4 Ways to Stay Strong When Your Child Is Struggling
“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." Elizabeth Stone
Anyone who is a parent knows exactly how true this quote is. It’s especially true when your child is hurting because when they hurt, you hurt as well. Whether your child (child physically or adult) is ill, disabled, has special needs, or is just struggling with something in their life, it is hard to deny that it takes a toll on you as a parent.
I’ve had to come face to face with this reality as I’ve learned to navigate life with a child with special needs, but I’ve also seen parents who have had to watch their child go through a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, and parents whose teenage and adult children have had to face the struggle of consequences from poor decisions.
No matter what the specific situation or circumstances, it is undeniably hard to watch your child struggle, and while you can’t always change the situation, here are a few choices that you can make that will help you stay strong in the battle and avoid crumbling under the pressure.
1. Meditate on God’s Word
Last year my husband and I found ourselves going to multiple doctor appointments to try to find out why our eight-year-old son was having seizure-like events on a daily basis. One doctor recommendation was for him to get an MRI done to make sure there were no brain abnormalities going on with him. Since my son has an anxiety disorder and is deathly afraid of unfamiliar situations and environments, he had to be sedated for this test.
During the process of sedation, I found myself having to walk out of the MRI room in hysteric tears listening to my son scream of fear while doctors and nurses had to hold him down to put a breathing mask on him. The entire ordeal took less than a minute, but it felt like an eternity to me. We made it through the procedure and came home that day and all was fine, but the memory of the ordeal seemed to linger in my brain.
So much so that I dreaded going to bed that night, lest that memory play over and over again in my mind. However, that night God led me to this verse:
“He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.”
Isaiah 40:11 NLT
This verse helped me picture Jesus holding my son close to his heart in those moments, even when I had to leave the room because I couldn’t keep it together. It gave me so much peace to be able to reframe the memory of my son being in fear and crying to God holding him in my absence.
Your mind will naturally drift towards meditating on the pain you are feeling and the pain that your child is going through, which can then easily lead on a downward spiral to depression and hopelessness. Intentionally meditating on God’s promises will help you focus on the truth and give you the hope and peace to keep going.
2. Express your Emotions
I can be a really good stuffer when it comes to negative emotions. There have been many times where I have been able to set aside strong emotions of fear, sadness, and anger in the name of being strong for those around me. But this will only last for so long until the feelings build up so much that one day I explode (or implode) into an emotional ball.
I’ve learned that there is a difference between temporarily suppressing certain emotions for a time in order to stay strong for your child, make it through a work day, or just live your daily life, and stuffing those emotions without a plan to come back and work through them. It’s simply not possible to set your emotions aside indefinitely, because they will eventually come out.
For I while I was able “pull it together” in order to be strong for my son and not add my fears and frustration to his, but the lack of expressed emotion in my life led me to a season of depression. As I stuffed my negative emotions, I was also keeping myself from experiencing positive ones and I just felt numb.
Once I started seeing a counselor, she helped me to realize that I needed to take time to feel these negative emotions and process through them in my quiet time. The situations I was going through were difficult, sad, and frustrating, and my brain and body needed to process them because that’s how God wired me.
It is crucial to set aside time to work through your strong emotions. You might replay tough situations in your mind during your quiet time, or write them out in a journal, but be sure to express the emotion you felt in and/or about that situation (and likely still feel, since those emotions won’t really go away until you work through them). Be honest with how you feel and how it affected you, and give it over to God to heal that hurt.
Try not to be concerned about whether or not you “should” feel whatever emotion about whatever situation and don’t judge yourself for what you may deem over-reacting, but instead pray about what may be causing this situation to press your buttons. Chances are that God is trying to work something out in you and help you heal from past events and change your current thinking to be more like His.
3. Fight and Rest
Fight and rest may sound like complete opposites, but they can actually work in wonderful harmony together. There are times you may need to fight for your child in the natural by advocating for them when it comes to education and/or medical care in order for them to get the help that they need.
Other times your only fight may just be going to your knees in prayer when you are waiting for things to take shape and waiting for breakthroughs that will take time.
No matter what your fight may look like right now, it’s important to remember Ephesians 6:12-13:
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.”
While you may need to push through and do things in the natural when it comes to fighting for your child, your spiritual battle will be the most effective. When you fight in the spiritual realm, you are not only fighting for your child, but you are fighting for yourself and your mental health and peace, but you will always have God on your side.
He’s the One that gives you the strength to fight and ensures your victory, the truth of which gives you the ability to rest in Him.
4. Regularly Draw New Strength from God
The emotional toll of having a child that is struggling can easily make you weary and cause you to feel weak. It can feel like you are losing your faith and trust in God as your focus shifts from God to what is going on in the natural, and that is why refocusing and choosing to trust God is a daily process.
“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”
Isaiah 40:31 NLT
This verse is so powerful because it is a good reminder that you will find NEW strength when you choose to trust God. Your strength can become weak when you don’t nurture it, and especially when you are in a battle, your strength can fade pretty quickly. It’s just like your physical strength- if you don’t lift weights regularly, your muscles will start to lose their strength, but at any time you can start lifting weights again and your muscles will grow stronger again.
The same is true with your spiritual strength when you choose to trust God and focus on His promises for you.
As a parent, it is hard to watch your child struggle because it is simply heartbreaking, but one thing you can count on in your heartbreak is that God is always right there with you.
“The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.”
Psalms 34:17-19 NLT
Cortni Marrazzo lives in Spokane, WA with her husband Jason and their two elementary-age sons, one of which has special needs. She has a Degree in Biblical Discipleship and has a passion for ministry and encouraging the body of Christ. You can contact her at Cortni.Marrazzo@gmail.com or on her Facebook page.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Nadezhda1906
Cortni Marrazzo lives in Spokane, WA with her husband Jason and their two elementary-age sons, one of which has special needs. She has a Degree in Biblical Discipleship and has a passion for ministry and encouraging the body of Christ. You can contact her at Cortni.Marrazzo@gmail.com or on Facebook.