Now that our oldest daughter is 22 and living her adult life we are able to laugh about the experiences we went through with her as a teenager. I can’t lie some of those memories are still painful, unsettling, and remind me of how hard a time that is for our kids. The constant trying to figure out who you are, who your true friends are, standing up to peer pressure, trying to fit in, and then suffering the consequences for your choices is unique to this time in your life.
She was our oldest with a five and a half year gap between her and her brother and seven and a half years between her and our youngest daughter. She had always been a huge help around the house, caring for her siblings and was a great young person. However as she became a teenager things changed drastically and quickly. It was a shock for all of us and something we had never imagined or planned for. The talks, the behavior contracts, discipline from schools, law enforcement involvement, none of it seemed to make an impact. The behaviors continued and in many instances worsened. Andrea and I were challenged on every level imaginable, our marriage, our jobs, our dreams for her that seemed so lost, and yet we were still trying to raise our other children with all the hope and optimism that they deserved. We tried everything imaginable to stay connected with her, sharing our experiences of our poor decisions and their outcomes, forcing her into more activities in a hope that less free time would equal less trouble, progressively harsher discipline, counseling, yet nothing worked.
So as we sit and talk I’m left with the thought of the one thing I think I missed out on doing that may have helped. In hindsight it seems like such an easy solution yet in the heat of the moment, during the emotional roller coaster rides somehow I missed it. It was one of the things I had always prided myself on sharing and reminding people of, and I forgot all about it. As I think of all the things we tried I don’t remember just grabbing her, hugging her firmly, and telling her how much “I loved her”. I don’t know if that would have changed the decision making, cushioned the landings, or made things easier, but I do know it would have made sure she knew no matter what happened our love was never in question. I should have made more time to do things with her, to have been more purposeful in modeling for her how to forgive, accept, and recover from mistakes! I should have helped her realize that a poor decision does not define you nor become you, it was merely a moment in time meant to teach you something.
So as our 16 year old has recently made a couple poor decisions and is suffering the consequences of them, I’m determined not to make the same mistake. I embrace him daily to let him know how much I love him, how much I respect him and how proud I am of him. I am choosing to view his poor decisions as a sign that he needs more quality time with me and he needs me to remind him of how great he is and can become!
We decided to take him out of school for two days, miss wrestling practice, and go on a quick trip to some place he’s never been. We will use this time to reflect on what’s truly important and to make sure he does not let his mistakes shape how he views himself or dampen his expectations of himself.
As we do this I’m so thankful to Dreana for all the lessons I learned from her journey and for how much better of a father and person that experience has made me!