Most of us think adolescence ends at the age 18, but the American Medical Association has defined adolescence as going all the way to age 23. What used to be a period of seven years is now fourteen years! And for many parents reading this article, this means that your kids may come back home to live with you after college.
We set our kids in motion to live as independent adults, and like a boomerang they just come right back to where they started. Sometimes it happens for good reasons because of issues outside their control. But when a child wants to disengage from a normal growth opportunity and fails to establish their own independence, it’s a sign that emotional problems are in play.
It’s been great for Jan and me to be empty nesters. We love it. Oh, sure, I like it when the grandkids pop in with their parents, but it’s good when they leave, too. Gratefully both our son and daughter have established independent lives of their own.
But maybe you’re in a different place. Maybe you’re dealing with the boomerang effect. So let me offer some helpful perspective and a couple suggestions.
With Christmas just around the corner, you’re probably thinking about last-minute shopping or getting your final preparations done.
And then, maybe once those pressing to-do’s are complete, and Christmas is in the rear view mirror, you’ll have a few quiet moments to yourself when you can reflect. How was the year? What went well at home? What didn’t? What conversations, or conflicts, do I wish I could erase from the year? And what’s ahead in the new year?
There’s something about the Christmas season that puts us in a nostalgic reflective mood. It reminds us that God is with us. It gives us a sense of hope. But for many people, the holidays stir up all kinds of raw emotions that remind them of their weakness and loneliness.
Reflection Can Bring Pain
At Heartlight, Christmas is a time when we often see a new batch of kids arrive at our residential program. These kids are in pain. They have been dropped off by their parents and we often find these kids feeling a mix of anger and failure. Every family that we see at Heartlight is going through some kind of difficulty. Christmas is anything but merry to these people. They are in pain and don’t know where to turn. And so they have come to Heartlight for help.
When teens begin to act out and express their issues in rebellion and destructive behavior, it places incredible pressure on mom and dad. It’s a confusing and painful time for the entire family. Especially when we feel like we’ve done everything right. We’ve read all the books, followed all the guidelines for happy homes, and yet our kids are struggling and we can’t figure out why. And we say, Wait a minute! I’ve checked every box and done what I’m supposed to do. Why am I not happy? Why are my kids messed up?
Owning the Struggle
Allow yourself to struggle with these issues. Struggle isn’t a bad thing! It’s important for your kids (and for you) to live with the struggle for a while. Just because you’ve checked the boxes doesn’t make you a perfect parent. And you’re not going to be one despite your good intentions. All of us have fallen short in our parenting skills in some way. But you can learn to struggle well.
The struggle gives us the answers we need. Answers will eventually emerge from our confusion if we allow ourselves time to wrestle through the difficult issues. Instead of filling the holes in our lives with the latest fad on parenting, an oversimplified four-point outline, or shallow advice from well-meaning friends, we need to be okay with the void in our life until we realize that it can only be filled by a relationship with God.
Life is hard. It is a struggle. That’s the point. If we think that we filled the hole with something we did, like a clever parenting strategy or a one-size-fits-all program, then when it fails, we’ll think that we have failed.
The jigsaw pieces of your life will not always fit together like a scenic puzzle picture. If it does, and we think it does, then we’re on the wrong track. If there is something in your life that feels okay and perfect, then chances are you are filling the void with something that only God is supposed to fill.
Being With Our Teens in Their Struggle
Depression runs rampant this time of year. It’s odd that it’s the most joyful time of the year for us as Christians, but for many teens, it’s among the most painful. When the culture tells us it’s time to be joyful, we can disengage from sons and daughters who are in pain. When we disengage from our kids, we tell them that they aren’t worthy. They aren’t worthy of entering into the pain they’re feeling. They aren’t worthy of working through the problem with them. They aren’t worthy of the time it will take to engage with them. If we walk away from their struggle, we tell our teens that they are only good if they are being and feeling good. There’s something desperately wrong with that notion.
When we telegraph to our kids that they aren’t worthy of our attention, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Parents feels like they’re doing something wrong because their kids aren’t okay; the kids feel like they’re alone in the time when they need you the most. It’s not okay to tell people that everything is okay. Somewhere we’ve lost the perspective that it’s okay to not be okay.
Christmas: God’s Response to Our Struggle
When things aren’t okay, we are forced to look to God. That’s what Christmas is about. Parents, God sent His Son to fill that empty place inside of us. In the middle of the struggle, there are a lot of families who are having a wonderful time because of the hope of Christ. They know that God has given us something to bring these broken pieces together. Things aren’t always fixed this side of heaven, but we can have hope that the pieces will eventually come together.
Don’t let the sadness and frustrations of the year rob you of the celebration of what God is doing. Through the first Christmas, God offered His Son to be involved in our life. When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, God told us that He is with us, and He will always be with us. God is calling us to do the same with our kids.
The Bible helps us enter into the suffering of our family. There is a path, a way to find joy in the midst of our pain. That path is not what you might expect. That path is lament. Popular recording artist and Bible teacher Michael Card has done a lot of deep thinking about lament and what it’s like to sense this feeling of isolation and loneliness. You can hear my conversation with Michael on our radio program. Listen to Parenting Today’s Teens online, as a podcast, or find a radio station near you. All the information is found at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.
In the meantime, Merry Christmas, my friend. In the midst of our struggles this season, let’s keep our eyes on the One who was willing to walk among us. Through Christ, we can have hope because He controls our future!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.