embrace this next chapter. So let’s slacken the rope and find freedom to enjoy every age and stage of parenting.

YOUR TURN: How can you demonstrate that you believe the best about your tween or teen? What are some lessons you have learned in this parenting chapter?