So. I’m reading a book right now about raising adolescents. (Gulp.) My oldest is 11, and just entering the sometimes angst-filled, pre-teen stage. I know our relationship will change quickly over the next few years. He will be reaching for independence faster than I am sometimes willing to grant it, and that’s sure to bring some conflict. But in the midst of that natural tug-of-war for control, I also want those years to be filled with laughs, kindness, love, and respect. So knowing teenage-dom is on the near horizon, I am starting to prepare now. How?
I am working on building a real relationship with my son. “Of course” you might be thinking. “Who doesn’t have a relationship with their kid?” Unfortunately, in the day to day hectic pace of life, sometimes the relationship can be limited to discussion around chores, dinner, sleepover requests, and baseball schedules. It’s not fun to admit, but I can easily let a week or more pass before it hits me that I’ve had no real, meaningful connection with my son. Without acting deliberately, there’s no connection about hopes, dreams, plans, fears, doubts. Without intentionality, there’s no shared revelations about spirituality, and who Jesus is becoming in his life and mine.
Not to mention that to first figure out how to elicit any kind of conversation – meaningless or otherwise – from an 11 year old boy takes a small miracle.
So from one parent to another, here’s what I’m learning as I try to navigate relationship-building with the not-quite-a-child, but certainly-not-yet-a-man in my house. I am an imperfect navigator, but I am the only one for the job.
Give him chances to be brave, and then celebrate his bravery. Let him jump his skateboard off that ramp. Allow him a chance to build a bridge over the creek, even if it doesn’t hold. Let him swim a little farther from the lakeshore. Say yes when he asks to sleep under the stars. He won’t admit it, but he’s watching to see if you notice. Let him know that yes, you notice, and you are impressed.
Stop asking questions. This was a piece of info I gleaned from the aforementioned book I’m reading. Ever have the conversation with your son like this? “How was school?” “[Grunt].” Instead of peppering him with questions, share something from your day, tell a funny story, tell him a secret that the younger kids can’t know about yet. Talk to him instead of questioning him, and watch him open up. (At least a bit more.)
Create shared memories. You don’t need money to create memories. Don’t buy into the lie that happy childhood memories can only be created at Disneyland or on the beach. Go camping. Explore the woods. Catch fireflies. Look for ways to make everyday life a little more fun. Boys are big on fun! So roll the windows down and sing along to Lecrae, even if that’s not your thing. He will roll his eyes, and you will embarrass him at the stoplight, but the shared memories are worth it.
Enter his world. I’m bored to tears with Minecraft, but my son will talk ad nauseam about it. So I try and listen. I didn’t particularly enjoy Rick Riordian’s Percy Jackson series of books, but to my son they are the best books ever. So I read every one, and it gave us a point of conversation.
Celebrate his strengths. My son loves to draw. So I am happily his colored pencil and sketchbook provider. I love his artwork…but I love it more when he invites me to look at his drawings with him.
The art is good. Talking to the artist is great.
Friends, we all know the sobering statistics: the mistakes that kids are making in their teenage years are devastating. Research indicates that kids with strong relationships at home, where they are known, loved, and accepted, are much more likely to come through their teenage years unscathed by life-altering moral failures. Even when we give this parenting thing our all….our children will make mistakes, some that will likely break our hearts. But they need a safe place to land. That place is found in strong relationships. Start now.