I didn’t mean for it to happen. As much as I wanted to come up with some justifiable reason for my loss of temper, there wasn’t one. I overreacted. And my 12-year-old daughter got the brunt of my anger.
Before I knew it, words were coming out of my mouth that were beyond what was called for in the situation. Instead of constructive words that would have the potential of correcting my daughter’s behavior or shaping her heart, I lashed out destructive words that landed on her like a soiled blanket. The shock on her face was obvious, and my heart sank immediately. As she stormed out to retreat to her bedroom, my gentle plea for her to come back fell on deaf ears.
I had blown it.
Perhaps you can relate. You flipped out over something insignificant like dirty clothes left laying around. You didn’t mean to overreact, it was merely the last straw in a series of mounting disappointments. Or maybe instead of you being the one to point out flaws, your teen turned the tables and caught you in a “hidden sin” that you never wanted anyone to know about. Has your teen overheard you fabricate a lie whose only purpose was to save face and make you look better? We’ve all been there.
Whether it was a response to misplaced anger, misapplied discipline measures, or miscommunication, your teen has probably uttered the words, “I can’t stand you,” “I hate being around you,” or “I hope I’m nothing like you when I grow up.” Even though the words feel unfair at the time, chances are these words were spoken as a result of your blowing it.
Welcome to the club. You’re like the rest of the unpredictable and inconsistent parents you vowed never to be like. You’ve dropped the ball with your teenager, and you’ve become a hypocrite in their eyes in the process. You’ve failed to practice what you preach. What now?
If we admit the truth to ourselves, sometimes it’s easier to blow it than figure out how to do it right. Other times we seem to blow it and can’t figure out how it even happened. But the bottom line is that you and I are on a journey to becoming parents who live and love like Christ. Unfortunately, the first step is admitting that from time to time we make Homer Simpson look like Parent of the Year.
The Posture of the Heart
As much as I want to live in a fantasy world where I am a super parent who does no wrong, I know it’s simply not reality. Frankly, it’s the posture of a heart rooted in arrogance that keeps a parent from seeing their daily need for Christ’s intervention. The heart that says, “I can do all things,” but forgets the “through Christ who gives me strength” is the one doomed for failure. The days when I try to lead in my own strength are when I become most vulnerable. In those moments, my heart and mind are not grounded in truth. Like getting sideswiped while enjoying a leisurely drive, my sin comes head-on in a collision course with my actions. And it’s usually my family who become the casualties.
If you have blown it with your teenager, the first step in renewing your relationship is to stop for a moment. Stop trying to figure it all out. Stop trying to make things go your way. Instead, reaffirm your daily need for the Father’s mercy, wisdom, and patience just as the Son did. Then your heart can be reconnected to God’s.
Speaking to the church in the first century, the Apostle Paul said, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Elsewhere he implores us to clothe ourselves with humility. Mending a relationship after you’ve blown it starts on the inside with our hearts, then takes over the outer shell of who we are like a suit of clothing. The essence of humility in human form was Christ himself. Paul describes the humility of Jesus as one that took on the very nature of a servant–or a slave who has no rights.
Jesus’ humility is what caused him to see his own authority as one in submission to his Father. When asked about his authority he said, “The Son can do nothing by himself” and later, “by myself I can do nothing.” He was the maker of the universe living in dependence on the Father. I believe God desires for us as parents to couple our authority with humility; a willingness to admit that we too need help. This simple admittance can keep us from venturing into our own blissful stupidity that believes we have all the answers and a bottomless reservoir of energy.
A Biblical Perspective on Parenting
When you respond with understanding and gentleness, your teen’s anger is subdued. The wrong words can bankrupt your relational account with your teen.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15.1
All it takes is a few misplaced words to bring long-term damages to your relationship with your teen. When hurtful words have been spoken, ask the Lord for wisdom in order to make things right.
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” – Proverbs 12.18
Humility is your first step in restoring the trust your lost in you and models for them how to repair their own broken relationships.
“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.” – Psalm 29.15
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You Be the One to Seek Forgiveness
When you are in the midst of an all out blow up, it is perfectly natural for your teen to not want to be around you. As far as she is concerned, you are the plague. Time apart to regroup is healthy, but it should only be a temporary measure. Use the time to reassess, pray, and regain composure until you can repair the breach.
Think of your relationship with your teen like a bank account, and she is the one with the pin number. Each day she meticulously checks the balance of your relationship. Every loving act you deposit builds into who she is or communicates your authority coupled with respect for her. Cha-ching! In contrast, every act which communicates that you’re an unreliable taskmaster or aren’t trustworthy as an advisor siphons a little out of the account. When your balance runs low, all it takes is one significant act to bankrupt the whole bank.
When you are the one who has blown it and you want to regain your teen’s trust (how’s that for a twist?), it’s important that you don’t merely say you’re sorry. Instead seek forgiveness. Saying, “I’m sorry” only helps you maintain the illusion of your own power. Saying, “Will you forgive me?” is a different ballgame. It puts your teen in the driver’s seat for a change. She gets to determine the outcome and decide whether things move forward. That requires humility on your part. But it’s worth it to see the maturity on her part.
Owning up to a problem you’ve created in your relationship with your teen is a huge part of the process towards reconciliation. It can be awkward and uncomfortable but also very freeing. Let’s face it, even if your teen was disrespectful during the blow up, it doesn’t negate your role in the conflict. Sometimes we parents develop a perspective that says, “I’m the parent. I’m the adult. Therefore, I’m always right.” But this can be avoided when you start with the humility Paul addressed earlier.
Seeking forgiveness also allows you an opportunity to model for your teenager what biblical restoration looks like. Your teenager is going to have moral failures, too. Sometimes she will venture into sin unintentionally as she is trying to figure out boundaries and her place in this world. Maybe she will end up at a party or in a situation with a boy that she didn’t intend to be in. At other times, she will venture into sin quite intentionally. She will have days where she will say in her heart, “God, I know your best for me but today I want my way.” In short, she will be the one to blow it.
Your teen will have to deal with shame, remorse, and her own brokenness just like you have throughout your life. The key difference is that she doesn’t yet know how to find her way back into a right relationship with God or others she may have hurt. When you model reconciliation with your teen, you are leading her into a spiritual maturity that will allow her to find her way back when she too fall into sin.
As you seek forgiveness when you’ve messed things up, it shows her the way back. It shows what humility looks like. It shows that it’s okay to admit when you’re wrong. It shows first hand how a relationship is restored after you’ve disappointed someone. It’s difficult to stand in front of your teenager and say, “I was wrong; will you forgive me?” But it is one of the greatest gifts you can give.