Love is Enough
I recently had a special patient encounter with a teenager and her mother. At the end of teenage well visits, I ask parents to step out of the room to give the child time to ask questions or talk about things they don't want their parents to hear. This is never to interfere with the parent-child relationship, but actually to support it. I think parents would be surprised what I hear during this private time. Sometimes I learn about sexual activity or drug use, yes. Often I hear about anxiety and depression they don't want to burden their parents with. I try to explain that parents are usually pretty savvy, knowing enough to worry about their kids but not always knowing why or how to help. I encourage teens to talk to their parents, but recognize this is not always something they will do.
This particular patient started to cry and told me about something she is struggling with. She had talked to one friend about it, but felt very scared she would lose most of her friends if they found out. She knew her mom would be supportive but was scared to talk about it. I asked if she would want to tell her mom while I was there, just so she had some support, and she agreed.
When her mom came back into the room and could see her daughter had been crying, I sensed the fear. What secrets had we been keeping that made this sweet girl cry? I told her mom that I thought the patient had something she wanted to share. This teenager, eyes puffy, heart on her sleeve, looked at her mom and told her what was going on. To which the mom answered, without skipping a beat, "Oh honey, thank you for telling me. I love you so much." She gave her a hug and told her how proud she was to share something so scary. She offered love, comfort, and acceptance. She didn't ask a single question. She didn't make a single plan. She just affirmed this girl and reminded her that she is loved.
Regardless of what the do, how they feel, what they think, our kids need love. They need to know that whatever they throw at you, and sometimes it is a lot, you love them. This should not be so hard, in theory, because they were all made in God's image. They might try to create their own image, rebelling against everything you believe in, but they still belong to God and we need to love them powerfully enough to shut out the voices that tell them this isn't true.
I used to watch interactions between tweens and teens and their parents in wonder. I see lots of lovely family interactions, so many examples of wonderful kids who are already making the world a better place. But there are also the ones acting out, making statements like, "When I am a parent, I won't treat my kids like slaves." I do have some parents who take the bait and respond but I am awed by the ones who don't. They might say, "I'm glad to hear that," responding to the words rather than the sentiment behind the words. I used to think the parents were letting their kids get away with disrespect but I am coming to recognize this as love and acceptance. Hopefully if this obstinate teenager grows up to have children, she will set screen time limits and require some chores around the house. This won't look like slavery, it will look like family. But saying that, especially in front of me, will not help the situation in any way. It will further separate the parent and the child. So instead, the parent validates the feelings without agreeing with the underlying message. It is brilliant and it is really, really hard.
I have two kids who are now in this age group. They read this blog because they love and support me, which makes me feel amazing. I never want to write anything that makes them feel marginalized. I will tell you sometimes we don't see eye to eye. Sometimes they probably feel like slaves. Sometimes they say things that are unkind or, in my opinion, ridiculous. But so do I. And they still read my blog. So the message I want them to hear is that I will always read their blog too. Or whatever the latest thing is. I will go to golf tournaments, basketball games, plays, speeches, whatever they find important. I will learn to paddle board or learn to go crabbing. I will stay up late for hard conversations and will never refuse a hug. After many years of saying no, I will even get a puppy. I love them. They are worth it. They were made in God's image and I never, ever want them to forget this.
I do not know the faith, if any, of the family I described above. But God was in the room during that encounter. The impulse to hug a hurting child and tell them they are loved and they are enough, is something I am confident Jesus would do. There might be further conversation later, when the tears and the shame have calmed down, but first would come the love. We see this when Jesus interacted with the woman at the well in John 4. First he validated her, made her feel like she was enough. Then he gave her instruction. As parents, we often do the opposite. We give instruction without making sure our kids first know how beloved they are.
It is our job as parents to instruct our kids and pass on our values. With so many conflicting demands for our time, this can become the most important thing. But I encourage people, just as I am trying to do myself, to love first. The world could certainly use more of that.