Recently, our family has started taking the months of January and July to fast from technology. It's a good detox because we do love our entertainment around here.
After a month of no television in January of 2023, I was looking forward to some mindless entertainment as I unwound before bed. I turned on season two of Ginny and Georgia, a show I remembered as "cute." I was surprised to find the content much heavier than I remembered. Teenage self-harm is a major theme. Another theme is a mother who desperately wants to protect her children, but doesn't know how to protect herself and repeatedly ends up in bad situations.
The first couple episodes revealed the terrible things the mother had done. Her purpose was to save herself and her children from the bad things she'd gotten caught up in. Desperation, lack of resources, abuse, and fear permeated the mother's young life, and she'd used whatever tools she had at her disposal to survive in the moment without much thought for the long-term cost. The young teenage daughter had discovered some of those things and was horrified. Although her mother wanted very much to be a great mom, the two of them had lost their connection. There was no sparkle in her daughter's eye; only a dull ache she sought to soothe with self-harm, an inappropriate relationship, and eventually running away.
I found myself pausing the show right after a particularly intense scene to check on my little daughter while she slept, curled up beside her giant stuffed animals. As I looked around her room, an odd mix of baby/child/preteen, I realized I was silently weeping. We'd been going through some things that had me concerned. I wondered how to make sure the little struggles of today never turn into a desire for her to hurt herself later. How can I teach her not to allow anyone who treats her poorly access to her inner circle? How can I protect her from the horrors of this world?
As far as it's up to me, I want to make sure this child never has a moment of believing she's unloved, unworthy, or deserving of pain. I never want her to think that it's okay to be unacknowledged in public by someone who privately claims to know and love you. I sure wish it WAS all up to me, but of course I realize it's not. I've seen great parents struggle with kids bent on destruction, and I've seen the opposite too. But we have a responsibility to protect our children, and we can't take that gift from God too lightly.
When I've been in a season of distraction, I notice the effects in my children. I realize it's time to pull the train back on the right track! How long has it been since I've seen her eyes sparkle at me? When I've seen a lot of eye-rolling and stomping around, I ask myself if my parenting choices have anything to do with her attitude. Maybe we need to spend a day together? Or should I arrange for several shorter opportunities to completely focus on her? (Sometimes attitudes have nothing to do with parents, but spending focused time on a child certainly can't hurt.) I don't try to push any big life lessons on her during those times, but just enjoy her company. My hope is that with our sense of connection firmly in place, she'll be open to those deeper conversations when they naturally come.
I stay off my phone while we were together. She has my full attention. This selfie is from a day together when I kept my phone in my pocket unless I absolutely needed it for something. Otherwise, our memories will have to serve in place of a bunch of photos for social media. I say "yes" to all her ideas if at all possible.
My hope is that if I can find a way to keep that light shining, there will never be a day when she feels the need to harm herself, to run away, or to seek comfort in the arms of a jerk. And if there ever comes a day when I can't get that sparkle back in her eyes, then we're going to take major steps to create a perspective shift for her. Maybe all it will take is an afternoon serving at our local homeless shelter to see how privileged she is. Maybe it will take a two-week mission trip to the most needy place I can find with the most awful food and the worst bugs. I learned from my own teenage experience on a mission trip that nothing restores a person's gratitude and sense of perspective than a chance to realize just how lucky you are.
What about you? How do you make sure that sparkle is in your children's eyes? Has it been too long since you've seen it too? Sometimes it's not under our control, a fact it's been painful for me to learn. But when it IS possible to keep those shiny eyes lit up, how do you do it? Comment below and let's talk about it.