The other day, I took the opportunity to grab the high school age girls that were in my house (Aidan and Chelsea) and the middle school boys (Daly and Mitchell) in order to talk about the school year and how they thought everything was going so far. I was expecting some eye rolling, but they happily sat down to talk to me and we quickly veered off the course of schooling onto some deeper subjects. What I heard were some very unexpected and heartfelt thoughts on some very big subjects.
They started out by saying that the best part of going to school was seeing friends, playing sports, etc. Then Aidan piped up and said the best part is coming home.
Not the response I was expecting from a teenager.
I asked why. And then I heard some words that almost made me want to cry. “So I can get home and be there to take care of my family.” I asked all of them if they felt like they needed to take care of their families. All four of them nodded.
The four teenagers who were sitting in front of me have a combined total of six younger siblings that they feel responsible for plus their moms. What a heavy load to carry when you are thirteen. You see, all of these kids are the products of parents who have split up. I have been divorced for a while and their friend’s parents just separated. Now, I really work to encourage my kid to be kids. I don’t want even of them, especially my son, to think that they have to fill the “man of the house” role. But listening to them talk, I’m wondering if it’s a natural feeling for them to want to step up. I asked them why they felt like they had to be so responsible. Both of the boys agreed they felt like they had to be strong and be able to take over their dad’s duties.
“But you are young boys and you don’t have to do that. We don’t want you to feel like you need to do that or that you always have to be strong. Aren’t you afraid of things sometimes?” I asked.
One of them spoke up and said he was afraid of the dark. The other said sometimes he was afraid of bad storms and of being alone. Those are the things these boys should worry about and be afraid of…not filling the shoes of the missing parent.
Statistically 50 percent of marriages will end in divorce, which means there are a lot of children who come from broken homes. How do we teach them to embrace being a child and not feel obligated to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of their families to fill the space left by a missing parent?
While the big kids and I were talking, I was watching the little ones through the doorway as they built a tower out of Lego’s. It was an awesome tower. Then in the blink of an eye, Finn made a decision to throw a block at it and the whole thing came tumbling down. Max and Ellie looked stunned for a moment.
Maybe sometimes when we are adults, we do the same thing. We spend years building our marriage – just like that Lego tower. And in the blink of an eye, one person makes a choice that knocks the whole thing down. All that’s left are some stunned people standing in the rubble.
Here I was, sitting in a room with four of the most amazing young people I know, listening to them talk about what it was like to stand in the rubble and feel like they needed to help clean it up. I asked them, if they could give one piece of advice to grown-ups – what would they say? With heartfelt honesty, Mitchell quickly responded “I would tell them that life is hard sometimes and when you get annoyed with your family, you need to cowboy up and deal with it!”
Pretty wise words. And they came straight from the mouth of a thirteen year old. Maybe every once in awhile, all of us adults should stop and talk to our teenagers and get their perspective on things. You will be pretty surprised at what you will learn.