In November of 2020, my youngest son, my baby, passed me in height. It was a proud moment for him, a bittersweet moment for Scruff and I.
How do we love these tall young men who pack our tiny home with uproar, video games, and sarcastic comments? It is tempting to look back on the pre-school years and try fix all the mistakes we made back then by loving them like pre-schoolers now. But we were given that golden and insane thunderstorm for only a short time.
It is tempting to look back on the middle grade years, see our successes and failures, and strive to be the perfect parents of active young boys. More patient with mud, more time letting them try new things, more moments listening to discoveries and planning adventures together. But we had our chance with our rowdy pack of boys and those days are gone no matter how well or badly we did.
What we do have, carefully cupped in our hands, are a few priceless years as the parents of three teenage sons. I dare not waste these precious moments grieving over my mistakes with the toddlers that are gone.
It can be difficult though, since right as Scruff and I started to feel like experts with toddlers, they became middle-graders. Then it happened again. As our confidence in raising school-aged children peaked, we blinked and found ourselves surrounded by teenagers.
And so more learning is required.
Scruffy and I have worked with teens at camp since before we were married. Strangely, parenting teens is much different than teaching and leading teens in a summer of ministry. I used to stand amazed at the parents of our teenage volunteers. Why did they treat these competent workers for Christ like children? Well, now I realize that when you look at your teenager, you actually see them in your head at all the various ages that they have been. You literally see children, even when they are taller than you.
Also, teens are at their most mature when they are away from home being given responsibility by an adult who is not their parent. At home, these same teens often act like children. It was a shock when I first overheard one of our most mature girl counselors talking with her dad on the phone. A godly young leader morphed to whiny and angry teen in an instant.
So how on earth am I supposed to do this, make my love tall enough for these three young men who slouch about our tiny home?
A tall love looks ahead. It helps to envision exactly what I’m preparing them to achieve, face, and become. The shorter and perhaps sweeter love of a toddler mom, keeps her little ones out of dangerous environments. But a tall love knows that kids face adult decisions as early as sixth grade. If I want my sons to grow strong enough to say, “no thank you” when a friend offers them drugs, then I dare not shush or shut them down when they disagree and argue with me.
A tall love urges them to think for themselves, express differences of opinion, and stand with their head held high when others don’t share a dearly-held belief. Even when those “others” are my husband and I.
A tall love does not brainwash. A tall love is not a mechanic doing basic maintenance on three mindless robots. A tall love is more like a park ranger, tending vast and wild landscapes of incredible beauty and value.
I’m preaching to myself here.
Teens still require a great deal of parenting. “Why is there a D on your report card? No, I am not fine with you using the kitchen at 3:00AM to make soup. Yes, you are allowed to disagree but strive to do so without making me cry.” With all of this parenting to accomplish, it is easy to forget that it must be done in a way that gives them strength to stand on their own. It is so easy to hover instead of set free. It is easy to nag instead of hold them accountable. It is easy to preach instead of hold a fiery discussion.
As Scruff has pointed out before, if I want my seventeen-year-old to be competent at college just twenty months from now, I should give him responsibility now. Have him work for camp, be in charge of his brothers while we are on a date, drive on snowy days, and learn to safely shoot a gun and use a chainsaw. Yeah, as I pointed out to Scruff, one mistake with a chainsaw could be the mistake that takes a limb. “Do you want someone else to teach him?” Scruff asked.
Tall love is hard. But it is exactly the kind of love that God gives us. Parenting teens reminds me why God calls us to remain in Him instead of using the Heavenly equivalent of the Vulcan mind meld. If I want to see these tall young men of mine follow their Lord with strength and wisdom, well, my love must grow tall too.
John 15:1-2–“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”