Monday, June 16, 2008

Teen tantrums VS the terrible twos

As the miles slipped by bringing us closer to our destination, Hanceville Alabama, I listened to the mostly cheerful noises from behind me in our fifteen passenger van. Occasionally the noise was punctuated by the growls of the soon to be three year old who does not enjoy being strapped into her car seat for prolonged periods of time. Lucky us, we only had another five hours to go. As her 17 year old sister tried to entertain her, I began to muse about the difference between dealing with the temper tantrums of the “terrible twos” stage and the emotional difficulties of the teen years. It struck me that the challenges facing the two year old and the teenager were largely the same – that of the struggle to find one’s independence while also dealing with the fear and the unknowns that this very goal brings with it.

I think most parents when asked which they would prefer to deal with – the terrible twos or the rebellious teen years – would resoundingly answer the terrible twos. Perhaps that is mostly because the memories of the teen years are closer in proximity. Yet, I would venture to say that in many cases it is because those rebellious and troubled filled years brought the most tears and gray hairs than did the terrible twos.

However, as I close in on facing my seventh teenager about to join the frays of those change filled years, I am also still dealing with the throes of the ‘terrible twos’ of my youngest. And so I can honestly say I find the teen years with all of its hormones, searching questions and even tears, infinitely easier to live through than the terrible twos. No doubt, upon hearing this, many parents would look at me as if I had two heads or wonder how many milligrams of Prozac I am on.

None the less it is true and I believe the reason for this is that my teens and I have a foundation that supported us through these difficult years.
It was a common foundation and it was, and is, our relationship with God. I am not saying that it was all cozy, warm and fuzzy with all of us simply turning to God in prayer when faced with a confrontation. Rather it was more a matter of my children having an authority even higher than mine to answer to. And this I believe is the true key to not only coming through the teen years, but all the stronger for having gone through them. That, and continued communication. These are what is missing during the phase of the terrible twos.

At that stage not only is the child’s relationship with God just emerging, it is almost impossible to effectively communicate with the frustrated child why he must or must not do something. The child simply can not comprehend why. Nor can she communicate the frustrations she is experiencing beyond screaming and tossing items about. However, teenagers, if communication lines are kept open, can voice concerns, frustrations and even temptations they are experiencing. When at logger heads over an issue most of my children have had spiritual directors to turn to, who in turn directed them back to the Authority over us all. God. What better resource can one have than that?

But this did not emerge over night. My husband and I did not pull God out of a magic top hat on a child’s thirteenth birthday. My husband and I began building this foundation at an early age, with attendance of Sunday Mass, and catechism taught at home. Efforts were made to pray the Rosary on a daily basis as well an attempt to communicate why it was important to pray. We attempted to make it an enjoyable experience. We also made many books of the saints available as examples to strive for. A personal relationship with Jesus and the community of Saints was what we strove for as a family through the frequent reception of the sacraments. It was a continuous, even if sometimes imperfect, effort. Thankfully we did not fall for the secular idea of not introducing our children to God as this was a personal experience, and was not to be inflected on a child. This idea was supported by the professionals who claimed it was better to leave a child to discover a god, or a higher power, of their liking.

I now truly believe it was this faith foundation that helped pull our teens and will continue to pull our current teens through those difficult years when one feels the need to challenge all authority around them, to seek independence and the why for everything. Why listen, why obey, why be different from ones peers. Why dress modestly when all around us don’t? Why be chaste when the message all about us is be hot and sexy? What better answer to these challenges, these whys, than God. What better than to be able to ask; ‘What do you think God wants you to do?’

Because we introduced our children to God at a very early age, we were able to work with Him to guide our teens through these difficult years. With God on our side when we have been faced with these challenging questions of why, my husband and I do not need to be the bad guy. At least, not for long. When we have had to enforce a decision that was not popular, typically it was not long before the teenager saw the sense of it. The teenager was able to see the reasoning because he was able to take it to God, through the sacrament of Confession, through direction from their Spiritual Director, or through his own private prayer life.

My husband and I know we are not perfect parents. I know that as a mother there have been many times when I over corrected, under corrected and just not been as attentive as I needed to be from time to time. However, I am putting my trust in God, that in His infinite mercy, He has blessed my children and us with enough graces to fill in those cracks in my parenting, and it is my continued prayer that He will continue to do so. I pray that He will continue to assist my husband, and I, in building the foundation that will sustain our children though their teens and on into their adult years – the foundation of a personal relationship with Christ. A foundation built through the sacraments offered by our Church.

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