“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
You’ve read Romeo and Juliet, right? Probably as a high school freshmen. Together, we struggled past the language of William Shakespeare to discover a story that has captured the ethos of adolescence for generations.
Some of us needed a movie to get past the language. For me, it was the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli version, complete with the famous boob scene. (When our teacher left a student got up and rewinded to that scene, showing it to our class over and over again in a way only 9th graders can truly appreciate.) For others, grasping Bill’s story came by way of the 1996 version starring Leonard DiCaprio.
As a fourteen year old, the story of finding love despite every obstacle thrown in their way was eye-opening. For some reason the story felt personal– transcendent even, as if I suddenly realized that I could experience love for myself– even if it meant I might have to hide it or fight for it.
Comprehending the storyline was a transition from sheepishly looking away when the love scene happened in a movie to identifying that as something I’d like to experience for myself one day.
“Two households, both alike in dignity
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.”
As the parent of a teenager I read Romeo and Juliet in a totally different light. I realize the impossible struggle of forbidding my teenager from doing anything. Do I really think that because I’ve said no and she knows my wishes that she won’t simply put on the mask of obedience for the freedom it buys?
“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name, or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”
Parenting a teenager has to shift from managing their activity, like we do in childhood, to influencing her thought life. This isn’t merely the action of culture, this is the reality that in adolescence their brains are growing and maturing from a child-like state towards an adult one. (See A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains) Literally, she can’t live her life doing as I say simply because I’ve said so. She needs to think about things and make decisions about who she is for herself.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lead a parent meeting or done Q&A with a group of parents and one will brag, “I just tell them this is the rule and that’s that.”
This is what Marko calls “the cage” mindset of parenting a teenager. And not only does it not work, I think it’s dangerous. As a parent you think that if you’ve got your child caged off from danger that they won’t get into any trouble. But what I think is so dangerous about this is that you’re choosing to lose the war for the sake of a battle. You’re telling your teenager that you just care about their behavior, not what’s going on inside their head and heart. As far as you are concerned, your duckling is quaking and waddling the way you want… so they are fine. When, in fact, you’ve got no idea what’s going on in their lives. (Marko’s opposite of that is equally dangerous, he calls it “free range,” and is basically too much freedom.)
Romeo and Juliet made love in her house with her parents assuming she was safely tucked away. She went to bed at 9, right?
My response to the comment from “the cage” is usually the same.
“Have you read Romeo and Juliet lately? Teenagers are unstoppable when they find something worth chasing.”
It might be love. It might be a sport. It might be studies. It can be anything… but once your teenager has latched onto something and is chasing it, you aren’t very likely as a parent to just tell them not to do something simply because you say so.
You can get that duck to quack but you can’t force that duck to act like a duck when you aren’t looking.
It just doesn’t work that way, it didn’t when we were teenagers, it won’t work for your teenager, and it never has!
What Does Romeo and Juliet Have to Do With the Gospel?
The point of raising your kids isn’t that they’ll look the part as a Christian. (Or that they don’t look at porn or not date non-Christians or that they will evidence their faith by their activity in youth group.) The difference is intrinsic. They take it and own it for themselves. But only they can do that, truly know what’s in their heart.
Romeo and Juliet’s parents didn’t lose them because their kids didn’t know the rules. They lost them because love was a more powerful force.
As Christian parents our responsibility is to create an environment where faith is fostered, where questions are OK, where doubts are acceptable. Ultimately– as we each know– the Gospel is an insurrection of the heart.
When internalized its an unstoppable force.
External motivation and forces, things that manipulate them or an emphasis on looking the part of being a Christian just don’t work because fear is a short-term motivator.
The story of Romeo and Juliet reminds parents that that control hasn’t ever worked in parent teenagers. It’s a flawed and stupid strategy, ever popular but never functional.
“I would forget it fain,
But oh, it presses to my memory,
Like damnèd guilty deeds to sinners’ minds.”