Parenting is NOT for everyone. It is a thankless job with little reward, no pay, no vacations or time off. It is filled with sacrifice, sleepless nights, wonder, worry, tears, laughter, joy, pain, and love. It is not for the faint of heart or the weak-minded. I have seen parenthood take down the toughest men and give the tiniest women in the world the strength of a giant.
All that to say, there have been and will continue to be, some parenting moments that leave us all dumfounded and looking like a deer caught in the headlights. Last week I experienced one of those moments.
I got a call from a dear (no pun intended) friend about a teenager who was in trouble. This friend and I love to mentor young girls and give back to our community in that way. My friend stated that the girl was basically a good kid, not on drugs, goes to school, plays a sport and plays it well and is not pregnant.
My first thought was, “what’s the problem?”
Apparently, the teenager had run away from home a few times and my friend was scared it would happen again. She was seeking advice. Before I venture further into this story, I have to say that I DO NOT HAVE A TEENAGER. However, before I became a mother, I was a camp counselor to teens and nanny to a family with a pre-teen that morphed into a full-fledged teenager, right before our eyes. Sadly, I was faced with teenage body image, sex, drugs, abandonment, abuse, neglect, sibling rivalry, depression and runaways many decades before I had Mitchell. While my experience is not personally with my own child, I do have experience with children that I love and still care for deeply.
Now, back to this story and this painful issue, my friend was having with a teenager, that was not hers. My friend went on to explain the situation to me. I can say with all honesty, not much stuns me. Nor am I easily shocked. But that day, as I sat on the other end of the line, and listened to the circumstances surrounding this young girl, I had tears in my eyes. What I was hearing was NOT a teenagers problem or this teenagers problem. The feelings of inadequacy, feelings of being unloved, feelings of abandonment, feelings of neglected and of being broken were issues the parent had. This mother was angry at a child for things that the child could not change. I was flabbergasted to hear the mother was furious at her teenager for not loving her like she felt she should be loved as a mother and not supporting her. Long before I was able to articulate these emotions and issues, I saw them. I saw them with kids at camp, in real life, in my family, with my father and with strangers. I saw and still see people wanting and having children so someone would love them, be there for them, be a friend and be so many things a child is NOT capable of being for an adult. It saddens me to see parents burden their children with emotional baggage they aren’t equipped to handle. But this story touched me deep inside as I wept for the teenager. My friend and I talked about what could legally be done and what could be done as a friend. My friend has offered to take the child in but the mother harbors so much unknown hatred for the girl, she refused the offer. Feeling lost, both my friend and I knew this kiddo needed help and she was close to her breaking point. We (my friend and I) are not alone in feeling helpless to help a child. Emotional turmoil is not easy, but especially difficult for children and teenagers. So many teens and parents could benefit from some type of intervention.
Look, I am the first person to say that I am broken, flawed, and far from perfect. I am not standing in judgement of anyone or their parenting style. But if you need help, GET IT! If you think your kids need help, GET IT! I am NOT a psychologists but I know what pain looks like. I can feel heartache and I know brokenness first hand. I have learned through my own therapy that not many people who are broken or have suffered some sort of trauma can heal themselves. Children most especially, need our love and guidance and cannot fill the brokenness in us. Please do not expect them to.
At the end of the day, I’ve heard many sayings in my life, gotten great nuggets of advice and spoken to countless numbers of parents. I am not sure who said it but I know I heard it in my 20’s at a child care training. “This job is not about you. It is about the lives you will touch and change.” I either did not listen or did not hear it at the time. In 1996 I was privileged to run the program I was a kid and counselor in, at a local YMCA. Everyone that knows anything about me, knows that I love the YMCA. When I walked into that training, there were five, count it five of my previous kids there that were in the program when I was a counselor that I now employed. I smiled and addressed the staff, personally acknowledged my kids and hugged them all. I let the training continue and I walked out and cried. They were the tears of joy, pain and wonder I spoke of earlier. I did not realize until that moment that those summers in the heat, riding in a 22-seater van to whatever field trip, letting the kids singing songs at the top of their lungs, would affect them. I did not realize that stopping everything to talk to my teenagers when they had serious questions would affect them so profoundly. I didn’t know that becoming a lifeguard, so that the teenagers in my care could go to water parks, would show them sacrifice. I just did not know. How could I know? I wasn’t much more than a kid myself. I am so amazed that God saw fit to teach me the most important parenting lessons before I actually became a parent. That raising children is not about me at all, it is about them.