Many parents are comfortable seeking outside mentors. However, when I suggest that we, as parents, should be the child's primary mentors, eyes start bugging and hands begin to shake. "But I'm not an expert! But I'm the mother of a teenage son! But, but... "
These excuses are routine, but in light of scripture, pretty weak. After all, in Deuteronomy 6, the command is startlingly comprehensive. We are to teach when we sit in the house, when we walk by the way, when we lie down and when we rise up. This commandment is given to me, the parent, with my weakness, my inabilities, my failures, my lack of confidence, my fatigue.
Parents as Mentors
I spent several years stumbling around in the dark before I came to the understanding that God gave my children to me for a reason.
I had argued with Him for several years about the students he had given me-surely He was mistaken and they should have been born into a family that could further develop their innate talents. However, He made it clear to me that my skills were exactly what they needed. He promised to take care of the math and science (my weaknesses), but it was in my court to deal with subject matter in which I had a specialty as well as gifts I possessed and skills I had developed (my strengths).
A Parent's Tool Chest
When I stopped long enough to take an inventory of my abilities, I unearthed things that I thought belonged in my past, but that God clearly thought I needed to be teaching today.
Leadership and organization have always been a part of my life and with that came skills in public speaking, writing, interviewing, journalism, copy writing for radio, and political campaign strategizing. This may not sound like a big deal, but my oldest was an extreme introvert who really did not like people and who stuttered horribly in front of a crowd. Yet, fourteen years later, nobody would guess his secret. My son is an easy-going young man with a gentle leadership style. He has many friends, knows how to navigate social networks and speaks easily in front of groups.
But how do you help your children to get from here to there?
Most families today lead divergent lives, sleeping in the same house at night, but going alone in different cars to different activities by day. Their lives never really intersect. To truly mentor our teens, we need parallel lives-working alongside each other accomplishing whatever needs to happen for the good of the family.
When my children were little, this meant weeding the garden or cleaning the house together, each of us having a different job but in close proximity so we could talk (and I could oversee).
In the teen years it takes a different form. My daughter does schoolwork on the kitchen table as I work in the kitchen or at the nearby computer. I am there to answer questions (not usually school-related). When Natalie is working at the computer on a project, I am nearby to proof e-mails, give advice, help her understand the dynamics of whatever group she's dealing with. We get in our exercise and a lot of discussion during our daily walk. When I'm organizing an activity, she is practicing her violin within hearing distance so I can call her in to proof my work or to get her input on my latest idea.
Because we live in such an isolated location, all extracurricular activities are two hours away (too far for a young driver), so we also spend time in the car together with lots to discuss.
Choosing Real Life
Because my children have always shadowed me as I engage in life, by late junior high they are ready for the real thing. We work as a family to create or improve organizations and to influence our community. I start handing over increasing responsibilities as their development allows. I teach them to network, to navigate political structures, to deal with the media. I routinely lead them outside their comfort zone. They are educated in organizational management and community involvement and are expected to be servant leaders.
Teens have the maturity to learn quickly and to be entrusted with much. Working in parallel transfers easily to the public square. In the Capitol, we divide and conquer, cell phones handy. On political campaigns, I'm driving the van as they jump out the side doors to distribute campaign literature. In board meetings, I'm at the back of the room ready to help if they get in over their heads while making a presentation. Instead of devoting themselves to contrived classroom simulations, they operate in the real world. It just doesn't get any better than that!
The hard part is that when I commit to really walk the road alongside my young disciples, my life becomes uncomfortably transparent. When I look at my children and see something unacceptable, it is often a reflection of my own weakness-something I have to correct in myself before I can expect better behavior of them. It is a humbling experience when the Lord uses my offspring to bring a character flaw to my attention, but I'm a better woman today for it.
I have learned recently that the secretaries of many American physicists receive hardship pay because their bosses are so arrogant and horrible to deal with. I look up at my caring and compassionate son and have to laugh at the grand design God had for our family. So that was why Austin was given to me instead of to a scientific parent! God knew all along it would take my strong personality and every skill at my disposal to keep Austin humble and to lead him beyond the very limiting confines of his high-IQ comfort zone.
Each Family Is Unique
The life of your family will look totally different from mine. Each family is uniquely gifted to carry out their particular mission on this earth. Each member is designed to complement and strengthen the others. Trust me, you have gifts and skills that are exactly what your children will need to truly flourish.
My job as a parent is not to replicate myself, but to teach my children everything I know and to find other mentors or instructors to teach them the things I don't. It is to look at my children with honest eyes and chose daily to correct weaknesses that will impede them in the real world. Trained in this way, they can then stand on my shoulders as they begin their adult life and go farther than I ever dreamed of going in mine.
Are you ready for the challenge of partnering with God to help your children be the best they can be? It's a wild ride, but the most exciting one you'll ever take.
Her Son Austin Says:
From time to time I hear people advocating a hands-off parenting style. This school of thought (if it's coherent enough to be called that) dictates parental non-judgmentalism with the justification that "kids need to make and learn from their own mistakes."
While the last statement is to some extent true, it is unwise to take this as an excuse to avoid passing on knowledge. Being human, we're going to make errors anyway. It makes sense to at least be original about it and not repeat what's already been done.
A parent who is an effective mentor can give their children the benefit of wisdom and experience beyond what their short years would normally permit. My parents' willingness to add their strengths to my own (without trying to change who I was) allowed me to assume adult responsibilities at a young age and enter college vastly better adjusted than I would have otherwise. It was one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me.