A couple of weeks ago on FaceBook, a friend of mine was celebrating her oldest daughter’s 13th birthday. They have a lot of kids, biological and foster, and she had calculated that they were embarking on the beginning of what could be up to 18 years of parenting teenagers. It got me to thinking about my family. Having 2 teenagers now has been interesting but it certainly isn’t our first time. Karissa ushered us into the teenage stage 13 years ago and, save for a few months, we have been there ever since. Given that our twins are just 8, we are in for the long haul.
I truly believe that the teenage stage is probably one of the hardest stages. Watching my kids try to straddle the chasm between childhood dependence and adult responsibilities is difficult. And frustrating. Add onto that all the pressures from friends, social media and the world and we could end up with a recipe for disaster. There seem to be more questions than answers. The stages in parenting and childhood are inevitable but it doesn’t make them any easier.
I remember when Karissa was a newborn. I had been around kids my whole life. I loved them. I even had a College certificate in Early Childhood Education. I knew about babies. I was not prepared, however, for all the changes a newborn brings. I knew babies woke up at night. My baby was up all night. I couldn’t wait for that “stage” to be over.
Then there were the stages when she was struggling to learn the next skill–how to walk or how to talk. She was frustrated and grumpy and I couldn’t wait to get it over with. I found myself wishing her babyhood away by always grasping for that next stage when I thought life would get easier.
By the time Arlynne joined our family almost 2 years later, I had learned the lesson. Stages are inevitable. Wishing them away stole the joy that came along with them.
I am almost envious of the parents I know of 1 or 2 kids. Those parents go through the stuff that each age holds and then it is over, maybe repeated once but then they are done. I guess that is one of the problems with having a big family. Just when 1 kid is done with a stage, someone else is about to start.
Karissa never went through any teenage girl drama. She never told me she hated me. I’m not sure she ever yelled at me. Don’t get me wrong, we have had our share of disagreements. And she was sneaky! She still is.
Then there was Arlynne. Sometimes it is hard to believe that 2 girls who came from the same parents could be more different. Arlynne brought a lot of drama to our lives. She yelled. She hated us.
Life with teenaged Arlynne was full of anguish–both hers and mine. I have never felt like more of a failure. I have never felt so broken and helpless. Her rebellion caused ripples all through our family. The younger kids didn’t want to be around her. I wonder if she didn’t want to be around herself. She was miserable.
Arlynne and Pete fought constantly. There were doors slamming and things breaking. It was unusual for us to go through a day without someone yelling and cursing. Life was not pretty. To make it more complicated, Pete wanted Arlynne gone. As a Christian mom, I had been taught the “correct” order of hierarchy in my life. First God, then my husband and then my kids. But that didn’t seem to apply in this case. Arlynne was my daughter but she wasn’t Pete’s and so there was a different dynamic. I couldn’t give up on her, even if it impacted my marriage. It came to a point where Pete and I almost split up. I think it was only by God’s grace that we managed to hold on.
The Christmas of 2009 was particularly difficult. Arlynne was in grade 9 and she was probably at the lowest point of her life. I knew she was drinking and she was definitely troubled. I didn’t know all the pressures that she was under with school, friends and boys. We finally sent her to stay with my parents for a few nights just to give us all some breathing space. I started to be afraid that she wouldn’t come back. But she did.
Things weren’t all rosy right away but I think that was the start of the change. She said later, in her recorded testimony, that she started listening to some sermons from the church and she realized that she needed God more than ever. The last 18 months of her life were the picture of a changed person. A young woman who was sold out for God. She mended all those broken fences from the past months. With me. With Pete. With the kids. It wasn’t always easy but it was good.
Then she was gone.
These last few months I feel like I have been reliving the past. A prolonged deja vu. Of course, it isn’t Arlynne now. It is her sister Eden’s turn. The picture isn’t exactly the same. Eden isn’t drinking. Confrontations with her aren’t as volatile as they were with Arlynne. But I am left with a lot of the same feelings.
With a weariness that seems to have seeped right down into my bones.
Pete and my marriage isn’t in the same dire straits that it was when Arlynne was going through this. He has decided that our home cannot be a battlefield again. I think we learned a few lessons with Arlynne.
But it is difficult.
When I think back to that season I am reminded about the turnaround we saw in Arlynne and it gives me hope. But it also feeds an ungodly fear in me. The fear that Eden will finally pull through but then she will be gone also.
And I don’t know if I could survive the death of another one of my kids.
Intellectually, these feelings are probably unfounded. But they come and whisper in my ear regardless.
My father-in-law used to say, “It’s a good thing we don’t know what is coming”. Truer words have never been spoken. I honestly don’t know how the next few months or years will play out. I keep thinking that Arlynne had already finished this stage by the time she was Eden’s age now. But Eden isn’t Arlynne. Their paths are similar, just as painful, but different. And the end of the story will probably be different too.
The hope I cling to, though, is that even though I don’t know how it will turn out, God does. He knows Eden even better than I do. And He knows me too. Every season He calls me to walk through, every struggle I face, moulds me and shapes me into a woman who more closely resemblances my Saviour. He is doing the same for Eden, as long as she chooses to let Him.
I may not always do everything right. I may never win a “Mother of the Year” award but when I replace “failure” with “daughter of the King”, I am starting to see myself how my Father God sees me. As chosen. Loved. Adequate. Not perfect but redeemed.
I don’t have to be afraid. No matter how difficult the days are, I am not alone. My Father God walks beside me.
For that I am so grateful.