For several years after we moved to Arizona, the Harms family enjoyed a “day after Thanksgiving hike” tradition. The first couple of years we journeyed to the Chiricahuas for our hike, where we experienced amazing rock formations and wonderful trails. We packed a picnic lunch and wrapped the day up at a nearby pizza parlor. We have a dozen or so pictures on our entryway wall testifying to the beauty of those hikes and the fun we had as a family. I stop and just stare at those photos quite often. They’re beautiful reminders of easier days.
Sometime after the second Thanksgiving hike, our two teens decided they didn’t like trekking through the mountains on Black Friday and they didn’t want to do it again. I think we managed one or two more hikes with Daniel and Abby in the closer Huachucas (we couldn’t entice them to get in the car and travel to the Chiricahuas again), but those hikes produced fewer photo ops due to scowling faces and poor dispositions. The photo below accurately portrays just how fun these more recent hikes were for me.
So, after much discussion and pouting (on mine and James’ part, this time) we determined last year about this time that we would not force our kids to take the annual after-Thanksgiving-Day-hike with us. We certainly asked them to go, but we didn’t insist on it. Instead we opted to invite a few other families/couples to join us and headed into the mountains with happier hikers, those who really wanted to be there.
James and I still would like for our kids to hike with us occasionally and I believe they eventually will, but in the long run we have to choose our battles. Especially with teenagers. And as they say, some mountains just aren’t worth dying on. The Huachucas, though they are lovely, certainly are not worth dying on.
On the other hand, James and I have found a few other mountains that are very much worth battling over and even dying on when it comes to our teenagers.
We’ve always insisted that they go to church every Sunday, even when they’ve gotten in late from a school dance, a baseball game or a cast party. We don’t wake up on Sunday mornings and talk about whether we’re going to Sunday school or the worship service. We don’t negotiate with “Well, you don’t have to go to Sunday school if you’ll just at least come to the worship service.” We’ve picked them up from spend-the-night parties to go to church and we’ve taken sleepover friends with us. We’ve dragged them to strange churches where they knew no one when we’ve been on vacation.
And don’t think this battle was a “no contest” simply because James is a pastor. Pastors’ kids aren’t born with some extra spiritual chromosome and neither are the pastor or his wife. We’ve all had our days when we just didn’t want to go to church. In fact, we’ve had a few extra reasons to not want to go too, if you catch my drift. While church has usually been a good place for our kids, it’s also been a fishbowl of sorts. They’ve certainly begged to stay home a few times, even just for an “emotional health day” (now where did they learn that?). Still, we’ve chosen to die on this mountain and a few times I thought we might suffer a few wounds, but we’ve survived and so have Daniel and Abigail. (Disclaimer: I’d be amiss to leave you with the impression that our kids have never missed church. They have. But going to church is certainly the rule while missing is the rare exception.)
As a result of the warfare we’ve done on this particular mountain, Daniel attends church most Sunday evenings while he is away at college. Our battle is done as far as his church attendance goes. We’ll always encourage him to participate regularly in a local church, but the battle now belongs to him. We hope that we’ve equipped him to fight it and that we’ve shown him how important a battle it is. Hikes in the Huachucas…no big deal. Church attendance…deal breaker.
We’ve drawn immovable lines on a few other mountains too. The dating scene has included its own set of parameters and, though they balked at our “ridiculous rules” at first, they both gladly complied when the right gal or guy came along.
We didn’t let our kids have cell phones until they were sixteen. And turning sixteen hasn’t meant automatic driver’s licenses either. No isn’t a foreign word to our kids. They’ve had to pass on certain movies their friends were allowed to see, turn off TV shows they wanted to watch, and change out of outfits that just wouldn’t do.
But that’s left us plenty of room for yeses too. Because our kids have known their boundaries, they’ve been very trustworthy and responsible (with a few minor infractions that we’ve worked through). And, as a result, we actually surprise them with the things we say yes to sometimes. We’ve surprised ourselves as well.
Please, please, please, don’t get me wrong. Our kids have not been perfect and I’m not holding them or our parenting skills up as examples. I’m just advocating that there are still a few mountains worth dying on out there. And I’ve found that it’s better to sweat it out now than shed tears of remorse later on when that kid is no longer even obligated to engage in the battle with you. I’ve come across way too many parents in our years of ministry who wish they’d fought those battles to the end when they had a chance, rather than wave the flag of surrender just because the casualties were mounding up. A slammed door, some hateful words, a torrent of tears, and a few days of the silent treatment are small prices to pay in the larger scheme of things. If you want to win the war, you’ll have to experience a few bloody battles.
If you’re in the trenches of parenting today, lace your boots up snug and eat a good breakfast, for pete’s sake! You may have a long and difficult journey ahead of you. Some mountains you’ll decide to bypass – no big deal. But there are some you just shouldn’t go around. Even if you have to drag your kids up one side and down the other, take them on those mountains with you. I’m rooting for you and I’ll be glad to give you a personal pep talk if you need it.
I’m not through with this journey either. And I need other parents like you to encourage me and point out to me when I’m wimping out on the job. Let’s fortify each other and get this thing done right. Hopefully when we’re through we’ll have more than a few photos hanging on our walls to show for our hard work.