I'm at a church barbecue chatting with another parent. He doesn't want to confess the pain over the growing intimacy gap between him and his daughter, and so he resorts to a joke ... with an edge.
"Hey, you've got sons," he tells me. "That's easy. Try talking to a human hormone machine instead. The Little Diva's refusing to go to the annual Father-Daughter dance with me this year. She threw a fit about it last night."
I don't laugh. Why do we say something negative about our teen to a peer that we'd never say to our child's face? To diminish hurt over rejection? To minimize a fear of failing at the vocation of parenting? Or maybe we sense hatred in our hearts, and those sappy commercials tell us we're supposed to feel tender and affectionate -- all the time.
I'm not saying that joking can't lighten the burden of parenting, but slander never works. Confession, however, does.
"My heart's aching because my daughter and I aren't as close as we used to be."
"I'm terrified that he's turning away from God."
"I don't like my teen at all these days. Please pray like mad for an outpouring of supernatural love."
And for those of us who prefer dry humor to passionate outpourings, self-deprecatory comedy can serve as the chosen vehicle for confession.
Take stock of your recent conversations with other parents. How we talk about our children when they aren't around is a litmus test of the relationship. If you've been "joking" about teenagers, or about adolescence, or even about your particular child, what's really going on?