Five Things I Learned from Parenting a Challenging Child

What God Taught Me

My husband, Dave, and I were struggling with a boundary that needed to be set with our 19 year

photo cred. Ravish Kumnar

old daughter. Torn between the possibility of losing her or losing our other kids, we were battle weary and neither option was a good one. With tears streaming down our faces we cried out to God for a miracle.

Nothing came.

The risky behavior our daughter was engaging in brought fear into our home and a realization that this was something we couldn’t fix. As in most families with strong-willed, challenging children, there is “an event” that catapults us to draw a line in the sand. We were no different. Sitting alone with my 13 year old son in the church parking lot one day he brought up the topic of his sister. “Mom”, he bravely began. “What are you going to do when she gets pregnant?”

Surprisingly I was able to keep it together. “Why are you worried?” I asked as tears welled up in his eyes. The words that tumbled out of my son’s mouth had me frozen in time. Details. So many details that a 13 year old shouldn’t even know. He had become his sister’s confidant to her escapades. How could I have been so oblivious to the magnitude of the things she was involved in?

With the help and wisdom of a professional counselor my husband and I made the most difficult decision of our lives. We gave our daughter a few months to decide if she wanted to make changes so she could continue living in our home or move out.

She moved out.

And I cried for weeks.

And God met me in the midst of the heartache.

I came to realize that this was HIS story.  I had to play the role He had given me to fulfill to the best of my ability. I couldn’t change my daughter—that was His job. Here’s what He taught me.

  1. Let go. Yes, she was technically gone from our house. But I needed to let go emotionally—not only for my sake but for the rest of the family.
  2. Let God. I had to pray for her daily trusting that God is in control.
  3. Letting go and letting God was not a one-time event. I had to trust Him especially when I was tempted to step in and try to fix things.
  4. Work on me. Even though this was about my daughter’s choices, this was very much about me as a parent. Given the circumstances, what could I live with in terms of the relationship I had with my daughter? What did God want from me?
  5. Stay Engaged. Once I had peace about what God desired, I actively pursued her to stay engaged. When there were weeks on end with no word, I would send a text telling her I loved her. I chose to invite her to lunch just to be near her—no expectations, no nagging, no long speeches. Just loving her unconditionally in the moment. It was hard.

Little by little trust was rebuilt. Over time she knew the boundaries and that we would always be here for emotional support. Eventually she began to call me just to talk knowing that I was a trusted friend she could lean on.

I didn’t rescue. I was just available.

We worked our way back to a relationship. We learned that we needed each other even in our dysfunctional way. As a parent, I learned that this would have to be enough.

No matter where you are in your painful parenting situation, God knows your circumstances. He cares and will meet you in your now. Can you trust Him? Can you let go? Can you let God? Can you find ways to stay engaged?

Dear Heavenly Father, You know the pain and the shattered dreams. You know the fear and the longing for something different. I choose to put my trust in You knowing that You will use all things for Your glory. Give me strength for this day and this moment and help me to run the race that you have given me. May I be faithful to stay engaged with this child and parent to the best of my ability even though it hurts. Amen.

1 Peter 5:10

 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.


Debbie Hitchcock

Thank you to today’s guest blogger, Debbie Hitchcock, co-author of With All Due Respect: 40 Days to a More Fulfilling Relationship with Your Teens & Tweens (Thomas Nelson, 2016).  She is a trainer, speaker, and parenting coach at Greater Impact Ministries, Inc. and blogs at  Debbie has been a guest on FamilyLife Today with Dennis Rainey and Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. She and her husband, Dave, have been married since 1978, and have four grown children.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

6 thoughts on “Five Things I Learned from Parenting a Challenging Child

  1. I’m reading Dena’s book and looking for a place where I can share my thoughts without being overwhelmed by stories of loved ones never finding sobriety. I have a wonderful support group in Nar-anon, but I also need Christian moms who have experienced the devastation of addiction in one of their beloved children. I’ve never blogged before this attempt. So, I’ll see how it goes.

    • Karen, thank you for taking a chance and reaching out to us. I understand how that can feel overwhelming to only hear about those who never find sobriety. We are so sorry for what you are going through. We do pray you can find the kind of support you need. It’s really hard to hear discouraging stories when you need some hope – although none of us knows how our story will end, only God.

      You’re so right, we need to surround ourselves with Christians who have an eternal perspective – at least a faith in common that can encourage us when we need it so badly.

      First, you could look on our “Find or Start a Support Group” tab to see if we have one in your area. If not, you might try one of these ideas:
      Celebrate Recovery – they have coda (co-dependency groups); click here for the link to find a group on their website

      Hurting Moms, Mending Hearts They also have a Facebook page and online meetings if there’s not one where you live.

      And if you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to sign up for my daily emails. They are words of Scripture and prayers to strengthen and comfort your heart.
      “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6). Amen.

  2. Reading this blog was a God-send for me this morning!! So encouraging to know that many,many other parents are experiencing such heartache. I also have a 19 yr. old daughter living at home. Though my circumstances differ, the worry, pain and helplessness are very similar! I have been praying for a miracle in her life as she lives with severe anxiety that prevents her from having a job and continuing her education. She knows she needs to get help but can’t make herself take that first step. I encourage her but don’t push too hard as she reacts to my efforts in anger mostly. It’s such a fine line between keeping open communication and also encouraging her and helping her realize she can become a healthier, happier person and not saying too much to cause her to shut me out. So appreciate your website! Thank you for the hope & strength it gives me to never give up. God is in control !!

  3. Hugs my dear friend. You have helped me see direction for my path when I surrender my children to His ultimate care. Your honest and hurt give hope. God is using His/your story to give hope that did plan for the outcomes God has designed for our paths.