“No matter what, Dad, don’t take your hand off of the seat. Okay?” These were the last words my son said as he sat on his bike minus the training wheels.
I started pushing him down the street with my hand firmly on his bike seat. Putting on my best Coach Dad voice, “You’re doing great, Buddy. You’ve got this. Just like you’ve done every other time.”
When the bike was going as fast as I could run, I took my hand off the seat. But it did not matter. He had it! He rode like a champ. The handlebars were secure, the wheels pointed straight, and he had all the confidence he needed. Until he looked over his shoulder, that is. Yep, you know what happened next.
Instead of looking at the road ahead, he wanted to know where I went. It didn’t take long until the bike was crashing into the curb and he was sliding across the handlebars. He was hurt, embarrassed, and done with riding a bike. He wanted to stop for the day, but I did the same thing you did when you taught your child to ride a bike. I picked him up and put him back on the bike.
I would love to say this was the last time he crashed. Instead he spent the next hour looking over his shoulder only to wobble and fall again. And every time he got unbalanced, I picked him up, just as you did with your own child.
It’s hard watching our children crash their bike when they are 4 or 5; it’s brutal watching them crash with things they attempt at 14. Even though we mark the boundaries, we always have to let go to see how they do on their own.
As much as we hate it, they will fall. They will lose control, make poor choices, and have to deal with shame, grief, and remorse. Worse yet, they will not always know instantly how to get back up again. These are the times they will need you most.
The value of harsh times
We have to keep in mind that for many of us, the greatest seasons of spiritual maturity came during the harsh times. Instead of taking away all of the hurts in life, we must help our children see God during those times. After equipping them with everything they need to get started, we have to open the door to see what happens.
At some point, we move from talking about healthy boundaries in dating to letting our teens go on a date. We move from talking about honoring God with technology to letting them have a cell phone or Instagram account. We move beyond theoretical moral issues that God has addressed in His Word to real life circumstances.
Before you can teach your child how to get up after a fall in life, you have to understand what kind of fall they are experiencing. Not all falls are the same, nor are they all your child’s fault. The more you understand the situation, the better equipped you will be to give them the truth they need and to help them see that God is still at work. On any given day, your child can have one of three different types of falls. They all hurt.
1. An unprovoked circumstance
This kind of fall is like a punch in the gut that seemingly comes out of nowhere. There isn’t anything that your child necessarily did wrong; something unfortunate happens to them.
Perhaps your 10-year-old daughter is at school and for some unknown reason a bully decides to unleash vile threats on her. Or simply because your son happens to be on a certain sports team, he has to face the consequences of the entire team’s punishment for one team member’s wrongdoing.
Recently, I read a story about a 13-year-old girl whose photo was posted to a porn site. It was an innocent picture of her in a bathing suit from a family vacation. Someone had lifted the photo from her Facebook profile and posted it on an adult site as a teaser picture. A boy at her school discovered the picture and started passing it around to all the other guys. No one questioned her classmate’s lack of character for being on the porn site or passing around the picture. She on the other hand, was labeled with a reputation for something she hadn’t even done. You can imagine her devastation.
The difficulty of dealing with an unprovoked circumstance is that there is nothing to repent from, nothing to make better, and nothing you could have done differently. It just happened. You have to help your child process and respond. Their tendency can be to internalize the situation. In a child’s or young teen’s mind, this happened because there is something wrong with them. They aren’t good enough, pretty enough, or smart enough to have turned the tables in their favor.
You know from your own experience growing up, that your teenager will bear an ample share of unprovoked circumstances. As faithfully as you can, it will be your responsibility as well as your honor, to walk alongside your teen as they face the consequences of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
2. An unmet opportunity
This type of falling usually involves the death of a dream or a goal that never quite comes together. Maybe your daughter was looking forward to getting a role in the school play, but she didn’t get a callback. It could be your son made straight A’s for the first three nine weeks, but earned two B’s on the last report card, moving him out of the running for the highest ranking in his class.
The longer the dream or goal has existed, the harder the fall can be; especially if you’ve encouraged the dream. As gently as you can, you will need to be the one to validate your teen’s grieving process, giving them space to experience disappointment, anger, regret, and finally acceptance as they face the loss of a hoped for opportunity.
3. A moral compromise
This is the one that parents tend to latch onto with the most anxiety. Whether intentional or unintentional, your teen may choose less than God’s best in a moral situation. More often than not, I find that teenagers rarely set out to intentionally sabotage their lives through moral compromise. Instead, there is usually some other thinking process involved.
A student who cheats on a test does not generally think through the potential consequences he will face in terms of damaged relationships with teacher, peers, and parents when he chooses to cheat. All he is thinking about is that he has the chance to see the answers he needs for a higher grade. I’m not excusing wrong decisions; I am simply saying I understand how it happens. It wasn’t always a conscious choice to do something destructive.
Certainly, there will be times your child willfully chooses less than God’s best. Just like with every one of us, there will be days they will say, “Today I want it my way and I don’t care what anyone thinks.” Even when you have walked with them through God’s design for life in this particular area of integrity or relationships, they may choose a shortcut. Seeing and understanding what God’s plan is, they still choose their own way. And then they will face results that are devastating, leaving them wondering, How did I get here? This is not what I thought would happen.
Your role is to walk alongside the moral failure. More often than not, the way your teen understands how to admit a moral failure and appropriately deal with the necessary steps for admitting wrong, moving toward restoration, and “standing back up,” will largely come from the way you respond to their falling and getting back up again.
5 steps to help them get back up again
First, explain God’s pruning process in your own life. Your child has an unmet opportunity—they didn’t make the team, they weren’t invited to the party, they wanted a certain car but didn’t get it, they were rejected by a crush. Instead of insisting that they suck it up and stop the whining, you can share a time when you didn’t get something you had your heart set on. From your perspective then, God withheld a blessing from you. Looking back you understand that God had a different plan and worked things out for your best interest.
Second, invite them into your valleys and mountaintops. The longer you have followed Christ, the easier you recognize the changing seasons of your spiritual life. Your teenager does not. Most likely, your son or daughter has not learned to live connected to God regardless of what their emotions are telling them. When you invite your teenager into your own spiritual highs and lows, they begin to see what a daily walk with Christ looks like.
Third, be willing to share your own life mistakes when appropriate. At times, admitting a past moral failure to your child can help them know that not only can you relate and understand firsthand what they are going through, but you also can tell them how God provided a way out for you.
Fourth, model biblical restoration by being willing to ask for forgiveness yourself. We think it is our job to point out error and our child’s job to admit their wrong to us and to God. However, one of the best ways to model making things right with God and other people is to be willing to humbly admit when you have wronged your child. When you seek forgiveness for wronging them, you are modeling for them how to seek forgiveness from the Lord.
Finally, discipline within the context of a relationship. Many years ago, Josh McDowell said something profound that has stuck with me to help shape my own parenting: “Rules without relationship leads to rebellion. Relationship without rules leads to chaos.”
At some point, I’ve said to each of my children, “I wish with every fiber of my being that you had chosen differently, because I know what this means in terms of the spiritual, social, and emotional consequences. It might be a difficult path ahead to overcome this. Even so, I can promise to be with you in it now, and I am willing to stay in it with you for however long it takes until things are right again.” Your child wants to know not just that you care, but that you see a day when things will be right again.
Taken from How You Always Meant to Parent © 2015 by Brian Housman. Used with permission of Randall House Publications. All rights reserved.