I grew up around creeks, lakes, and rivers, but when I was sixteen I went to Atlantic City, New Jersey, and saw the ocean for the first time. At the boardwalk the night we arrived, I walked out on a wooden pier. As the first thunderous waves crashed beneath my feet, I grabbed the railing, terrified. Since then I have had a cautious fondness for the ocean. I’ve never been a strong swimmer, but I love the look of the ocean, the feel of sand between my toes, and even the weightless feeling of being lifted from my feet and carried about by gentle waves—as long as I have something buoyant to hang onto.
Bo was our golden lab who loved to swim in our pool. He lived for his exercise, and the pool was his domain. One day, my son was learning new strokes and tried the dead man’s float. Bo decided his boy was in imminent danger and jumped into the pool to rescue him. Instinctively, he pushed my son’s head up and held onto him with his paws in an effort to save his life. My poor son choked and sputtered as he tried to keep Bo away and ended up with water in his lungs and a chest full of scratches.
It was a particularly hot, muggy summer day, and Jeffrey and I had already been traveling for a few hours when we plopped down in a stuffy bus station waiting room in northern Italy. "Did I really have to come?" he muttered.
How had I gotten this idea? Dragging a 14-year-old away from his friends to visit his grandparents—not exactly a teenager’s idea of fun!
Now that my oldest, Chris,is 13, I have found that I need to change in how I communicate with him. He is not the child he was a few years back. All of a sudden, he is taller than me. How time has flown! It seems like just yesterday he was a constantly active two-year-old, getting into everything.
Like most parents, I suppose, my tendency has been to think that I instinctively know what’s best for my children, and to take action accordingly. That worked well enough when Chris was small, but now that he’s reached a stage where he wants to make more of his own decisions, I’ve found that I need to take a different approach and involve him more in the decision-making process—to treat him less like a child and more like a teammate.
At a workshop I attended, art and drama therapist Emily Nash shared an experience she had while working with traumatized children and adolescents at a residential treatment center in the U.S. The boys who attended her class were often combative, prone to negative and self-destructive behavior, and unable to trust adults or even one another. Almost all had histories of severe abuse and emotional neglect.
They routinely brought their negative attitudes into the classroom, as reflected in their foul speech and rough mannerisms.
I have to say that I genuinely admire my dad. But in saying that, I also have to admit that wasn’t always an easy thing for me to say. Over the years I’ve come to see more and more how much I couldn’t see.
I was the youngest of three children raised by a single dad. I’m sure it was tough for him, but he didn’t act like it around us. I can see now how wise that decision of his was. He had many difficulties of his own, but he made sure he remained an example of our heavenly Father so we would feel safe and secure.
I read once that a good father prepares us for our relationship with our heavenly Father, God.
My father may not realize it, but one thing that shaped my life was a conversation he and I had sitting on a hill overlooking our home the summer I was 18. He probably doesn’t even remember it—so simple and yet so typical of him and his wise and loving way of advising without overtly giving advice.
Decision making in the teen years
By the time children reach their early teens, they have grown to nearly the physical stature of adults, but often still think and behave like children. That’s the age when a lot of young people do wild, crazy things and get into trouble, and of course if they start going that direction and no one is there to help turn them around, things are likely to go from bad to worse.
Teens are at the age of decision, and that’s a troubling, perilous time. They’re trying to find their place in life, where they fit, and it worries them. They can be pretty difficult to live with, and they even find it difficult to live with themselves, because they are in a quandary, in a state of flux. They can be very idealistic, and at the same time very critical of their parents and other adults who aren’t perfect.