You may have heard the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). A young man demands his share of the family estate in advance from his father. His father obliges, yet the son runs off and squanders his fortune. Near starvation, he eventually returns home and his father welcomes him immediately and even throws a feast for him. All is well that ends well, right?
Well, what about the years in between? What about all of the worrying and suffering his poor parents must have experienced, probably questioning their own judgment, doubting their own decisions, and worrying if their son was safe or if they would ever see him again? What is a parent to do with a child who seems determined to be wayward and in control (rather than submissive)?
Sometimes our kids are just asserting their independence: like a two-year-old who likes to play alone and “check in” with you every twenty minutes or so, but insists that he or she doesn’t need your help. This is a normal development phase, right? But what about the twelve-year-old who has convinced himself that he knows it all? His desire to assert control over his life and to have separation from his parents might be normal, but when does it become a true problem and what should you do about it?
Learn the Difference Between a Phase and a Problem
If your child’s behavior is affecting their education, their ability to get or keep friends, or if your home feels like a battlefield, you have crossed over from a phase to an issue that requires outside help. There is likely an underlying root cause for their behavior that needs addressing before the behavior can change.
Don’t Hide in Your Bubble
Behavior problems in your child are embarrassing and stressful. We see our friends posting things on social media like, “Jeremy got the citizenship award, again!” Yet you are dealing with the third school suspension this semester. It might be tempting to hide in shame and pretend it’s okay, but you will need people to talk to, starting with a good friend who will just let you vent.
Check with your church about counseling for your child or about mentorship opportunities for him or her. Seek out a counselor who specializes in children and adolescents. Get couples counseling for you and your spouse so that you can deal with the stress that your child is bringing to the family dynamic.
Your misbehaving child might demand more of your attention, but do not forget your priorities: God, your marriage, and then your children. Even if your children were there first (as in you are remarried), you still need to put your spouse first. A home where the children are the center is a home without the security that the children need and crave.
Don’t Forget Your Other Kids
While you are dealing with your little troublemaker, your “easier” child may be slipping through the cracks. Try to schedule time to spend with your other children and invest in them. They will appreciate knowing that they don’t have to misbehave to get your time and attention. You also will need to deal with how this turmoil is affecting him or her and seek counseling or help for the other children in the home when it is affecting their emotional well-being or their normal routine.
Build Your Fortress
Consider joining a small group for couples and parents that focuses on Bible studies related to parenting. Be bold in asking for prayer for your specific needs. Find online or app devotionals for parents and make time for them daily if possible. Find yourself a memory verse that makes you feel strong and capable with the Lord’s help. Talk to other parents who have experienced these struggles and who have survived to tell about them.
“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” (Deut. 6:6-9)
Let Responsibility Land Where it Belongs
Take responsibility for your contributions to your child’s difficulties but make sure they understand that they are responsible for their own choices. Do not get them out of trouble! If they are in trouble in class or gym, let them deal with the consequences. If they get kicked off of the team, do not call the coach to ask for an exception. Let your children solve their own problems by taking responsibility for their mistakes and asking for forgiveness and second chances with their own humble voice.
Do Not Parent out of Embarrassment
Parent out of the Bible and out of your understanding of what God requires out of you. Do not parent out of fear of looking like a bad mom or dad to your neighbors. When we parent out of embarrassment or choose not to discipline because of who might see us, we are parenting from weakness and fear. Our children will sense this and the craftier ones will exploit it. Know your biblical position as their parent and operate from there. And if you make a mistake, don’t be alarmed. Be prepared for next time instead.
Never Give Up on Them
Never giving up doesn’t mean always giving your children what they think they want or getting them out of tough spots that they might do better to be in for the sake of learning and growing. Rarely does a person feel motivated to change until they are uncomfortable. But keep in mind that there is always hope for your child and his future! Keep praying and keep the faith, hope and love alive!
While I was writing this article, a friend of mine came over to pick up some moving boxes. We got to talking about our kids and our parenting struggles. Her three kids are little and she has one on the way. She confessed that when her husband got home from work the other day, she told him she needed a break. She drove to Krispy Kreme, got four donuts and ate them all in the parking lot while staring at her smart phone. She said there are plenty of nights when she goes to bed feeling “institutional.”
Can you relate? I know I can. Tears, frustration, worry, anger and fear can overwhelm me at times. But God chose me. He chose me to parent two boys with strong personalities and temperamental streaks. He knew there would be times that I would feel like a failure or would be times I fantasized about being on the beach in Mexico with an adult beverage and no one to corral. He also knew that there would be joy and happiness beyond comparison.
But let us remember the prodigal son and the years in between. We can guess how the parents must’ve felt during that time. But what was going on with the son? His parents weren’t chasing him down. They couldn’t track him online. They let him follow his own way. Yet he was not alone. God did work in him that the parents could not do alone.
I am not saying to give your toddler a hefty sum of cash and jewels and send them into the world. I am saying that there are phases that your child will have to experience and consequences that must come with them. But in their failure and suffering, God can do great work in our children and we can be ready to embrace our children when they return to us.
Whether it’s after a fit, after a huge mistake or after a time away, we can love and guide our children, if we let God do His job while we do our job: Follow Him.
The best way to be good father or mother is to be an obedient son or daughter to our Father.
Kris Wolfe is a Christian, wife and mother. She is a freelance writer who focuses on spiritual and practical encouragement, writes lessons for small group purposes for churches, and is also a small group coach. Kris has a master’s degree in Biblical Counseling from Luther Rice University and Seminary and is a listed TN Supreme Court Rule 31 Mediator.
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