My kids will be home any minute. I position myself in the kitchen next to the mail I need to sort, so I can see them as they walk in the door. Today I got a hug and a quick report about a history test from one, a mumbled, “Hi, Mom,” from another, and a “Hello,” hug, and folder that needs to be signed from a third. Not much today. But some days one or all of them stay in the kitchen for an hour, divulge a secret, tell a hilarious story, ask for advice, want to share everything that’s ever happened to them, and I don’t want to miss any of it.
With activities, school, work, etc. our schedules are crazy. It’s challenging to find “quality time” with our kids, especially our teens.
Planning family game and movie nights are a blast and a great way to build trust and community at home, but not every day can consist of vacations and adventures or even family meals. So, how do we stay connected to our kids? How do we know what’s going on in their lives, sense if they’re doing okay, let them know we’re accessible, that we care?
Teens face constant change in their emotional, physical, and social lives. This instability puts them in a state of unrest. Predictable and stable relationships with adults help teens regulate their emotions and become more resilient, according to Britt Rathbone, author, adolescent therapist, and Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
Intentionally being available creates stability for our teens without bombarding them on their way in or out the door.
For me, this is as easy as hanging out in the kitchen before kids leave for school and when they arrive home. The kitchen is both the center of activity and the physical center of our home. Everyone needs to walk through this area to get to the garage, go upstairs, grab a snack, even to use the downstairs bathroom.
In the mornings, I make breakfast for my teens. Sure, they’re plenty capable of microwaving apple cinnamon oatmeal or toasting a piece of bread on their own, and it would build some self-sufficiency, but I have them pack their lunches, clean their rooms, etc. for their exercises in responsibility. Breakfast is the start of their day, and I want to be there for it. I can sense their mood, notice them scurry around last-minute printing off a paper, remind them to grab their cleats or guitar, see if I can do something kind—open a door, fill a water bottle—something for them to know they’re loved before they head to the halls of junior high and high school.
Like a detective, I file away the things I observe—they’re wearing strange socks for “crazy sock day.” After school, I’ll ask, “Which student had the wildest pair of socks?” This conversation starter might lead to a story about the person wearing Muppets socks and how they have a pilot’s license or why they got suspended last year or how hilarious they are. I see one of my kids poring over chemistry notes while downing their apple juice. Later, I’ll ask how the test went, which might open up the dialogue about their other classes—which one is the most interesting, where might they be struggling. These are small observations, but they allow me to be more aware of things my teens might not otherwise share. The moments before and after school give me a pulse for my kids’ moods, energy levels, and so much more.
Breakfast might be out of the question for you and your schedule. So might three o’clock in the afternoon. Maybe no one hangs out in your kitchen. Ask yourself when do people come in and out? Where is the common area of your home? When could I be consistently available—after cross country practice? Before bed? Find those moments and try to create a predictable rhythm that you’ll be there, ready to listen or help, or laugh, or guide. And if you’re not, you’ve still sent the message that you care enough to be there, which is sometimes exactly what our teens (and even we) need.
We can be a predictable and stable force in our teens’ rollercoaster lives!
But there’s so much to do in so little time. I get it. I can’t stand around loitering for an hour each morning and each afternoon, just hoping my kids want to talk. But I can plan tasks around these moments of mass exodus and entrance. My “available time” in our red and white kitchen is when I put away dishes, respond to emails, dice veggies, fold clothes, deposit checks on my mobile app—things I can easily put down if I’m needed.
Jesus modeled this kind of behavior. His most memorable interactions aren’t at the beach or a ski resort. They’re not at graduations or championship games. Sure, Jesus showed up to the weddings and funerals—He did some pretty miraculous work there. But on most days, He planted Himself somewhere accessible to the people He cared about. He sat in a boat. Taught in the temple courtyard. Shared meals. Stood on a hill. Jesus went where His people would be and hung out with them. These common places are where Jesus had some of His best “teaching moments” and where the disciples asked some of their best questions.
As a culture, we’ve become Uber drivers for our kids.
Why not use these opportunities driving to and fro their activities for connection? In the car, I get one of my kids (or a combination) of them away from distractions. If I’m driving home from soccer practice, I’ll ask questions about the new coach, the upcoming opponent, the catty girl on the team—is that situation getting better? If I’m driving carpool to play rehearsal, from my fly-on-the-wall perch in the front seat I glimpse how the other kids interact—are they polite, rude, gossipy, kind, what do they think is funny, what are they talking about? This helps me understand my kids better, and the folks they’re surrounded by.
There was a summer when my oldest son had soccer practice every weekday at 6:30 AM a half-hour away from our house. I loved those mornings.
He and I would wake up before the rest of the family, chat, and watch the sunrise on the way to practice. While he practiced, I’d go for a run at the park then knock out some writing on my laptop. On the ride home my son shared about his team and coach and their season. He played me his favorite songs and we’d talk about the day ahead. The daily rhythm of knowing we were going to share that time together was priceless. Instead of trying to pry something out of a teen who I’d barely chatted with all week, we simply picked up the ongoing conversation from the day before.
There weren’t minivans or SUV’s in Jesus’ day. They walked everywhere. And the walks He took with His favorite people created some incredible quality time. Jesus used the Road to Emmaus to show two loyal disciples that He had risen from the dead and fulfilled all of the prophecies about the Messiah. Jesus walked from town to town—healing those along the way and teaching those around Him. Couldn’t our travels together also reveal truths and help our teens sift through and solve their problems?
Jesus also engaged His audience—had them cast their nets, pass out the food, pick up their mats.
Follow His example and engage your kids if at all possible. Cooking dinner? Ask your teen to mash the avocadoes for guacamole or crack the eggs for omelets. My brother has his teen daughter be the narrator for his map app. Instead of having her plug in her earbuds and him listen to a robot on their car rides, he asks her to tell him how far ahead that turn is or which lane he should be in. These actions make our teens feel needed and wanted while sparking conversations and connections.
Lastly, Jesus taught His disciples how to pray.
We need to do the same. Our family prays together before bed. Some nights my kids share deeply what’s on their hearts. Some nights my kids roll their eyes and grumble through bedtime prayers. Not because they don’t love Jesus or don’t want to pray, but because they’re not ready for bed yet, or they’re exhausted, in the middle of homework, or texting their friends. Some evenings it turns into a free for all with someone wrestling someone else, and the whole thing ends in some sort of joke. But we still do this. Together. Nightly. It is consistent and predictable. And in a world where teens aren’t sure some days who their friends or frenemies are, when they don’t know if they’ll start or sit the bench, when they are trying to decide what they want to do after high school and what they want to do this weekend, they know that their family prays to a God who is always there and always in control.
Every parent and family are different. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa. But every teenager wants to know they have a safe, secure place. These consistent interchanges build trust and security—a space where teens know they can go in the highs and lows of life. Parenting isn’t easy, but Jesus modeled simple, beautiful ways to do the very thing He said was most important—love one another. We certainly can’t be all things at all times for our kids, but we can show them the love that Jesus has given us by simply being available and consistent just like He is.