When teens and adult children make bad choices, it can be one of the most heart-breaking things that parents face. Many parents are left wondering where they went wrong, and if the years they spent pouring into their children were wasted. When those times come our way, there is hope for the seeking! Let’s look at 8 ways to hold on and keep looking up.
When our precious babies are born, they are so innocent. Their only cares in the world are to be warm, dry, loved and fed. We can fix almost anything that is wrong in their small world, and their lives are quite literally in our hands.
As they grow, things change. They begin to have opinions. Their ideas are not always the same as our ideas. They often think they know certain things that their poor, naïve, less experienced parents do not. (Why do teenagers assume they know better than their parents, who have lived longer? I’ll never understand, it’s confounding! Something to do with growing up and straining towards independence, blah, blah, blah…)
They face hurts and problems that we can’t fix. They form heart scars that we can’t see. And then comes the day where their mistakes change in kind. Instead of “forgetting” to do her chores, or giving his little brother a wedgy, your precious son or daughter may do something that truly breaks your heart.
I did my very best…
There are plenty of parents in this world, who go through life “just winging it.” They are inattentive, checked out, absent, or even neglectful and totally selfish. When their kids turn out bad, almost certainly it is the fault of their poor parenting. Right? “But I’m different! I tried to do everything right! I read all the how-to books, I carefully monitored their influences, I bought organic peanut butter, I read them the Bible, I told them about Jesus, we had all the conversations…” etc. The truth is, sometimes we do our very, very best. We teach, train, talk with, and pray. And falsely, perhaps, we believe that if we do the “right stuff,” our kids will turn out well.
To an extent, that may be true. But mama, here is the problem with that concept: Every human being has free will. There are instances in the Bible where righteous people, heroes of the faith even, had children who made awful choices. Adam and Eve had a righteous son, Able, and a murderer, Cain. Two sons raised in the same home by the same parents. Adam and Eve cannot simultaneously receive credit for the golden child and blame for the bad one. Our children reach an age, as did we, where they must either choose to go to the right or the left of their own accord. No one goes to heaven on his or her parent’s faith. Every person must choose for himself.
Does it even matter what I do as a mother?
I have known people, several people, whose parenting seemed so excellent, it was almost beyond reproach. Standing next to them, I felt so small. I felt like my feeble attempts at raising kids just could not stand in comparison. And yet, the children of these dear people have made grave mistakes as teenagers and adults. I was visiting with a friend the other day, and the question came up, “In the end, does it really matter how we parent? Is it only up to each person’s free will? Does it even matter what we do?”
The short answer is YES! Throughout scripture, God tells us over and over how we are to raise our children. We are told to teach His ways to our children, to impress His commandments on their hearts “when you sit at home, when you walk on the road, when you lie down, and when you get up” in Deuteronomy 6:7. Repeated again in 11:19. We are told to discipline (Proverbs 13:24), to train (Proverbs 22:6), to love (Titus 2:4), to pray for(Lamentations 2:19), etc. If God takes the trouble to tell us so many times, then its very important.
But even after you’ve taken great care to shape their character, they still have free will. Know this for sure, mama: Your child will make mistakes. In fact, your child will sin. The word mistakes has a much softer connotation than sin, doesn’t it? Mistakes imply unintentional error, and sin carries a sense of wickedness. But “sin” is actually an old archery term that means “missed the mark”. Anytime we miss the mark of God’s standard, it is sin. So know this, your child will sin. It’s part of being human. Some of those mistakes will be more private in nature, and you may not even know. Some of those mistakes may be very public, and everyone will know.
So Now What?
And when that child has fallen, perhaps badly, then what? Mama, if your conscience is clear before God (keeping in mind that you are human too), don’t judge yourself too hard. It’s not all up to you. And when your kids seem to be doing well, and they appear to be model citizens with very bright futures, don’t congratulate yourself too hard either! There will be plenty of time to fall off the pedestal later on.
Now for what you CAN do when things go wrong:
- Keep loving that kid/young adult.
- Tell that kid the truth in love, not in anger. When your voice is angry, they just can’t hear the love.
- Keep praying. There is a scripture I mentioned earlier, Lamentations 2:19. It says “Pour out your hearts like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to Him for the lives of your children.” I love this picture of prayer, of pouring out my heart like water before God. Holding nothing back. When we pray, we leave behind our inability to “do” something, and enter into a world where God can do anything.
- Resist the urge to “fix” things for your child who is continuing in sin. He needs to suffer the natural consequences of his actions. He will not learn from his mistakes if mom and dad bail him out every time. This can be gut wrenching for you as a parent, but it is important! Don’t be an enabler.
- Stand firm on the boundaries you set. If your child is still living at home, state clear rules and consequences. Eighteen or not, when they live in your home their behavior affects everyone who lives there, and many decisions are not their’s to make. Your younger children depend on you to create a safe environment where the influences are sound. Young adults, who are of age and categorically refuse to adhere to your rules, are old enough to feel the consequences of their choices and move out.
- Get help if necessary. Seek counsel from qualified people. Certain circumstances require this, including, but not limited to, substance abuse, deep depression, extremely self-destructive behaviors, or behaviors harmful to others. Good counseling can make all the difference.
- Don’t let guilt eat you alive. If you need to ask forgiveness from God and/or your child, do it. Live the example of humility and confessing sin. Then move on. What’s done is done. Spend your energy on the here and now, not wallowing in guilt and regret.
- Realize that God loves that kid more than you do! His desire to turn his/her heart around is greater than yours. You can trust Him to go after your child’s wandering heart relentlessly.
- Finally, be ready and willing to forgive when that child is ready to turn around.
Now for the good news!
Remember the prodigal son? When he came to the end of himself, he remembered his father and went back home! Here is where making the right choices as a parent comes back in to play. The Godly parenting that you strive for will not always prevent those teens and adult children from falling, but…It will give them a firm place to land! When they come to the end of themselves, the foundation that you laid for them can make all the difference in how they get up after they’ve fallen.
One More Thing
Let me encourage you with one more thought. People who think they have never really done anything “that bad” feel no need for grace and forgiveness. They don’t understand what an incredible gift mercy is. But a person who knows they have much to be forgiven for has a grateful, humble heart. And that, mama, is a heart that is pliable and soft in God’s hands! That is a heart He can use!
Hang on to the promises of God. Remember that everything we face is sifted through His fingers, and nothing is wasted when we lay it at His feet. Share your stories of victory in the comments, and how you made it through! Hugs, mama!
(This post is dedicated to my own parents who have loved me through my biggest mistakes.)