As my two kids have been moving through their teenage years, it’s certainly been challenging in parts, especially until I got the message that God was just using them to give me a message about what I still needed to work on and fix.
For example, when one of my kids started to dress like a semi-freak, I was sitting there wondering what on earth it was all about for months, until I realized that she was just mirroring that ‘squashed’ bit of me that didn’t really want to do the whole ‘black-clothing’ thing that’s the hallmark of ladies in the very frum charedi world.
As my clothes have returned to being more colorful, and more authentically ‘me’, my daughter’s weird fashion habits have simmered back down to almost normal.
Teenagers test us on our middot (character traits) like no-one else in the world. Every day, they can say things, and act in ways, that completely throw us out of our comfort zones, and challenge to the core that picture we’ve built up of ourselves, and our family lives, and our spiritual aspirations and accomplishments.
Even the small, nonchalant stuff can be testing sometimes. Like, two years’ ago, my oldest daughter said to me in such a sweet way: “Mum, we have fat arms, don’t we?”
This was news to me! I was secretly quite pleased that I’d been avoiding the dreaded ‘middle-age spread’ - but apparently my arms had been hit by the horrible ‘fat arm blight’ and here was my teenager shoving that fact clearly in my face.
Thank God, I’ve really been working on accepting criticism with love, like Rebbe Nachman teaches us, so I smiled weakly and decided I have to start buying looser-fitting tops from now on.
Not to be outdone, today my other teenager went into a whole big rant about how big her bottom now is, and apparently it’s all my fault, because my derriere should have its own chapter in the Guinness Book of Records and she got my mutant genes…
By this stage, I actually find a lot of these comments funny, which annoys teenagers no end, because they’re trying to make a point, and I’m there laughing my head off that people still get so agitated about how bad their hair looks, or how big their bottoms are (NOT….) when geula is probably about to kick off any minute.
But I’ve realized that even this is ‘avodat hamiddot’, or work that God is giving me to do on my character traits. My kid needs some empathy and commiseration that she’s feeling insecure about her appearance, and I’m often still very bad at pulling my head out of all my lofty spiritual concepts to come down to her level, and meet her in that place where she’s really at.
The world at 13 is a very different place from the world at 43, I know. But sometimes, I forget.
So God then sends me a stroppy teenager (or two) to remind me that I also need to pay a bit more attention to my appearance, or that I need to stop pretending that I’m on a spiritual level that I’m really, actually not, or just to give me my daily dose of criticism in a format I can actually usually handle OK.
Sure, they also have their own work to do too, and they’re also on their own paths of growth and self-development. But please be reassured: when your teenager is telling you your arms are fat, your bottom is massive, your cooking sucks, and you’re a control freak who’s trying to ruin their lives, they aren’t just saying those things to upset you.
God’s just using them to get us to work on our middot (and wardrobe mistakes...).