I recently finished a book I borrowed from our youth pastor titled Disconnected. Parenting Teens in a MySpace World. by Chap and Dee Clark. It's a very good read. I'm a bit of a dunce when it comes to wordy or technical things, so it was a bit of a slow read for me. However, don't let that deter you from reading this book as it is very relevant for our teens today, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure MySpace is almost obsolete these days. Did you know our teens feel abandoned by the world they live in? I didn't either. Did you know that we need to listen to our kids? I mean realllyyyy listen. To get into their world? To -- at the very least -- pretend to like their music? Or if not like it, at least learn enough about it that when they are talking animatedly about a new album by so and so that we know what they're talking about. There are ways to get into our kids underground world (as the Clark's term it) and it's not that hard. Our kids may feel abandoned by the world they live in today, but they don't need to feel abandoned by their parents too.
I marked one section, simply because it bothered me. It is subtitled "Inviting Others In"
" Although it has been drilled into us that our opinion is the only one that matters, God has not designed us to live that way. We have so much to learn from each other and so much to give. From the very beginning we were created to walk together through life, and we are only able to approach the fullness of what it means to live when we are in intimate, honest, and open relationships with others. What at first may seem hard or even frightening, and definitely countercultural, is actually quite the opposite. Community is how you were created to live, and therefore it is how you were designed to parent. But we need to be convinced that it is worth the effort and that it is therefore far better to include and and walk with others as you lead and love your child that to hide behind a facade of health and wholeness.
If honest, most parents do recognize the need to open their lives up to others and invite them into the inner circle of the parenting and family life, but they are simply afraid. We can sing about community at church of even nod when it comes up in a Bible study or small group, but to actually try to live it is quite another thing. As well-trained isolationists, at our core we are skeptical of real, honest community; it feels so radical and naive. To consider that life together is an essential aspect of God's design for us is threatening at best. It is so hard for us to believe that there is a better way to live.
At the same time, we like some things about holding our own reins and being in total control of our own little fiefdoms, like never having to admit a mistake or being forced to acknowledge our inadequacies. Yet the dark side of our commitment to living disconnected from others is that we then have nowhere to go when we find ourselves face-to-face with our own vulnerability. A seventy-year- old man whom we consider a friend once said to us, "Men don't have friends." But he did have friends -- us -- and he needs us, and lots of others to be his friends. We all need friends who love us, listen to us, and are there to embrace us even when we are wrong or pig-headed or we fail. When we go at life alone, trying to live up to the cultural ideal of self-sufficient independence, we have nowhere to turn with our brokenness, insecurities, and loneliness.
Every parent will face days on the journey filled with deep sorrow and profound emptiness, and maybe even paralyzing fear. Perhaps the biggest issue we will ever face as we lead and love our kids is our own reluctance to have our truth exposed and our darkness and fear laid bare. We wonder, especially in the darker moments if someone were to see the struggles and the warts beneath our carefully crafted veneer of health and happiness, would we be criticized , labeled, or cast aside? We are not sure whom we can trust with our kids or even with how we parent. We look around us and see all those other marriages and families who have figured it out, who are doing great, and who are collecting bumper stickers that tell the world their kid is the superstar of his middle school, and we instinctively know that we had better buck up and fight for first prize in the Great American Parental Olympics. So on we run, hoping that we can all survive the process of raising our kids alone.
How can we step off this treadmill? Is it even possible to find others who are able and who are willing to enter into genuine community without judging or dismissing us? At the deepest level, we wonder if we will be able to find courage to be vulnerable and real with something as sensitive as our kids.
Finding people we can trust is a very real concern for most of us. In a society that values the result more than the process and the externals more than the heart, finding others who have the courage and willingness to embrace the messiness of real life relationships seems too great a task on top of everything else we have to worry about. Most of the people we know do not even try to pursue this level of community, usually because they do not think it is even possible in today's rapid-fire, prop-it-up culture. We may yearn for friends whom we can lean on and learn from, we may cry out for models and mentors, and we may crave a safe harbor for our family but feel the challenge is beyond us. But it is not! This kind of open, exposed, and risky life together is what we have been created and designed to experience. Community is there for the taking; we just need to trust it, start slowly with a few friends we trust, and build from there.
If you've stayed with me this long and read the entire italicized paragraph, you may have already guessed that I have a real issue with trust. (Of course the title of the post itself gives it away.) I totally get what the Clarks are saying and even want this for my family -- despite the fact that I am very much enjoying the teen years of my children (so far). It would be a real blessing and a gift to have other families on board with whom we could share a deep abiding trust. My first question is when we've been betrayed more than once (and sadly yes, I'm sure I've been a betrayer too), how do you get to that place where you really trust someone else -- especially with your children's lives too? At this point there are two families with whom I wouldn't hesitate to share the finite details of our and our children's lives. Is two enough? Perhaps it is. Maybe I should go and inform them of their new position in our lives now :o).
In closing, I present my other question. Do any of you out there have an excellent community of friends and believers who are more than willing to listen to you and your children, when/should the need arise?
Food for thought. Fuel for prayer.