My mom asked me every single time how gymnastics was.
With 5 kids, my parents didn’t have time to sit in the lobby and wait for me, but without fail they’d be there to pick me up and without fail they’d ask how it went.
My answer? Fine. Every single time.
I wasn’t a great gymnast and didn’t build skills quickly, so there wasn’t often much to share. I enjoyed class, but it didn’t really feel like there was anything of note to mention, so my answers were really short.
Every day: “How was class?”
Every day: “Fine.”
Repeat for 6 years.
Looking back as an adult, I’m sure that there were times where my mom was really frustrated at my lack of response. The chatterbox suddenly clamming up, never giving up a single detail. Was it really fine, or was there something wrong in our relationship that caused me to not open up?
But everything was fine…until one day it wasn’t.
That day, at gymnastics, I was standing in line and overheard one of my teammates talking to another girl about self-harming. I had noticed scars on her arms and legs a few weeks before (I had even drawn them in my diary) and here she was sharing about it. I only knew what cutting was because of a book I had borrowed from another girl the previous summer at camp, a book I remember thinking was probably too old for me.
That day everything wasn’t fine, and when my mom asked me how gymnastics was I burst into tears. Through my sobs I told her the whole story, how I thought that my teammate was hurting herself. My mom, of course, hugged me tight and then did exactly what I wanted her to do – she handled it.
In his book “The Soul of Shame”, Dr. Curt Thompson says this: “For secure attachment is not primarily about the absence of pain but the presence of joy in the face of those challenging places. It is not about the absence of ruptures but the faithful repair of those ruptures, even when repair seems beyond the reach of our imaginations.”
This story from my younger years is one of the deepest memories I have of knowing my parents were trustworthy. I was scared to tell anyone, scared they’d be mad that I even knew what cutting was, scared that they wouldn’t do anything – but my mom’s assurance and care reinforced to me that I was safe and secure. Looking back, I know that one of the primary reasons I went to her about this thing at gymnastics was because she had proven that she cared about it. She hadn’t stopped asking me, even when I responded with a one-word answer.
Parents, the pre-teen and teenage years are hard for everyone. They are full of anxieties and hormones and decisions and stress – and one of the most difficult challenges is staying present and engaged even when your child is pushing you away.
This is human nature – if you had a friend who treated you the way your son or daughter does, you’d probably say that it is time for that friendship to end. Our self-protection means that we are tempted to internalize the distance of teenagers as a sign that they don’t ever want us anymore. Even if total disengagement isn’t your struggle, it at least is easier to just not ask.
But dear parents, keep asking. Keep talking. Keep eating meals with them even if those meals are in silence. Keep telling them that you love them and you are there for them and it is an honor to be their parent. Respect their decision to tell you things when they are ready, but show them by your consistency that you are eager to listen. You’ll find that when they need you, they’ll come.
Have you failed at any of these things? Are you weary at getting your heart crushed again by the child you love so much? Look at the Father God. He is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34.18). God hasn’t been waiting for you to get your act together as a spouse, a Christian, a parent. He is not standing far off – and the compassion and love you feel for your child is a mere shadow of the tremendous love He has for you. He has been pursuing you – through the faithfulness of every sunrise (Zephaniah 3.5) and the provision of your needs (Acts 14.17). This God who loved you enough to rip His relationship with His Son in two is patiently waiting to come and help you now, even in this. May you respond to His patient pursuit today.