Where is the Fun in Parenting?

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My parenting frequently has an agenda.

My desire to be intentional often comes across as rigid and programmed. I am going through a parenting checklist in my mind as I converse with my children on things like grades, money, respect, responsibility, friendships, sex, and God. Am I getting enough Jesus in there? Am I connecting with my children or just herding them like cats?

I love my kids and I want to enjoy them as people and enjoy time with them. It often feels like there is no time for that in between school, games, practices, work, assignments, chores, and more. The surly attitudes that commonly afflicts teenagers can also be a deterrent to enjoying time together.

As a mom, I am always on the lookout for ways to just “be” with my kids so that I can enjoy them. I am convinced it is possible to spend time with your teenagers and their friends in a way that is normal and fun.

Start with something very ordinary. You do not have to be like Phineas and Ferb and blow up the backyard to create a memorable encounter.

At our house, it all starts in the kitchen. When my oldest daughter was in middle school she would invite five or six girls over on a Friday night. The girls would come up with a menu for dinner. With a little guidance I would encourage them to make a grocery list and we would head to the grocery story. They would spread out in the store selecting the ingredients needed. Once the shopping was completed we would head home and get everything out and organized to prep and cook dinner and dessert.

For the next few hours we were all busy in the kitchen: chopping, stirring, and measuring to put dinner together. Many of the girls had never been allowed to use a knife or take things out of the oven. Many did not know how to wash dishes or use a mixer, a blender, or a food processor. Fun music and busy hands led to a lot of conversation. I could keep the preparations on task and listen in as the girls relaxed and talked. These kitchen times led to many opportunities to speak into what was going on with boys, parents, school, friendships, and other situations. It was also fun to see their pride as they served the key lime pie they made to their friends.

This routine of students being in our kitchen continued as they baked goodies for fundraisers and enjoyed pots of soup on the stove before and after practices. Even now, those off at college will stop by when they are home for Dave’s famous fried wontons.

Sam Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, used to say, “you have to earn the right to be heard.” As an adult I often just want my teenagers and their friends to listen to me just because. Taking time to be with them and enjoying them as people opens up opportunities to live life alongside not only your own children but their friends as well. It is a privilege to pray with them when they lose a grandparent or encourage them when their parents separate or love them when they know that you know they really screwed up.

We walk a fine line as parents. Our instinct is to correct and fix, fix and correct. Jesus shows us so much more grace than that.

I think about how Peter denied Jesus three times. Here he was a grown man who had been with Jesus for three years. He had seen Jesus cast out demons, heal the sick, make the blind see, feed the crowds, and stand up to the religious leaders. When Jesus asked Peter, “who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered ,“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 15:15-16). Peter knew who Jesus was and he knew what he was called to. Peter assured Jesus that he would never fall away from Jesus, yet we know that he did.

Just as Peter failed, we fail and our children fail. Jesus did not condemn Peter. He did not banish him. Jesus did not shame him, embarrass him, or humiliate him, and yet Jesus did not ignore the fact that Peter denied him. After his resurrection Jesus pursued Peter and gently restored him. He forgave him and reassured Peter that his sin has been forgiven, that nothing could separate him from God or from what God had called him to.

Building relationships with teenagers is messy. They need Jesus, and we need Jesus. Throw up your hands, forget about fixing them, and come alongside them just as Jesus comes alongside each of us.

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