When rules trump love

by Kristin on February 1, 2013

in Love, family & community

Photo by K. Tennant

My firstborn, Q, turned 15 yesterday. Yep, that little munchkin up there on the monkey bars isn’t so little any more. It hardly seems possible. But each day, when I see her standing there in a room with me, telling me about some funny thing that happened at school or asking for permission to do something that takes her one step further into the world, I can’t deny the truth. She is so grown up and yet so much the girl she was at six.

Parenting teens is somehow so much harder than I ever imagined. Maybe “harder” isn’t the right word, because it doesn’t leave me physically exhausted at the end of the day, the way parenting toddlers did. It’s so much more complex. My brain and my heart hurt more at the end of the day, from mentally and emotionally trying to sort and contain all the questions and emotions, rather than from physically containing little feet and hands.

It seems I never fully know, with certainty, what’s best for these three girls of ours. How much autonomy should we offer, and how many boundaries? Which lessons can be learned the hard way and which ones will be too hard, too painful? When do we hang on for dear life, and when do we let go?

I admit, it’s very tempting to just draw clear lines, in black and white, and to be firm in our pronouncements: “You may not, in any circumstance cross this line; if you disobey, this will be your punishment.” And, of course, there are some such lines I can draw with confidence. Don’t share your location or any personal information online with strangers, for instance.

But what about smaller, less dangerous activities? Should she have a phone curfew or should she make her own choices about when it’s time to stop texting her friends and go to sleep? And if we have a phone curfew, should we trust her to follow it, or should we make her hand over her phone each night at the given time, so there’s no doubt who’s in charge?

It’s easy to get caught up in the details—in the control issues, the speculations, the fear of slippery slopes. It’s easy to think, “If only we can get our teens to obey us, all the time, everything will be OK.” But we know it’s not possible. Not only will they slyly maneuver out of our grip now, their years under our roof are numbered. Taking a “Not in my house” stance—especially about little things—is only a ruse, a way to deceive ourselves, put off the inevitable and push them farther away.

* * * * *

“We have to think about what it is that we really want for her,” Jason wisely reminds me, as I wrestle with the pros and cons of various phone curfews. “Our goal is not to raise a girl who is really obedient, or to raise one who is really sneaky and good at evading authority.”

He is right. Our goal is to raise girls who know how to think things through and make good choices for themselves. Our goal is to raise girls who understand and own consequences, both good and bad. Our goal is for our three girls to thrive, to be happy, healthy, and safe—to realize all the potential they carry and to use it to make the world a better place.

Too often, all those good things we want for the people we love get buried under piles of rules and demands of obedience. Too often we get caught up in rules for rules’ sake, assuming they are for good but forgetting why they were established in the first place—who they were put in place for, when, and under what circumstances. We shut out the possibility of celebrating individuals, change, and the hope of something so much better than what we currently cling to.

Yes, this is a post about parenting, but I can’t help but also think about the church and all the ways Christians tend to bury love and hope and grace under piles of rules and demands of obedience.

Can we open ourselves to the possibility of letting the rules take a back seat for a change? And can we ask ourselves what it really looks like to love someone—what we really want for them? Because if we really just want them to be obedient, we can’t be acting in the spirit of love and freedom Christ offers.

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  • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

    ““Our goal is not to raise a girl who is really obedient, or to raise one who is really sneaky and good at evading authority.”” YES!!

    “and all the ways Christians tend to bury love and hope and grace under piles of rules and demands of obedience.”

    So I had an interesting awareness a couple of weeks ago. Some other homeschooling parents were talking about their kids, and how their kids constantly say really mean things to each other. And they get punished, of course. I was sitting and listening to all of them say this same thing, and thinking that my kids don’t talk like that at all.

    So I was thinking and wondering about the possibility that how we discipline as parents might be the reason for that. They are all very ‘I’m the parent, you obey’ type of thinking. Which is pretty typical. Whereas we’ve loosened up a lot over the past few years. Not that our kids don’t fight or snap at each other, but it’s usually over things, and wanting their own way. They don’t call each other stupid or say I hate you or anything like that….and I was thinking how when they do start snipping, we let them go for a little bit. We rarely even put them in time out or anything anymore. We just talk to them. “Do you like it when you’re being selfish and fight? Did God make this person? So are they important? Ok then, talk nicely and share.”…..and that’s kind of it with us.

    I’m always wondering if I’m just being a lazy parent, or if talking, and allowing them the space to get annoyed and frustrated, helps them to not bottle up their anger, which eventually explodes in more devastating ways such as ‘I hate you’. I know I grew up like my friends are parenting, and we weren’t allowed to be mean, ever, and whenever we were, we were punished. So all of those thoughts and feelings were always buried, because you had to be good and obedient.

    I don’t know if that has to do with it, or if we’ve just gotten lucky in that particular way with our kids, or if they just aren’t old enough to be vicious yet, haha. But I just thought that was interesting….and obviously have no where to really talk about it, so I did it here.

    • Michelle Acker Perez

      Kristin, this is so refreshing. I’m not anywhere close to raising teens, but my husband and I are expecting our first child in June. And it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and bogged down with the details of SwaddleMe blankets, breast pumps and the “right” crib and lose sight of a bigger picture. I like Jason’s reminder…”We have to think about what it is that we really want for her” – I want to do the same for our future child.

      • kt_writes

        I love that you connected my thoughts on teens to your own anticipation of parenting your newborn! You’re exactly right—the framework applies to all stages of everyone we love. Blessings on your transition into parenthood! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

    • kt_writes

      This is super interesting, Caris. I wonder if you might be on to something. Kids who don’t really understand why they should or shouldn’t do something—beyond their parents telling them it’s wrong or right, and the kids knowing they’ll get in trouble if they do the wrong thing—can’t begin to internalize the actions and see consequences for themselves. It becomes all about “what can I get away with when mom and dad aren’t around,” which doesn’t do anything to help them grow into kind, responsible adults who are naturally aware of others’ needs and feelings. Anyway, you are NOT being a lazy parent when you let your kids work some of these things out on their own, especially when you’re asking them important questions like the ones you mentioned here. I hope we get a chance to sit down and talk more about all of this soon!

  • Jason

    Several times lately I’ve been reminded of the saying, “with people, slow is fast, and fast is slow” if we try to rush relationships, or instruction, or through rules attempt to be efficient we’re really just create a slew of new problems that end up taking longer to resolve. We can be efficient with things but when it come to children, friends, or fellow church-goers it will likely take less time over all and be more effective, to slow down and try and understand what is best in a given situation at this time.

    As a funny side note. I suggested yesterday that raising older kids was as hard as younger kids, just less satisfying–that we feel less confident that we’re doing the right things…

  • http://somewiseguy.com/ ThatGuyKC

    Great insights, Kristin. Our oldest is 11 and I’m already a little intimidated at the prospect of parenting through the teen years. It’s challenging to avoid drowning in the minutia of boundaries while helping our kids understand the spirit behind the law while obeying the letter of it.

    • kt_writes

      The spirit and letter of the law—that’s it, exactly. I was going to reference some Paul and the gospels more directly, but I figured many people would make this New Testament connection on their own. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Samuel-S-Martin/100000507392601 Samuel S. Martin

    Enjoyed this very much. Best wishes from Jerusalem.

    • kt_writes

      Thanks so much for reading and letting me know you were here!

  • Brock Webster

    *Standing ovation* Clap Clap Cheer, GREAT parenting and wonderful writing!! You Rocked this one!!

    • kt_writes

      As always, you are SO kind. Thank you!

  • http://denisehotze.com/ Denise Hotze

    We adopted our son couple years ago when he was 10. He’s about to turn 13 and this post is exactly what I needed. I’m in way over my head and feeling quite overwhelmed. Thanks for the reminder.

    • kt_writes

      It can be really overwhelming, can’t it? I feel like I’m surprised by it every day (and the surprise only adds to how overwhelmed I feel). Blessings on your parenting wisdom, perspective, and peace.

  • http://twitter.com/erinblueburke Erin Burke

    This is fantastic. Really.

  • http://www.kewp.blogspot.com/ Katherine Willis Pershey

    This is such a wonderful post. It reminds me quite a bit of the message behind my favorite parenting book. It has kind of a terrible title – Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes in You and Your Kids. I would call it the Honor Book. It’s all about parenting with the goal of installing honor in all relationships, particularly those between parents and children of any age. You might really appreciate it. I’m planning to reread it annually, it so beautifully reflects my ideal parenting philosophy.

    • kt_writes

      I definitely want to check out that book, in spite of the dull, wordy title! I will think of it as the Honor Book. :) Thanks for suggesting it!

      • http://www.kewp.blogspot.com/ Katherine Willis Pershey

        The dull, wordy title has nothing on the garish, ugly cover. If I were the art director it would have been so classy. Alas. It truly is a phenomenal book.

  • Diana Carbajal

    Hi Kristin. I was just checking out your blog and came across this post. I can really relate since I am in the middle of parenting 3 teens in our blended family. Two stepdaughters ages (just) 15, 17 and my bio son, 14. I just came off a weekend where I want to pull my hair out. The dynamics are so much more complicated among them. We are learning to let go of the 17 year old more and more and watching her learn from her mistakes. The 15 year old doesn’t seem to get it and we’ve had to put restrictions on her phone since she’ s been on it until 4:00, missing out on school and homework. The 14 year-old, perhaps seeing all the drama that his sisters create, is obedient and respectful, and hopefully not sneaking around. I think what you said about asking ourselves what it looks like to really love someone, as Christ loves us, with the spirit of love and freedom, may be a good measure for us. Thank you.