Perfectly Abnormal

This morning my 13-year old got up at 6:00 AM to go on a training run with his mom. Pretty soon he’ll run in his first half marathon. After he got home, he showered and got ready for school, cooking himself breakfast along the way like he normally does. Then, like just about every 8th grader in the world, he grabbed his backpack and begrudgingly went to school.

This is our 13-year old.

He’s full of stories like this. There was the time he saved $800 of his own money to buy and build his own gaming PC without any help. Or the time he jumped off the swings so high and landed so badly that he broke both arms. Or the time he caught a blue fin tuna half his weight.

This is our 13-year old.

Perfectly Abnormal

Here’s the plot twist. Very few people outside of our immediate family ever see the amazing things our middle schooler does. And that’s the way he likes it.

It’s called privacy.

He hates school. While he’s learning to play along and give teachers what they want, this is a young man who learns just fine on his own and really dislikes the way school works… lots of repetition and very little actual thinking.

He’s not into church. (Notice I didn’t say “hate.” Our kids used to hate church, but things have gotten better.) He does fine in “big church” but doesn’t like the perception that things are being dumbed down for him. And, quite honestly, he’s just not that interested in hanging out with people his age.

He’s not super social in a traditional way. He’s got friends. He hangs out. He talks openly and freely and all of that. It’s just that most of that isn’t built around the provided social norms of school or church. And you know what? That’s fine!

Perfectly Abnormal Isn’t Dangerous

One of the things we’ve learned is that having a teenager who is comfortable with his introversion is a threat to purveyors of normalcy.

The whole thing cracks me up because the same people who publicly celebrate the uniqueness of teenagers are often the ones most threatened by our sons uniquenesses. Just because he’s not displaying these qualities to them (or for their papers or their Instagram photos) they conclude that he must be dangerous or self-harming or rude or disobedient or as one school administrator put it “a square peg in a round hole“.

The rules seem simple: Dance for us little monkey or we’ll label you. 

Perfectly Abnormal is Perfect in God’s Eyes

I share all of this not to toot our sons horn, trust me he doesn’t want that.

Instead, I share this as a reminder to those who work with teenagers that as much as I value your work in our kids lives, you only see a very small slice of the whole picture. 

Your work is important but it’s small compared to my work as his parent.

My job is not to get my kid to perform for you. My job, as a parent, is to help my child flourish to become all that God has for them.

My role is big picture. Your role fits into the big picture but is part of a much larger pie.

If that means he blows off your big idea or doesn’t behave the way you want him to? Please don’t ask me to make my kid make you feel better about yourself. That’s misunderstanding our relationship.

Instead of trying to get everyone to fit into your view of normalcy, I’d encourage you to make room for perfectly abnormal kids.

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Categorized as parenting

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

5 comments

  1. Excellent! I’ve felt for a long time that youth pastors make more work for themselves when they focus more on the kids rather than building up the kids’ relationship’s in his/her home. They create more work because they’re always trying to be the “friend” and end up replacing the parent by being the one they can be transparent with. When this happens parents like it for a while but soon or later they see (if they’re smart) that they’ve missed out on years of forming open communication with their child and relied too much on their unqualified youth pastor. How do I know? I am one. As a “youth pastor” myself I’ve found that these past few years I’ve done a lot more ministry (aka- disciplining/encouraging/praying for,etc) with the parents than kids. Mainly because I feel like unless the kids have a strong faith being loved out at home, they’re set up for failure. I understand that not all my youth kids have had Spiritual parents but isn’t this what evangelism and discipleship is? It’s a lot more messy and you wonder why you’re even doing what you do at times because pizza and movies are easier and less stressful but it has been worth it. Oh yeah, this was about kids of abnormality- well they are my favorite.

  2. This is perfectly something I needed to read. My 12 year old daughter (7th grade) used to be a star performer and interacted a bit more with adults and seemed a bit more “on fire” for church even a year ago. She has quietly gone into a shell where she won’t sing with the kid groups and is quiet in the classroom and spends time on her phone waiting around for me before and after church instead of running around and playing with the other kids. She will though, play her instrument for a solo (maybe duet with her dad) and be a greeter for church, or read scripture. She did the artwork for The bulletin of our children and youth led Advent worship service and helped collect offering but that is all she cared to do since dad didn’t help her find music in time.
    I guess even on the end of being a parent as a children’s & youth minister there is something to gauging your child as they change from a child to a teen to an adult and honoring who they are and are becoming in the moment – even if it is different than what you and the rest of your church has gotten used to. I have had a few people ask me if she has become “dark Ellie” and I asked her , she said she’s just tired more often now and sometimes people have laughed at her when she helps with things (small church, you’re so cute, getting so big,etc) so she doesn’t really want to engage sometimes.

  3. Thanks for sharing. Aspects of your description of your son remind me of my 16 year old (our 3rd). But each of my 4 children have been so uniquely different and respond differently to social settings, church, school and so on. It’s a challenge trying to figure out how to be the best parent for each of them because you have to figure out how to parent each one of them differently based on their needs and reactions. Fortunately they have all loved me as their youth pastor – so that has worked out well for the most part. Sometimes challenging on youth trips though with trying to balance filling the two roles for them.

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