On parenting a pre-teen and the survival thereof

I think the best parenting advice I ever received in regard to getting through the tumultuous preteen years was just that: to get through it. In other words, the wisdom offered to both parent and child was essentially buckle down and wait it out. Just survive. Some of you–no doubt those of you having yet to encounter the drama and turmoil of that stage of parenting life–might quibble with such advice, preferring an approach somewhat more aggressive, more engaged, more outcome-oriented, something surely more effective. I know because I used to think those things too, back when I could not conceive of my sweet son who loved me with such abandon being transformed into a sullen, quick tempered someone I didn’t even recognize.

This is our fourth foray into such dark and forbidden territory and despite having been here before I am as ill prepared and caught off guard as I was our first go ’round. It seems to me, although it may only be my imagination, that these last two children have each suffered far more angst than the first two. Certainly their parents have. Or maybe their parents are just tired and old. Either way, I find the encouragement to stick it out to be both wise and valuable. It is only a season, a difficult one to be sure, but it too will pass. It is for us to hang on, to stand strong, to remain firm, and to love our boys as they make the hard transition from child to teenager. By no means does such advice infer a backing down or an unwillingness to confront; rather it is to know that the confrontations and the angst will come so be ready, fight the good and necessary fight and hang on tight.

However, this bit of advice is like most advice: the more easier said than done.

On the way to school the other morning an argument erupted over the dumbest thing (and isn’t only the dumb things that tend to erupt and then escalate?). What ensued was nothing less than an all out scream fest followed by several minutes of emotionally strained silence interrupted only by the arrival at school and me saying “I love you, even when you don’t think I do.”

I drove home in tears, hating myself both for the loss of temper and for the loss of control. I texted a confession to my husband who said (rightly) the offending son should be grounded. “What about me?” I replied, my actions no less immature or inappropriate than his (though I am certainly the authority figure and as such have the right to demand full and immediate obedience). Added to my shame was the fact I would be presuming to lead Bible study in a couple of hours. My actions had proved once again: I am an unworthy teacher, an unworthy mother, a lousy Christian.

Hanging on is tough. I am tired. And old. Some days I want to hide in the closet, only to emerge in time for supper (so long as someone else is cooking) or, better yet, in time for my youngest son’s high school graduation. I am weary, I am worried that I’ve ruined my kids forever, I am trying to hang on and survive but fearful I will fail and fail in spectacular fashion anyway.

I used to resent those passages in the Bible that would speak of the Christian’s victory with such bold, unwavering confidence. More than a conqueror? Not this girl. Defeat–in parenting, in housekeeping, in virtually every area of my life–seemed more my game. I couldn’t be the kind of mother, the kind of teacher, the kind of wife, the kind of Christian I thought I was supposed to be. Sure, I was hanging on to my faith, but only barely.

What I’ve learned is that being more than a conqueror doesn’t mean breezing through life with nary an obstacle nor struggle. Instead, life is a battle. There are scream fests on the way to school. There are stages of parenting that make me despair of survival of the parent or the child. My weakness will be exposed. I will know, in sharp, heartbreaking clarity, that I am not enough.

And where is the victory in that? It comes in saying with Paul: I delight in my weakness because that is when the power and the grace of the Lord is shown perfect. I can be thankful for the exposure of my sin because I know it is the kindness of the Lord that leads me to repentance. Grace and strength, mercy and forgiveness–this is victory in Jesus.

So I persevere. I hang on. I fight the good fight. In parenting. In faith. I know that the Lord keeps those who are His and that He is sufficient for all things, yes, even the strange and difficult season of parenting a pre-teen, glory to His name. I need Him so.

I have linked this post as part of the Write It, Girl! challenge for the month of March. Click on the button to find out more and to see other participating posts.


Author: Lisa Spence

Wife, mother, Bible teacher, bibliophile, occasional blogger

16 thoughts on “On parenting a pre-teen and the survival thereof”

  1. Been there, done that. Each child is different, and we as parents have changed in ways with each child. It's a new ball game each time. My boys don't have a lot of angst, but their strong independence is often difficult for me. One of my reasons for homeschooling was that I wanted independent thinkers. When they demonstrate that they have learned that lesson, it's not always easy. I find parenting adult children just as stressful, because sometimes, you have to sit back and just watch them hang themselves. Parenting is definitely not for the faint of heart.

  2. Amen! To the whole post! Parenting a teen is hard. I've been thinking lately that it's a lot like walking on hot coals…only the pain isn't on the bottom of my feet, but in my heart. Thank you for the call to perseverance. May God's grace see us through!

  3. I understand this so well. I have been there so many times. But I musty confess, I am grateful for friends like you who have decided to persevere in godliness, even through tears. Hugs!

  4. I'm just socking away the information and advice. I'm glad you decided to share these things. Not to scare you with the thought that I'm "taking notes" or anything. ;D

  5. Thanks so much for sharing! I'm not a parent but my favorite age to work with are pre-teens and teens. It was really valuable to hear from you.

  6. Amen! My babes aren't pre-teen yet, but I am feeling the same way, clutching to the same hope! It is remarkable that my own post (after yours via Write it, Girl) touches on the same exact topic! Isn't God amazing? So, it is clear that this is a normal parenting struggle, and the conclusion is that only in His strength can we find hope and significance. Thank you for sharing! I'm glad I read this!

  7. I have survived to the other side and now have 2 prodigals and a missionary. Not sure how that happened. But I know I can't take blame for their poor choices any more than I can take credit for their good ones. And I love them through all of it. And pray for them constantly. I related so much to this post. Probably because the teens weren't THAT long ago and I did my fair share of yelling and repenting. The other piece of advice that got me through … once I had enough experience to know it was good advice … was to choose my battles. Not everything is worth taking a stand on! But when it is … stand firm and hold on tight! As you said … grace covers the rest!

  8. Thank you for this reminder that I am not alone in the Imperfect Mother Club! We do need Christ so desperately in every area of our lives… especially parenting. I appreciate your honesty.

  9. Blessings to you Lisa. I can't help but think that the rapid cultural downgrade we have going on is affecting our young people more than ever before. I'm hearing your story from parents here at home more and more – and many are quite frantic over it. It's not their parenting and some have older children to compare it to also. My granddaughter is 13 and the things she knows about and deals with her friends at school is just shocking. Peer pressure, Facebook, ect…the list goes on. I wonder if that could be why your 2nd two are having more trouble? Just a thought.

  10. Lisa, I really appreciate this post. I've been struggling with my failures recently and have had to tearfully confess that I have not demonstrated the gospel in front of my children when I let my temper and flesh rule on so many days recently. Thanks for sharing this. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who tearfully regrets scream fests in the car as I hang on in the parenting battle. Thanks for pointing to the gospel.

  11. Thank you for being vulnerable and writing this post, Lisa. It's hard admitting we don't have it all together in the parenting department. I sent this on to my sister who is really, really going through it with her 12 year old daughter and not beating herself up with her mistakes with said child. She was really encouraged by it even in just knowing she is not alone and to persevere.

  12. Errrrr….. I can't imagine my sweet little boys going through this, and yet I know that it is part of their growing up and becoming men, men who (Lord willing) will do great things for the Kingdom. SO. I am thankful to be forewarned of the daunting days to come and to have the encouragement you gave to remember that all of the Christian life is a battle. Thank you.

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