If It Were Me | April 2017

By Elizabeth Oates

Have Questions?

Dear Elizabeth,

Our son, who is a sophomore in high school, recently introduced my husband and me to his girlfriend — we were not impressed. She talks about herself a lot, seems to have no direction in life and doesn’t bring out the best in our son. What should we do? — Concerned Parent

Dear Concerned Parent,

Let me start by admitting I don’t have teenagers in the house, nor do I have kids who are old enough to date (but for the annual Daddy-Daughter Dance). I do, however, remember what it was like to be a teenager playing the dating game. I remember what it felt like longing to earn approval. I remember what it felt like wondering if I was good enough, smart enough, pretty enough or thin enough to fit in with the right crowd. And when I didn’t measure up, I remember taking unhealthy measures to gain acceptance. So before you dismiss this girl altogether, consider the following:

— Switch your lens. Instead of seeing this girl through a lens of contention, try seeing her through a lens of compassion. Your tone sounds almost annoyed, like she’s a pesky gnat that won’t go away. But what if she’s a caterpillar waiting to turn into a beautiful butterfly? Maybe she just needs time to mature into the person she’s capable of becoming.

— Spend time with her. You mentioned that your son introduced you to her, which makes me think it was a casual meet-and-greet. At most, maybe you chatted over coffee. I encourage you to spend some genuine quality time with her. Invite her over for a relaxed dinner. Grill out in the backyard. Ask her to participate in family game night. Invite her to join you at church, run a 5K, do a service project together. Get to know her in real-life situations instead of drawing a conclusion based on one short introduction.

— Get to know her. Once you spend time with her, you’ll have the opportunity to really get to know her. Discover her interests, passions and talents. Talk to her about her family. Learn her story. You might be the first person who has ever asked.

You mentioned that she talks about herself a lot. Did you ever stop to think that no one at home is listening? Maybe her parents are separated or divorced. Maybe they have little time for her because they are consumed with work or another child with a terminal illness. Or maybe she is just shallow and self-absorbed like you think, but you’ll never know if you don’t make the effort to get to know her.

— Encourage her. Once you know her better, encourage her in her gifts and passions. Show her open doors that she might never have considered. Build up her confidence and cheer her on as she bravely takes on new opportunities. You mentioned that she has no direction, but I wonder how much of that is just a normal 15-year-old mentality and how much of it is a lack of guidance at home. Has anyone ever encouraged her, pushed her, told her that she is capable? If not, think about the opportunity you have to change the direction of this young girl’s life.

— Hold your son responsible. You also mentioned this girl doesn’t bring out the best in your son. I’m wondering what this means. How does your son’s behavior change when she’s around? Has he started lying? Talking disrespectfully? Breaking curfew? Smoking? Drinking? Or is it something more benign like changing his style of clothing? Not spending as much time at home?

If there are legitimate concerns, gather some specific examples and take them to your son. Talk to him and get his point of view. If your complaints are minor or trivial, then instead of harping on this girl for dragging your son down, try encouraging your son to lift her up.

— Love the lost. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a poem for “Lord of the Rings” in which he writes, “Not all those who wander are lost.” However, in this young girl’s case, she might very well be lost and not even know what she is looking for. She might be looking for security, love, identity, stability. Will you be the family that gives her these things, or will you send her on her way because she is wandering with no direction?

Now, I might receive all sorts of pushback for promoting one teen dating another teen who is a bad influence. Please hear me out: That is not what I am promoting. I’m just not convinced this girl is a bad influence. Is she annoying? Maybe. Lonely? Possibly. Needing some guidance? Almost positive.

But if you switch your lens, spend time with her, get to know her, encourage her, hold your son responsible for his own actions and love the lost people in your life — not only this girl — you might find out that you were right, and she’s not a good influence on your son. But at least then you’ll have concrete reasons why, and you can take those to your son. But if you’re wrong, then you’ll have spent time developing a strong relationship with a young girl who needs adults like you in her life. No time wasted in that.

Dear Elizabeth,

My husband grew up taking pictures with the Easter Bunny, dyeing Easter eggs and hunting for them on Easter morning. His mom wasted no time or expense with elaborate, candy-stuffed Easter baskets, and the holiday was about food and fun.

My family, on the other hand, didn’t bow down to the Easter Bunny at all. We attended church, came home and ate a large meal with our extended family. We read the resurrection story from the Bible and talked about things we were thankful for.

This Easter our only son will be ten months old. We are trying to figure out how to merge our two traditions so that we both get the holiday we want. Any suggestions?

— T.L.

Dear T.L.,

I think you and your husband will have no problem figuring out what to do once you both understand the meaning behind the Easter traditions. So let’s break it down, shall we?

First of all, rabbits have symbolized fertility and new life since the second century. If you want to incorporate the Easter Bunny into your traditions, you can tell your children that just as Jesus offers new life to those who believe in him, rabbits also symbolize new life.

Likewise, just as Jesus emerged from the tomb and was resurrected, eggs are a sign of new life because a baby chick breaks through an eggshell, ready for its new life.

Decorating Easter eggs is a tradition that dates back to at least the 13th century when eggs were a forbidden food during the Lenten season (the period of penance and fasting). People would paint and decorate them to mark the end of Lent, then they would eat those eggs on Easter as a celebration.

Finally, the first official White House Easter Egg Roll occurred in 1878, when Rutherford B. Hayes was president. While this event was created just for fun, some people have considered egg rolling symbolic of the rolling away of the stone that blocked Jesus’ tomb.

Like Christmas, Easter today is getting more commercialized. Kids receive Wii games and scooters instead of a simple basket filled with candy. But you have control over that. You can offer your son a book telling the Easter story, a CD of children’s worship music or a framed Bible verse to hang in his room. The gift doesn’t have to be grand, but the gesture sets the day apart from every other ordinary Sunday. It shows your son that Easter Sunday is different, unique, sacred.

Take this information to your husband. Find out why pictures with the Easter Bunny are so important. Why does he enjoy dyeing Easter eggs? Maybe he appreciates the symbolism, and deep down he’s a kid at heart and he wants to get messy with your kids. Communicate with your husband. Find out what things you are each willing to let go and which things you are most passionate about incorporating into your Easter traditions.

With both of your convictions, I have no doubt your son will experience a loving, meaningful Easter this year and every year.

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