Empty-Nesters: Please get back Into the pool. We need you.

Why aren’t there survival support groups for parents of teenagers?

I’m serious. Hear me out.

If what I observe is even remotely accurate,  the World has decided that Toddlers and Preschoolers demand the kind of support and attention given to Three Mile Island by a nuclear engineer prone to anxiety attacks.

d42dbb727391bbeb114561bb6ae8ae78New mothers should be surrounded by a support group the size of a brigade — including grandparents, friends of grandparents, church nursery workers, the moms of older kids who miss having a baby around, the fathers of older kids who are actually really great with babies but don’t push themselves into the gaggle of chattering women to get a chance to hold the newest addition…..Basically everyone within earshot of the crying babe.

I’m all about support networks.  Good lord, if I have a kid, I’m calling on anyone within siren distance for help.  I am an idiot when it comes to little kids. Completely incompetent.

But I think this whole parent support network breaks down as kids get older.

I spent a decade teaching teens, meaning I got to know a lot of parents of teens.  As a crowd, these parents tend to share some common characteristics:

  • They’re confused and sometimes hurt or angry because their teen seems to be suffering from multiple personality disorder. It’s as if 6 children have all moved into the same body…. 4 of them are total assholes at least half the time, 1 is always asleep, 3 “can’t even,” and the only nice one emerges when the parent isn’t around.
  • They’re tired because teenagers have ridiculous expectations for social lives but restricted access to driving privileges, a car, or gas money.  So the parental taxi service runs non-stop, the management of curfew is non-stop, the litany of last-minute requests to buy something that should have been taken care of last week is non-stop, the vigilance over “what were you doing last weekend” never stops.
NOT IMPRESSED: Teenagers as a species.
NOT IMPRESSED: Teenagers as a species.
  • They’re poor because nothing tops teen expectations for transportation except their need for money, electronics, clothes, games, movie tickets, adventures with friends, and school supplies. Maybe you can resist “keeping up with the Joneses” but your kid probably can’t.
  • They’re weary of the interpersonal conflict.  Sometimes kids grow up without giving their parents hell all the time. But almost every parent  has to live through at least 12-18 months of crap. Kids know where your buttons are. They know where it hurts. Sometimes they go for the jugular…but usually they’re just cluelessly self-absorbed adolescents drowning in angst.
  • They’re scared that they’re doing it wrong. Parenting is one of those jobs where you don’t know what to do until after you’ve lived through it and gained the experience you would have given a body part to possess 3 days ago.  And every kid is different so those hard-earned lessons may not transfer to the next one.
  • PARENTS, this is you.
    PARENTS, this is you in TeenWorld….. Misspellings and all. Without RDJ’s cool factor.

    They’re wrestling with the balance between safety and freedom, with when to intervene and when to let life teach its hard lessons. A teenager’s character blossoms in exciting ways, giving glimpses of the incredible person tucked inside, a vision of stunning future potential. But they’re also old enough to really, truly screw it up….bad. With lifelong consequences.  That’ll keep anyone up at night. Which makes teenagers’ unhappiness with their parents’ involvement all the more infuriating.

  • They’re feeling guilty because social media and casual conversation make it look like everyone else, despite all their protestations, is doing it so much better. Those people’s kids seem nicer, kinder, smarter, better dressed, better fed, better educated, more involved, and readier for college. Oh yeah, college! Another thing to feel guilty about – how big is your tuition savings account? (Answer: Never big enough.)

If the teen in question is a first-born, raise the intensity of all of these by a factor of 10.

To this, I have something to say:

Empty nesters, we need you.

Where are the support groupies for the parents of teens? They’re out on the lake. They’re chasing retirement. They’re trying to keep up with a kid at college who never calls home and loses all his socks so he just doesn’t bother wearing any, ever.  They’re tired because they’re 50 years old still working 50 hours a week. They’re saving for a future wedding (fingers crossed). They’re distracted because a first grandchild is on the way.

But empty-nesters, we still need you.

266092394761f1b95c58df16df767d59YOU are the voice of reason to the parents of teens in your life (and in your church and in your extended network of people you knew when your kids were in school).

YOU are the evidence that parenting adolescents need not be a terminal illness or the #1 cause of ulcers in adults in their 40s. (I made that up; stop Googling.)

YOU possess the power to say the magic words that parents of teens need to hear again and again and again: “It’s going to be okay.” 

The Apostle Paul gave Titus a model for church relationships as Titus got started in his pastoral career in Crete. In chapter 2, Paul suggests that it’s the older and more experienced people in the church who should mentor those coming along behind in the ways of life: marriage, parenting, working, living.

The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve noticed this mentoring cycle  seems to break as families grow up. I can imagine many reasons:  Social circles for kids and parents harden into the natural groupings driven by school, pulling families into spending time primarily around people who have kids of similar ages. With everyone tucked neatly into these strata, who has time to break out and ask for a hand up?

So. If you’re reading this, and your kids are grown, please find a family who’s still raising their kid13441326730742762560-1368441969s, and invest in their lives. Just start with going out for coffee or beer – what parent of teens doesn’t need chemical assistance?

Get to know teens in your church or neighborhood. Volunteer to chaperon a youth group trip, or have a bunch over for cookies. (Teens still like cookies.) It won’t be weird. I promise. Teens hate only their own parents. 🙂

Hillary earned a lot of scorn in the 90s when she reminded us “It takes a village to raise a child.”  But it DOES take a village. Being part of the Body means parents aren’t supposed to be stuck doing this alone. The rest of us at different stages of life should be investing something in the people coming after us.

Get back in the pool, Empty Nesters! You’re the lifeguards.

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