Thursday, February 6, 2014

Strategies for Loving Detachment with Your Teen

      You made it past the 2:00 a.m. feedings, the mountain of diapers, the temper tantrums, homework and Little League. Now your son or daughter is a teen and you wonder how the years could have flown by so rapidly. There were days when you thought your child would never grow up and leave home. Now that time has come and you wonder, Is my teen ready to transition out of the home?

      A healthy and natural separation occurs around the junior high years when a young person seeks increased independence outside the home. He is consumed with learning who he is in relation to others and where he fits into the world. He may appear distant and moody at times as he processes this phase of life. This "leaving" can sneak up and surprise a parent if he doesn't know what to expect. It is critical to adjust mentally and emotionally and provide opportunities for healthy detachment. Let your teen test the waters through exposure to outside classes, career counseling, volunteer work, mission trips, and church youth groups to determine where his gifts, talents, and interests can best be utilized. Use Proverbs as a study guide to encourage godly friendships and discuss spiritual character qualities often around the dinner table, in the car, or in the evenings when everyone is finally back home and settled for the evening. Even more importantly, let your life exhibit these qualities. Your teen will read you like a book, absorbing lessons as he observes your response to life’s situations. As has often been said, “Actions speak louder than words.” Paul says it best in Philippians 4:9: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Be the kind of parent who is not afraid to teach with his life!

      You separate from your teen physically after high school, but you do not separate spiritually. Now is the time to pray for your child more than ever. Prayer is the best gift you can offer. Hopefully, you have been praying for him and with him all during his life. The teen may leave, but he can not escape your prayers. The Father is watching and your teen is in His arms.

       Our girls are now 33, 30, and 26, married with families of their own. Here are some suggestions we found helpful in lovingly detaching from our young adult children while helping them transition out of the home.

         Be aware that transition times are the hardest. Helping your young person move to complete independence requires thinking through the practical affairs of living. Sit down together with your teen and talk about goals. Write any thoughts down on paper. Will your child get a job or go to college? If he chooses college, will he work to pay his way or will you offer financial assistance? Will he purchase a car? When? Each child and each situation is different, so it is important to sit down together and map out a strategy in keeping with the child's goals and available resources. Carol Kuykendall has written an excellent book published by Tyndale House titled, Give Them Wings, on preparing your teen to leave home. She shows parents how to help their teens set goals for themselves, manage finances, maintain a car, do laundry, as well as other life skills necessary for living on one’s own. A church friend loaned the book to me during my daughter’s senior year of high school. I found the advice timely, practical, and comforting. I highly recommend it to you for additional help in this time of transition.

       When your teen is "under his own roof" financially, then he can make his own decisions. As long as you are footing the bill for college or any other venture, your teen is accountable to you and has not fully left. Finance leads to freedom which leads to independence. We encouraged each of our girls to seek part time employment during  high school in order to assist with college. While they were not financially independent from mom and dad, they developed a healthy appreciation for what it takes to live on one’s own. They set up savings and checking accounts and learned how to manage both. They helped with the family car expenses, such as gas, repairs, and insurance. They understood that as long as mom and dad were paying for college or gap year experiences, they needed to consult with us about their plans. Thankfully, we have been able to add our blessing to our girls’ dreams, and therefore have not had difficulty providing financial backing on that score. If, in your case, you do find it difficult to mentally or spiritually support your child’s aspirations, and after prayer, counsel, and communication with your teen, discover he still feels inclined to follow his dream, then you will need to release that child to fund himself.

       Set boundaries before your teen leaves home. Establish some plan for phone calls, emails, or letters. If your child has left the home financially independent, then he is no longer a child. He has moved from Ephesians 6:1--"Children, obey your parents in the Lord" to Ephesians 6:2--"Honor your father and mother." If he has been taught from the cradle to respect your authority in a way that has been loving and also respectful to him, then most likely he will continue to honor you through his actions and words. To do so shows true maturity on his part. Don't overload your grown child with advice. During these transition years, it may seem as if he needs you one minute and casts you aside the next. Be patient as he moves toward full independence. Allow him to learn what you had to learn by experiencing life. And by all means, keep praying!

 Words You Can Leave With Your Teen
         In writing this article, I asked my counselor husband, Chuck, what he would say to a young person leaving home for the first time. He jokingly said, "I'd say the same thing I'd say to you when you go to the beauty shop: 'Good luck to ya!'" On a more serious note, here are some things he shared. 

          It's okay to grieve your loss of childhood. Crying is not a sign of weakness or dependence. Don't try to be strong for mom and dad. Share your feelings. Once shared, they don't seem like the monster you thought they were. In dealing with our own grief at letting the girls go, Chuck and I discovered that hiding our tears only served to hinder open and honest communication. Letting go of the tears when needed made us realize the emotions were not as uncontrollable as we had feared, while letting our teen know that it is okay to grieve the transitions. Change is just a healthy part of life that needs to be addressed. When we expressed our emotion with our girls, they seemed relieved. Tension lifted, freeing them to reciprocate with shared emotion.

         Furthermore, even though you are grown and leaving home, you are still loved and covered by mom and dad’s prayers. You can never go beyond the reach of your parents’ prayers on your behalf. Mom and Dad will be here for you when you need them. 

          Remember whose you are. God made you and you are accountable to Him. When no one else is watching, God is. If you have received Christ as your Saviour and Lord, you have been purchased by the precious blood of Jesus. You belong to Him. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

            Remember the godly teaching passed down to you by your parents and church leaders. Proverbs 6:20-22 says, "My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you." At each graduation, we left our girls with 3 John 1:4: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." In this way, we pictured a bright, victorious spiritual future for each of our girls.

            A helpful resource as you prepare for this transition is the book by Helen Neinast and Thomas Ettinger titled, What About God? Now That You’re Off to College. Published by the Upper Room, this book provides daily devotionals which prepare teens for college with spiritual writings, daily readings, prayers, and ideas for journaling.

          Make it a lifetime goal to build an intimate relationship with God. As you do, He will direct your steps. My second daughter, Michelle, and I sat on the beach soaking up the sun and watching the waves lap the shore. At one point, she turned to me and said, "Do you ever feel stuck?" I replied, "Yes, there have been times in my life when I have felt that way."  Moving into her senior year, she was concerned that she had no clear direction from God for her future beyond high school. I assured her that God would lead one step at a time as she read His Word and talked to Him about every aspect of her life. Michelle was still uncertain about the next step to take after a year at our local community college, so we asked her to write down what she did know right then. She responded that she learned from a secular college setting that she needed to know how to defend her faith better. She had witnessed to several students and sometimes felt stumped by their questions. She had encountered professors with opinions contrary to the Bible. We asked her what step she could take to accomplish that goal. A year of Bible college seemed a logical next step in her thinking. Although difficult to leave home, Michelle took the step she believed God wanted her to take. That was several years ago. At this writing, Michelle is a graduate with a B.S. in counseling, a wife, mommy, and TeenMops Leader with Straight Street, a Christian inner city organization where both she and her husband serve fulltime. God only requires that we act on the knowledge He gives. Then He will reveal the next step in the plan. 

         Choose godly friends that will steer you in the right direction. This may be one of the most crucial tips I can offer. Friendships can either make you or break you. Since you no longer have the permanent support system of home, it is vital to establish a godly network away from home. The first year at college can be overwhelming as you adjust to a new room, new food, a roommate, college studies, a different routine, and possible job and car care. You need the stability that Christian friends can provide. You need at least two or three people who will direct you to the Bible for answers, who will listen and pray with you, and even cry with you when you need them to. Equally important is plugging into a Bible-believing church where you can continue to mature in your faith. Many campuses offer Christian organizations such as Campus Crusade and Inter-Varsity Fellowship designed to develop disciples and connect students with other believers. 

         Transitioning out of the home is difficult for both parent and teen. It requires change. Change requires loss. There are two sides to the coin. You must lose in order to gain. No one likes to think about growth and maturity having negative aspects, but in order to grow, you must grow up and away from where you currently are. Loving detachment is exciting for parent and child as you both grow in God's unique purpose for your lives. 



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