"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 Will she become more withdrawn?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.
For every fearful peek into the future, I wish I had looked to Christ instead. For each imaginary trouble conjured up, I wish I had recalled the specific, unfailing faithfulness of God. In place of dismay and dread, I wish I had exhibited hope and joy. I wish I had approached mothering like the preacher Charles Spurgeon approached his job: "forecasting victory, not foreboding defeat."3
What mothering failures have you predicted lately? What fears about your daughter lurk around the edges of your mind? Do you assume that your relationship with your daughter will only get worse? Are you anxious about your responsibility to teach her the language of biblical womanhood?
As women, aren't we all vulnerable to fear, worry, and anxiety? And few areas tempt us more than mothering. But faith must dictate our mothering, not fear. Faith, as it says in Hebrews, is the "assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).
Faith toward God is the foundation of effective mothering. Did you catch that? Here it is again: Faith toward God is the foundation of effective mothering. Success as a mother doesn't begin with hard work or sound principles or consistent discipline (as necessary as these are). It begins with God: His character, His faithfulness, His promises, His sovereignty. And as our understanding of these truths increases, so will our faith for mothering. You see, it is relatively easy to implement new practices in parenting. But if our practices (no matter how useful) aren't motivated by faith, they will be fruitless.
The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Fear is sin. And as my husband has often graciously reminded me—God is not sympathetic to my unbelief. Why? Because fear, worry, and unbelief say to God that we don't really believe He is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Ps. 86:15). We are calling God a liar.
But What if Family Life Really Does Get Ugly?
Even in the most trying situations with our daughters, we have much more incentive to trust than to fear, much more cause for peace and joy than despair. That's because, as Christians, we have the hope of the gospel.
The gospel begins with some bad news. It confirms the fact that we are all sinful, rebellious creatures. Rebellion is not unique to modern teenagers. In Psalm 51, King David laments, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (v. 5).
But the gospel doesn't leave us with bad news. The message of the gospel is that Jesus Christ has come to save rebellious sinners: mothers and daughters. He lived a perfect, rebellion-free life, fully submitted to His Father, and died a cruel death as our substitute. Then He rose from the dead and is seated now at the right hand of God, the Father.
The truth of Christ's life, death, and resurrection is our hope as mothers. The power of the gospel means that teenage rebellion is not inevitable. Tedd Tripp concurs:
You have reason for hope as parents who desire to see your children have faith. The hope is in the power of the gospel. The gospel is suited to the human condition. The gospel is attractive. God has already shown great mercy to your children. He has given them a place of rich privilege. He has placed them in a home where they have heard His truth. They have seen the transforming power of grace in the lives of His people. Your prayer and expectation is that the gospel will overcome their resistance as it has yours.4
The gospel message should provide us with tremendous heart-strengthening, soul-encouraging hope: Jesus Christ is "mighty to save" (Isa. 63:1). This should kindle zeal to share the truth of the gospel with our daughters.
Perhaps your home is a place of peace and tranquility, your fears as insignificant as gnats to swat away. Or maybe trials are washing over you like relentless waves. Your anxieties are consuming and overwhelming. They rob you of sleep and plague your waking hours. But no matter the size or the shape of your fears, may I encourage you to take them to the foot of the cross? The gospel isn't an out-of-date message; it is the good news of a saving God who is "a very present help in trouble" (Ps. 46:1). So repent from worry and put your trust in the glorious gospel.
My husband has a Charles Spurgeon quotation as his screensaver, which we would do well to have running across the screen of our minds: "As for His failing you, never dream of it—hate the thought. The God who has been sufficient until now, should be trusted to the end."5 So let our mothering forecast be one of victory and not of defeat. We have the hope of the gospel in our souls.
1. Elisabeth Elliot, The Shaping of a Christian Family (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Fleming H. Revell, a division of Baker Book House, 1992), 180-181.
2. Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child's Heart (Wapwallopen, Pa.: Shepherd Press, 1995), 200.
3. Eric W. Hayden, Highlights in the Life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, chapter 52 from the C. H. Spurgeon Collection, version 2.0 (Rio, Wis.: AGES Software, 2001), quoted in Steve Miller, C. H. Spurgeon on Spiritual Leadership (Chicag Moody Publishers, 2003), 38.
4. Tripp, Shepherding a Child's Heart, 200.
5. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Morning and Evening (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), 128.
This column is part of an ongoing series on Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood. Click here for last month's installment.
Carolyn Mahaney is a wife, mother, homemaker, and the author of Feminine Appeal: Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother, and Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood. During her more than 30 years as a pastor's wife, Carolyn has spoken to women in many churches and conferences, including those of Sovereign Grace Ministries, which her husband, C.J., leads. C.J. and Carolyn have three married daughters and one teenage son, Chad.
Nicole Mahaney Whitacre is the oldest daughter of C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney, as well as a wife, mother, and homemaker. She assisted her mother with Feminine Appeal, and is the co-author of Girl Talk. Nicole and her husband, Steve, have one son, Jack.
Carolyn and her three daughters keep a weblog for women in all seasons of life, also entitled "Girl Talk."
This column was adapted for Crosswalk from Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood (Crossway 2005) by Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Mahaney Whitacre © 2005 (Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.gnpcb.org.)