How Parenting Out of Weakness Strengthened My Relationship With My Teen
“Can I talk to Dad now?”
Right in mid-sentence, my college daughter interrupted me and asked for the phone to be handed over to my husband. She had called me – upset and stressed out – needing someone to talk to, but then abruptly decided my husband was actually the one she preferred. While not easily offended, I would be lying if I said this didn’t bother me at all. I’m thankful she likes to talk to her dad, but what about me? Couldn’t we just all be on speaker?
I desperately wanted to know what she was thinking, experiencing, and doing, but every time we talked it felt like I was walking a fine line, not knowing what question or comment would push her too far and cause her to retreat. Even before that night I had sensed her shutting me out, and I couldn’t figure out why.
So as you can imagine after my husband hung up with her from my phone, I was anxious to hear her side of the conversation. But before he told me anything about her, he told me something about myself.
“What she needs is for you to identify with her, not to try to fix her.”
I tried defending myself. I thought my advice should’ve been helpful. But again he said, “That’s not what she needs right now.”
Over continued conversations with both my husband and daughter, what I soon came to face was how my idol of control, and the aurora of perfection I inadvertently portrayed to my daughter, were pushing her away. Both prevented her from seeing me as in the same boat. And, quite honestly, both hindered me from seeing that too.
By “being in the same boat” I mean knowing my sin and brokenness had left me in helpless need of rescue in the same way her sin and brokenness had left her in need of rescue. But being in the same boat is not how I had come across. Now cognitively I believed I was a sinner, but functionally I was acting as if I was strong and able.
Admittedly, I do take pride at the ease with which I can manage life, which means I struggle to show empathy and grace toward those who don’t, or can’t. And, this is exactly why my daughter didn’t want to share her sin, imperfections, and struggles with me. So without knowing it, my steady stream of solutions (telling her what she should do) to fix her problems was heaping shame upon her.
I made her issues sound simple to overcome, which minimized what she was feeling and made her think she was even more of a “mess,” and was viewed accordingly. I had no idea this is how she was interpreting my “help.” But why would she want to share her “junk” with me when it appeared to her I had it all together? How much more comforting to confide in someone who could identify with her in the muck and mess, which is exactly why she preferred talking to my husband.
He knew, and she knew, they were in the same boat.
This is not because my husband’s issues or personality are more in line with hers. No, his first stance toward her is identification because he knows (and is honest about) his own brokenness and need. Therefore, what he offered her that I had not was understanding and compassion. And while he too had advice for her, his didn’t fall on deaf ears because she knew he was with her.
Do you see the difference?
It was humbling for me to realize the problem in our relationship was me, especially considering I write and speak about getting to the heart of our kids! But through this situation my eyes were opened to the reality that though I thought I was getting in the boat with her, I wasn’t showing her my need for Jesus. All she saw was my strength and perfection, when what she needed from me was to be pointed to Jesus’ strength and perfection for the both of us.
You see, our kids need to see the specific ways we need Jesus too. So for me to really walk alongside her, I had to become vulnerable about my own sin and struggles. And doing that required I first see my pride and wrangling for control for what they are, to be hit with how I often prioritize my projects over people, and to recognize that I had made her feel like she wasn’t enough if she didn’t fit into my mold.
When I began to admit my sin, a beautiful thing happened: I became more human to her. Instead of her thinking less of me, she drew closer to me. The conversations she had saved for my husband, she now shared with me too. And having seen how my sin had affected her, I knew more of my own need of grace and forgiveness and was therefore more compassionate toward her (and others) in their need of grace.
My biggest realization is I can’t fix her, and that’s not even my job. So to love her well is to stop trying, and to simply point her to the only One who can fix us all. Of course, it isn’t easy to relinquish the reins of any control I think I might have, but he’s showing me that his power is made perfect in my weakness. (2 Cor 12:9) And when it comes to parenting (and everything else), by God’s grace may I boast more in my weakness, and enter in with my children and others as a fellow fallen worshipper.