She was four, that day we almost lost her. It was a holiday weekend, spent in and around the pool and picnic table with my husband’s siblings, parents, nieces and nephew. The day winding down, husband was packing the car for the trip home. I was changing a diaper or nursing the baby or doing a final walk through for forgotten baby toys or socks. I didn’t even know she wasn’t there.
I still remember the haze and confusion that came next. My sister-in-law walking in with my dripping child. For some unknown reason, Misty walked out to the pool before leaving. Happy Girl was underwater. No floundering. No cry for help. She had slipped or fallen in, no one there to see. Misty reached in and plucked her out of the water.
My heart still freezes when I think of that day. We mumbled thanks and said goodbye, too stunned and shocked at what might have been to hardly speak adequate words of gratitude to Misty and the Lord for saving our precious daughter. How could we have missed her? How were we so busy that we didn’t see what was happening? After the entire weekend of vigilance, thirty seconds of distraction nearly changed our lives forever.
Fast forward almost 10 years. She’s not 4 anymore. She’s thirteen. There are two more children in our family now, besides the two we had at the time. Even though we try to live intentionally, it seems to be racing along at breakneck speed some days. Teaching how to tie shoes, make beds, be kind to siblings, algebra, grammar, history, books of the Bible, how to play the ukulele, or piano or ballet, scouts, church, friends, and still having time to exercise, read the Bible, plan a garden, learn to paint or cook gluten-free takes up my days. In all the busyness of life, of teaching/feeding/caring for them, have I become distracted from them?
Parenting is hard. The constant balance between protecting them from the culture of the world– that like the cool, inviting water that day–would suck them in and drown them without a second thought and helping them learn how to live in the world but not of it, is grueling. How do you simultaneously teach them how to flee from the temptations of evil in this world and to have compassion on those caught in it? How do we learn to not be deceived by the spirit of the age, yet reach those who are?
I hope you’re not waiting for the answer here, because you’ll probably be dissatisfied. I don’t know the answers. You can’t parent out of fear. You can, but I don’t think the results are satisfactory. But according to research, 75-90 % of teens in the church leave the church by the end of their first year of college, and most don’t come back. What do we do with that? Keep trying the same old thing that seemed to not work on the previous generation, but hope it works better on our kids? I have no idea.
I do know it means our children–our teens–need our attention. Lots of it. I’ve heard people compare teenagers in general to toddlers. A repeat of that self-absorption, that trying so hard to be independent and yet putting themselves in situations they can’t quite manage. I know my toddlers kept me hopping. If it was quiet–too quiet–I knew something was up. It seems to be the same. As long as there is communication right now, things seem to be going well, even if there’s a disagreement, the lines of communication are still open so we can work through whatever is going on. It’s when the chatter ceases I start to wonder what’s going on, deep down in those young souls.
Childhood and the teen years are not the time to be distracted by your own life and stuff, which is hard, because most of the time when children are young, there are career issues or grad school, or new jobs or promotions or all kinds of stuff. None of which are bad, but it is so easy to get distracted by those things and miss your child wandering off to look into the pool of the big wide world, unaccompanied by you.
Of course the best strategy would be to teach them to swim in and through this world culture, with you there in the water with them, holding on to them, then with floaties a little on their own, then practicing until they are proficient swimmers. Even then, it’s always best to swim with a buddy. Even excellent swimmers can drown, given the right (or wrong) circumstances. This process of teaching our children to swim through life is not easy. Sometimes I’d rather be under an umbrella reading a book:). But I can’t.
I have to be in the water with them, showing them the strokes, how to tread water when they get too weary, how to come to the side and get out, how to call for help, and how to allow themselves to be rescued if they get in trouble. Sometimes my timing is off: I catch them too soon, when they appear to be floundering but are only trying to get the rhythm of their stroke. Sometimes I think they’re just splashing in the water having fun, not realizing they are in over their head and almost miss the need to scoop them out of the water.
There is no perfect one size fits all parenting plan that will meet the needs of all my children, and I doubt there’s one for yours either. While the goals are the same, sometimes the techniques are different, which involves constant observation and a reworking of the plan based on the child, the situation, and what I’m hearing from the Spirit.
And we don’t have to teach them all alone. There are grandparents, teachers at church, parents of friends to help along the way, but ultimately God entrusts our children (His children) to us. We have to lean not on our own understanding, but trust the Lord to help us do what’s best for those He loves even more than we do.
Take courage moms and dads! You’re not in this alone. Ask the Holy Spirit, who longs to help you (it’s His job after all!) and walk with you, for His guidance. With fear and trembling, but with confidence and trust in the Lord and His will, we can do this.