Heidi Howerton: It is so wonderful to have Jennifer joining us and sharing the wisdom that God has given her and also just pointing us to Christ. As you know, we are in our series on loving the children that God has placed in our lives, how to show them Jesus and how to cling to the Lord when motherhood or different relationships are hard. And so we wanted to invite Jen back again for another episode to share a little bit more with us on what the Lord has taught her in this season of motherhood.
Jani Ortlund: Yes, thank you Jennifer, for being willing to come and talk to our listeners. In our last episode we heard some about Evelyn, your little four year old princess.
Jennifer Cortez: Yes.
Jani: And Jacob, your 13 year old son who is, shall I say, on the autism spectrum? Is that the proper way to say it?
Life with two teenage sons 1:12
Heidi: Well you have two older sons as well. Would you tell us a little bit about them? They’re teenagers. We’d like to hear some of your wisdom in dealing with young men in your home.
Jennifer: This has been so much fun having teenage boys.
Heidi: Really? That’s encouraging!
Jani: Yeah, I’m glad to hear that!
Jennifer: It’s not always easy and I don’t often know what I’m doing, but having said that, it’s been a lot of fun, yes. So our oldest son, Sam, is 19 and he’s going to be a freshman at Birmingham Southern College this fall. He leaves in just a few weeks and I’m just compartmentalizing that, not thinking about it. So that’s what I’m doing there other than preparing, but I’m not feeling it too much yet. And then Joshua, our 17 year old is a rising senior in high school. So he’s in the process of figuring out where he’s going to apply to college and all of that is starting. So we have a lot going on with those two. But it has been so much fun having boys and they are so dear to me. And I love seeing all the fruit of the labor they’ve put in over the years. When I’ve been your age, Heidi, and having those little ones and Jani you encouraged me in that and said, soon you’re going to be seeing all the work you’ve been doing coming to fruition.
Heidi: I love that because I feel like a lot of moms of teenagers tell me, “Oh, just wait Heidi. It’s gonna get so hard.” So it makes my heart smile to hear you say that the teenage years are really fun.
Jennifer: Well, I love them.
Jani: Can you share with us some of the things that you love about it?
Jennifer: Well, I love that they are interesting to talk to now (if I may be so bold to say!). You know, it was hard for me to have little ones and some moms just seem to do that so beautifully and effortlessly. And I think, how do you play unicorns for an hour? I just can’t do it and I’m terrible and my child felt so unloved! So teenagers are a little bit easier for me personally. I love to talk with them about what they’re learning in school. I love to talk about what books they’re reading. I like to hear about their friends and so…
Jani: …so that’s good.
Challenges with Teenagers 3:20
Heidi: What are different challenges that you’re working through with teenagers?
Jennifer: Yes. Well there are challenges as everyone can imagine. One of the things that I found, for example, that was a challenge was when our oldest one, Sam turned 16 and got his driver’s license. He just would leave the house and just go places without telling me where he was going. He wasn’t doing it to be rebellious or malicious, but he just thought, well, I can go now, so I’m just going to go. So we had to learn that the teenage years are sort of like the toddler years for adulthood. So if you can think of it as, “Here’s a time where we need to now reestablish boundaries, we have new circumstances and new capacities here, so let’s just talk about this as a family and re-establish what the rules are.” So you really do need to do that.
Jennifer: And also as a mom, I’ve had to really back off and learn how to back off more from them and say, “I’m sorry that I scheduled that without asking you if you had any plans. I’m just learning how to do this. I’m not used to being the mom of a 17 year old and I’ll ask you next time.”
Heidi: How did you figure out how to establish those boundaries? Did you and Daniel have a conversation about those with your boys or was it a conversation with Sam?
Jennifer: It really was by trial and error by finding things happening that I thought, “Hmm, this isn’t good, let’s see what we need to do about this.” So really, just living through it with them. So I would say that as the mom of teens, there needs to be a lot of dialogue, a lot of conversations happening. So when Sam or Joshua might do something that upset me or I felt was out of bounds, I know them well enough to know they weren’t being rebellious. And Jacob and Evelyn might be a different story, but I’m talking about the two I have right now. I know them well enough to know that’s not like them to just disregard me. So we need to have a conversation about this. So lots and lots and lots of conversations.
Jani: And would they be willing to enter in to conversation? They didn’t go slam the door and say, “Oh ma!”
Jennifer: No, they always are. But I do try to give them a heads up, like, “Sam, I’de like to revisit what happened yesterday. Could we meet for 10 minutes after dinner tonight?”
Jani: Oh, that’s good. Jen. Rather than surprise them and, “Oh, here comes mom, I wonder what’s coming?”
Jani: That’s very helpful.
Internet Safety 5:46
Jani: I know in my own life with our grandchildren who are teenagers, I worry sometimes about the internet and some of the new things that our culture is throwing them. Would you be willing to speak to what it looks like in your household?
Jennifer: I will. And please hear me say I’m no expert. I’m just sharing my experience and I think some things are going well, but again, lots of prayer and lots of conversations. One of the things that I’ve just known from the beginning, that the boys have access to pornography. I mean, everybody who has access to the internet has access to pornography. That is the truth of it. So knowing that I think is important and having conversations when they’re old enough about what’s out there and to guard against it. And I don’t mean when they’re five, but as my boys started to become 12 and13, they had iPads or, I think, our oldest got a phone when he was 13. I don’t know who their friends are in terms of what their friends are looking at, those types of things. So I like to think of it as trying to immunize them against the realities that are there. I don’t think it’s helpful to pretend those realities are not there.
Jani: That’s good.
Our Conversations go something like…
Jennifer: So I would rather us have conversations about them so Daniel has talked with them about the things that they might find on the internet. And we’ve of course had conversations, Daniel specifically, about the Lord’s plan for sex and what that looks like and should look like and the beauty of that and God’s plan for that.
Jennifer: I’ve had conversations with them as their mom saying, “If someone were to offer you marijuana or narcotics or something, would you say yes?” “Well, no mom, I would never say yes to that.” “You know that’s dangerous, right? You know that?” “Yes, mom, we know that.” “Well I want to talk to you about some things that are also available that are very dangerous to you. If someone says that they want to look at this, then would you look at that as it can be just as addictive?”
Jennifer: So I’ve had those conversations with them and I try to take the taboo away from talking about it. And there have been times where I’ve asked our boys, “Are you staying safe online?” I check in with them pretty regularly and there have been times where they’ve said, “No, mom, I’m struggling.” So I really encourage parents to talk about those things because whether or not you’re talking about them, they are still realities that our children are facing.
Jani: That’s so good, Jennifer. I know when our children were teenagers with the boys in particular, Ray would go in sometimes in the evening when they were finishing up their homework or heading off to bed and just pray with them, talk with them and check in with them as you and Daniel are doing with your two older boys, “How’s it going? What temptations are ahead of you? How can I pray for you?” and try to keep that communication open. Not as an ogre, not as the master of all, but as a fellow pilgrim on the way to heaven struggling as well, but accountable to each other and as the father or mother figure in the family.
Some easy rules and boundaries
Jennifer: Yes. And we do have some rules like, we have phones turned in at 10:00 PM…
Jani: …to you?
Jani: So let me just understand this. In the Cortez Household, children under the age of 21 give you their phone at 10:00 PM?
Jennifer: Well I say we have had that. We’re not doing it right now, but it’s a good reminder that we should reinforce that! Transparent moment.
Jani: Sorry, Jennifer, I didn’t mean to put you on the spot but that sounds fascinatingly wonderful!
Jennifer: I think it was working really well when I was enforcing it more diligently. So it’s a good reminder. But we did have that. It just, I think, shuts down the temptation to be on that phone all night. I don’t know, there are just real temptations there that maybe it’s just staying up too late when I should be trying to sleep or someone texting them and they don’t need to answer at 1:00 a.m. So I think that’s a rule that that has been helpful when I have enforced it. (Mental note to get back on that.) So that’s one example.
Jennifer: We also have done some internet safety things. We have something installed on our router called “Open DNS,” which allows us to block certain sites and so there are things that you can do like that, but filters are pretty tough because the kids have to do their homework and their assignments are online. It’s a different animal than I grew up with. It’s just hard to manage. It really is difficult.
Jani: Wow. Sounds like you’ve got some good boundaries in place.
What about time for yourself and the idea of self care? 10:51
Jani: Are you exhausted in your family these days with an age span of 4 to 19, getting a son ready to go off to college and a little girl, Evelyn, who won’t be in kindergarten this year, will she?
Jennifer: She will.
Heidi: Wow, one in college and one in kindergarten?
Jennifer: Is that crazy? Because that’s how I like to roll. I don’t know. My now 17 year old once said when he was about 14, “Mom, you’ve had too many children!” And he was dead serious. “I really mean this. Like things aren’t running well here.” So that’s real life at our house. Understaffed. He likes it when my mom comes, he says, “She brings stabilization to an understaffed home.” That’s what my son Joshua said.
Heidi: I love it.
Jennifer: And I am.
Jani: What do you do about it?
Jennifer: Well I’m glad you asked because I feel very strongly about and I’ve learned in the last few years that I really do need to take care of my mental health because I also care for my father who has been under my care for three years. He doesn’t live in our home, but I am his only biological child. So I oversee all of his affairs and monitor it, take him to all of his medical appointments and that sort of thing. So there’s a lot going on at our house.
Heidi: What do you do to take care of yourself between your dad and your kids? How do you find time for yourself?
Jennifer: Well, I have a husband who’s very supportive but I will say I had a near nervous breakdown about three years ago, maybe two years ago. And that’s how I came to realize that I really needed this and that self care was not the same thing as selfishness. And so I think in our inner Christian circles, sometimes we are suspicious of self care. And I can understand why because sometimes in the mainstream culture we hear it taken maybe to an extreme or maybe putting ourselves at the center of the universe—we know that’s not right, either. But I strongly believe that as we submit to the Lord and keeping him first, there is also space for us to take care of ourselves in that we need energy to care for our family, our health is important.
What does saying “No” look like for you? 13:17
Jennifer: So what that looks like for me now in terms of taking care of myself is I block off Sundays. So I just put on my Google calendar, a big red bar. I just block it off. So that’s for worship and family time. And we do have our care group, our small group on Sunday nights, but that is restorative for me. It’s not depleting. But that’s been hard because that means saying no to all kinds of social obligations and it’s taken me a while to implement that. But that helps me. I say no to about 80, maybe 90 percent of the opportunities that come my way. So I say no a lot more than I say yes to things.
Jani: Oh thank you for saying yes to this podcast.
Jennifer: Well this is a joy.
Jani: Excuse me for interrupting, but oh, that means so much to us and our listeners Jennifer.
Jennifer: Well, I wouldn’t miss this. This is such a privilege.
Jani: But you say, “No” – you’ve learned to say no. I don’t want to interrupt your train of thought, but could you come back to that after you tell us, how do you know what to say no to?
Jennifer: Well, I’ve started to identify the things that are life giving to me, and, Jani, I think you’re the one who posed that question to me once: “What are the things that give you life?” And I’ve learned that some of those things are certain friends are very encouraging and life giving. So I try to spend time with those friends. I’ve learned that double dates or triple dates with Daniel work really well. So I say no to a lot of things that are just me and the girls in favor of spending time with Daniel. So I have a tiny window. I want to make the most of that social time. I love to hear authors because I love to read and I love to write. So if an author that I love is in town, I try to go see her or him. I love documentaries and we have the Belcourt Theater—I’m going to see something about Toni Morrison soon, a documentary about a Nobel prize winning novelist. So those are the things that fill me up.
Jani: Mmm…”Choose life giving things.”
there a Scripture that helps with your teens? 15:33
Jani: Well, let me ask you and Heidi, you chime in here, too. Heidi and I, and our listeners would love to know, is there any scripture that has helped you with your teens or with this idea of how do I serve the Lord well here, he’s given me these children and I want to be a good servant without going into a depression.
Jennifer: Well, that’s a great question. You, Jani, encouraged me when I was in your discipleship group to think about a life verse. So at that time, because I see both sides of things–which is my gift and my curse, I call it my “blursing,” blessing and curse—so I can see both sides of things, which is sometimes confusing to live inside my own skin. And so my life verse that I chose all those years ago is Psalm 16:11, which is,
“You make known to me the path of life;Psalm 16:11
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
So it reminds me that it’s God himself who makes known to me the path of life. And if I’m not sure which path is the path of life, I can be okay for a little while in the not knowing because I have him and he’ll show me.
Jennifer: And what I’ve learned is that all of Psalm 16 is so full of life. And so life giving to me. So another one that I’ve been meditating on, another verse from Psalm 16, after listening to the podcast on meditation (thank you Jani and Heidi), reminded me I haven’t been meditating lately and wow, I feel it. I need that in my life. So I have a little promise pack of cards from our friend Katie Lewis (dearmushka.com), a shameless plug for our friend Katie, but she has a promise pack that I love and it sits by my kitchen sink. Just recently I flipped to the next one and it said Psalm 16:8 which is,
“I have set the Lord always before me;Psalm 16:8
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”
And I just am in a stage of life right now in these last few years where I have had to be strong in a way that I’ve never had to be before. I almost crumbled under the weight of it, but the Lord sustained me. He is at my right hand and has not allowed me to be shaken. So I’m really embracing strength, knowing that it comes from the Lord and that it’s a good thing and that it’s really good to be a strong woman because we carry a lot of weight and we need to be strong. But I want his strength and not my own. So I’ve just been meditating on Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”
Jani: So as we relate to the children in our lives, all of our listeners, we hope that you, too, will find a verse to meditate on. God is there for you.
Jani: We so appreciate your words, Jennifer, your testimony to how he sustained you through the that very hard time through many difficulties. And yet here you are sitting around the table with us beautifully clothed with the beauty of Christ. We praise him together. We thank you Jennifer for coming.
A Prayer for us all 18:56
Jani: Heidi, would you be willing to wrap this up and maybe pray for our listeners and thank the Lord?
Heidi: I would love to Jani. “Heavenly Father, thank you so much for being with us today. God, thank you for all of the children are in our lives, from our preschoolers, to our middle schoolers, to our high schoolers Lord. God thank you that you care about them and thank you that you care about us. I pray that you would come meet with each of us individually today that you would encourage us and help us to continue to set you before us. Lord, we love you so much. Amen.”
Heidi: Thank you for joining us today. To discover more about Jani and Ray, visit their webpage at renewalministries.com. If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at herestoresmysoul.org.