Families Spinning Out of Control


If you’re a mom or dad, your worst nightmare is to watch your family spin out of control. But for some, the nightmare is reality. Today on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston encourages hopeless parents to take action when their families are careening toward a crisis.

If you’re family is spinning out of control or you foresee problems in the not too distant future, be sure to tune into our weekend Radio Program, Parenting Today’s Teens.  You can have the program downloaded to your Itunes, listen to it on our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, or listen on XM/Sirius Radio (on the FamilyTalk Channel # 131).

Finding Hope … When It Seems Hopeless

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)

I remember a particular father who brought his daughter into the residential program here at Heartlight.  His eyes filled with tears as he spoke to me about the struggles and the problems that his daughter was experiencing.  Frankly, it was one of the worst stories of a troubled teenager that I had heard in quite awhile.  My heart ached for this hurting father as he looked for a bit of encouragement.

Just tell me that there is hope in this,” he told me.

I remember distinctly looking him in the eye and saying with complete confidence, “There’s always hope.”  That didn’t come from some Pollyanna optimism I had for the future.  The certainty of hope that every parent can have is based on the character of our Heavenly Father who promises to finish what He starts.

They’re a lot older now, but I can remember the first kids I counseled when I started this ministry.  There were times when I thought, These kids are hopeless! There’s absolutely no way they can turn it around!  But these same kids are now healthy, happy adults with strong marriages and good families.  The time that their parents, the Heartlight team, and most importantly, God, invested into their lives brought about a wealth of blessings for their future.  Through example after example, I’ve learned that though the outlook might look bleak and hopeless, God always brings hope.

Embrace the Pain

Parenting is not pain-free.  There are many joys of raising children, but there are also a lot of heartaches.  When a teenager is spiraling out-of-control, it can wreak havoc and sorrow on marriage and family relationships.  In the midst of pain like that, all we want to do is get out from under that strain as soon as possible and find release.

But I’ve discovered that pain is a good reminder of God’s presence in our lives.  When the puzzle pieces of life are falling into place, we often forget to recognize the Lord’s hand of blessing behind it all.  But when things are falling apart, it’s easier to see God holding the broken elements of our life together.  Times of testing are opportunities to see how God can take any situation, work through it, and bring about restoration.  Usually, we have to come to the end of ourselves and our resources before we can notice and appreciate God’s intervention.

The story of God’s people illustrates this principle.  Freed from the slavery of Egypt, the Israelites went singing and dancing into the desert.  It wasn’t till they hit the barrier of the Red Sea and heard the murderous sounds of chariots behind them that they started to panic.  Hemmed in by all sides, and seeing no way out, the people of God cried out, “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:12).  They despaired and saw no hope in present circumstances.  God brought them to a place where their only option was to turn to Him and look towards the future.  It’s when circumstances looked the bleakest that God showed up and provided a way through the Red Sea.

God doesn’t make mistakes.  The child in your life was put there specifically by the Lord, not only for his or her benefit and growth, but for yours as well.  Those painful struggles we face with our kids can change us, refine us, and strengthen our faith.  So we should embrace the pain, knowing that God is going to use it for the future.

Embrace the Bigger Picture

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Hopelessness comes when we look at things we can see: our son’s addiction to alcohol or drugs, or a teen daughter’s pregnancy.  But faith is focusing on what we can’t see; the good and perfect plans God has for our children.  It’s looking with spiritual eyes at the big picture.  In the moment, these trials seem monumental and overwhelming.  Yet, with faith, we can see how God can use even the low points of child’s life for their good.

I had one student who, as a result of a party lifestyle and rebellion, got pregnant when she was sixteen.  Caught in her mistakes, she was forced to have a difficult conversation with her parents, and reevaluate her decisions.  With the support of her family, the young lady did the right thing, gave up her beautiful child for adoption, got serious counseling, and is now a growing and mature adult.  I asked her some years later her thoughts on that tough time in her life, and she said, “Mark, getting pregnant was the best thing that could have happened to me.  It was a wake-up call, and for the first time in my life I had to deal with my mistakes and learn responsibility.  And giving up that baby was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.  So now I want my next baby to be the result of a happy marriage.

I could tell even more stories about former students who have written me letters and e-mails to say that their DUI was the best thing that happened to them, or that running away from home changed their lives.  It wasn’t because these were good things at the time, but looking back, they gained a new perspective about the struggles they faced, and how it shaped their futures.  Those trials and troubles gave them a reason to find help, and served as a reminder of the consequences of their actions.  What seemed hopeless at the time, actually gave teens hope for the future.

We gain a sense of hope when we see the past, the present, and the future as whole.  We can see God’s mercy and blessings in the past experiences.  We can lean on God’s goodness in the present.  And we can rely on the good plans God has for us, and our children, for tomorrow.  Mom and Dad, if you are in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation with your teen, remember that the story is not over.  There is always hope.




Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

When Our Dreams Shatter

Broken dreams are like broken plates: we hang on to them way too long because one day we’ll get around to gluing them back together, but even when you do they don’t look quite right and eventually end up in the trash anyway.”  – Anonymous

Every parent has lofty dreams for their children.  As a newborn infant cradled in your arms, you probably envisioned your son or daughter as a healthy, intelligent and mature adult with a great job and beautiful family of their own.  Maybe you even imagined your kid in the White House!

But as they grow, many of the hopeful dreams we cherished will be dashed to pieces.  It could happen as a result of some bad decisions on their part.  Or it may happen as a result of something beyond anyone’s control.  The fact of the matter is that no child can live up to every silent or spoken expectation.  So how do we prepare to deal with the heartbreak of our broken dreams?  There are a few basic action steps we need to take.

Dealing with Broken Dreams #1: Identify the Issue in Your Child

Expectations can be dashed in an instant.  Imagine your star athlete son calls you from county jail to bail him out, or your beautiful daughter confesses to a debilitating eating disorder.  Realizations like these can take the wind right out of our sails.

When we’re overcome with disappointment, the first step we need to take is identifying the reasons for our child’s behavior.  Have they moved to a new school?  Are there issues with a divorce or a re-marriage in the family?  Has there been a loss in your teen’s life?  Examining why your son or daughter is not living up to certain rules and expectations can help you identify the problem and move on a lot easier.  Now, looking for a reason for the behavior is not the same as finding an excuse for your child.  The goal is not to let them off the hook or brush the problem under the rug.  Rather, we want to dig deeper into the hearts of our kids to understand why they’re struggling.  Once we pinpoint the problem, we can work on getting past the disappointment.

Dealing with Broken Dreams #2: Move Towards Your Child

Even when you understand the reason behind your child’s behavior, it can be tough to maintain a relationship when they have crushed your expectations.  It can feel like they are rejecting you and everything good you desire for them!  However, dealing properly with broken dreams and getting back on track with your child requires a conscious movement towards the relationship instead of away from it.

This commitment to move toward your child looks different for men than for women.  For dads, dreams are often unspoken and assumed.  Men generally express their expectations through actions like cheering at their kid’s football and soccer games or pushing teens towards academic or personal achievements.  When those unspoken dreams are broken, dads tend to retreat back, withdraw and move away from the offending child.  They might even become angry or severely critical of their kids.  So for dads, moving towards your teen means articulating disappointment and responding in love instead of anger.

For moms, speaking up usually comes a little easier.  Teens probably know right up front what mom expects from them.  But when the best-laid plans are cast aside, it’s common for moms to respond by laying on guilt or becoming overly protective and demanding.  So for moms, moving towards your teen could mean resisting the urge to guilt kids into making the right decision and scaling back the control.

Even when they’re at their worst, kids need their parents.  They need our support.  Don’t let your broken hopes for your teen prevent you from maintaining a positive relationship with your child.  Move towards him or her in love, grace and comfort even when it’s the most difficult thing to do.

Dealing with Broken Dreams #3: Release Your Kids to God

As parents, the roles we play in our kid’s lives are temporary.  What will last forever is their relationship with the Lord.  But releasing our children to the mercies of God can be one of the hardest, most excruciating things in the world.  Letting a wayward son walk out the door can seem unbearable.  Watching your daughter suffer health issues or the repercussions of a painful accident is agonizing.  But as we let go of our children and give their lives over to God, we can be sure they are in the very best of hands.

If we trust our kids to God, we will never be disappointed.  The story of Hannah is a good reminder of that fact.  Burdened with infertility, Hannah prayed to God for a child every single day.  And one day, God answered her prayers and Hannah and her husband conceived a child.  Now, you would think that Hannah would hold tight to this miracle baby of hers.  I mean, she waited years to get pregnant!  But Hannah knew that she had to release her boy to the Lord.  In First Samuel 1:27-28 she said, “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him.  So now I give him to the Lord.  For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”  Hannah’s son went on to become the one of the greatest prophets and judges in all Israel.

Do you think Hannah struggled with broken dreams?  I’m sure she did!  But she placed her son and her expectations into the hands of God, and He did not disappoint.  Maybe it’s time to turn that prodigal son over to God.  Perhaps you need to stop grasping for control and release things to your Heavenly Father.  Because, let me tell you, God can work miracles in your child’s life!

Dreams are powerful.  They provide drive and encouragement.  I say, dream big dreams for your kids!  But remember not to hold on too tightly to those wishes.  Broken hopes and expectations are a natural part of parenthood.  So when your dream for your child does shatter, sweep up the pieces, move towards your teen and turn the keys over to God.  Only He can change our dreams into something much greater.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.