I recall one spring from my boyhood when we’d had so much rain that the street in front of our house flooded. My brother and I ran through the streets barefoot, playing tag in water up to our knees. All we wore that day was our underwear.
In first grade I broke a finger. The following year I broke an arm. There was a broken big toe in fourth grade, a bruised elbow in fifth grade, and a damaging skateboard wreck in sixth grade. I remember having my appendix removed when I was a senior in high school. When I was a kid, I spent a good amount of time at the emergency room.
When I was a freshman in high school, I performed a Barry Manilow song in the talent show at our school. I’ve been trying to forget that experience ever since.
The same thread runs through every injury, every accomplishment, every ball game, every celebration and tragedy, and every breakup: my mom was always there to comfort me, to listen, to encourage me, and to provide a trustworthy presence.
Mom built godly strength into my life. Today my mother and I don’t live in the same city and I don’t see her every day, but not a day goes by that I don’t benefit from the influence she provided. I am the person of character I am today, in part, because of my mom.
You, too, can be a mom who positively shapes character in your teen’s life. God has a special calling for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home mother or if you work outside the home—chances are good that you take responsibility for much of the hands-on interaction with your child. You’re in the kitchen more when he or she wants to talk. You keep a more watchful eye on his or her daily interactions. You probably do most of the driving to and from soccer and dance practice. You probably buy your teen’s toothpaste and deodorant and know what size shoes he or she wears. It isn’t that fathers never know what’s going on; it’s just that mothers seem to have a special bond with their children, an intuition that keeps them in touch in ways dads often aren’t.
Because of their increased day-to-day interaction, mothers often get the harder parts of raising teens. You’re around your child more, so he or she becomes more familiar with you. Maybe you find that you get brushed off more or teased more or talked back to more. It seems that many of the teens I’ve talked with take their moms for granted. When I asked them about this, here’s what some of them said:
“Sure, Mom does a lot for me. I probably don’t appreciate her as much as I should.” (Heather, seventeen)
“It seems like I can get away with more stuff with my mom. Dad’s always serious. It’s like if he puts his foot down, we know he really means it. But with Mom, we can kind of push her to the limit.” (Jasmine, fourteen)
“Mom had this chart she made for us to keep track of our chores and stuff. But it didn’t last very long because my brother and I started making fun of it. So after a while she said ‘whatever’ and that was the end of the chart.” (Wyatt, thirteen)
When your kid is a teen, you may not always receive the appreciation you deserve, but there’s a good chance your hard work will pay off in years to come. Your child may not articulate how much he or she appreciates you until after becoming an adult. Or he or she may never say anything, but you (and his or her dad) will have the satisfaction of knowing that you rose to the incredibly hard yet rewarding challenge of being a mother.
Consider the godly mothering demonstrated by Hannah, the mother of Samuel, one of Israel’s greatest prophets. Even before Samuel was born, Hannah was praying for him. I hope you will take time to read her story (see 1 Samuel 1:1–2:11, 18–21).
Initially, Hannah wasn’t able to bear children, which was disgraceful in that culture. For years she prayed for a baby. Finally, God answered her prayer, and Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. Her hope was fulfilled at last. But here’s where the story takes a twist. After she weaned her child, Hannah made good on a promise she had made to God before Samuel was born. Hannah took her young son to the temple, where she dedicated him to God. Then she left him there. From that moment on, Eli the priest raised Samuel at the temple. (To be clear, I’m not suggesting you take your child to church, dedicate him or her to God, and then leave. Though I’m sure there are days…)
This story demonstrates a number of distinctive characteristics of Hannah’s parenting style. She lived thousands of years ago, but God’s truth is always relevant. By looking at Hannah’s life, we can learn important truths about what it means to help our kids every step of the way.
For years things hadn’t been going Hannah’s way. Her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, ridiculed Hannah because she was barren. Satan worked hard to convince Hannah that God would not grant her the desires of her heart. But she never stopped praying. She never gave up on God. She believed that God could answer prayer, and she resolved to give her situation to Him.
It might seem that your timing and God’s aren’t in sync. Maybe you are in distress over what appears to be unanswered prayers concerning your life or the life of your teen. Hannah’s story is a reminder that God’s timing is never wrong.
God’s plan was fulfilled exactly as He desired in Hannah’s life. Even though Hannah couldn’t see the big picture, she still believed that God was in control. Scripture tells us that Hannah was in “great anguish and grief” (1 Samuel 1:16). But even in her anguish she continually went to God in prayer.
Time spent with God in prayer is critical for winning the battles we face personally and those our children face. Psalm 34:17 declares,
“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.”
Along the same lines, in 1 John 5:14–15, we read,
“This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”
No matter what circumstances you face with your teen, the example of Hannah shows you can know that God has everything under control.
Year after year, Hannah endured the jeers of her husband’s other wife. Finally, she had a son and did what she promised she would do. Rejoicing over the gift of a son, she took Samuel to the temple to live. She gave up the one thing she wanted most in life.
Having integrity means being devoted to doing what’s right. If you wonder what has happened to integrity in our day, look at a few emails I’ve received.
A fourteen-year-old boy wrote, “Jeffrey, I look at porn almost every night on my computer in my room. The funny thing is, I’m basically okay with it. I’m not concerned that what I’m doing is wrong, because what I’m doing works for me. What else am I supposed to do at this age? I believe that God is okay with my lifestyle because it doesn’t harm anybody. Isn’t that what morals are about—not hurting anybody else?”
An eighth-grade girl wrote, “Yeah, I’ve cheated [in school] a few times. But what’s the big deal? It’s just a lousy test, and doesn’t everybody do it from time to time?”
A sixteen-year-old boy wrote, “I’ve taken my Honda up to 125 miles per hour on the street, and I think it will go faster. All my friends and I are into street racing and seeing how fast we can get our cars to go. There’s a side of me that knows this is wrong, but laws are meant to be broken. Isn’t that what Jesus did?”
In these emails, teenagers attempt to redefine integrity. They are essentially saying, Look, as long as I can justify what I’m doing, then what I’m doing is okay. Their words reveal the pervasive influence of relativism. Adhering to high moral principles regardless of circumstances is a choice that many teens are either unaware of or defiant about. But this is an area where you can influence your teenager.
After leaving Samuel in Eli’s care, Hannah no longer saw her son regularly. But she was still active in his life. We read in 1 Samuel 2:19 that “each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.” Hannah, eventually the mother of six children, had a packed schedule. With the responsibility of taking care of five kids at home, it would have been easy for her to forfeit her responsibility to Samuel. But she didn’t. That took tremendous discipline on her part.
The Enemy works to create distance between parents and teens through perpetual busyness. He convinces families that it’s okay to fill the calendar as long as they’re filling it with good things.
As a mom, you must control your family’s calendar. There is a huge difference between actively connecting with your teen and staying busy with the trappings of teen life. You have to draw the line when you begin to sacrifice relational intimacy in order to fulfill the demands of your schedule. I’m all for allowing kids to enjoy activities that are important to them, but there will come a point (sooner than you can imagine) when your teen will no longer live in your home. You have a narrow window of opportunity to influence his or her life in the areas that matter most. This is why you can’t compromise in controlling the family calendar.
If you need to regain a sane schedule, establish a plan with your husband and then have a family meeting. Don’t be surprised if your teen responds unfavorably. If you have given him or her free rein in the past to participate in every single activity or opportunity, expect opposition when you announce your new plan to control the calendar. But stay the course. No is not always the easiest word to use, but it is often the best word.
Be prepared for temptation to arise. As you commit to controlling the calendar, Satan will try to take you down Guilt Trip Highway. He will try to convince you that it’s okay to say yes to another commitment “just this once.” If you choose not to, he will do everything he can to make you feel guilty for saying no. Don’t let him win.
I like to imagine that every time Hannah took Samuel a new robe, she hid a note in each pocket. I think this way because my mom did that repeatedly while I was growing up. I can’t recall everything she wrote in her notes, but I smile even now as I think about sitting on my bed reading them. Often I would open my lunch box and find an “I love you” note next to my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.My mom still expresses her love to me in creative ways. Just yesterday I received this text from her: “God is faithful even when I don’t understand what He is doing. Trust Him and He will provide for you each day. I am so proud to be your mother and love watching the man you have become.” I am fifty years old. As far back as I can remember, my mom has been sending love notes. I hope she never stops.
This past weekend Brynnan asked me to help her clean out the drawer of her bedside table. If you knew Brynnan, you would know why I essentially had to clear my calendar for the day. She keeps everything. During the next few hours, I saw an unfathomable number of pencils, stickers, pictures, and sticks of lip balm. Guess what else was in the drawer? Brynnan had saved many of the love notes Amy had written to her. I cried as I read each of these letters and saw the love Amy had spoken into Brynnan’s life.
It may not be love notes or handmade robes, but you have an opportunity to express love to your child in beautiful and caring ways. You probably have your own way of communicating love. If you don’t, it’s not too late to start. A quick text or a note in a lunch box or on a bathroom mirror are just a few of the ways you can creatively remind your teen how much you love him or her.
Even before my daughters were born, Amy and I prayed that God would use our children to do remarkable things for Him. This is what Hannah prayed for her son in 1 Samuel 1:27–28:
“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”
When Hannah prayed, “I give him to the Lord,” she was praying that Samuel would leave a legacy worth remembering for generations to come. Look at what the Bible says about the legacy this man left in 1 Samuel 3:19-20:
“The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up; he did not let any of Samuel’s messages fail to come true. Then all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, knew Samuel was a true prophet of the Lord.”
Isn’t this what we desire most for our children? One of the greatest aspirations Amy and I share is that our daughters find favor with God and leave legacies of significance. Several years after Amy and I were married, we were told we would have trouble having children. We saw several doctors and underwent several procedures, but we continued to remain childless. I clearly remember the February night when, after almost five years of tears and frustration, Amy told me, “I’m pregnant!” I also remember that Amy almost immediately began praying that God would bless us with a child who would bring Him glory. To this day, Amy continues to pray this for both of our daughters. She prays that God will do something special with Bailey and Brynnan that will honor His name and make Him known in the world. I hadn’t made the connection until I wrote this chapter that Amy is praying just as Hannah did. My girls’ mother asks God to use our children for His work all their lives.
Amy understands how closely prayer and legacy are connected. Do you? Amy tells our girls often that the choices they make will shape the rest of their lives. She’s praying they make choices that leave legacies worth following.
By bringing her son to the temple, Hannah demonstrated complete faith in God, trusting that Samuel was in God’s hands. Hannah’s desire to honor God superseded her desire to hold on to her son. Her choice shows that one of our greatest joys comes from being willing to give our children back to God. Even before Samuel took his first breath, Hannah was at peace with the one thing that all mothers must be willing to do: let go.
Hannah continued to involve herself in Samuel’s life, doing her part to provide for him as a mother. She also modeled the essential act of surrender. By returning her son to God, Hannah was proclaiming her trust in God’s goodness. She believed that God could do more in her son’s life than she could do on her own. And Hannah trusted that whatever God chose to do with Samuel’s life, God had it all figured out. It could be that God is inviting you to a place of surrender, a place where you are willing to trust Him even though it doesn’t make sense. God is good, and it makes sense to Him.
My mom called today to tell me she is praying for me. She and I talk often, and there are few, if any, times when we talk that she doesn’t ask, “How can I pray for you?”
One of the things I will always remember and cherish is that my mom lifts me up in prayer. Additionally, my mom can talk me through life’s challenges in a unique way. I am almost fifty years old, yet when I’m talking with my mom, it’s as if I’m ten again. Mom talks to me as if I’m the only person in the world.
As a mom, you occupy a special place in your teen’s heart. Use this to your advantage when talking with him or her. Consider sharing with your teen that you understand what he or she is going through. Share stories about how you struggled at that age. Share your desire to help your teen see past the lies of Satan and never compromise, no matter how great the desire to do so. Show him or her the foundations of God’s promises to people who obey Him, as found in Deuteronomy 28:11–13:
“The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your forefathers to give you.”
The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.