The crux of parenting lies in the way we grasp and understand the nuances of it, especially how it differs from marriage.
Growing interdependence is the basic tenet of the marital relationship—the real core to becoming one, not just in flesh but in every way. The growth in marriage lies in knowing and realizing that it is important and necessary to give up individualism if the two are to become a couple, a family, and a community. The order in marriage, as laid out by the Apostle Paul in Eph 5, is for this transformation to happen in truth and spirit, so that Eccl 4:11–15 and Matt 18:18 become a reality!
In contrast, the parental relationship is one of growing independence wherein the child grows and moves from total dependence on the parent(s) to one of increasing freedom. From holding the child tightly in hand, to letting him or her stand on their own two feet, to taking baby steps, to begin running slowly, pick up speed and finally, even move out of control and purview. As the child matures, both physically and psychologically, the real crux of parenting lies in holding two things in balance—insisting on dependence and releasing to exercise independent choices. The greatest need and skill of parenting is to know and understand when to hold and when to let go, when to demand and when to acquiesce, and when to decide for them and when to allow them to decide.
Teenagers especially need freedom, space and time to experiment and experience life, as it comes to them, and not as we want them to have it. Teen time is a season to learn to flex muscles, stretch wings and exercise own choices. Teenage is a phase to shrug off childhood, as a tree sheds its old leaves, and don on the garb of an adult.
Teenage is a transition stage that is quite scary because of much uncertainty and instability one faces in this time. Teenage brings changes in physique, psyche and pneuma that is truly terrifying since it is all new and unknown. It is an age when the person is trying to find their feet, test their mettle and seek their place in a very harsh and unforgiving world. The world around, however, doesn’t sympathize with their struggles or condone their mistakes but demands much from them, and that too very early; before they are ready. This is the reason teens gravitate towards their own kind as they look for security, stability and affirmation. Teens always need and seek out safe environments and secure companionship where they can vent out their frustrations and longings without fear of being bracketed or branded as rebellious.
Unfortunately, at a time when they need the greatest understanding and most acceptance, they get the greatest rejection and extreme ridicule, especially at home. Parents are the prime defaulters in this since they expect either too much or too little from them. Instead of finding the home a haven of rest or a harbour of peace, they often find it to be an unwelcoming and unpalatable place to be. They feel like strangers with their own parents and family, and therefore, opt to be with friends. They become silent, sullen, and withdrawn or aggressive, loud-mouthed, and destructive.
Parents are flabbergasted at this sudden change of their child from a loving cherub to a vocal adolescent and therefore, are often clueless to handle this seeming stranger in their home. Even Jesus’ parents did not know how to handle him when at the age of twelve he decided to stay back in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41–50).
The reason parents are unable to comprehend a teen is that they do not understand or accept that the greatest gift that God has bestowed upon human beings is freewill. God gave us this gift and He respects the choices we make by exercising our freewill, even when we hurt Him (just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden in Gen 3). God honours and respects our freewill, but works to transform us in a way that will not trample over or violate His own gift. If God Himself does it, we also need to imitate Him.
We must accept that our children have been created to have the right to exercise their freewill and train them on how to use it rightly. We must always remember that our children have life of their own and learn to accept them whether they are following us or choosing to carve out their own life in their own way. We must respect the exercise of their freewill so that they learn to take responsibility for their choices and become wise. Most teens in India play the blame game, conveniently foisting guilt on to parents for what they do, just because we haven’t allowed them to face the consequences of their decisions. We often step in and bail them out of thorny situations of their own making, thinking it is an exhibition of love. True love is willing for the child to learn so that he or she may grow to be mature and strong. Passage into adulthood is all about learning how to correctly exercise freewill and bear the cost of what your choices bring.
(to be continued…)