A friend and I used to joke about our spiritual gift of driving when our kids were teen. Hauling kids from school or activities can be a great opportunity to connect with them. However, sometimes our teens can take advantage of our generosity. Several years ago, I had a mother share with me her dilemma. She wanted to be there for her kids but she didn’t know how to set boundaries.
“I just lost it!” she admitted.
Sitting outside the school, Marcia’s anger began brewing as her thoughts began to surface, “How dare she expect me to pick her up after school and then not be out here waiting for me.“
She punched in the speed dial number on her phone to reach her daughter only to have it roll to voicemail. “Mom, there is no cell phone service in the school. Do you want me to go find her?” offered Elizabeth. “I’d like to get home too. I have a lot of homework tonight.”
As Elizabeth went to go find her sister, Marcia pulled the car into a parking space. Thinking of all the things she could be doing with her time instead of waiting for her 15 year old yet again, she caught her emotion spinning out of control. Nothing seemed to work in getting Sara’s attention.
As she sat there trying to calm herself, she remembered:
Do everything without complaining or arguing.
“Okay, God, I get it. But does that really mean I’m supposed to sit her and not complain about her continual disrespect of my time?”
As two minutes turned to ten, Marcia tried to reflect on her situation with Sara. There had to be an alternative to this scenario. She didn’t want to continue to play this game on a daily basis. “God, I know I’m not to complain or argue with her, but what do I do?”
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
“Alright, Lord. So when Sara gets in the car, I’m not going to complain about her being late. I’m going to be calm. I’m not going to show her how upset I am. But I do need to build her up in a way that she will listen to my needs as well. I obviously don’t need an audience with Elizabeth in the car. This conversation needs to just take place between Sara and me. Give me the ability to keep my mouth in check when she gets here.”
The two sisters finally emerged from the building with another friend in tow. “Mom, you don’t mind giving Ted a ride home do you? He lives about a mile from here. His mom had to take his sister to the dentist this afternoon and couldn’t pick him up.”
Later that evening Marcia found her daughter in her room studying. “Sara, can we talk for a few minutes?”
“Sure, Mom, what’s up?”
“I liked your friend, Ted. He seems real nice.”
“Yeah, he’s cool. He’s in my Spanish class. He’s kind of a nerd, but still cool.”
“You know, I like it that you are my social butterfly. You’ll always have an impact on other people with your ability to connect. I really think God will be able to use you because of your outgoing personality.”
“Thanks, Mom. I really do like to be part of people’s lives.”
“I’d like to talk about that. You see, I’m noticing a pattern that is starting to be a frustration for me. While I love it that you want to connect with people and talk after school, it is forcing me to have to wait longer and longer for you. I love you dearly and want you to have friends, but there are times when I have a lot of things to do in the afternoon and it frustrates me to have to sit in the car for 20-30 minutes waiting. I agreed to pick you up after school so that you wouldn’t have to be on the bus for 40 minutes and it’s not a big deal since I pick up Elizabeth anyway. But I’m feeling like we swapped your 40 minutes for my 40 minutes. I’m wondering if we might be able to work out a solution so that you still have time after school to connect, but Elizabeth and I don’t have to be sitting in the parking lot waiting every day.”
“Mom, I could try to be out there earlier. It’s just that sometimes I get stopped in the hall by one of my friends and I lose track of time.”
“I understand. Those things happen sometimes. It happens to me on Sunday mornings after church when the rest of you are ready to leave.”
“Here is a thought I had. What if on Monday and Friday, I give you extra time after school. I’ll pick up Elizabeth and then go run errands. I’ll plan on picking you up 45 minutes after school is out. You can set your alarm on your phone and meet me outside when it goes off. On the other days, you can stay 5 minutes and no more. Again, set your alarm and meet me outside.”
“Can I change the days or does it have to be Monday and Friday?”
“I can probably be flexible on the days, but we need to clear it with Elizabeth as well because it affects her schedule. I’m also open to any other suggestions you might have. Think about it and we can talk about it tomorrow. Just know that I need you to set your phone alarm for 5 minutes after school is out tomorrow. I don’t want to have to wait like I did today.”
“Okay, Mom. I’m sorry about today. I’ll think about it.”
“We’ll work it out, I’m sure. Just know that I love you and I love how you connect with people. I want you to understand, too, how important it is to be respectful of other people’s time.”
Too many times as parents, how we communicate to our tweens and teens speaks volumes. While conversations like this take time to cultivate, grumbling and complaining about how our kids treat us won’t get us very far in the relationship department or most likely solve the problem long term.
So what are the communication steps?
- Start on a positive note. What is a positive character trait you can encourage your teen with as a result of the situation?
- State the problem. Be honest and keep the emotion out of it.
- Have a win/win solution to offer and be open to possible adjustments.
- Let your teen know that you love them and that you want to work out a good solution for both of you.
Dare you to offer your teens options when it comes to solving problems and be sure to let them know how precious they are to you.
“Let go…and let God,”
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