New parents are often told that giving birth to a baby makes them adults. That 'round-the-clock responsibility for another human is a life-altering shift that pushes us into our next life stage. Responsibility alone didn't transform me into a true adult, but parenting a teenager did.
You know you're an adult when you're at a crowded mall with your preteen daughter and debating what to tell her about the adorbs (her word), inappropriate (my word) outfit she's picked out. Is it…?
A) too tight.
B) too short.
C) not something my darling baby girl should wear.
D) a mile marker. You're growing up. I love you. The answer on this particular outfit is no. Let's keep looking and see if we can find you a look we can both live with.
When I began these conversations as my firstborn hit early adolescence, I realized that both of us were growing up. This was markedly different than the "instant adulthood" I entered on the day of my daughter's birth, when I drank in her first cries, an emotional cocktail of joyous connection blended with the sobering weight of responsibility.
"Most of us become parents long before we have stopped being children," author Mignon McLaughlin observed, and young parents' transition into their new role can bring self-indulgent and socially awkward behavior. Take today's "oversharenting" trend. Blair Koenig, who is not yet a parent herself, created a blog with the blunt title STFU, Parents as a snarky response to parental oversharing on social media.
The blog recently became a book, marketed as a cautionary tale to new parents who breathlessly report on every moment of their child's life, right down to tweeted descriptions of the Technicolor contents of their baby's diapers. I have a lot of compassion for parents of young children. I well remember the joys of first words, first steps, and toilet training successes. If social media existed when my kids were little, I'm pretty sure my updates would look like those featured on Koenig's blog.
Oversharing quietly evaporates as the kidlets become older. Mommy bloggers eventually become the parents of teens, and their stories tend to have a wistful tone. After all, when our kids are little, we are the ones responsible for every aspect of their lives, right down to the brand of chicken nuggets they eat. As they get older, they begin making choices for themselves, which may or may not align with ours. Few parents exit their children's adolescent years with the same sense of certainty about parenting as when they entered.
A friend of mine who had an especially idyllic childhood worked like mad with her husband to create that same sort of environment for her children: no TV, lots of classic literature and music, organic foods, plenty of unscheduled time. Imagine her surprise when not long ago, her 13-year-old begged for a drum set. She and her husband broke down and bought him this gift, and he proceeded to fill the house with the dulcet musical stylings of Metallica and Led Zeppelin. Their clash over music was fueled by a lifetime of unvoiced expectations that their son would adopt all of their values, embracing quiet piano concertos and organic dinners. My friend eventually realized that she'd been clutching a false image of what she wanted her son, based completely on her ability to control his choices. It wasn't an easy transition. Keeping her relationship with her teenager meant surrendering those false images – and herself – to God.
I've had a similar journey. Prior to my children's adolescence, I'd been doing adult things like buying major appliances and scheduling family dental appointments for more than a decade. Yet I didn't really live into my own adulthood until my young teen kids began making their own decisions. I'm not in any way advocating abandoning responsibility, as adolescents need their parents to be parents, not pals; however, my husband and I learned in the trenches of daily life that the kind of control we'd exercised during our kids' childhood years became a hindrance when it came to raising teens.
During those challenging adolescent years, I discovered that as relinquished my desire to control, I was becoming an adult. Though he didn't specifically mention debates about cute outfits at the mall, John Ortberg notes that relinquishment is behind every kind of spiritual discipline:
Spiritual disciplines are not self-improvement techniques…In 12-step terms, they always involve letting go. The Bible's word for that is surrender.
They help me submit my will to the divine will. They are like a cord that plugs an otherwise inert appliance into a source of power. They connect me to a reality deeper and more powerful than myself. Ultimately, they connect me to Jesus. They help me access the life that flows only from him.
In explaining to his disciples what it would cost them to follow him, Jesus said, "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" (Matt. 16:25-26). We will find his life as we choose to surrender ourselves to God in new ways as we parent our adolescent kids. And in the process, we may just discover that we've become grown-ups at long last.