Healthy Parents, Healthy Teens

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As you navigate the demands of parenthood, don’t forget the most important aspect of the whole process — that you remain healthy and sane through it all.

My view from the conference center of the Heartlight campus allowed me to watch as parents starting filing in to drop their kids off. It’s always an emotional day for moms and dads. I remember one mom in particular. She came in to deposit her son into our care and she looked like she had been through every single battle in both World Wars and was looking to get into World War III! She was obviously very tired, spent and frustrated.

Her teen, on the other hand, looked fresh and ready for another round.  My heart went out to this mom, as it does to all parents going through adolescent turmoil.  The stress of parenting a teenager was taking its toll on her and I can imagine it was spilling over to her relationship with her husband, her other kids and maybe friendships as well.

Have you felt like that mom before?

As you navigate the demands of parenthood and strive hard to nurture and support your children, don’t forget about the most important aspect of the whole process — that you remain healthy and sane through it all.  Parents often say to me, Mark, it’s selfish to think of myself when my kid is going through a rough time.  But truthfully, running yourself into the ground can only hurt your kids or family.  An energetic, well-balanced mom or dad is the best remedy for a struggling teen.

Let me offer a couple of tips to put some pep back into your step.

Focus on Your Marriage

My wife and I have been weather-tested when it comes to raising teenagers.  But even now, with adult kids, we still tussle with giving our kids sound advice and allowing space to make mistakes.  It’s hard to know when to speak and when to stay silent.  When my twenty-five year old announced his divorce, for instance, Jan and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on what to do, or how to talk with our son.  We were confused and hurting, and it took its toll on our marriage.  We started drifting apart, and setting up emotional foxholes and hunkering down alone.  It took the grace of God to snap us out of the funk and get us back together and focused.  We realized that the problems with our son shouldn’t and couldn’t divide us.  We needed each other to survive and working through it by ourselves was not an option.

A renegade cop parent — the mom or dad who ditch their partner to work alone — will burn out fast.  A healthy relationship between partners is critical to surviving the teen years and beyond.  In the job of teaching your kids to be independent and mature adults, two parents who are committed to each other can accomplish a lot more than a solo parent working off the grid.  So take a break once in a while from the rest of the family, and give some attention to your spouse.  Go on a date.  Write him or her a love note.  Surprise her with flowers.  Go away for the weekend.  Cultivate a healthy marriage.  Nurture each other for little while and see how refreshed and re-energized you feel.  You’ll work better as a team, and your kids will see a model of a husband and wife who are devoted to each other.

Find Like-Minded People

I have heard it from countless parents.  When you have a troubled teen you feel alone, isolated and misunderstood. Many moms and dads feel rejected by their kids, church, family, husband, wife … even the pet seems to ignore you! These parents tell me, nobody knows what I’m going through.  No one can truly understand.

The temptation, then, is to hole up in your house, never venture out of the neighborhood, and become that crazy person the neighbor kids whisper stories about.  But separating yourself from everyone is unwise.  We need people in our lives.  We are community-oriented creatures. To keep your sanity and stay well-balanced, join a small group of like-minded parents.  Being in a group of people who know exactly what you are experiencing is a tremendous benefit and will allow you to share both your trials and your victories.  It feels good to unload the pressures off your chest.  If you don’t have a group like this in your church or community — start one! Become a place of refuge for other parents who share your struggles.

Take the Long View

In the heat of the moment, it’s tempting to think, this will never end!  I can’t see how it will ever get better!  In times where you can’t see that light at the end of the tunnel (or you think the light is an oncoming train), sit back and take the long view.  Five years from now, it won’t be this bad.  Believe me.  It may seem horrible now, but give it time and look down the road.  It won’t always be like this.  Every step forward brings you closer to the goal.

My favorite verse, which has brought me incredible encouragement at my low points, is Romans 8:28.  It promises that “God causes all things to work together for good.”  Even in the times of frustration and confusion with your child, God will use it for good.  Even when you can’t see Him working, He’s working.  I have seen this play out in my own life many, many times.  Looking back, I can see God was moving and using struggles to bring about joy and fulfillment that I just couldn’t see.  In the midst of the struggle, take the healthy approach and look at the long view of what God is doing and where He is bringing you.

On a Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast, I invited Dr. Robert Epstein to the show to talk about how wholesome and balanced parents can lead to wholesome and balanced kids. Dr. Epstein offered encouragement to parents about the power you have to make a difference in your family. It is never too late to turn things around and start fresh. Parents can change the way their kids see them, and funnel that into a new, nourishing relationship.

That battle-worn mom who wearily dropped her teen at my conference center might have thought, I can’t focus on me when my kids need so much help.  That is selfish!  I’ll wait until he leaves home.  But we need to change our mindset if we want to have strong families.  Strong, mature teens come from parents with healthy practices.  It’s a trickle-down principle.  By taking care of yourself and your relationships, you’re giving your children a life-changing gift.

A healthy parent.

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