Recently my daughter got braces. Our dentist has been telling us for a while now that it was going to need to be done. We settled on the orthodontist I went to as an adult (and got the family discount ... which doesn't feel like a discount when you see the full bill... but we'll take any break we can get). Now my daughter has a long road ahead of her. And as I've thought about it, I've noticed a few similarities between her life with braces and parenting a middle schooler.
1. Applying Pressure
For those of you who have never had braces, here is the basic idea. You apply pressure in just the right place so that teeth are brought into alignment. As parents, we feel pressure to bring our kid's behavior into alignment. But sometimes we can aim the pressure of discipline and instruction in the wrong spots. Instead of addressing behavior directly, we must apply pressure on the real trouble--the sinful heart behind our kids' behavior. With a pre-teen, one way to do this is by simply asking "why?" Help your son or daughter reflect on the reasons that led to a poor decision.
2. Making Adjustments
In order for the braces to complete their job, they must be regularly adjusted. Regular adjustments are necessary in our parenting as well. We need discernment to determine when kids need justice, when they need mercy, and when they need grace. If parents don't adjust the pressure they apply to their kids regularly, they may end stunt the growth they wish to see. Spend some time with your spouse or another parent. Consider whether you've been too heavy handed or too permissive. Could making a small adjustment help you better reflect God's dynamic justice and grace?
3. EXPecting Breaks
It only took six hours--a measly six hours--for my daughter to pop her first bracket. At the time I wrote this post, she had already popped two more. I should have expected it, because I don't know of anyone who has had braces who hasn't lost a bracket or unhooked their wires at some point in the process. In parenting, we need to expect and acknowledge brokenness as well. We must acknowledge and confess our own sinfulness and brokenness even as we deal with the brokenness in our kids. The last thing I want my daughter to do is hide the fact that one of her brackets has come loose because she's embarrassed or she's scared I'll be frustrated. I also don't want my daughter hiding her sin, but I know that the only way she'll practice vulnerability about her brokenness is if she sees me model the same vulnerability and expectation that sinfulness and repentance is a regular part of life. Kate needs to see what it looks like for me to confess my own sin, ask her for forgiveness, and then cry out to Christ for pardon as well. She needs to see me repent of my sin to God, to my wife, to her, and to her brother on a regular basis.
4. Joy in Waiting
According the orthodontist, it will be two years for the braces to do their thing. For my twelve year-old daughter, that seems like a lifetime. She told me she's looking forward to the day they come off. She's looking forward to seeing her new smile. She's looking forward to eating all of the forbidden foods again. But for now she's content to wait. While she is suffering now, in two years there will be joy. This is a lesson for parents as well. Parenting kids can, and often does, feel like suffering. But as we wait with hope there can be joy. We get glimpses of it as we see our kids grow to make wise decisions and as we graciously help them walk through life with faith.
"So do not throw away your confidence, it will be richly rewarded." (Hebrews 10:35)