"So tell me about your family," the man said, turning his attention to me. C. J. and I were having breakfast with a prominent Christian leader. "How old are your daughters, did you say?"
"Six, ten, and eleven," I replied.
"Ah," he said, leaning back in his chair with a smile. "Those are delightful ages. They still think Mommy and Daddy are the most wonderful people in the world. But all that changes when the teenage years come."
My breakfast—not to mention my day—was spoiled. That sense of dread at the approach of my daughters' teenage years, always nipping at the edges of my imagination, played out once again in panoramic view: the little hints of trouble, the minor instances of disobedience—where would it all lead? Nicole has been disrespectful lately. Is this the first sign of full-fledged rebellion? Sometimes Kristin is so quiet. Will she become more withdrawn? Janelle's mischievous streak could mean real trouble in a few years. Things will probably get worse and worse, and soon my daughters won't even like me anymore. What can I do to stop this from happening?
"What are your daughters' names?" The benign question jolted me back to reality. I managed to stammer a response, and the conversation moved on. But the gnawing feeling in my stomach remained.
Everything I'd ever heard about parenting teenagers was negative and alarming. This man, although well-intentioned, had only confirmed these fears in my mind. Our culture simply assumes that the teenage years are a time of rebellion against parental authority, as if biological change triggers an inevitable sinful reaction. But as respected author Elisabeth Elliot points out, it wasn't always this way. She says of herself and her siblings:
We never were teenagers. I can't help being very thankful that the term had not been thought of in my day. I think it spared us some silliness and some real pain. It has become an accepted label for a stage in life usually dreaded by parents and relished by children as a time when anything goes. But this is an invention of modern times and affluent societies. . . . We were not taught to expect a stage of chaos and rebellion. Some prophecies are self-fulfilling. If they're never heard, they never happen.1
Tedd Tripp, author of Shepherding a Child's Heart, is of the same opinion. He writes:
Most books written about teenagers presume rebellion or at least testing the limits of parental control. My assumption is the opposite. My assumption is that you have carried out your parenting task with integrity and that your children, in the words of Titus 1:6, "are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient."2
The ghosts of my mothering future never materialized. I don't mean to say that there weren't difficulties to work through and challenges to overcome. But, by God's mercy, strife and upheaval didn't overshadow the whole of my daughters' teenage experience. Nicole, Kristin, Janelle, and I only grew closer during their teenage years, and the all-out rebellion I had braced for didn't erupt. However, perplexing and discouraging moments inevitably arrived, and far too often I responded in fear.
Parenting in Fear - a Common Mistake
Several years ago C. J. and I, along with Nicole and Janelle (Kristin was living in Chicago at the time), were interviewed at a parents' meeting at our church. The moderator asked C. J. and me, "If you could parent your daughters all over again, what would you do differently?" It was not a tough question. While I am aware of numerous ways I would want to be a better mom, one thing stands out far ahead of the rest.
I wish I had trusted God more.