By T. Suzanne Eller
Your teen and you are not talking. In fact, your relationship was fragmented a long time ago—because of your choices. What do you do when you are responsible for the pain in your relationship with your child? Rebuilding your relationship is not a complicated process, but it’s not easy either. Your teen might not trust you in the beginning. What you might see is a hostile, angry teenager, but you’re not viewing the real heart of that teen. It’s a mask. It’s a clear signal that he is hurting deep inside.
If you made mistakes in the past that hurt your family, there are four things that teens say they hope will happen as your relationship is restored.
Question: If your parents made mistakes that hurt you (divorce, abuse, addictions), what can they do if they want to start fresh? Would you be willing to start over in your relationship?
First, [I would need to] see a complete transformation. No sign or hint of what they did anymore. Second, a heartfelt, face-to-face apology with no excuses, admitting that they were wrong and asking for forgiveness. Then, try to rebuild. Know that the kid will still feel hurt for a while and bear with him. Michelle H., Age 17
#1—Make Tangible Changes
My mom was fragile when we were growing up. Life was chaotic and very hard at times. Yet when I look at my mother today, I see strength. I know without a doubt that this beautiful woman loves me. She shows it in a hundred different ways. She expresses her love in notes and e-mails. I have things around that remind me of her, like a burgundy crocheted blanket made with hands that ache from arthritis. The blanket is a treasured gift, but the greatest gift my mother gave me is a life that is no longer broken. Her life was transformed through her relationship with God.
In the beginning I wasn’t sure if the changes were genuine, but over time I forget how things once were. The changes in her were so tangible that it altered my perception of the woman I once knew.
Lip service means nothing to teens. It only hardens their resolve to distrust those who use the words “I love you,” and “I’m sorry; I did it again,” in the same breath. Winning your teen’s heart will transpire as he sees you take positive steps to rebuild your life.
My real mom chose to live a dark and drug-filled life instead of keeping me in her life. Jenell E., Age 16
Examine closely where you made your mistakes and take the necessary steps to stay away from anything that might lead you back down that path. If you were an alcoholic, it may not seem like a big deal to you to be around drinking. You might believe that you are strong enough to withstand the temptation, or that taking one drink will not spiral you downward. But for your teen, one drink or being in an atmosphere where alcohol is served freely causes her anxiety because the image of you and alcohol represents pain. It is a tangible reminder of the past and she wonders if you will fail.
Your goal is to help your child feel confident and stable by making a definite U-turn and staying away from the things that hurt you and your family. Transformation is a process, but when your teen sees your turning to God for help and making positive changes, you will encourage him in his own healing journey. He will learn to trust again as you grow together.
My mom used to go to alcohol when she felt bad, and bad things would come of that. But when she came to Christ, she went to Him instead, and I saw a great witnessing tool there. She completely changed the way that she dealt with things by always going to God, even in her deepest hour, and that taught me a lot because I saw the changes in her. Vicki M., Age 21
Being honest about your past mistakes means that you acknowledge what happened without excuses or justification. When you assume responsibility, your teen will respect you for it. Being open about the past allows you to talk about the problem from your teen’s perspective. These conversations may be painful or awkward, but the issue is not allowed to fester under the surface.
I would hope that they would clean up their act and respect themselves and each other before attempting to put our relationship back together. Kayla T., Age 15
When you are honest about your mistakes, your teen will have a different perspective on the events. She can only see your mistakes as she relates to them, but don’t take it personally. It’s not about you anymore. It’s like going to a doctor when you’ve been given a brand new heart. The old, diseased heart no longer exists, but you talk about what caused the disease and make plans so that your new heart stays healthy and whole. Being honest about the past is good medicine, and it moves you forward to the next step.
#3—Ask, Accept, and Offer Forgiveness
If my father just sat me down one day and said, “Look, I know what I did was wrong, and I know that I can never make it up to you. I screwed up, but I would like you to know that I would like to start over, and even if I can't ever make it up, I’ll try.” We'd hug and kiss and even though the memories would not go away, it would be sort of a closure for the past. Lisa T., Age 15
True repentance is attitude coupled with action. There is no doubt that God has forgiven you, but have you taken the time to ask your teen for her forgiveness? You might hesitate because you feel she is not ready to forgive, but asking for forgiveness has nothing to do with her response. It’s letting your teen know that you regret doing anything to harm your relationship. Even if she chooses not to trust you at this point, you have taken the lead, and, through your example, you are showing her how to reestablish your relationship.
If my parents did something to harm our relationship, I would like to say that I would be willing to start over, and I would try my hardest. Amber T., Age 16
Sometimes it’s easier to ask for forgiveness from others than to receive it. Accepting forgiveness means putting the past behind you. Don’t confuse being honest about your mistakes with carrying guilt. God has forgiven you, and it’s time to accept that forgiveness so that you can become the person and parent God always intended you to be.
The mistakes that you made might not have been entirely your fault. We can hang on to our hurts, or we can model forgiveness. When we choose to forgive others, we release those painful memories. They no longer have the power to dig bitter roots in our lives. The past takes its rightful place in your life. Your actions and relationships and self-image are no longer filtered through the mirror of the past.
Forgiving those who hurt you helps you to stop the cycle. When you forgive, you don’t hand down a legacy of bitterness to your children.
Forgiveness does not mean that you invite those who harmed you or your teen back into your lives if they have not changed. As parents, your first responsibility is to protect your children. You can model forgiveness by letting go of the anger. If and when those who harmed you do change, then you have already forgiven them and will have an opportunity to extend a small part of what you’ve been given: unmerited grace.
#4— Don’t expect overnight results.
The changes in your relationship will be gradual. Some changes will come in spurts, while others will come over time. You are not the only one healing. Your teen is also under repair. He is relearning how to trust. He will be wary in the beginning. Take baby steps and allow the restoration process to develop naturally.
Once your teen discovers that your progress is genuine, the protective shell will be stripped away a little bit at a time until there is nothing standing between you.
Read Suzanne's past articles:
Throw Out Your "Good Mom" List
Modesty ... for Guys?
Beyond the Dos and the Don'ts
How to Have a Good Fight
A Different Type of Adoption
What You Teach Me About God
Does Your Teen Feel Accepted at Home?
Are You Really Listening?
'But I’m Almost 18!'
My Teen Won’t Talk to Me
Suzanne’s new book, The Mom I Want to Be – Rising Above Your Past to Give Your Kids a Great Future (Harvest House, July, 2006, ISBN 0736917551), has just been released. Suzanne is an author, freelance writer, columnist, and national speaker. You can reach her at http://realteenfaith.blogspot.com.
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