My son Noah is turning 13 in a month or so.
A colossal turning point. A coming of age. A rite of passage. And high time for parents like me to shift gears in our parenting strategies.
But before I get into that, let me say this: I never thought a slurpee would make a good report card on my parenting choices. It was. But that’s coming at the end of this post.
I think that the early parenting years are about investments in our children’s development. The teenage years, I suspect (as I face the prospect myself and reflect on my sixteen years working with teenagers) will be defined by calculated risks. From 0-12 we slowly but surely build the canoe, carving out the frame, stretching the skin, sealing the holes; inaugurating the teenage years is like pushing the canoe out from the dock for the very first time. The water isn’t deep—yet—but every stroke takes our “baby” into darker water made choppier by the winds and tides we cannot control from the workshop on shore.
When you sit in front of a final exam, staring at the stark pages that will define your grade, it’s too late to study. It’s time to act, to get the ink flowing and see what you’re made of. And by the time your kids hit pubescence, you better be ready to do some serious letting go, because it’s too late to instill the stuff of childhood. The canoe had better be sea-worthy, because it just left the dock. This is a scary time for parents, for me. But exhilerating, too.
For Noah’s first twelve years, we imposed a healthy pattern of giving, saving, and spending: Every dollar he got was broken into tithe (10%), savings (10%), and spending (80%). The other day, I changed the pattern. I cut him loose on the tithe thing. All I can say is, I felt God guiding me into it. I told Noah that until he turned 18, he would still have to save 10% of what he earned. Long term savings, non negotiable, he’ll thank me later. But as of his 13th birthday, I explained, he no longer had to tithe a single cent should he so choose.
I told you, parenting an adolescent is about calculated risk.
What I also did was sit him down for what I felt was an inspiring Bible study on generosity, riches, money, and sharing. I explained that I was no longer going to require him to do something that ought to be coming from his heart, but challenged him to consider what kind of person he was going to be. The New Testament doesn’t command us to tithe, but it does command us to be generous (I Tim 6). And then I let him be.
The very next day, all on his own, he decided to buy a $5 pack of hockey cards for his little brother (this has never happened before, honest!) and to treat us all to slurpees to drink during supper. He basically spent all he had left on us. On being generous.
I don’t know if he’ll keep it up. I think he will. I think he’s grasping that God has given us everything for a reason, that it all belongs to Jesus, and that we must always be willing to share, to give and give some more, even if it hurts.
Man, that slurpee was sweet.