Losing my money...but not my mind

[NOTE: Focus on the Family recently excerpted the following article. It is condensed from Phil's book Family Squeeze]

When our children were small, we used to hold them tight. And pray they’d stop screaming and sleep through the night. Now they are teenagers. We can’t get them to wake up. Teens are in their prime sleeping years. Jeffrey came home from Bible Camp last summer and slept 23 hours in a row. Weary from memorizing Scripture. I told Ramona, “That’s not sleeping, that’s a coma.”

When our children were small, we begged them to clean their plates. Just one more piece of broccoli. Now they clean their plates. They clean our plates. They clean out the fridge, the pantry, and the freezer. Then they look at the dog dish and think, Just how bad can that be?

Someone asked me recently what I do. I said, “I follow teenagers around the house. I shut lights off. It’s a full-time job.”

To make matters worse, our children have friends. Friends who enjoy looting and pillaging our pantry like locusts. “Hey!” I ask, “Do you think this is a buffet?” They smile and laugh. It’s the trouble with being a comedian. They think I’m kidding.

We are a SITCOM family: Single Income Teenage Children Outa Money.

But you know something? I’ve never enjoyed my children more. Squinty-eyed prophets of doom programmed us to believe that when teenagers arrived I would lose my sense of humor, my dignity, my wallet, and my hair. They were wrong about the first two. Oh sure, we’ve had our moments of fear and uncertainty. We’ve shed some tears, bought some Tylenol, and lost some sleep. But five keys have kept us thriving at a time when so many are just surviving. Here they are:

Try laughter. Life can be deadly serious for a teenager. A gorgeous girl winks at you and your heart goes Kablaam! You know she’s thinking of marriage, but you may not be ready for such a commitment. Not before Saturday. Then you realize she’s winking at your best friend. The teenage years are roller coaster years. Teens are wondering whose rules to respect, whose lifestyle to adopt, and who on earth kidnapped their body and began doing experiments on it.

And so they need the stability of a home where laughter is never far away. Wholesome laughter is a testimony to our children that it’s gonna be okay. That God is big enough to see us through the next exam, the next relational hiccup, and the next bout with acne.

Exercise flexibility. My wife is a morning person. Our teenagers don’t want to go to bed until morning. Thankfully Ramona has the foresight to know that a sturdy cup of tea will keep her awake long enough to watch them eat us out of house and home. Flexibility is gold when it comes to investing in teens. Last month our son turned our basement into a teenage hangout complete with a 680-Volt drumset, three electric guitar amplifiers with volume controls so small no one can find them, a sofa that was best before the 1980s, and a stereo system with surround sound and things called “woofers” and “tweeters.”

Chuck Swindoll once wrote, “When it comes to rearing teenagers, rigidity is lethal. Parents who refuse to flex, who insist on everything remaining exactly as it was in earlier years can expect their kids to rebel.” We figure if our kids are gonna party, we’d like it to happen about 20 feet away. The music may be annoying, but we’re getting to the age where we can’t hear it anyway.

Encourage Vulnerability. Teens can smell a fake a mile away. Their baloney detector is set on high. So be real. Say you’re sorry. Make sure they know you were a teenager once, even if was before the invention of electricity. Your kids aren’t expecting you to be cool. They don’t expect you to know who Brad Pitt’s latest wife is. They need you to be real.

Nurture through affirmation. My teenagers have doubted my sanity at times, but never my love for them. They know there is no hour of the day or night during which they are forbidden to flop on my bed and tell me of their problems. I may keep sleeping, but at least they can talk. Yes, there are times I’d rather lecture than listen. I’d rather watch The Amazing Race than take them out for a mediocre milkshake. But in a kick-in-the-pants world, our teens are starving for a pat on the back, a listening ear and the two magic words, “Waytago! Youdabest!”

Stay connected. Do whatever it takes to keep the lines of communication open. We’re not an extravagant bunch. But through the years we have dropped almost everything at the first sign of a possible family vacation. After our family had traveled together across an ocean (thanks to Uncle Airmiles), someone squinted at me and asked, “You took your kids?” You bet we did. I have yet to meet someone in a nursing home who ever regretted such an investment.

Those who are wise enough to allow their teens room to breathe, who listen more than lecture, who remain calm when screaming seems a vastly better option, will find that the teenage years are invigorating, adventuresome, and if you’re not careful, even rewarding.

And for those who are afraid of seeing the teenage years come to an end, don’t worry. There isn’t a teenager I know who hasn’t gone out into the brave new world without eventually returning home starved. And carrying a bundle of dirty laundry.

Like to see Phil's article syndicated in your magazine or newspaper? Email us for info. Copyright © 2012 Phil Callaway. Read more of Phil's articles.


To read more on teenagers, check out Family Squeeze.