This has been a hard one for me. Because I love God so much and I love my faith. I adore the smell of incense and the sound of the bells on the altar. I love the beautiful vestments of our eastern priests. I love the beautiful Holy Doors and the entire flow and process of the Divine Liturgy. The beautifully ornate Holy Books as they are processed in by the Deacon remind me that God is coming into His Temple through His word. The prayers take me closer to God in my heart. I adore beeswax candles and the peace I find praying in Church before the Holy Icons. I feel so blessed to be in the presence of God in His Temple and to receive Him, unworthy as I am. And I want my children to feel all these things like I do. I want their hearts to swell with love of God and be thinking of all His commandments when they are out and about in this world, making decisions, making choices.
However, as much as I enjoy these things, it is like getting my son to eat mushrooms. It is just not going to happen. I have dressed them up in so many ways, but he will not eat them. He finds them in all sorts of dishes and will set them aside and pick them out, choosing not to eat them. And I adore mushrooms. I love them sautéed in garlic and butter and dripping all over my medium-rare steak. My son loves siracha sauce. I can barely tolerate pepper on things. He slathers it on sliced ham, along with spicy mustard and siracha salad dressing, peppers, onions, and pepper-jack cheese – on one sandwich – rolled in thin flour tortillas (he prefers it to bread). Ugh. Our tastes are very different. Therein lies a problem many of us face with our kids – we are not them and they are not us, and many years separate the experiences we had as kids with what our kids experience now. How do we communicate this to them, without having them separate it off to the side of their plate, refusing to absorb it?
Recently, I have had some interesting conversations with friends about our teens. Having teens with friends at the same time is such a bonding experience! There is so much out there, influencing them in ways we do not like. The media onslaught makes those of us who talk normal seem like crazies. The new normal is so easily presented and eaten up by our teens. We fight against the slick marketing of evil in our culture. But when we try to prohibit experiences and places with our kids, we are seen as the bad guy. Well, I personally think that is okay. I do not mind being the bad guy. I am not my son’s friend; I am his mother. I am the one who has been given the gift of having him as my son, but also the responsibility of raising him to be a responsible adult, and a good man.
My son is unique. All of our children are unique. I am in love with the young man he is becoming, as I fell in love with our older kids, too. Sure, when you are handed that little newborn, the floodgates open. Perhaps not at that moment, but there comes a moment with all new moms where we realize how shocking it is that we can love another being as much as we do our children. It is different that the love we have for our husbands. It is supposed to be different. There are many expressions of love and we owe it to ourselves to experience all of them. And as our kids arrive at these glorious years of being a teenager, life takes a little detour. Those wonderfully secure moments we had when they were starting to be the same height as us (for me, that doesn’t take long, as my kids tell me that I am “vertically challenged”) and could carry on a meaningful conversation, are upended and become more rare as puberty takes over. It is hard to raise men. Because their instinct is to be manly. They (especially when they become taller than you) want to imitate their dads or older brothers, or other male role models, and “take care of you.” For us, because my husband travels two or more weeks each month, and we homeschool, my youngest son is alone with me for at least 1/2 a month, each month. Just the two of us, arguing over history or learning about the environment, or groaning together over Algebra. We have a unique environment and at times, it gets overwhelming. We discuss issues that are poignant and more and more, are revealing glimpses of the inner man he is becoming. We have developed our own, unique way to communicate. And I am starting to fall in love with this young man, as a young man, and not as my baby or young son. He has matured so much over the past few weeks, it sort of scares me.
And yeah; that conversation. We are all called to be chaste to our state in life. All of us. If we are single, we are to remain celibate. If we are married, we are called to be chaste to our marital vows, which means to remain pure to our spouse. Chaste means purity and virtue as it refers to a personal, physical relationship with another person. And it is important that we have these talks with our teens. Chastity to our state in life is an important concept. One that is not popular with our culture’s insistence upon “if it feels good, do it” mentality. But if our teens want to be treated like the adults they feel they are becoming, then we need to do that. We need to share with them our views on why we believe they should remain chaste. We can share our life experiences and show them, demonstrate to them, why we believe in this concept of chastity to one’s state in life. We can share the “Theology of the Body” with them (as they do at the Youth Group he attends). But once again, I return to the mushrooms: he can opt to push them to the side of his place and not eat them. The sole responsibility I have towards my son is to point him to God. There are all sorts of other things like shelter, food, education, and sharing with him the tools to survive this life. We are trying to help him become the leader he will need to be when he is the man of his own family. How he will need to be the force of morality and rules for his own children. How he will need to exemplify the virtues he wants to see in his children. And sometimes, be the man the woman who will one day be his wife, needs him to be for her salvation, too. But the true responsibility I have is to point him to a God-centered life, regardless of how he earns his income. We pray just for him to be a good and Godly man; we pray for that for all of our children.
Sometimes we fail at showing our kids what it is to live a God-centered life because we, too, push God to the side of the plate sometimes. We do not live an anointed life in the sense of a “domestic church.” We allow those things that are inherently evil slowly seep into our world, our lives, and we become “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1Cor13) It is our job to accompany our children as they become adults so that, as they mature and realize the love of God and want to keep His commandments, it will be a process that is welcomed, and not forced onto them. “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1Cor13)
My older son laughs because he totally gets Algebra now. My youngest is suffering through getting the concepts down. They are at different places in their lives. My oldest is married, has two children and just bought his first home. He is making adult decisions, based on adult experiences. My youngest feels manly, but is still a boy in so many ways. And we are discussing adult things because he is at the point in his life where he can choose – he can choose something that will ensure a wonderful future, or he can choose things that will hamper his growth into a Godly man. So many choices to make about so many things. He’s pondering career, college, playing football, and going to youth group events, snow boarding when he can, hanging with friends and seeing that special young woman in his life. Decisions that are marked more and more by adult issues and less and less about legos and playtime. It is a confusing time for most kids.
How am I the right parent for him at the right time? Well, I can only be me. I can only share my faith and my love of God. Like I said to him recently, “When you love someone you want to be with them all the time. For example, when you love God, you want to have Him with you all the time.” Of course, his mind is a little more focused on a certain girl right now, so he sort of nodded and said, “Yeah. I get that.” And I also shared that if we love someone, we should respect them and follow their requests for us, in our lives, like God’s and his parents. And then I left it up to him.
My mantra? “Keep Calm. God’s got this.” And I’m always praying for all of my kids.