I loved being a young dad—and a “girl dad.” Yes, there were plenty of princess birthday parties and American Girl dolls, but I loved every stage.
One of the best stages was middle school—filled with volleyball and basketball games, chips and salsa, and hanging out with other middle-school families.
As our daughters progressed from middle school to high school, we saw them struggle a little more. (I have a theory: middle school is harder for boys, and high school is harder for girls.)
We began to feel our oldest daughter, Ally, pull away a little. She didn’t seem to care if we were at her games and activities. One night we were running so late to a choir concert out of town that we decided not to go.
Later that night Ally walked in, looking so pretty in her choir gown. “Oh, hi, sweetheart,” I said. “Sorry we didn’t make it. We were running late, and we figured you didn’t care that much anyway.”
Ally stood motionless. “I kept watching for you,” she said.
Right then I realized: she still needed us, just in a different way.
As hard as high school was, we always had a sense of getting through things as family. There were evenings I would hold Morgan on her beanbag chair thinking, I’ll hold you here until college if I need to. They can bring us food. We would make it through together.
What none of us ever expected was a day when life would strain our family—as our girls pulled in some directions at odds with Cindy and me. As parents we were off-kilter, plagued with worry, and losing our joy. What was happening to our family?
Here’s the irony. As a college teacher I would talk to students frequently about struggles they were going through. Substance abuse, sexuality, all kinds of things. Strangely, I was quite relaxed when these students shared with me. But when it comes to your own kids? Code red! Code red! It’s a little more personal.
This is why all our kids need other adult mentors in their lives. Our kids need you, and yours need us.
At one point in our family journey Cindy turned to me and said, “You know, Ally is not the center of the universe; Jesus is.” It was a reminder I needed. Jesus was always with our girl; in fact, our girl was always with Jesus, too. She was talking to Him, singing to Him, watching the sunsets with Him.
God restored our blood family most fully when we lifted our sights to our spiritual family and to Jesus, the center of the universe.
To other hurting parents: Our kids already know what we think. They already know. It’s fine to share once, maybe twice, but after that, their eyes glaze over. But there are some words our kids never get weary of: “I love you. I’m proud of you. And if you want to talk about it, I’m here for you.”