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Survival Principles

Ever grab the lid on a steaming pot or pull a hot tray out of the microwave too soon? Ouch!

You don’t have to attend a weekend seminar on kitchen safety, or watch a ten-part DVD on high-tech ovens. You already know that hot things cause pain.

You get my point? It all comes down to a basic survival principle. When we experience pain, we avoid it in the future. In the same fashion, our teens learn from consequences, not from lectures, tirades, or angry outbursts.

So the next time your son or daughter steps out of line, take a moment to calm down, and resist the urge to give a speech. Instead, let the consequences do their wonderful work. When they feel the pain, they won’t touch it again!

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When Christmas Joy is Overshadowed by Struggle and Pain

prodigalWith 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.


What if My “Ex” Won’t Hold the Kids to the Same Rules?

When families go through a divorce and the kids end up splitting their time between parents (often called co-parenting), it changes the dynamics of the family, as well as the basic interactions between parent and child.  For parents of teens, this shift can be especially difficult as every member of the family tries to re-discover their role.

Changing Roles of Co-Parents

Co-parents often find themselves in different roles from those they had during the marriage.  Moms are especially affected by this because the dad is usually the disciplinarian in the family. When Dad leaves, Mom needs to develop a new set of skills.

Dads are usually the disciplinarian and authoritarian in the household.  They are the ones who build boundaries and structures that give teens the guidelines they need to help moderate their own actions.  Moms usually do great with relationships.  However, when Mom begins to take on the role that Dad used to play, the relationships can be shoved aside in order to ensure the rules and boundaries are in place.  But, Mom—the relationship you have with your teen needs to remain intact!  Don’t abandon the role you played before the divorce, but instead, find a way to support your teen through balancing discipline, boundaries, and relationships.  This is especially important as you walk through this difficult time together.  Your teen will either look to you for support and help—or he’ll look elsewhere.  It’s up to you.

Interacting with the Other Parent

Just as your role is changing, your relationship with your ex has changed.  And it will continue to change.  Your ex will do things that you don’t like, and this is going to affect you and your kids.  But it’s up to you to determine how much your response will affect your kids.  No matter how you feel about your ex-spouse, you can’t change them.  People are going to do what they are going to do.  Thankfully, that includes you.  You can change how you respond to your ex, your teen, and your changing role as a parent.

The boundaries that you set for your teen, and those that your ex sets, will help your child only if you keep your teen in mind first.  Think about your motivation behind setting a boundary—did you do it for your teen or did you do it as a way to get back at your ex?  And think about what you are saying about your ex—at least what you say in front of your teens.  Did you say that to knock the person down? Did you think about how this could affect your teen?  And if your teen pits your ex’s way of running his household against you, stick to your guns!  There’s a reason for the standards you set; remember that reason.  If you can still talk to your ex and clarify the boundaries you are each using, then take advantage of that.  Men—man up and stop using your kids against your ex-wife.  Women—stop using your kids against your ex-husband.  And kids—stop using your parents against each other.

How Teens Respond

When teens split their time between two parents, a lot of their reaction to mom and dad comes from the parents’ view of each other.  Stop badmouthing your ex in front of the kids.  What you say will form your child’s view of you, your ex, and your child himself.  But it’s not enough just to put up with the other parent—you need to give your child the structure and support that she needs.  That means setting your own standards and rules, making them clear to your teen, and consistently enforcing them.  It’s not enough just to have a conversation about rules.  Your actions and the way that you enforce the standards will affect how your teen responds to you in the future.

When I talk to the kids at Heartlight who have experienced co-parenting, they talk about how they respond well to the structure that their parents have given then.  It’s like me; I don’t like stoplights, and I don’t like stop signs, but I’d hate to live without them.  In the moment, your teen may rebel against you, your ex, and the rules each of you have set.  But Mom—stick to it. Dad—stick to it.  Eventually, your child will come back to you. At that point, it will be the relationship that you have built with your teen that will cushion the blow and help them find their way back to you.