A Parent’s Response to Jen Hatmaker

So, yesterday, Jen Hatmaker (an awesome writer, an awesome person and one of my “friends I’ve never met”) wrote this article on her blog – http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2014/05/30/on-parenting-teens-that-struggle.

In it, she raises some questions (near the bottom of her article but please read the whole thing.).  Questions that she, with relatively normal teens, can’t answer about teens that struggle.

In my personal life (my own family), my friends (adoptive friends literally scattered all over the world and my interactions with people involved with troubled kids professionally (social workers etc. – and yes, I’m talking about you, Billy, Jill, Sarah and Christine), I feel like I can take a pretty good effort at answering her questions.

So Jen, here goes…… (Jen’s questions are in bold)

How can we come along side you? 
That is a hard one because to truly come alongside a parent of a struggling teen, you have to have some knowledge of what it is like.   And unless you’ve been there, that’s hard to do.   But a couple of ideas:  

  • Don’t ask the glib, “How are you?” question unless you’re prepared to actually care and actually talk to us about how we are.   Instead, use a different greeting –  “Hi! Good to see you!”  
  • Especially if you are a youth group leader, teacher, grand parent, aunt, uncle or good friend, ask what would be appropriate.   Don’t assume you know what the needs of this teenager are because your teenager needed “that.”
  • Don’t offer glib, trite and easy Bible verse efforts to encourage us.   We know that God has a plan for everything and everyone, but we’re in the middle of a battle and that’s not the time to tell us that

Talk truthfully to us
If you want the parents of troubled teenagers to talk truthfully, then you need to  be ready with open arms and open ears to hear the truth.   Because the truth isn’t pretty.   The truth about struggles, the truth about the hole in the wall, the truth about the reason that we have or haven’t done this or that.    It’s not easy and it often runs totally opposite the thinking that many parents raised their children with.    As a dad of three biological children and two adopted children, I can tell you that many of the things that we have to do to parent troubled teens is 180 degrees.    As Jack Nicholson said in the movie, “A Few Good Men,”  “You want the truth?   You can’t handle the truth!”

If you want to  truly support the struggling parents in your midst, you need to be able to, you need to learn to handle the truth and to respond in a Christ like and supportive manner.

Ask for help
I’ve often said that the 1st World church does a wonderful job reaching out to those who need help when it’s a need you can see.   Hurricane relief, cancer treatments, grief over the death of a loved one, illness, we know how to help with that.

We, as the first world church, don’t know how help people who “look” normal.    We don’t know how to help those who struggle with trauma, with attachment, with social issues, with mental illness.   People who look normal from a distance but the struggle is all inside.

So if we, as parents, are going to ask for help, then we, as the church, need to know and understand how to help, how to support and how to respond in ways that are truly helpful.

Tell us how we can help.
That’s hard.   Sometimes, we don’t have the energy to tell you.    Some times we feel like no matter how hard we try, you wouldn’t understand.  

Sometimes we don’t know how you can help, because we’re hanging on to the knot on the end of the rope and all we have the energy for is to keep hanging on.

But, no matter what we tell you, no matter what happens, don’t judge, don’t look down on us for decisions we make.   An example of that – I’m an elder at my church.   My church has services both in the morning and at night.   When our older kids were at home, we went both morning and night religiously (pun intended).   Now with our adopted kids, we rarely attend the night service.   Why?    Because social interactions are hard for one of our kids in particular and because the added stress of a highly structured situation like a church service adds stress that we would pay for over the next few days.   Frankly, the added benefit of the evening service was outweighed by the stress it added to the first part of our week.

And the sad part is,  there are some Elders in our church who totally understand and totally get that.   And there are other of the fellow spiritual leaders of the church who,  through their comments, through remarks made in conversations at Elder’s meetings, are not happy with the fact that one of “them” is not attending both morning and evening services.   That type of judging is hurtful, unproductive and totally opposed to what Jesus would have them do.

Prayer – we need prayer, lots of it.   And tell us that we’re being prayed for.   My brother’s mother in law Facebooks me on a regular basis and just says something along the lines of “Tom, just wanted to know I love you  and your family and I’m praying for you as you deal with the turbulence that is going on.”

Do you have a friend who is struggling with their teens?  If you don’t have their mobile number, get it and every time you pray for them, text them a quick note that says,  “Hey, just wanted to let you know that I just talked to God about you and your struggles, hang in there.”  By the way,  my mobile number is (616) 292-7559.   Smile

Reach out in unexpected ways – but always ask first, “Does your family like pizza?  What night next week can I have pizza delivered to your house as a treat?”   “Can I take _______ out for ice cream some time next week?”   There are many days where even a 20 minute break is a huge thing.

Teach us to love well in the midst of the struggle.

I have told a couple of my kids, “I may not always like you, but I will always love you.”   

Make sure that your friends who are struggling with a troubled teen know that even if you don’t understand, even if you don’t know what to do, you love your friends and support them in their efforts.    The last thing a parent who is struggling needs is someone who doesn’t understand but then judges them for their decisions.

Receive grace

We all need that.   Large amounts of it.

Thank you, Jen, for bringing the subject to the forefront.  I love what you are and what you  do.    Keep on changing the world.


5 thoughts on “A Parent’s Response to Jen Hatmaker

  1. Hannah T

    Oh, Tom, thank you for taking on the challenge of articulating these hard answers. I saw another good post recently about supporting during ongoing crisis, and how many “friends” just disappear. The hardest thing for us when we were going through our BIG crisis was that even when we mustered the energy to reach out to our church body and ask for help, because it wasn’t offered in the first place, no one responded. No one. I pray that because of our experience eyes were opened, mine included, to be more aware of ongoing suffering, crisis, and battles.
    Lord, give us your strength and courage. Amen
    Thank you, brother.

  2. Martha

    I went through some really tough times with struggling teens. One has just turned 20 and we still struggle. The worst part was when I tried to take my children to church as a single mom. It was hard, really hard. But worsened when my pastor said “We call ladies like you church widows.” Obviously his comment didn’t help. In fact, I quit going to church altogether.

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  4. Carlee

    I was absolutely horrified……(portion deleted by author for being inflammatory)

    Full disclosure: I come from a family with a history of mental illness severe enough to have warranted a psychiatrist, medication and the odd in-patient stay on a pediatric psych unit for myself and my baby sister K starting in grade school. As a result of timely and appropriate medical intervention, both my sister and I are college educated, gainfully employed and happily married. Both of us take medication daily and see a psychiatrist regularly but the symptoms are well-controlled with meds. (I’m nearly 40 and haven’t been hospitalized since college, K’s nearly 30 and hasn’t been in-patient in going on five years).

    A mentally ill kid should not be sent to “church based respite” or a home for “bad boys” or “bad girls” – they should be taken to a doctor because they are SICK. They need MEDICAL treatment from a doctor or nurse. They need the love and support of their parents, grandparents, church, extended family and friends to get better!

    Do you want to know what happened when K or I were in-patient? One parent stayed with the sick kid overnight, the other stayed home with the kid at home. Family and friends brought casseroles to the house and happily drove me to swim practice (before I had a license) or K to dance class. Family and friends visited during visiting hours once the kid in the hospital was well enough to receive them. All the things you’d do for a family with a kid with cancer who is in hospital getting chemo? Is exactly what folks did for my family.

    When people who cared inquired how K or I was doing, my parents told them. When casual acquaintances inquired how K or I were doing when one of us was in the hospital, my parents said something along the lines of “Older Kid is back in hospital but doing better and should be home by next week and K’s doing great and has a dance competition next month. How is [your wife/favorite sports team/etc] doing?”. My parents refused to lie. My parents refused to be ashamed of having a kid on a psych unit… because they had nothing to be ashamed of.

    My advice for anybody who wants to help a family with mentally ill kid – imagine what you’d do if the kid had cancer and do THAT, i.e. drop off a casserole, offer to drive a sibling to sports practice, etc.


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