To the Parent Struggling With a Struggling Teen
I’m two for three—so far. With a little more time, I might go three for three. But I’m not talking about free throws, or anything worth bragging about. Quite the contrary. My two-for-three record is with my teenagers, who have hit junior year and fallen apart. My third teen is still a freshman.
My husband and I have been proactive parents, diligently shepherding our kids to see their need for Jesus and rest secure in who He is for them from the time they were little. Because of our gospel-centered approach, I thought we would prevent them from struggling in the ways so many teens do. Despite everything we’ve done, the pressure to measure up based on their own performance and perfection has manifested itself in different ways for our daughter and first-born son.
This has caused quite a bit of introspection on our part. It’s hard not to beat ourselves up wondering where we went wrong, or not to speculate about what others must think; after all, my husband is a pastor and I write and speak to parents. Surely this must cause some raised eyebrows about whether we are worth listening to in light of our track record?
But regardless of our professional platforms, I know I’m not the first (or last) parent to cycle down a path of self-doubt, wondering if things would be different if only we’d done xyz. In fact, I imagine some of you are also beating yourself up feeling like a failure for missing signs. Maybe you too know the angst of not being able to “fix” your teen, only to be compounded by the extra condemnation you heap upon yourself.
Knowing that parents are the greatest influencers in the lives of their teens, I realize we cannot completely absolve ourselves from playing a part in our teens’ struggles. But we could do everything right and our child might still struggle, or everything wrong and our child could stand secure in Christ. Ultimately God is over their paths, trials and pain. And His ways for His children are better than ours- even when we can’t possibly see how.
But after walking through an eating disorder and depression with our daughter, I can tell you I am thankful for it. I still wouldn’t wish anyone to go through it, nor would I want to go back in time. But how He used her suffering and trials to shape her into who she is now has been a beautiful unfolding I would never undo.
So for those who need reminding of God’s goodness in and through trials, here is what I am clinging to now with our second child in his struggles.
Seeing Sin is Not Bad
None of us want or like to see our sin. And though sin is bad, seeing our sin is not. In fact, it is necessary in leading us to see our need for Jesus. Therefore, for our children (and us), coming face to face with our insecurities and the false gods we trust in is good.
For my daughter in her eating disorder it was never really about the food, it was the idols driving her to turn to food for comfort, workouts for perfection and her body as her identity. As she began to see and deal honestly with the root sins, her need for a Savior became more real to her. And that is a good place to be led to.
Seeking Help is Good
Mental health issues no longer carry the same stigma they once did. However, statistics show the majority of those struggling still do not seek professional help. Likely, this is out of fear—no one wants to appear weak, to look like a failure, or to be exposed. And for parents who may be hesitant to send a child to counseling, pride may play a part. Like other parents I have feared looking bad or like I failed to do my job, and I didn’t want even a professional to think less of me.
But sometimes the best thing for our children is another voice speaking into their lives. For my daughter, having a counselor, a dietician, older women in the church and her RUF college pastor to walk alongside her has been instrumental to her healing and growth. While much of their wisdom and truth wasn’t any different than what my husband and I have said to her, for whatever reason at times she heard it differently from them. Instead of being irritated by this reality, I am grateful God placed these people in her life.
Struggling Paves the Way for Growth
I would much rather struggle personally than stand by while my child struggles. I think doing so is one of the hardest aspects of parenting. And I presume it’s the reason we have what is known as “lawn-mower parents,” the term used to reference parents who do everything in their power to prevent adversity before it happens. Although this kind of parenting is not healthy and speaks to our own idol of control, I get it. As the saying goes, “We are only as happy as our unhappiest child.”
But Scripture tells us in this fallen world we will experience trials. Scripture also tells us to count those trials as joy because of what they produce – steadfastness (James 1:3-4), character and hope (Romans 5:4-5). In other words, God uses trials to grow us in Christ-likeness and to teach us to live in greater dependence on Him. And this is good.
As I’ve seen God’s faithfulness to my daughter in and through her trials, I am trusting in this same goodness to my son. It doesn’t make his struggles any less difficult. But what I want most for my kids is for them to rest secure in the love of Christ, and his Word tells me trials are what grow us. May it be well with my soul.
And may you, fellow parent struggling with a struggling teen, discover as I have that the good God has in mind is not just for the struggling one. God changes us, too, in and through our children’s trials by revealing our idols and drawing us into greater dependence. For this also, I am thankful.