Our older daughter woke up crying one morning this week. “I dreamed about Gypsy and Hopi,” she sobbed, referring to the pets we lost in the last few months. “They were good dreams, but when I woke up they weren’t there.”
We snuggled in front of the wood stove on that snowy morning while I comforted her. And I thought, here’s a kid who still has a tender, unhardened, uncynical heart. What a blessing.
Today is that kid’s 14th birthday.
When I was pregnant with her, I had the extraordinary experience of being told by a stranger that I would hate my child. No kidding. A woman sitting next to me at a craft fair, instead of congratulating me on my pregnancy, told me I would hate my baby. “I have six kids, and I hate them all,” she said.
Being a captive audience (I was manning our craft booth and couldn’t leave), she poured poison in my ear for half an hour before departing. By the end of her diatribe I felt beaten until I was able to shake off her influence. “It’s no wonder you hate your kids,” I thought. “You’re a hateful woman.”
Then, on Dec. 19, 1995, I brought forth our firstborn child and we named her after a woman in the Bible. What a Christmas present! And no, I didn’t hate her at all. Not even a teensy little bit.
But we did wonder what lay in store as she, and later her younger sister, grew older.
We knew these gifts from God were too important to entrust to a succession of strangers for their education, so we decided to homeschool. We didn’t realize at the time that homeschooling would result in not just an academically sound education but a morally sound one as well, because there were no significant outside influences to dilute their training.
Some people don’t like this idea. They accuse us of child abuse, of isolating our kids because we try to limit what we see as damaging outside influences. The relatively recent “reality show” mentality of our modern culture is designed to introduce children to adult concepts at younger and younger ages. These “real world” proponents don’t seem to understand that parents are supposed to protect their children and keep them from growing up too fast in an often harsh and merciless world. In what could only be called twisted logic, we are sometimes criticized that since our girls are polite and respectful, we must therefore be beating them into submission in order to present a false and polite façade.
These people can’t seem to wrap their minds around the idea of decent teens. Whenever I suggest that some adolescents are being raised as civilized young men and women, I get snarky comments about how these teens must be whupped by their parents.
Some folks are judgmental of how my husband and I are raising our kids, suggesting dark and devious explanations to justify their polite behavior. They dismiss the concept that because the kids aren’t locked in a classroom with 30 other children for seven hours a day, they might actually learn real-life skills rather than guerrilla-survival skills. These critics are certain that because our girls spend the majority of their waking hours with us, they’ll grow up with the social skills of, say, wood lice.
The critics are wrong, of course. At a time when we seem to hear nothing but bad news about teenagers – at a time when people cannot even grasp the concept that some adolescents are decent – I’m pleased to report that yes, Virginia, many are more than decent. They’re terrific. And they’ll grow into loving and competent adults with a set of real-life survival skills, including an understanding of right and wrong, the ability to love and be loved, a sense of honor and responsibility, a sound work ethic and a belief in higher principles than “if it feels good, do it” or “get what you want no matter who it hurts.”
Our older daughter is at the age where kid pursuits mix with more adult interests. We see such an intriguing blend of maturity and childishness, where she still loves to build snow forts and go sledding but also can discuss politics and history with great maturity. This is the kid who doesn’t feel self-conscious about bouncing up and giving me a spontaneous hug and saying “I love you, mom!”
Lewis’ 14-year-old at play in the snow.
Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of adolescents are like our daughters – respectful, funny, interesting and lovable. They’re not making headlines in the news. They’re just living their lives quietly – excelling in school, working minimum wage jobs, helping their parents, volunteering in their communities, contributing to the future potential of our country at a time when our future is worrisome.
I don’t anticipate teenage rebellion from my kids. Ever. And in this, too, our girls are not unusual. A significant number of homeschoolers are not experiencing traditional teen rebellion because their individual needs, interests and abilities are being addressed rather than being buried in a classroom or twisted by a morally relativistic agenda. According to Dr. Robert Epstein (former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today magazine), teens who don’t rebel are encouraged by their parents to act like mature adults rather than ignorant kids. These types of parents know to support mature behavior in their children while protecting them from the uglier side of life, which they may not be ready to handle. Dr. Epstein notes, “The peer-dependent culture fostered by the media and the public school system” does not contribute to a healthy social life.
Because of our priorities, we can look forward to our girls making wise choices in life, which hopefully will outweigh whatever foolish decisions they’ll make. Once again, our kids aren’t unusual. Many teens make wise choices. We just don’t hear about it. Wise choices don’t make headlines.
So on this, my daughter’s 14th birthday, I want to thank her for choosing to be such a great, fun kid. Yes, let’s hear it for the teens. Aren’t they wonderful?