Four Golden Nuggets for Parents in Pain, Part 2

Lessons Learned in Hard Times

My wife and I were clueless when we began our journey of parenting a rebellious teen.

We found an endless amount of information on how to raise a great kid, but little help when it came to hard issues … like what we were facing: alcohol and drugs, mental illness, and self-injury and more. We had never even heard of cutting prior to discovering the marks on our daughter’s arms.

While I don’t cherish my time spent on that difficult road, the lessons I learned there have become treasures—similar to panning in a river for gold and finding something of great value.

Last Monday (Nov. 6th) I shared two golden nuggets of truth I found. Today I’m sharing two more truths I gleaned on my difficult parenting journey:

3. Set Reasonable Boundaries

photo cred.pixabay

Dealing with a rebellious teen or adult child is confusing. Uncertainty about decisions is constant.

When we attended Al-anon meetings we read a lot about addiction. We quickly realized the need to create stronger boundaries. When we did, hard decisions became clearer: we knew what we would and would not do; what we wouldn’t tolerate. Over time, we created and communicated those boundaries to our daughter.

I often wanted someone to tell me what our boundaries should be. Later, I learned letting someone else make those decisions for me would be a mistake. Every parent is different and every child is, too. Yet, I wanted a one-size-fits-all remedy. Another factor to consider was how willing my wife and I were to enforce our expectations when a line was crossed or rejected.

We spent hours discussing enforceable boundaries we could agree on. Agreeing was important because of those times when our daughter would push back. We knew we had to be a united front or else there would be even more problems. Our daughter could always tell when one of us wasn’t as strong as the other. She’d aim her focus at the weaker parent, hoping to draw us into a disagreement, thus turning the attention off of her behavior, dividing us instead. Her technique worked well—too often.

What did we learn? We learned that we needed to decide in advance on the boundaries we were both committed to, communicate them clearly, and keep them. Our consistency was essential.

It was hard, but our daughter knew what we expected and what the consequences would be if she decided not to comply.

Many years later she wrote this statement in Dena’s book, You Are Not Alone:

“The hardest things we choose out of love give the deepest, most profound gifts to our souls. So don’t be afraid to have and keep your boundaries. By far one of the most loving things my parents did was to set clear, strong boundaries with me.”

There was plenty of heartache between the time we enforced our agreed upon boundaries and when she finally wrote those words. But Renee is right – love is what motivates us to create boundaries and keep them.


4. Connect with Community

As parents, it’s easy to let guilt, shame, and embarrassment take over and negatively affect us.

photo cred.pixabay

We’re insecure and blame ourselves for the situation. “I must be a bad parent,” is the voice we hear in our heads. “Good parents don’t experience what I’m going through with my child,” is another hook that keeps us from getting healthy ourselves. As a result, we tend to isolate, withdraw socially, and stay alone.

This is not the same as “triaging” your calendar or letting go of commitments (discussed in Part 1). I mean an unhealthy isolation that keeps us down in the dirt, struggling alone, when we’re in dire need of help.

Sometimes friends, relatives or others who mean well … even from our churches … tend to imply if only we had been better parents, none of this would have happened. Their attitude hurts us deeply and becomes an excuse to disengage. I advocate for spending limited amounts of time with people who make us feel worse than we already do.

The good news is that we are not alone. Many parents understand our pain. They’re more than willing to come alongside us with empathy, a listening ear, and prayerful hearts.

A support group is a good place to let out our tears, fears, and anxieties.

When God made the perfect setting to create mankind, He pronounced everything “good.” However, after creating man, He said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 1: 31; 2:18). His purpose in creating woman was to alleviate this problem.

Isolation still isn’t good for God’s people. “Alone” needs to be meaningfully addressed.

I believe we were created for community, to live life together. Our creator intended for us to give and receive help from one another in our times of need.


Dear God, thank You for understanding my hurt and how I’ve isolated myself. Help me set reasonable boundaries and keep them, motivated by love. Move me to reach out and connect with community. Give me courage. I need it badly. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 


Which golden nugget do you find most helpful? What are you going to do about it? Please share in comments.

An excellent book on boundaries is: Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Child by Allison Bottke. Her book can be ordered from the “Recommended Books” tab on our website.

*If you feel alone and in need of ongoing encouragement, please sign up for our free daily email subscription. Dena shares scriptures, prayers, and truths that help her stay strong and trust God on a difficult parenting journey.

And you might like her book, You Are Not Alone: Hope for Hurting Parents of Troubled Kids, endorsed by Dr. James Dobson, Family Life Ministries, and Focus on the Family. Available through our website or wherever fine books are sold.

4 thoughts on “Four Golden Nuggets for Parents in Pain, Part 2

  1. Good food for thought! I know I need to connect with other parents who are in “the same boat” so to speak. As a single parent who doesn’t have a church or many close friends, I recognize that I need to seek help and encouragement. But, I am not a social, outgoing person. I have two wonderful sisters, whom I can reach out to at anytime, but they live faraway. Many years ago negative experiences at church really turned me off, though I am a believer I haven’t mustered up the courage to go back. I live in rural Manitoba in Canada, so support groups are few here. I am very thankful I found your website as it’s been a great resource for me as I walk through these dark days with my daughter, praying for God to heal her in His time and in His way, not mine!

    • Crista,
      We’re sorry for the pain your are walking in with your daughter. It sounds like you are doing this basically alone with the exception of your sisters. Are there any Al-Anon groups in your area? I’m more of an introvert myself but have found Al-Anon to be a “no pressure” group. You don’t have to say a thing in the group and have the freedom to just listen. Living in a more remote area with few people to walk alongside with you must be hard. In your case though at least some resources from the website may be the only source of encouragement right now. Thank you for your compliment and we’ll join you in prayer for your daughter.

  2. Setting and agreeing on boundaries previously set. This one is vital. And my husband and I can’t even speak civilly together about boundaries because the consequences will inevitably lead to throwing our son out on the street. We’re stuck and see no end to this cycle. The adage that says doing the same thing over and over but expecting change is insanity is true! But what else do we do?

    • Karen.
      We’re so sorry the issues with your son are spilling over into your relationship with your husband regarding boundaries. Is it that one of you wants to throw him out as a consequence and the other doesn’t agree, perhaps thinking it’s too harsh? You are not alone. Many parents, including us, have struggled with this exact issue. Is there a middle ground you can agree on? Perhaps your son moves out for 2-3 nights the first violation, then a bit longer the next time etc. Couples can affirm each other and recognize that God has designed us to help balance us rather than separate us. A phrase we used to say to each other in an argument especially regarding an issue with our daughter is, “Honey, I’m not the enemy.” Politely reminding each other in times of arguments that deep down we want the same things for our kids and we are on the same team. We hope you can break the “crazy cycle.”

      God bless,
      Tom and Dena

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