We had a “milestone” birthday in our home this past week as my fourth daughter, Rebekah turned thirteen.
It is official! We now have four teenage girls in our family…at the same time.
When Rebekah was born her three older sisters were 18 months(Kristen), 3 years(Amy) and 6 years old (Michelle).
I remember many times during their childhood well meaning friends, acquaintances and even strangers would make comments about how dreadful, hard or horrible I would have it when they were all teenagers. Most of the time I would just smile (ok, so maybe smile/smirk is more accurate) or politely laugh at their “doom & gloom” comments, however occasionally I would proclaim with confidence my true sentiments – “Oh I can’t wait….I love teenagers!”
And it is true – I have loved teenagers my entire adult life. I love their enthusiasm, idealism, passion, boundless energy(as well as their ability to sleep for hours on end), hope, faith, spontanaity, reckless abandon, independence and strength to name a few of the qualities of youth that I find very appealing. But the never ending onslaught of negative comments did leave me wondering if I was headed for disaster down the road when I actually had teenagers living in my home.
Why is it that we live in a society that seems to have such a disdain for the teen years? Why do so many parents look at these years as something to fear or dread rather than welcoming them with hope and excitement? Once a child reaches thirteen they only have five or six years left in our homes…why then would we spend those years arguing, fighting or wishing away our short time together?
Or is it even true that parents do not enjoy their teenagers or is it just another one of those “parroting” issues where everyone feels they have to say disdainful things about teenagers because that is what everyone else is saying. (Even just yesterday, a poplular radio host that I listen to regularly responded with “I’m sorry” when the caller mentioned she had a teenager. Of course it got a laugh – but I cringed inside as comments like this seem to add to the negative sentiments surrounding being a parent of teenagers.)
Most likely it is a combination of “parroting” as well as parents truly struggling with unappraciative, disrespectful, self centered teenagers who show them very little love. (that type of teenager doesn’t sound like much fun to me either)
Now if I merely had one teenager, I would never venture to give any advice, opinions, insights, ideas or even hints as to how to enjoy the teenage years but since I have four who run the gamut of personalities and dispositions (although at this point I don’t have any male teenagers – you’ll have to wait at least 15+ years for my “take” on that – although perhaps my dear friends Teri Helms, Christy Keyton or Ladonna Colton can “guest blog” on teenage boys) and because we are truly enjoying our teenagers, I will throw out my opinions for anyone who might be interested.
First let me say…that if you want to enjoy the teenage years…it starts way before they turn thirteen. In fact, it begins with getting a good grip on your thirteen month old when they first start challenging your authority by directly doing what you just said “no” to them doing. If you lose the battle of the wills with a toddler, you are sure to lose the war with a teenager. Be strong and always, always, always win!
It also takes developing a solid, loving relationship with your child during those early years by spending tons of time with them (both quantity & quality), eating the vast majority of your dinners together as a family – at the dining room table (candlelight & music is a bonus!), enjoying lots of cuddling time together on the couch in the evenings or under the covers in the morning reading books, watching movies or just sharing life stories, worshipping together as a family, talking, talking and talking with them and being diligent to create meaningful memories on a regular basis.
In addition, I believe that besides “winning the battle of the wills” and developing a solid loving relationship that you need to indoctrinate them for many years before they come close to teenagedom as to the “rules” and boundaries in your household. Here are some examples of ours –
1. We (Mom & Dad) can make your life miserable or wonderful – the choice is yours! We highly recommend you choose wonderful but if you choose miserable we will follow through.
2. You are not the center of the universe or for that matter, the center of this family either. It is NOT all about you….don’t forget this (of course it helps to realize this when you live in a family of nine)
3. It is “My way….or the highway” Yes,that is correct if our teenager does not comply with our rules or chooses to live a life of continued disrespect or direct defiance, they will no longer have the option and privilege of living under our roof. As hard as this would be to carry out, my children know that we would follow through.
4. No whining allowed! We have more than most people in the world – a roof over our heads (no matter how much you think that roof should be bigger), food on our plates (even if it is beans & rice several times a week), clothes on our backs (in abundance – thanks to hand me downs!) and a loving, committed “in tact” family. What is there to complain about? Nothing!
5. No, you can’t have…
- your own cell phone (we have a common “the girls” phone)
- a myspace or facebook account until college (if you have that much free time – have I got a job for you! However, you can have a blog – feel free to write, write, write!)
- your own car (nope you can’t even buy your own until after high school and no one else gets to buy one for you either) – you may use one of our cars as needed and with permission
- a TV in your room (in fact you can’t even watch TV except on a very rare occasion)
- your own room (and this is not just a logistical rule – it is our paradigm – no one needs their own room – even if we had eight bedrooms – there would be at least two to a room until the last child is here alone.)
6. You also can’t…
- spend the night, go to parties or on out of town trips with families who we do not know intimately.
- call, write or text boys (and yes when I have teenage boys they will not call, write or text girls in jr or sr high either – after that they can ask the young ladies father for permission to call, write or text)
- date or “go out” in junior high or high school (including all definitions of the word – from casual going out for coffee with a member of the opposite sex to “committed” boyfriend/girlfriend relationships)
- get body piercings, tattoos or any extreme hair coloring or styles
- wear any immodest, inappropriate or culturally reactionary clothing (and the Mom gets to decide if something is ok) and a bonus – you get to wear dresses (and my sons will wear dress shirts & ties) to church, weddings, funerals, graduations or other significant events
- go to movies that have not been approved by Mom & Dad (or our own resident movie censor – Michelle) – you can’t always go by ratings – I have seen outstanding movies rated PG13 and lousy crass movies rated PG
- be lazy and not do your school work or not do it to the best of your ability
- be disrespectful or rude to teachers, authority figures or any adults (even if they are wrong or rude – you will respect their position)
- get away with not doing your household chores
- ok and in case it is not obvious the “basics” are “you cant’s” too – can’t do drugs, drink, smoke, break curfew, lie, cheat, steal etc….
7. You can….(ok, with all those “cant’s” there does need to be a few perks – listed here are some things that other teens may not have the privilege of doing)
- stay up as late as you want – it is simply your responsibility to get up in the morning
- sleep in late on Saturday mornings as long as you are consistent each week with your chores
- invite friends over most anytime – for dinner to spend the night, hang out, go on outings with us etc…
- go on exciting trips and adventures anywhere in the world as long as you cover the costs and you are going/staying with an “approved” party
- keep your room a mess (up until the point that Mom can’t walk in the room or it starts to smell)
- wear “light” make up when you start high school & get your ears pierced when you turn 16 (gotta have something to look forward to! lol)
- drink coffee
- eat left over pie, cake or cookies for breakfast
- listen to music as loud as you want (most of the time) providing it is Christian or on Mom’s list of “approved” show/movie tunes
- skip school to do fun and exciting things like – going to the beach, apple hill or snow days, getting Dr Laura’s signature, attending the inauguration, going to New York for your 16th birthday
- be as mad as you want at Mom or Dad…go to your room and shout in your pillow that you hate us and turn up your music (see above for restrictions) – just don’t slam a door, hit or throw anything or be disrespectful to our faces (have at it in your room or other space where we are not)
8. Glorify God in everything you say and do…ultimately you will answer to Him
Did I cover them all girls?
Following these basic philosophies have resulted in six wonderful years of having teenagers in our home. Michelle, Amy, Kristen & Rebekah, though each unique in their talents, gifts, abilities as well as having diverse personalities – they are all good, godly, respectful, mature, responsible, delightful and lovely young ladies, who happen to be teens! They are truly a blessing to us and we have and will continue to enjoy the teenage years. (It’s a good thing since I have at least 18 more years of having one or more teenagers at home)
Happy Birthday Rebekah!