After a fierce conflict on the battle- field that parenting a teenager is at times, I was standing in my front yard trying to calm down. I was furious, so calm was not easy to come by.
I tried to look around and notice my surroundings, to take refuge in the present moment.
It was a beautiful, fair and golden afternoon. There was a warm, pleasant breeze. A woman was walking up my street, pushing a baby in a stroller. She looked so content. I remembered those days of parenting a sweet little baby, as I watched her coming nearer. Our eyes met. I opened my mouth to greet her, but what came out was, “Just wait.”
Parenting teens is a challenge, and during hard times, it can be utterly overwhelming to all concerned.
Prayer is essential.
I was crying at mass, in the deep agony of a mother grieving the future of her child. I had found out my oldest daughter, such a good girl, devout, bright, and affectionate, had a grave illness that would stop her education in its tracks, keep her from holding a job, affect all her relationships, and everything she ever did for the rest of her life, and from which she would suffer terribly. There was some hope of helping her medically, but not much.
I begged for an answer or reassurance of some kind. “Oh Jesus, can you give me some idea, some glimpse that she will be OK at least? That she will have a life? Something?”
Gently, peace settled down on me, and I felt that the Lord said to me, “I died for her, as if she was the only person on earth. Is this not enough for you?”
“Yes. That is enough for me,” I answered.
I understood that the world had one idea about what it means to “be OK,” to “have a life,” and that God had another. My daughter’s life had purpose. What God permitted in her life, he would make serve her path to him, or even be her path to him.
I had to accept God’s ultimate parenthood of her at that point.
I have gone back to that moment many times in my memory. I have needed to.
There have been other times when I haven’t liked what was going on in my teen’s life one bit, times when my parental nightmares seemed to be unfolding before my eyes.
Often I have needed time to discern what I should do, how much I could or should intervene, or how much I should allow my daughters self -determination against my personal inclinations, which are often intense.
I may be considering a bit of mace applied to a boy friend, a banishment of unsuitable young people from the vicinity, a girl’s school on a quiet hill in a foreign county, a fist fight with another parent, my child’s teen years spent tied to a chair in the living room.
I really need to think and pray.
“The most important thing is remembering the most important thing.” ~ Zen saying
To me, the most important thing is the will of God for my child; specifically, finding my part in accomplishing that. However, it is hard to discern what actions to take when I am on DEFCON 5 and all my parental alarm bells are going off. Those alarm bells are really loud.
How do I find out what God wants me to do?
What I usually do first, is prayerfully sort out my own motives and discard what isn’t important right now, or what I know only gets in the way for me.
I can be really angry about something that is not worth thinking about, and only complicate my thinking. I can focus on the wrong issues. I can be confused because there are so many people involved or concerned. I can feel bad because I don’t want to do what everyone else wants me to do. I may feel alone even though I am not. I may see that I need to set limits and boundaries for my child, or on a relationship of hers, but be unsure of how far I should go with that, or trying to think of appropriate consequences for a misdeed when I know I am too outraged to be reasonable.
It is helpful to get myself (and my kid) to Confession. This clears my conscience, restores my soul, and helps me be clear minded and receptive to the Holy Spirit. I have always noticed this.
I pray, asking to be shown God’s will for me as a mother.
I think of Our Lady, who let herself be guided by the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, by listening to Elizabeth, Joseph, Simeon and Anna, to the Scriptures, to the tenets of her Jewish faith, and by being attentive to the events of her life, reflecting on them in her heart.
She didn’t always understand what was happening, and it seems that angels didn’t always tell her what was coming, or why. When Jesus was lost to her for three days, she seems to have acted as distraught as any other parent.
However, she listened to her Son when she found Him, she took Him home with her, and reflected on all that had happened, “in her heart.” In the deepest part of her, she sorted out the meaning of His words, and looked to God for understanding and direction.
As I listen carefully to the Scriptures read at mass, I often hear the very direction I seek.
I let my conscience as a mother, be formed by my Catholic faith.
I listen to the Spirit as He expresses Himself in the daily events of our lives, or as He draws my attention to something someone says to me that “clicks,” or is even the answer to a question I have just asked in prayer.
I ask for the strength to carry out what may even be the most difficult solution, taking as my model the fortitude and trust of Mary and Joseph.
I recognize the peace I feel, sometimes about even the hardest things, as a sign of the right answer.
Sometimes Mary had to do the will of God even when it looked crazy to everyone else. What did it look like to her family and friends to see her life unfold the way it did? How could she explain her higher purpose?
I am sure sometimes she couldn’t, and she had to accept their disagreement, even, at times, their loss of respect for her, as she tried to follow God and live as He asked, and not necessarily what seemed acceptable in her culture or to her family.
Referring to a difficult family discussion about an issue of hers, I explained to my youngest, “It looks to them like I am sacrificing my child for my faith. So try to understand how they feel.”
After a moment of reflection, my stellar young lady said, “Well, Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac.”
I was surprised. “Yeah, he trusted God.”
She said, “And the angel gave him his son back.”
To me, the solution can never be anything that is against our faith, or that is a sin. Otherwise, how can I ask God’s blessing?
If I decide that I will seek God’s will in all other parts of my life, but not when it comes to my children, I run the risk of blocking His grace from my parenting, which seems like a terrible idea. How can God be part of my endeavors as a mother if I am unwilling to follow His commands or listen to his voice?
I am the prime example for my daughters. If I act against our religion, won’t they see our faith as something we follow when it is convenient, but when it is hard, we do what we want to do? I have to trust that me doing the right thing will bless their lives, and ultimately be best for them.
In this way, I am often guided to the underlying problems I may have missed, had I accepted the easy way out. Also, I have seen that my obedience to God brings unexpected grace into a tough situation. Sometimes even a miracle ensues.
Often I am surprised that my young person, given time to think, taps into holy Wisdom herself, and ends up amazing me with her own discernment or wise response.
Other times, I get a strong message to intervene, and I do. My intervention is often not popular with my teen. That’s too bad, of course.
“That’s why God gave you a mother,” is something I say a lot.
People say things turn out for the best. I don’t know whether that is true or not.
Admittedly, sometimes I don’t get the outcome I want.
But God gets what He wants, and I trust that my attempts at faithfulness will bear fruit as God wants them to, whatever I may feel or see at the time.
After all, as Richard Rohr points out, every time we say “Thy Kingdome come,” we are also saying, “My Kingdom go.”
As parents, we “prepare the way of the Lord,” and “make straight his paths.” The older my children get, the more I must say, “He must become greater, while I must become less.”
There is always mace- I mean, GRACE, in the process.