(Dear parents, this blog begins — let me take a moment to make clear that I’m using that term broadly. Some of y’all parenting children are grandparents. Aunts or uncles. Fosters. Caregivers of an adolescent for one reason or another, and maybe that reason has nothing to do with biology. I see you. I know you’re out there. And when I say, “parent,” I mean you, too.)
This is the last quiet Sunday of the summer at our house. In less than 72 hours, my precious Curly Girl begins high school. This doesn’t seem possible. The last fourteen years have been the longest and fastest of my life, and I know, deep in my bones, that the next four will be over almost before we realize they’ve begun.
It is a terrifying time to be a parent. Let’s just name that. No matter what age your child(ren) is/are, there’s just so much noise. It feels like a damn war zone out there most days (and, of course, in some places, it actually is).
Once upon a time, I was a youth minister. It was some of the most fulfilling and heartbreaking work I have ever done. There are names and faces and situations I carry on my heart every day, even now. And I cannot help but hold all of that in the back of my head as I reflect on how I want to parent M these next four years, what I want our relationship to be like, what I hope for her as she enters high school. So much is different than it was for me at 14. Hell, so much is different than when I was working with 14 year olds on a regular basis.
But there are some things that have not, and do not, change, when it comes to our kids, and those are the things I’m holding on to as I balance my fears and my excitement, both, at this next leg of the journey.
First, I don’t remember who first studied it or said it, but anyone who works with young people on a regular basis will tell you that the kids who have adults they trust beyond their immediate family do better.
I know this is hard. We want to be able to meet our child’s every need. And in a world where truth is hard to recognize, it’s difficult to know exactly which adults to trust. Sometimes folks are not who they seem to be, and that’s just reality.
That said, I promise you, for every teacher or coach or Sunday School teacher or family friend or aunt or uncle (surrogate or biological, either way!) that your child develops a trustworthy and meaningful relationship with, the better their chances at trusting the world, at knowing some of its goodness, at believing they are worth something, at knowing they matter.
My friend Holly takes M shopping for school supplies every August. I despise school supply shopping. Office stores and the education aisle at Target kind of make me twitch. It just isn’t my gift. But Holly? She revels in the sort of organization and decision-making that it takes to shop efficiently, effectively, and with M’s real school needs in mind. For me it is a stressor. For Holly it is a pleasure–and so it becomes that for M, too. She trusts Holly. And she knows that if she needed her for something besides school supply shopping, Holly would be there.
Second, our kids need to hear “I love you,” every single day. And multiple times a day is best.
Y’all, I promise you, they need this more than anything. And they need to know it doesn’t hinge on their grades or their game score or their success in the school play or debate team or whatever. They will, most days, have a hard time loving themselves. And that means some days they will be very hard to love. But we must. And we must tell them we do. Always. And no matter what.
“I love you, and there is nothing you could ever do to change that,” is maybe the most important thing we can say to our kids. After all, it’s what God says to each of us. Every day. No matter what. Even when we feel our most undeserving, our most awful, our most afraid and anxious. “I love you, and you are not alone,” is God’s promise through all that threatens to undo us. How our children need to hear this good news from our lips, too!
Third, our kids (and we) need reminding that: it is NOT all about you.
Reaching beyond our own psyches and out into the world can be hard for any of us. Empathy is not easy for most folks, and this has always been true. But in a selfie-driven, TikTok drenched culture–shew.
Y’all. It has never been more important to help our kids see that their life experience is not everyone’s. It has never mattered more to pull them away from all things social media and into in-real-life relationship. It has never been more crucial that we help them engage with people who look, act, love, speak, vote, believe and learn differently than they do. In a broken, divided, angry and hurting world, to do any less is to do even greater harm.
Fourth, our kids need to know that the worst things are never the last things. They need to know that sometimes life hurts, and terribly. They need to know that relationships fall apart and jobs get lost and loved ones die and sometimes money is tight and most often we adults do not have all the answers. We cannot make their ways easy. But we can walk with them, straight through what feels awful and into whatever good and true thing waits on the other side.
They need to know that while God does not cause our pain, God does not waste it either, and so, even in pain, there is blessing to be found, most often when we least expect it.
And finally, our kids need to be kids. They need to play. Outside, preferably. And laugh. And be messy. And screw up and excel, both. Because they are still learning this beautiful and brutal life and if they can hold on to a bit of imagination and wonder, their capacity for hope will be so much greater.
Parents, I’m as terrified as you are. Letting my girl, who has had wings on her feet since birth, into this world is scary. Because it will sometimes bring her to her knees in pain and grief. Her heart will break. Her spirit will wane. Her soul will sometimes feel so very bruised.
I trust that the God who gave me life, also gave her life. And I trust that this very same God has not, and will not, ever leave her. And I believe with all my heart that we do not walk this world alone.
Our greatest pain has taught me this.
So. Deep breaths. Great love. Determined and irrational hope. These are the things I stake my life and hers on. And I offer them to you. With zero expertise. But a whole lot of love, and a lifetime that has taught me that we are better, stronger, and more able to withstand the storms when we do so together.