Originally published Wednesday, 24 May 2023.
Okay, full disclosure here. I struggled with the title of this article. Our children, young or older, are gifts from God. They are precious and called with a purpose. God has a plan for them, filled with purpose and hope. And we love them with every fiber of our being, so let’s just get all that out of the way first. Admitting that our children can be difficult does not mean they aren’t gifted by God or that we don’t love them immensely, it simply means that parenting them is... well... difficult! That said, I want struggling parents to be able to find the words on this page, as you sojourn through what may be some of the hardest days of their lives. I you to know that you came to the right place. The parenting journey isn’t for the faint of heart, so let’s dive in, shall we?
I think some famous author has called parenting difficult children “raising strong-willed children.” Perhaps that is a better term, but today, we are going to call them difficult. Let’s face it. Kids don’t come with instruction manuals. Yes, we have the Word of God (and boy, has it been a lifesaver in my life as I’ve parented). Yes, we can read parenting books and thank God for the wisdom offered by those who have gone before is. Yes, we can watch YouTube videos and download podcasts. But our children – the very ones that God gifted us with – don’t have an instruction manual of do’s and don’ts that are specific to them, and some of us have had quite a time of it, haven’t we?!
Two of my three children are now grown and have left the nest some years ago with the third not far behind. There have been easy seasons of my parenting years, when things seemed to come together and fall in place seamlessly, and then there have been the hard seasons, when nothing seemed to come together and I felt like I was running on quicksand, barely able to come up for air. Here is what I learned along the journey:
Lose the guilt // Just because your children have missed the mark, it doesn’t mean you are a terrible parent. For so long, I carried this immense guilt if my children failed a test or cheated or used profanity or stayed out too late or in some way broken the rules laid out before them. I somehow internalized that every behavior was a reflection of my parenting. It immobilized my children. It alienated them. It made me an angry parent. Our Heavenly Father is perfect and yet we, his children, make mistakes. It doesn’t mean He is any less a good Father. It means we have a sin nature that we grapple with. Lose the guilt and offer the kiddos some grace. Nothing effective is accomplished through guilty parenting.
Laugh again // When is the last time you had fun with your children? Do you know what I have sadly found to be true? We get involved in tasks and duties and checklists and rules. We are so inundated with the demands of laundry and homework and carpool and soccer practice that we forget to have fun. We spend most of our time putting out the fires of those screaming the loudest, reprimanding and punishing and correcting and disciplining. We don’t take the time to dance in the rain, karaoke in the living room, and play board games. We have stopped laughing with our children. We become the big, bad, angry, monster always looking to correct them with furrowed brows. Learn to enjoy your children again.
Don’t overindulge // Parents are tired. We balance a dozen balls in the air at any given time. Sometimes, due to guilt, exhaustion, lack of understanding, or any number of reasons, we enable and indulge. We get tired of the whining, the temper tantrums, the busted hole in the wall, or the defiance, and we simply give in. We become weak on the parenting journey and we relinquish boundaries that we should have held their foot to the fire on. Do not overindulge! It will reap dividends later. Ask God for the strength necessary to hold strong boundaries. Don’t buy the shoes if you can’t afford them. Don’t buy the toy. Don’t bend the rule that you deemed important in your home. If you have a gut check about that party, don’t let them go. Don’t allow the guilt of long hours at work or a past mistake or an ugly divorce or even your own insecurities cause you to overindulge your children. It only cripples them.
Set the thermostat // Lose the emotion. Don’t be quick to anger. Don’t scream. I was recently holding a conversation with my adult son and he said, “Mom, you always set a great temperature in the room.” He began to explain how I laughed and brought joy (at least sometimes, I do!) As the parent, we get to set the thermostat of our homes. Do we read the Word together? Do we pray? Do we have family meetings about hard things, not just surface-level conversation?
Stay the course // Parents, I know it is hard. I know the days are long and sometimes thanks are few. I know that there seems to be little rest for weary souls, but don’t stop praying. Don’t stop believing. Don’t stop implanting wisdom and truth and wise counsel. The Lord will mount you on wings like eagles. He will restore, in due time, so stay the course. When they are adults, they will – I repeat, will – stand and called you blessed. Don’t give up, even when you can’t see the fruit of your labor in this season. You are planting seeds.
Lean in to the Holy Spirit // The Holy Spirit sets captives free. He guides us. He leads and comforts. He is the X-Factor that changes everything. My kids used to “hate” my relationship with the Holy Spirit. He would reveal things to me through the power of discernment that would catch them every time. I would have a dream that I could not shake. I would have a “gut feeling” and just knew that something was up. I would drive over to a home where my children were staying the night to get them, when I couldn’t explain why. Learn more about the Holy Spirit and the gifts he offers. It can be a life-changer in parenting and every other facet of life.
First seen on iBelieve.
Jennifer Maggio is a mom to three, wife to Jeff, and founder of the national nonprofit, The Life of a Single Mom Ministries. She is author to four books, including The Church and the Single Mom. She was named one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in America by Dr. John Maxwell in 2017 and 2015 and has appeared in hundreds of media venues, including The New York Times, Family Talk Radio with Dr. James Dobson, Joni and Friends, and many others.