When our children begin to pull away from us, to establish their own identities, it can be hard to handle. It can be especially difficult when they tell us something that shocks us or angers us. Still, resist the urge to, as kids say, “freak out.”
Resist the Urge to Push.
This is one of the hardest and most critical things for a parent to do in the identity-questioning stage. Remember, your child has to dismantle your “components” before she knows whether or not she wants to keep them. So the harder you push your identity, beliefs, and opinions on her, the more urgently she’ll feel compelled to distance herself from those specific things in order to become her own person.
Many times, the teenagers told us that if parents would stifle the urge to impose their beliefs and instead relax a bit, they would feel more free to adapt those beliefs for themselves.
One reason teens consistently gave for shutting off communication is the belief that parents will “freak out” over what they say. So if you can force yourself to handle your child’s curveballs calmly and without condemnation, he’ll feel safe discussing his questions with you. It doesn’t mean you have to leave him wondering what you think. It does mean resisting the urge to take it personally when he questions your building blocks.
I (Lisa) saw this in action just as we were starting this research. Our family has always believed that God answers the prayers of those who “earnestly seek him,” as Psalms put it. One day when I encouraged one of my teenage daughters to pray about something that was bothering her, she sighed and said, “Mom, I’m just not sure that I believe like you do, that God really answers prayer.”
Horrified, I nearly blurted out something like, “How can you say that?! You know God answers prayer! You’ve seen examples of that over and over!” It took everything within me to calmly answer, “Hmm… I see you’re asking yourself some important questions. Why don’t you journal about this to God and let me know what you come to on that, okay?”
Because of this research, I knew I couldn’t push, nor could I compromise what I knew to be true. I needed to let her come to the truth for herself. And because I would sometimes find her in her room reading her Bible or journaling, I knew that she was truly going through that process. I’m happy to report that just as we were putting the final touches on this book, she came home from church with tears in her eyes, saying, “Wow, you wouldn’t believe how God answered prayer and spoke to me in service this morning. He gave me insight about every major issue I’m dealing with right now.”
After she worked through it for a year, what a joy it was to see her come to this realization on her own rather than simply accept it from me!
Taken with permission from For Parents Only by Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa Rice.