One of the hardest things for kids to learn is how to be a friend. Somewhere around twelve or thirteen we begin to run our own social lives – long gone are playdates and mommies arranging social time. These days my kids tell me what’s happening and can I go and these people will be there and it starts at this time and I don’t know when it’s over, I’ll text or call.
And then they’re gone and I pray that they remember their manners and that all their behavior decisions are the right ones.
In any relationship, bumps and bends in the road can be difficult to navigate. Adolescents don’t yet understand the nuances that are key to effective communication; they still largely operate from a “me first” position. Clashing is common. Throw in all the feelings just under the surface and friendships run high and flame out frequently.
This is where I have found the most difficult work as a parent. Allowing my kids the space to grow means sometimes holding back from swooping in and taking charge when they do and say the wrong thing. Waiting in the wings while they fumble around interpersonally or waiting to be asked for help is so much harder than just taking charge. It’s hard to deny myself the very thing that I have been training to do their whole lives. Letting them grow means I also have to grow.
Sometimes my kids mess up and suffer so much that I do interfere. When they’re in the middle of a mess like this, I have to know when to step in carefully. Guiding them to clean up their own messes – not doing it for them – is tough when frustration spills over in the form of tears and emotional pain. It’s really tough when I can see the edges of the mess they haven’t quite cleaned up completely.
Doing everything for my kids isn’t my role anymore. By the time they are twelve, I have spent every waking hour teaching and modeling and instructing. But I can’t be them. They have to be themselves.
Living in peace with everyone is what we are instructed to do as Christians. We can each do our part in relationships and interactions with others to facilitate peace. We all have the choice to retaliate or live in peace, to hate or to love.
When we choose peace, we build ourselves and others up. One thing that sits in the back of my mind when I choose to fight is this: why am I ruining my reputation just to appear tough? Being hateful is not strong. It is letting the other person have control. When someone is ugly to me, and I respond with ugliness, I just willingly entered into the ugly game. That person threw the first pitch and I threw it right back. I agreed to be ugly; I allowed that person to dictate who I would be today.
When we choose conflict, we choose negative over positive, hate over love, breaking down others and over time, our own character. A good character that only chooses bad responses will eventually become a bad character.
This is what we teach our kids. They may not have control over what a person does to them, but they sure have control over how they respond. At twelve, they enjoy the freedom of choosing how to act in a way that reveals their character and makes them feel good about themselves and others. They learn that God will take care of those who are horrible to us; it might not be fun in the meantime, but God always has our backs. He will take care of us; his power is stronger than anyone else’s. When Mom can’t (or won’t) swoop in, he will in ways that make us stronger.
When God is the focus, relationships become stronger. God can turn a friendship around. When we don’t know what to do, he can teach us how to behave and what to say. He can turn hate into love.
I am grateful for God’s lessons on friendship. Nothing I try to teach my kids comes close to what he can teach all of us.