QUESTION: My husband left us. How can I be in my child’s cluster when our whole family has been disrupted by this event? I’m trying to be strong, but I feel as if my husband shattered our family and now I have to pick up the pieces.
Response from Suzanne: During this difficult time, your children are not only grieving, but so are you. It is in times such as this that you can take comfort in the scriptures that say that Jesus is a father to the fatherless, and the Holy Spirit a comfort to the hurting. You are not alone. Your children are not alone. God wraps his love and strength around his children during the hard times. These are more than words or trite phrases, for a believer, these words are truth.
Your question was, “how can I be in my child’s cluster when our family is disrupted?” Right now, you are your teens’ safe place. If they see you climb into a hole of despair, they could follow. But if they see you trust God and turn to Him during this difficult time, they will see faith lived out. Your feelings are real and you will be working through a myriad of them with God’s help. Natural instinct says that hard times produce bitterness, rage, sorrow and anger. But as believers we are given something greater. The God that holds the universe in His hands is big enough to carry you and your children through the hard times, giving you peace and even joy beyond your circumstances.
Does Your Teen Feel Accepted at Home?
By T. Suzanne Eller
Today, Suzanne gets real about developing a safe place for your teen. It may seem that everyone and everything else is more important to your teen, and yet teens ultimately say that family is the number one influence on their life.
Developing Your Family Cluster
Question: How would you define family?
Real Quote: A place where a child can feel safe and loved. Heather Y., Age 18
Rather than define family as a mom, dad and siblings, teens overwhelmingly define family as love, a feeling, or an environment. To a teen, family means that each member has the opportunity to be nurtured. Family is where members can turn when they need guidance or comfort. It’s a place that each person can strive for excellence without having to be perfect.
Real Quote: A family is a loving environment, whether it is real parents or aunts or another family. Michelle H., Age 17
The cluster has taken a prominent place in teenagers’ lives because they gravitate to those who accept them. A cluster is defined as a group of three to five people who will accept you for who you are. These are the people that you can count on and with whom your presence is always welcome. Having a cluster is more important than gaining the approval of the majority of their peers. If family isn’t functioning, the cluster becomes a teen’s family. If teens do not feel welcome in their churches, their youth groups, or families, they will leave—physically or emotionally—to find a cluster that does work for them.
At one time the home was a family cluster. Unfortunately teens don’t always find that in the home. We live in a society where the strength of families is often fractured. This change in their culture is one of the reasons that youth are wide open to relationships, even shallow ones.
If you are reading this column, it is likely that you want to strengthen the bond and ties with your teen. Loving your teen unconditionally is a vital element. Creating a family cluster is another. But how do you become your teen’s cluster? Does it mean that you drop the role of parent and become your teen’s best friend? No. Your teen has friends, but he needs you as a parent. Parents offer boundaries and structure. Parents provide discipline, encouragement, and guidance.
Real Quote: If parents want to help kids to not feel lonely, they can love us and prove to us that we’re loved and accepted for who we are. They can let us know that we don’t have to change to get our parents’ love. That’s what I need anyway. Janelle T., Age 16
The concrete in forming a cluster is consistent love. It is affirming their value to you. It is believing in them when they can’t even believe in themselves. It is also consistent boundaries, family guidelines, and reasonable consequences all built on a foundation of unconditional love.
But what about my teen?, you ask. She doesn’t need us. She has her friends. We aren’t even a blip on the radar screen of her life. Do you remember being dared in elementary school? Someone challenged you to do something that seemed impossible, and you stepped up to the plate to prove that you were capable. Teens are hoping that their parents will dare to believe in them.
Real Quote: If my parents could do one thing to impact my faith it would be to act like Jesus would, even if it felt weird. Jessica L., Age 14.
Look beyond the obvious. Teens are looking for someone to see his or her potential. Teens want Mom and Dad to see their hearts and to believe with them that they are people of value. They are looking for a safe place.
At times, parenting is frustrating and discouraging. I’ve had moments when I confessed to God that I had no clue. Yet God is faithful. He helps us when we are unsure. He helps us to dare to believe that our children will become what God intended from the very beginning. He gives us the strength to love our teens in the same way that He loves us.
He helps us to create an environment where we love and accept each other, as we work to create a strong, healthy family.
Make It Real
1. If you were to describe your family, what words would you use? Is your family close? Are you fun loving? Are your relationships built on genuine love and respect? Would you describe your family as alienated? Angry? Embattled? Autonomous? It’s time to be honest. Write down five words that describe your family.
2. Using what you’ve written above, pray in specific terms. Praise God for the positive traits in your family and in each family member. Ask for God’s help in the exact areas that need his intervention.
Read Suzanne's past articles:
Are You Really Listening?
'But I’m Almost 18!'
My Teen Won’t Talk to Me
Suzanne Eller is a veteran youthworker, youth culture columnist,
conference speaker, and author of Real
Issues, Real Teens – What Every Parent Needs to Know (Life Journey, 2004). You can reach Suzanne at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://realteenfaith.com.
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