riddle me this: what’s the goal of parenting a teenager?
my own answer to this has morphed a bit over the years, particularly in the years since my own children have been teenagers.
i was never in these camps, however:
- the goal of parenting teenagers is to create contributing members of society.
- the goal of parenting teenagers is to create nice, compliant, church members.
- the goal of parenting teenagers is that they would be adults who earn lots of money.
i wasn’t even in this camp:
- the goal of parenting teenagers is that they would be adults who are happy.
that one, however, is more seductive than the prior three, since i do want my kids to be happy (it’s just not my ultimate goal).
for a bunch of years, i held to this one:
- the goal of parenting teenagers is to create radical followers of jesus.
or something like that. to a youth worker’s ear, that sounds pretty good, huh? but to be honest, i think that was more about me than it was about my kids — i wanted to be that dad whose kids changed the world, man. yeah!
as if i could “create” that! pul-eeze. who did i think i was? (hint: rhymes with “freeze us”)
but today, my “goal of parenting teenagers” could be summed up with this little video:
in other words:
- the goal of parenting teenagers is to effectively launch them into adulthood!
my thinking is: our pervasive cultural “failure to launch” has very little to do with what teenagers and young adults want, or are capable of. most would prefer to be adults, if we (“we” both refers to our culture at large, and our dominant fear-based approach to parenting) would release them from the dry-docks.
liesl, my oldest, the apple of my eye, my baby, the daughter i love more than just about anything or anyone else in the entire known or unknown universe, has launched. a few weeks ago, she graduated from high school. the next day, she headed off to a camp where she’ll be full-time staff for the entire summer. she’ll be home for a few weeks at the end of the summer; then she and a friend head off to england, scotland, and india, for 9 months of volunteering, adventure, growing up, and risk-taking. yup: risk-taking. i know this next year will be a 12-month version of those boat-sideways/almost-tipping-over/first few seconds of ship-launching. i know she’ll try things i’d rather not know about. i know she’ll stub her toe (certainly metaphorically). she’ll make great choices and lousy choices and reap the rewards and consequences of them all.
am i nervous about my little girl launching? am i nervous about what might happen on the other side of the world? absolutely. 100 percent. i’m sure i’ll have some nights over the next year when it’ll be tough to get to sleep, when my fears get the best of me.
but she’s ready. she’s certainly not perfect — just like her parents on that one. but she’s aware of the connection between consequences and choices; and — for an 18-year old — she has a fairly clear understanding of who she is and what she values. i don’t always agree with her choices, to be sure. but they’re her choices.
it’s very strange, knowing that my job as a dad is basically done. sure, i’m going to help pay for college over the years to come. and i hope to be both a support and a sounding board. but these days, most of that is via ship-to-shore radio, rather than tinkering in the shipyard.
i love you, liesl, and i’m really proud of you. travel well, be yourself, and bring grace to those around you.