When You Can’t Change Your Child

What Can a Parent Do?

September 22nd was the first day of fall. Cooler weather, colorful leaves andfall7-resized shorter days are coming. Autumn makes me think of change and change can bring good things or bad, blessings or heartache. We all hope for more of the good, especially parents.

As our children grow up, we experience countless changes. I know. I raised three. Positive ones we keep a record of: rolling over, first tooth, first word, first holiday, first trip, first steps, first day of school, funny things they say, first dance, etc.

We don’t want to forget milestones, so we keep journals and take thousands of photos and videos. They’re special to our hearts. I did okay with my first two children, but with the last one . . . well, I tried.

However, there are other types of changes; the heartbreaking kind we wish we could forget. They haunt us in our dreams.

Some moms and dads have had more than their fair share.

That’s been my experience.

If your son or daughter abuses drugs or alcohol, harms themselves, suffers with a mental illness, is suicidal, has a same-sex attraction or is in trouble with the law, you’ve tried hard to change them. But you can’t make that happen if they’re uncooperative.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t try, especially if they’re under eighteen. Do everything in your power to help: counseling, an evaluation by a doctor or psychiatrist,  rehab or treatment, maybe a therapeutic boarding school or wilderness camp.

After trying everything I knew to do, I realized I couldn’t change my daughter. The feeling of helplessness was horrible.

If you’re in this situation you know the gut-wrenching pain. Your child must decide they’re ready. It may still be summertime to them. They’re unwilling to move into a new season.

What can you do?

  • Accept what is. You. Are. Powerless.
  • Learn to let go.
  • Wait on God.

I’m sure our efforts did some good, but at the time they were merely a deposit our daughter could go back and draw on in the future when she was ready. Until she was sick and tired of being sick and tired; until she wanted to be well no matter what it would take – wanted it for herself and not to please me or her dad or anyone else, she wasn’t ready. Only God could make that happen.

Only God.

And He did.

“I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him.”

When that statement describes your attitude, you can find peace in any situation, especially with your child.


How can you do it?

Remember your problem may be big, but God is bigger.

Realize you have no power to change your child, but God is all-powerful.

Admit you don’t know what to do, but God does. Trust Him.

Believe He can even move mountains, if that’s what it takes.

Pray. Stay close to God and pray some more.

He can do the impossible. And He can help you stop worrying while you wait.

If you apply this Bible verse in your life, you’ll experience the kind of change you need the most – in any season.

“Have no anxiety about anything . . . bring your requests to God and the peace of God will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).

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7 thoughts on “When You Can’t Change Your Child

  1. Almost 4 years since my daughter’s head injury changed her so profoundly. We’ve been through her deep depression, anxiety, threats of suicide, cutting, relational heartache, seeing her cut off everyone dear, even going missing for 2 weeks with an internet predator. In some of these areas she is doing a bit better. In others, she is not. She is at college where she thought she would be happier. She’s not. And talking with her on the phone is so difficult. I appreciate your blog so very much. Hannah is 18 now, and my husband and I have exhausted ourselves finding and providing the therapy, resources etc. she needs. She has been given many tools she will not use to help herself. I get this much: until she wants to get better, she won’t. I am anxious about the future, but I don’t want to keep living out there. I am making every effort to rest in Christ, to call on His name, and to trust him. Thank you for understanding the pain we parents are experiencing. It is always better not to walk alone.

    • Thank you for your comment Loriann. I’m very sorry about your daughter’s head injury and how it changed her into someone who is bringing you so much pain. I know it breaks your heart. It gives me great joy to know you’ve found some comfort and sense of community from my blog.
      Btw, has your daughter been to a place that specializes in treating trauma? It sounds like she probably has, but if not I know a premiere program to suggest if you ever want to look into another place some day. It’s called Timberline Knowles in Chicago, they also have a Christian Track. I know two women who work for them, one of them wrote the Christian Track.

      • Thanks so much for the information. We have poured many resources into Hannah, but as you know unless the person wants/is ready for help there is a limit to what we can do. I will definitely look into Timberline Knowles though.

        • Yes, and this is what Dr. Amador helps families accomplish. Becoming seen as partners so that our loved ones will eventually agree to get the help they so desperately need. God bless you, Loriann, and strengthen you and your husband as you seek to be the best parents you can be to your precious daughter. I know it’s so hard. Keep remembering that you are not alone!

  2. Thank you for this. The spot I am in. My daughter is 20 and for 4 years I have been battling this! I am trying so hard to let go and let God. I pray mostly now for safety. Just less than 3 months ago she asked for some help (well we thought she was asking for help anyway) but here we are after getting her into a treatment center it turned out in her eyes I believe as more of a vacation. I thought good things and again sent her some care packages and some money on her acct. She must have said all the right things again to the staff and therapists cause it always makes it look like I am the one that is her problem. She said she was sorry, she said she wanted a better life, she said she was never going to pick up a drink or drug again, she wanted to make something of her life and was tired of living the way she was. It is so hard to see your child turn into someone you just can’t believe they are! I am tired – I am just wore out. She jumped ship from this treatment and headed clear from Florida to California to another. She is just running from one thing to the next not to face reality. I want to scoop her up in my arms but I know I can’t. Thanks for allowing me to read and be a part of this as you start realizing you aren’t in this alone. God Bless all the other hurting parents. It’s hard to accept that they don’t want the help I guess!

    • Dear Sad Mom,

      Thank you for sharing about your daughter. These kinds of situations are so terribly painful. It hurts so bad when you bend go to such great lengths to help them from what could destroy their lives and then they take off again. Addiction is so awful. It changes them. She’s not the person she once was. Drugs and alcohol have taken your daughter away. Sadly, addicts are the best cons. They used to tell us in the rehab parent groups that if their lips were moving, they were lying. Ouch. No parent wants to believe that. It’s a huge loss, the same as a death. There’s no easy way to get through this. You’re grieving and it will take time to find peace again. But since I’ve been in your shoes I can promise you that as you keep trusting God, doing what you can to take care of yourself, peace will come. You deserve to take good care of yourself. This depletes you, right? I hope you will go to a parent or co-dependency support group. Al-Anon is a great one.

      I pray your daughter will get sick and tired of that life before things get any worse. But if it does get worse, let her experience the “gift of pain”. It’s the best teacher. While torture for you, it may be what she needs to open her eyes and be ready to start a new life. I’m glad you at least don’t feel so alone. By the way, I’ve written several posts on Self-Care you may want to read.

      • thank you for your words. I am attending Celebrate Recovery and I am reading alot. My biggest support is the book on setting boundaries for your adult children by Allison Botke. It has been a saving grace for me. I have to read and reread but I do! It ‘s just so darn hard to think this is happening in my life! Not that I am any better than anyone else I don’t mean that at all. It’s just I had a good childhood and I believe my daughter did too. I worked hard – 3 jobs after her father and I divorced. Things fell apart her Junior year in highschool and I don’t know why. We were so close – people used to comment on how cute we were together! It hurts so much! Thanks for the support and I will continue to read your posts and articles. I am so glad a friend shared this site with me.