(Click here to listen to the podcast of this column.)
Last November, my niece, Annette, lost her son in an unforeseen accident. He went to bed one night and choked on a piece of candy. A shock like that is hard to get over. One day, he is alive full of mischief and teenage emotion, and the next day he is gone.
Teenagers are hard to raise because they are a heap of contractions. They are happy one minute and crying the next. They want to make all of their decisions, but they do not want any of the consequences. They want to be treated like adults but they want to act like children. They see the need for boundaries for everyone else, but they do not want any restrictions for themselves.
They brag of their invincibility, but are reduced to oceans of tears when a friend does not speak to them at school. One day they are gushy with love, kisses, and “I love you, Moms,” and the next day they make you feel like the “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Teenagers are fun to raise. I know – I have raised 11. Well, I guess I have to say I am in the process; I have three still at home.
Annette shared some feelings with me that make me more appreciative of my teenagers. With her permission, I share the following excerpts from her journal.
A parent’s prayer
My home is full of emotions, some good, some not. My children are my joy, my heartache; they act before they think. At times, they are cruel and heartbreaking. Anger begets anger; weakness is not respect. Conditional giving not appreciated, but expected. How do I teach these children of mine when I’m an afterthought, a convenience, loved at times, but at other times not loved at all?
God, I am on my knees praying. Open my children’s eyes, hearts and spirits; let them feel tenfold the joy, the peace, the unconditional pure knowledge of your love. Let them feel tenfold pain when they hurt someone physically or emotionally, tenfold the consequence of their actions when they act before they think. I ask this as a parent with a wounded spirit. Give my children these lessons. I ask so they will know the difference. Amen.
P.S. Would you have an angel slap my teenager once or twice? I would appreciate it.
With all my love, Annette.
Every parent wishes that their children would escape the terrible consequences of poor choices. Praying for them really helps. I never thought of praying that the Lord would make their consequences quick and certain so that they could learn before they have to suffer those long-lasting and excruciating consequences. For example, if a small child is forced to return stolen items in a grocery store, they are less likely to shoplift when they are teenagers. The consequence of a cherubic face confessing to a store manager is different from a teenager being handcuffed and taken to jail in a police car. Teaching a child about abstinence when they are young often prevents, disease, unwanted pregnancies and abortion.
Sometimes children are sneaky and get past the watchful eye of their parents, but no one escapes the watchful eye of the Lord. Eventually all consequences happen; it is a law of nature, but we must keep in mind that the Lord does not balance the books at the end of every minute, hour or even a day. Sometimes people get by with wrong doings for years, before they can see how one choice shaped their lives in a wrong direction.
Others may continually make right choices but will not see the results until they are adults, when they see how their lives are vastly different from those who made different choices in their youth. The Lord answers prayers. What a wonderful thing if we ask for the lessons we want our children to learn, and to help them learn quickly. After all, they are his children too, and he is the greatest teacher of all time. It would not hurt to ask for the eyes to see a few lessons that he is trying to teach us also.
Annette wrote this journal entry 104 days after her son passed away. It was not easy to come to terms with so great a loss. Some of my children have passed through the darkness and tangled web of teenage emotion to emerge as adults to see the world as it really is. Each one has come to me and said, “Mom, I am sorry for the way I treated you when I was a teenager. You were a great mom, and I was a pain in the neck.” Well they all didn’t use those terms, but in essence that’s what they meant.
Annette was not offered that opportunity; she had to come to her own conclusion. Maybe some mothers out there are still grieving for the yesterdays of a lost teenager. Letting go is the hardest thing a parent can do.
“I had a thought about my child today. If I truly understood how alone, how sad and how sick he was. If I could send him to a place where there is no pain, no sorrow, unconditional love, where he could walk side by side with our Heavenly Father... But the trade is never to see him, talk to him, hold him in my arms again in this life, could I let him go? Would I have the strength, the courage, the love... if the choice were mine, not taken from me, could I do it? Yes, I think I could, even knowing the grief I feel at all times, the loss as days go by. Yes, I love him enough. It wasn’t my choice for him to die, but it is my choice to let him go.”
In every journey, there are regrets. Places we never visited. Sunsets we never watched die in the west. Stars we never watched glitter the sky one by one until the blackness of the night is alive with wonder. There are roses we never took the time to admire. There are words we wished we had said, and words we wished were left unsaid. There are always regrets. This excerpt from Annette’s journal is especially poignant.
“We drove to work at the school every day for eight years. I worked at my children’s school. I saw them at lunch, recess and other times at the principal’s office (a lot) and they would ride home with me. The joke during the drive was, ‘What if we just keep going; what we would do? Where would we go?’ Drive until we were half out of gas then turn around and come back? Anything we could imagine would play in our minds, but I always made the turn. ‘Work comes first,’ I said, ‘You have school.’ ‘Work comes first.’
I must have said it a million times. Now every morning I see the kids at the bus stop. My son will not be in school. He is gone. How I wish just one time, I would not have made that turn. Just once I wish I had kept on driving. I’m sorry, my children, I missed the whole point. What fun! What excitement! What joy we could have had in life if just once I had passed the turn and kept on driving.”
It is so difficult to raise children without regrets. It is a matter of spinning plates or juggling bowling balls. You have to keep moving and tossing the right balls in the air. If you stop, you end up in a pile of shattered plates or being hit on the head with a 25-pound ball. Both situations are not fun to clean up. The plates leave you with cut fingers cleaning up the glass, and the bowling ball leaves a huge bump on the head that lasts for days and days. What do you do? It is tough on both sides.
I have found that leading with love is the safest bet in living without regret. You do the thing that will show the greatest love to the greatest number of people, and then you cannot go too far off. Keep your priorities in order: God first, spouse and family second and everything else kind of slips into place. There will be no irreparable regrets. PD
Before commenting on our articles, please note our Terms for Commenting.