Today is my youngest’s birthday. As she turns twelve she wore my shoes to school because she couldn’t find hers. In about a month her height and shoe size will by pass me. This is sobering. In our home we are in the process of trying to guide or raise a 12, 13 and almost 15 year old. Our niece who grew up with us is still “ours” trying her hand at college and living on her “own,” at 21.

Yes, I have been in some form of family ministry for almost 22 years now (ugh). Then one day I started to live with an adolescent and WHOA did my life turn upside down. My husband and I realized that as parents, we truly have no idea what on earth we are doing. These are the years I thought would “make sense.” After all I have been hanging out with teens and teaching them about Christ for a really long time. I knew I didn’t have “ALL” of the time with them, but seriously, no one told me what goes on at home.

There are raging hormones (literally it’s a physiological fact) that makes them erratic and emotional. Some mornings I hold my breath wondering which version of my children will come out of their rooms. They now want this thing called, “FREEDOM.” However, they have access to so much more than we did at their age. When I was a teen they still actually “edited” movies for television bleeping out the “inappropriate” words and scenes. We had to get to the movies, a library or an actual physical place like a “store” to take in information we shouldn’t. We were far from perfect and the world and choices we could make were just as “bad,” but it took some effort to make such decisions. I sit with my kids who want devices in the palms of their hands that allow them to partake of anything and everything at any moment of the day. How do we navigate this as a parent? Communication has changed. We have to MAKE an effort to engage our kids, face to face, eyeball to eyeball. This isn’t just because they are busy or “teens,” but because they are a generation that prefers to “talk” in pictures, emoticons, and abbreviated words that are less than 160 characters written for the world to see. I am not their friend, I am trying to figure out the best way to connect, and talk to them, and get them to stop shutting down. This cycle is so continuous that I am exhausted and I say the wrong things most of the time.

It’s not just that I worry that they will make a poor choice at a party or drop them off to “hang out ” at the mall. They can go behind a locked door and tell the world how miserable they are hidden behind a fake name called, “Hurting Girl 101.” They can be ticked off at a friend and say horrible things to them, things they would never say face to face, in a “message.” Worse yet, this can happen to them at any moment.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. What activities should we let them do? Should we think about everything in reference to college? I mean a “cheap” four year degree will cost more than a house, two houses, maybe a small island. What if I don’t have savings? How can I get them there? Sports or academics or something might help. When youth group is just about “fun” the hard truth is we might choose a different thing to “do.”

We have tried family devos. The best planned ones usually fail. The ones that are just us driving in the car answering questions seem the best. Finding a church that engages 3 vastly different learning styles is complicated, and I don’t want them to hate it there.

They are watching, always watching. My kids want to see what I do, who I am, what Jesus looks like in me. What if I am reading my Bible on my phone? Should I tell them that I like that best because I have commentaries at my fingertips to answer every question? The days of a kid saying, “I saw my parents with their Bible open,” may be over. We try to model service, and Christ in everything, but still they don’t seem to like much, and I blow up. I guess I am doing an amazing job at them seeing how it is when a Christian is far from perfect.

Yes, I know it seems like I’m not always trying. I am, I promise I am. I am doing my best, or what I think is my best. So could you please stop telling me what I do wrong, and help me know what to do? I want to teach my kids well, I want them to follow Jesus, I want them to be “successful,” (whatever that means in todays day and age), I just struggle. No, I probably won’t tell you any of this. It will seem like I am just passing my kids off to the youth person sometimes. Honestly, I am at such a loss somedays, maybe I am. You will wonder about some of the choices I make for my kids. I get it. The problem is everyone seems to have a different idea of how to parent a teen. Could you maybe tell me something I am doing is right? Is there anything at all?

These thoughts are based on both my own feelings, and things I hear from other parents often.

So what can we do in the church to GENUINELY partner with parents?