Andy is turning 13 this weekend, and I’ve found myself thinking a lot about my teen years.
They weren’t pretty….mostly because of my bad attitude. I’ve apologized numerous times to my parents and brother for those years, and will continue to do so. I was the literal worst.
Though I caused a good amount of gray hair on both my parent’s heads, they saw me through these tumultuous years with grace, love, and discipline. Here are 10 ways they saved me from myself.
Note: none of these are popular parenting techniques. They were not popular with me or with my friends or even with many of my friends’ parents. My parents took a lot of grief from a lot of people for the way they parented; but they stood firm in the ways they chose to raise me. I’m not saying you should employ these or even that I plan to employ them all. I’m just telling you the truth.
- No outside-of-school hangouts with people we don’t know.
Yep – if my parents don’t know you AND your parents, we’re not hanging out outside of school. While this was frustrating and sometimes embarrassing for me, it sure kept my social circle small enough for my parents to know what was going on with me. Additionally, it created a village of people keeping tabs on us kids. You have to go to great lengths to get into any serious trouble.
- No free car.
I worked for 3 years to buy my first car. Yes – I had to bum rides of people all through high school. Yes – my parents picked me up and dropped me off everywhere I went. But I knew the value of a vehicle when I got it. This brings me to my next point…
- Get a job.
I started working at The Black Eyed Pea when I was 16. It was a humbling experience, to say the least. No – not everyone there thought I was super special and gifted the minute I walked in. No – most customers didn’t appreciate my excessive “niceness”. And no…my managers weren’t about to pat me on the back for my work ethic, which amounted to that of a Disney princess (not Mulan or Moana or Cinderella. More like Aurora…when she’s asleep.). It was a wake-up call…or more like a wake-up slap. Did my parents pity me? No. This is what adult life is…work. Lots of it. Boy, am I grateful for that lesson. Once I wised up and adjusted, I learned to enjoy my job (and the paycheck!), and developed a MUCH greater appreciation for downtime, my parents, money, and people.
- Early curfew.
If I wanted to go get my own house to live in, I could do that and come home at whatever hour I wanted. If I wanted to continue living in my parents’ house, I needed to be respectful of them by coming home by ten. Period. They did not spend nights awake worrying about me. They were not going to be made to suffer because I felt like being out late. It was their house, they were in charge, and I was living there for free. End of discussion. There’s not a whole lot of trouble you can get into before 10pm…especially when all the parents of the kids you’re hanging out with know your parents.
- Scorched-earth consequences.
When I used my intellect and powers of manipulation to find ways around my given boundaries in absolute bold rebellion, there was no being “grounded from tv” or whatever. For these all-time lows, everything good and free in my life came to a screeching halt…with no clear reinstatement date. No nights out with friends. No after-school activities. No buddies over. No phone calls. Life consisted of work, school, home, and church. There was always plenty of time to consider my life choices during my scorched-earth stints. My parents made it clear that they weren’t mad anymore; but I had chosen to make my life difficult. I had to initiate the conversations about gaining my freedom back, which took a lot of guts. It also meant that I had to actually do things that proved I had earned that freedom back. Selfish rebellion only got me so far…there came a point where it became too costly. Sounds a lot like life, right?
- No free answers.
“Figure it out. You’re smart.”
These words, always from my Dad, would make my blood pressure rise at least 100 points. If he knew how to do it, why wouldn’t he just TELL ME??!!! Or better yet, do it FOR me?!!
Because I was smart.
And I could figure it out.
Problems with my CD player, issues with the TV, math assignments, grade issues, job applications, computer issues, teacher problems….he taught me to deal with them head-on by not dealing with them himself. And so did my Mom. Yes – they would step in if they needed to; but most of the time, they didn’t need to. I needed to develop the courage, composure, and sometimes, creativity, to solve my own problems and not give up.
I remember the day I saved my own scholarship at UNM. It hadn’t actually taken a day…but a few harrowing weeks. A professor lost one of my test scores, recorded it as an incomplete, and recorded my grade as incomplete as well. I was informed that my scholarship wouldn’t be reinstated for the following semester…and I had no backup plan. Additionally, the professor was on medical leave. I made the phone calls. I stormed the offices. I hounded everyone I could until I found a person who could help me get in contact with the professor’s wife. We worked it out and my scholarship was saved. When I got it all settled at the financial aid office, the first person I called was my mom. I remember being so thankful that they had taught me how to take matters into my own hands and work a problem till it was solved. They taught me by choosing to allow me to learn by doing. Thanks, guys. I’m so grateful.
- ONE extracurricular activity.
One. Not five. When I wanted to be in Color Guard, I had to drop CrossCountry. They chose how our family life operated. THEY chose. They refused to have our lives revolve around my activities. Whether I wanted to learn it or not, it was hard to escape the truth that the universe really didn’t revolve around me.
- No missed family events.
There was no discussion on this. Family trumped friends every time. Family trumped pretty much everything. And now that one grandparent is not with me in the world anymore and life has become so busy that I rarely see my aunts, uncles, and cousins, I sure am grateful. When I was doing the teenage flail, floundering with self-image issues and trying to assert myself as something I wasn’t, being with family reminded me who I was. My grandparents always brought out the best in me. My cousins brought out the goof in me. My aunts and uncles reminded me that I didn’t have to do anything to fit in…I was loved and appreciated just for being me. I’m so grateful I never missed an opportunity to be with them.
- Non-negotiable church.
We never had a conversation about it, and I think it’s because I understood: “In this family, we go to church. You’re in this family. You’re going to church.” Right…sometimes I didn’t want to go. Sometimes, I was given 10 minutes notice before we left (not NEARLY enough time for a vain teenager to get herself spruced up for her admirers! Hello!!!). There were so many times where God worked on my heart and mind during our church services without my parents having to say one word. I’m so glad they made this a priority, and glad I didn’t miss those opportunities for much-needed divine attitude adjustments!
- Forced contribution at home.
I did everyone’s laundry, every week. It didn’t occur to me to be upset about this. It was nice that I got to ensure that I had every item of clothing ready for the week ahead. When I moved out, I knew how to launder everything from delicates to work jeans…why some things get hung up and others can go in the dryer…how to keep all my shrinkable stuff from shrinking and how to get tough stains out. I’m very grateful for this knowledge to this day. And it made sense….everyone lives here; everyone should contribute. I definitely should have done a LOT more. But I’m really glad I contributed in this way.
I’ve heard that navigating the teen years can be like walking a tightrope for a parent….pretty tricky. Through all of the ups and downs of mine, my parents worked to give me strength…to help me find my footing and cheer as I climbed. I always knew they had my back; and it’s still their voices today that I find myself hearing in difficult situations. Though I wasn’t sure who I was, they always were. “You’re smart. You’re strong. You can do this.”
The best thing they did was to give me a firm foundation in Jesus Christ. There were few difficult conversations where my accountability to God did not come up. My life was given to me and saved by Him…by His grace. My obedience, my attitude, my words, and my outlook all needed to stem from that truth. No matter what thoughts I was having about my parents and their ridiculously strict rules (as I saw them), I really couldn’t argue with that. And now, looking back, I see how God used their intuition, decisions, and rules to not only protect me, but to reveal to me how badly I really needed Him. There really can be no greater knowledge than the fact that you can’t fix yourself and desperately need God’s intervention. I can’t thank them enough for providing the opportunity for me to come to that understanding.
To all my fellow parents, dare to do the unpopular.