At Christmas, if faith so inclines you, your thoughts turn to an image of an infant whose birth, centuries ago, has come to symbolize for many hope and redemption in a world as much in need of both saving graces today as it was back then.
If you are a parent of a young child, in celebrating the season you celebrate the gift of love she brings into your care by gifting her. You are reminded by this small person of the innocence and promise of a life beginning with which we all enter this world, and which we gradually lose as age and experience causes our vision of life to become more realistic, and our opportunities for starting anew to diminish.
If you are the parent of a teenager, however, there is another meaning to the season you may want to reflect upon. A young college student brought it to mind.
“Going home for the holiday?” I had asked.
“Yes. But just for a couple of days. I don’t want to wear out my welcome.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, there’s still a lot of tension left over from my leaving. So once me and my folks get over being glad to see each other, pretty soon we start talking about old times. Hard times. Bad times between us. What I did to them. What they did to me. We start arguing about who was at fault, about a lot of stuff we wish had never happened. Wrongs on both sides that neither of us can forget.”
“So visiting home just means bringing back a lot of pain by bringing it up again?”
“Yes. Nothing like family reunions to restart old fights. I think the problem is that we’ve never really made peace with each other. Maybe we don’t know how.”
But parents and their older adolescents need to know how to “make peace” with each other. Because without that sense that old hurts and conflicts are finally laid to rest, the end of the adolescent relationship between them cannot be fully accomplished. Each will remain partly tied to the other by grievances over what was done and not done that cannot be undone.
The urge to go back and get back at the other will prevent both from going forward. Grief and anger at inevitable acts of selfishness, insensitivity, and stupidity which were committed on both sides as they struggled with separation during those teenage years will ever stand in their way.
So it is that the final letting go of adolescence for both parents and teenagers must be forgiveness. Each party being able to look back at the struggle between them and say to the other: “It is over now. And I want you to know that I believe you tried your best even when you were doing your worst. And that your worst was not all that you did. You also gave me much that was good, much that I shall always value.”
Therefore, if the meaning of the season so moves you, reflect upon the power of forgiveness – that saving grace to which both parents and teenagers must appeal if their relationship is to finally grow up. If there is at last to be peace between them.
My holiday wish for you.
I welcome questions and suggestions for future blogs.
Next week’s entry: Parenting Adolescents and the Psychology of Similarity