Mission Impossible? Sabbath Keeping with Teens

Recently I spoke to a group of parents about ways to observe Sabbath in their families. People shared some great ideas as always. And as always, the parents of teens ended up stumping me the most. The teen years are a real challenge for Sabbath-keeping, especially if it hasn’t been a priority up to now. Young people are starting the necessary but painful process of separating from their parents. They are strengthening friendships and relationships outside of the family. And their lives are chockablock with activities, homework, and social events. And with college applications looming large, grades and extracurriculars feel ever more urgent for parents and kids alike.

There are a number of ways to handle this. Here are just a few that come to mind:

1. Give up. One option is to say “the heck with it” and to stop trying to make Sabbath happen. That’s a valid option, believe it or not. If the cost of trying to make it work really is greater than the benefit of taking that time, then stop pushing it for a while, let the pressure off, and see if a more opportune moment arises later. (But be honest in this assessment: giving up on downtime does cost our kids developmentally and creatively.)

2. Make Sabbath something just for you. Set aside some time each week (an hour, two hours, half a day?) for your own Sabbath, even if your kid wants nothing to do with it. Self care is vital to good parenting. You are modeling Sabbath for them, whether they follow suit or not.

3. Get it on the calendar. Sabbath time does not just happen; you have to schedule it. Just as you put your kids’ practices and piano lessons on the calendar, put Sabbath on your calendar as well. What if something comes up? Well, that’s up to you. Some folks are good about taking a hard line and sticking to it. I like being more permeable about the boundaries, which means if something comes up, we might reschedule Sabbath. But that’s the thing—if it’s on the calendar, you can consciously do that. Sabbath becomes That Thing You Do rather than something that might happen if nothing else comes up.

4. Family movie night. Many parents at the gathering extolled the virtues of family movie night. Others lamented that nobody likes the same movies anymore. I shot back semi-facetiously, “Kids learn how to take turns in kindergarten; do they forget how to do that when they reach puberty?” Take turns picking the movie. Is it a drag to watch a dopey rom-com or a cheesy horror flick? Yes. Would it mean a lot to your kid to set aside your preferences to honor hers or his? Yes.

One father questioned movie night as a Sabbath activity because people aren’t interacting. It’s true that technology allows us to tune each other out. Certainly we want to connect with our kids, and movie-watching seems more passive than, say, playing a game or sharing a conversation. And yet, think about those old married couples you see having dinner together, not talking. Isn’t there something sweet about sharing space and a common experience with someone, even if you’re not deep in conversation? It goes by fast, folks. There’s something precious about being able to reach over and squeeze your kid’s shoulder, knowing that she’ll be in college in a few years. Along those lines…

5. Get everyone in the same room. I read about a Jewish family whose Sabbath observance takes place Friday night: each person can do whatever they want as long as they occupy the same physical space. Reading, even homework is allowed. (I wonder how they handle technology?)

6. Support each other’s endeavors. Parents lament the loss of Sunday as a day of worship and rest. Practices and games happen every day of the week, even Sunday morning. Some folks draw a line in the sand and say “No sports on Sunday.” Others try to live “in the world but not of it.” A friend’s family takes Sabbath on Sunday and if there’s a game, the whole family goes and cheers on the kid. The game gets woven into the fabric of the day.

7. Live the madness Sabbathly. We had a Saturday the other week in which there were three kid activities, each about 2-3 hours in length, and spaced about two hours apart. Annoying. There was no getting around it, so I decided to strive for a sense of peace and joy as we went through it. I didn’t cram all of the downtime with errands, I didn’t stress if we were a little bit late, and I found ways to connect with each of the kids during the busyness of the day. (The car is a great time for heart to heart chats.) I love to quote Abraham Heschel, who says that the Sabbath is not just a date, but an atmosphere.

What are your suggestions or challenges with Sabbath-keeping? Would love to hear from parents of teens, and anyone else for that matter.

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About MaryAnn

pastor, writer, haphazard knitter
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5 Responses to Mission Impossible? Sabbath Keeping with Teens

  1. jharader says:

    I mostly take personal Sabbath, but a bit spills over to the kids (8, 14, and 15). They don’t have to do chores on Sunday. And we often eat pizza in front of the TV while we watch a show on Netflix. (Eating in front of the TV is not common in our house.) This coming Sunday afternoon our youngest has gymnastics practice and the middle child has an orchestra concert. We’ll go with the flow. Thanks for your tips, MaryAnn. Having “permission” to do Sabbath differently keeps me from resorting to option #1.

  2. Kerrie says:

    Hi! We were part of the group you spoke to at Third. Thank you for coming. We really enjoyed it. When the kids were small we had family Sabbath every Sunday but as you point out, they become teens and their lives get in the way of our plans ; ) So we are attempting a month of setting aside family Sabbath time each weekend during Advent (maybe a nutty time to try, but it is only four weeks so it seems doable). Last Saturday evening we stayed home, put on Christmas music, put out fancy appetizers, got out the decorations, played a game, made Christmas cookies & watched “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.” It was really special because we planned it ahead of time. I think that is key–getting it on the calendar. We have it on the calendar for this Sunday evening & hope to be able to honor it! Thank you for the inspiration.

  3. Pingback: Sabbath with Teenagers, Continued | Sabbath in the Suburbs… and Beyond

  4. Pingback: The Best of the Sabbath Posts | MaryAnn McKibben Dana

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