When you held your newborn child in your arms, you wondered how you could ever stop loving this bundle of joy. She looked so adorable. He was so innocent. Maybe you even made an inner commitment that you would never raise your voice, never react in anger, and always speak with compassion. But even the best intentions can be tested when your sweet child grows up into a frustrating, exasperating teenager.
The unique relationship between parent and teen stretches the commitment to unconditional love and pushes the boundaries of a mom and dad’s patience. When your kid pulls a foolish stunt, misbehaves, or makes mistakes that tempt you to lock them in their rooms until they turn thirty, responding in love can be a challenge. It’s tough to deal kindly with a troubled teen when all you want to do is kill ‘em!
So how can a mom or dad love their kid even when they don’t feel like it? It helps to start with an understanding of some of the roadblocks in the way.
Three Reasons Love is Hard
One of the reasons that loving the wayward teen can be tough lies in our own insecurities. We don’t want to seem weak or soft. Perhaps we need our kids to feel a little of the pain they are causing us. Or maybe we think we just can’t love a teen when they least deserve it.
All of these anxieties may prevent us from moving forward in our relationship with our child. If you have felt this way, you’re not alone! Every parent wrestles with these insecurities. But loving our kid when they least deserve it doesn’t make us feeble, ineffectual, or lenient. It clearly demonstrates to our kids that even at their worst, we still care about them.
If we teach our children that God will never leave us or forsake us, we invalidate that very message when we withhold love because of something they did. Instead we should practice what we preach by showing our child that nothing they do could make us love them more, and nothing they do could make us love them less. This commitment to the relationship provides troubled teens with relief and security that truly does change behavior.
One of the girls who stayed with us at Heartlight was particularly adept at pushing the buttons of counselors and staff members. Frustrated one night, I broke down and asked, “What do you want from me?” She looked at me with tears in her eyes, “I want you to love me the most when I deserve it the least.” That statement shook me up and opened my eyes to the overwhelming need kids have for unconditional love, especially when it’s difficult.
The second reason we struggle with loving our kids is that sometimes they fail to meet our expectations. It happens when your dreams of having a world-class swimmer are dashed when your daughter flounders in the pool like a sick seal. Or when the image of you and your son working on the car together fades when he tells you he doesn’t like mechanical work.
It can be an even bigger struggle when our children’s mistakes nullify our expectations. When my son called to tell me he was having an affair and divorcing his wife, I was crushed. I had a picture in my mind that my children would all have happy, successful marriages. Well, with one phone call, that hope was trampled. In that moment, loving my son was the farthest thing from my mind. Instead, I wanted to go over there and shake some sense into him!
But then I remembered God’s unconditional love for me. I have failed to meet God’s expectations many times, yet I’m so thankful that the Lord moves towards me, even in my sin. Are there consequences for disobedience and error? Of course, and God doesn’t negate those penalties. Loving my son didn’t mean excusing his infidelity or condoning his behavior. He will experience the consequences all on his own. I don’t have to pile on the punishment by removing myself from the relationship.
When our hopeful aspirations are crushed, it’s natural to be hurt, disappointed, or even angry. Does this mean we shouldn’t have dreams for our kids? No, not at all! But keep in mind that we cannot base our parental love on whether or not our children meet our expectations. They need the freedom to discover their own talents and make their own mistakes. Never withdraw your love as a punishment. Always be moving towards your kids, even when they disappoint you, anger you, or mistreat you.
A third reason we have a hard time loving our kids when they don’t deserve it is that we don’t always share their perspective. This happens when our kids don’t mirror our views and opinions of life. How will you respond when your child announces that she’s a Democrat, when you and your wife are Republicans? Or when your son announces he’d rather find a job right out of high school than attend college? When our child’s perspective clashes with our own, it can be tough to keep on loving them, especially when you think they are making a mistake.
The classic story of the prodigal son illustrates this perfectly. Here was a guy who thought he had it all figured out. He went to his dad, demanded his inheritance up front, and went off to the city to live out his ideals on life and love. Well, we all know how that turned out! The son lost all his money, and at the end of his rope he came home to his dad. It would have been easy for the Father to turn his back on this wayward young man and release him to the life he chose. But instead, this gracious father ran to his son in love and never gave up on the relationship. It’s a picture of grace that every parent should strive to emulate. Because grace is like that. It’s getting something we don’t deserve. So we pass on that grace to our teens, even when their actions don’t warrant it.
At times, we will get angry or disappointed with our kids. We can’t deny those feelings, but even in those moments, loving our kids when they least expect it is so vitally important. It exemplifies the very love of God towards us and gives teens a sense of security. Hard? Yes. Tough? You bet. Necessary? Absolutely!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas. For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Go to www.heartlightministries.org. Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173. Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.