When my family left Jerusalem in January 2020 to begin a new chapter in global service, we had no idea that we’d be thrust into a worldwide pandemic and separated for months. I’m in Europe, where the family had planned to join me for the summer, and my husband and our two teens are still in the United States.

Recently the European Union closed its borders to American travelers, and the European Schengen Area followed suit. It may be Christmas before my family is physically together again.

This meant we had to figure out how to stay connected while apart. The question “How does a parent engage emotionally and spiritually with their teenage children while separated?” is tricky to answer. Apply this question to your family context, whether you’re a grandparent, godparent, aunt, uncle or parent separated from a teen by literal or figurative distance.

I disabled the “do not disturb” function on my phone that I’d previously set to create a work-life boundary. During exceptional times, there should be no boundaries.

Because of emotional fatigue, I find best practices, even faith ones, can be hard to keep during challenging times. Nevertheless, I will share what I have learned while living physically apart from my teens to encourage you in your call to nurture a young person.

Though the distance might seem great, the faint refrain “It is well with my soul” keeps me centered (“When Peace Like a River,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship 785).

Practices

Let teens know that you’re always available to connect on matters great and small or even to pray together, no matter the time difference. Remind them often. I disabled the “do not disturb” function on my phone that I’d previously set to create a work-life boundary. During exceptional times, there should be no boundaries.

Schedule a family movie date, possibly orchestrated via Zoom or FaceTime. Ask your teen what movie they think you’d like to watch together (a reality of teens on lockdown during COVID-19 is that they’ve watched all of Netflix, so they know the selection). Asking them to recall what you might like or dislike, I think, helps them remember the absent adult in their lives.

Check in boldly on their mental and spiritual health. Set a schedule if possible and just ask, “How are you feeling? Do you feel depressed? Anxious? Angry? Hopeful?” Be courageous enough to listen and accept the answers, and don’t jump to offer advice. This may not be easy to hear, but there is no room for subtlety or avoidance when teens are distant. If their answer is troubling, know your teen’s support system—pastors, deacons, school counselors, trusted family friends, therapists—and don’t be ashamed to ask them for help nurturing your teen. We all need help, especially lately. (For more, see “Ministry for the whole person” in the June/July issue.)

Adrainne Gray
Adrainne Gray is an ELCA deacon and the communications officer for Lutheran World Federation.

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