“It’s not turning out the way we hoped it would!”
“This isn’t what I wanted—I wanted more.”
“This isn’t quite what I had planned…it’s turning out a little different than we expected.”
“I’m so disappointed and full of worry I can hardly sleep.”
Phrases like these are often heard from parents whose teenagers have done stupid things—things like being sexually active, using drugs, shouting rude comments, posting inappropriate pictures, using offensive language, leaving the church, and a host of other bad decisions that cause family pain. Maybe you’ve already uttered similar comments to yourself about your teen’s destructive choices. If not, chances are you will. That’s because while parenting has its amazing rewards, it also has its fair share of hurts and pains. So what are a mom and dad to do with these family troubles?
Let It Out
Dealing with family pain doesn’t mean you have to hide your emotions. I get hurt by kids all the time. I’ve been lied to, stolen from, sworn at, and used. I may put on a strong demeanor, but inside I’m crushed. There is no way to dull the pain when your teenager breaks your heart. So be disappointed. Be upset. Be angry, even. But talk to someone about what you’re experiencing. You can’t bottle up those emotions, and your child may not be able to handle hearing how they’ve injured you. Grab a spouse, a friend, a pastor, or a counselor, and let them know, “What my child did really hurt me!” Get it out in the open and let those wounds heal in the clean air of a safe relationship. If you let your feelings fester inside you, the pain will build and you will slowly start resenting your teen for the mistakes they’ve made. Acknowledge the hurt and the frustration and deal with it, and you’ll have the emotional energy to return to your teen with love and grace.
Romans 8:38 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” When circumstances are frustrating, and you are fed up with the way things are going, ask God for patience. If you are at the end of your rope and you don’t know what to do, ask God for wisdom, and seek godly counsel from mentors, elders and wise peers. And if you are in the midst of one of life’s storms, ask God for peace. The Bible says that, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). We can trust God to take care of us, and we can also trust God with our emotions, anger, and sadness. Show your kids that even when the going gets tough, and life doesn’t make sense, they can trust the Lord and have faith in His goodness to get them through.
Get Back to the Heart
When a teen’s antics are the cause of family pain, it’s easy to focus on the behavior. We agonize, fret, worry, and lose sleep about the dumb actions of our kid. As a result, we spend all our time trying to correct behavior, instead of connecting with our child’s heart to learn about the root pain and cause. Most of what our kids do is really a symptom of what is going on internally. All behavior is goal-oriented. So while we should address the mistakes our teens are making, they’ll never get over the pain unless they address the heart issue as well. Instead of saying, “Why are you doing this to me?!” ask, “What made you say that … do that … think that?” Healing the hurts of the heart will go a long way towards healing your teen and your family.
Never Go It Alone
Dealing with a teen who is spinning out of control can be isolating. It’s easy to feel like no one else could possibly understand the pain and hardships you are going through. And it’s embarrassing, so it often leads parents to hide their struggles. But rest assured; there are parents right in your community who are struggling with the same issues. You don’t have to handle this all by yourself and there is help if you seek out support groups in the church and in the community
It is important to find a network of support, especially for single parents who have to juggle all the roles and responsibilities in the home. It’s a big relief to meet other parents and realize, “Hey, you’re going through the same thing I’m going through!” Surround yourself with other people who can provide encouragement and help. If you can’t find a group at your church or in your community, don’t let that stop you! Start a group yourself and invite other parents to come and obtain some helpful resources to guide the discussions. Serving other parents is another way to channel your pain in a positive direction. And you could be the very person God uses to help another parent survive the teenage years. To work through the trials of an out-of-control kid, you need the support of other people. You don’t have to walk this path alone!
Picture the Long Term
In the moment, a painful circumstance can feel like it will last for an eternity. But in the scope of life, trials and troubles are momentary. So look beyond the circumstance to see the long term. What is God trying to teach you through the pain? Sometimes it’s all you can do to simply grab and hold on for dear life. But focus your gaze, and look to not only survive the storm, but also to learn the lessons it offers. Take a moment right now to think about how God might be using your family pain to reveal more about His character, and how that knowledge can help you deal with your struggling teen.
Parenting a struggling teen is far from easy. But hang in there; you’ll get through it, and so will your teen. And when you’re on the other side, you’ll see that God’s plan was much bigger than just eliminating the pain and problems. God is always working for a greater good for you and your teen.
When my friend John Trent was sixteen, he and his twin brother showed up on his mother’s doorstep at two o’clock in the morning with a police escort. The detaining officers detailed the events that led to the boys encounter with the law. As John and his brother sat at the kitchen table in silence, he finally blurted out, “Well, mom, I guess you don’t love us anymore.” His mother, who was a hard-working single parent, replied, “John, this has nothing to do with love. I’m very disappointed with you. But I will always love you.” It wasn’t until later in his adult years that John found out that his mother, along with the rest of the family, had been praying for him daily. Though John tested them continually during those teenage years, his family never gave up on him. Now my friend is a beloved speaker, author and family man whose hope is in the Lord.
Parenting a teen through the pain is one of the hardest things we will ever do. But there is always hope. God never said raising a child would be easy. But He did say it would be worth it. Don’t compromise. Don’t go it alone. Don’t give up faith. And remember that this, too, will pass. And you, your teen, and your family will come out the other side stronger than ever.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.
His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Here you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens App, a great way to listen on your schedule.