When my children were young, I swore that when they became teenagers we would not face the typical challenges parents and teenagers face. I naively believed that if I just laid the right foundation in the early years, the teen years would be smooth sailing. Foolish pride.
I would still argue that laying a good foundation in the early years will make a huge difference in the teen years. But now that I have my first teenager, I see how simplistic I was to believe that all the challenges of teenagers could be avoided by good parenting in early life. Of course, I must also admit that I could not write the book on parenting in those years. I certainly made my share of mistakes and failed more than once as a father. But I don't think I was a complete and total failure.
Now, several months into my first year parenting a teenager, I understand much better that teens really are different creatures. You have to interact with them differently. The little girl I knew is becoming someone new. It is not an easy process for her or for me. But it is a necessary process. She must grow and mature. Occasionally I still hear of parents who claim their teens are practically perfect and that their relationship with their teen is ideal and blissful. I confess that I am skeptical. I think that some parents have better relationships with their teen than others and that there are certain things we can do as parents to enhance that relationship. But I also believe that there is something in the process of a child beginning to establish his or her independent identity that creates an inherent tension and struggle between parent and child. This underlies the agony of the teen years. Of course I still have a lot to learn, since I'm only several months into this period. But my illusions of coasting blissfully through this time have certainly been shattered--and for the better.
Having said all that, I must also add that I really have much to be thankful in my teen and pre-teen. Yes, they have their weaknesses and sometimes they absolutely make me crazy. Some days I want nothing more than to disown them. But in my more rational, calm moments I realize that I could have much worse children. I don't worry about them getting involved in drugs or other activities that would seriously harm their lives. I don't spend my nights wondering where they are or what they are doing. They still enjoy spending time with me and my wife--at least occasionally! I do worry about them, but at the same time my worries are not without hope and the confident belief that their lives are in God's hands. This doesn't absolve me of my parental responsibilities, but it does give me a peace when I see my own failures and imperfections as a parent.
No, these teenage years will not be trouble-free. But I don't think they have to be completely horrible either. They will be messy, just like the rest of life. I hope and pray I can enjoy the journey, trusting in my God to bring us all through stronger, wiser and closer to one another and to him.