Generation Cedar

This is What You Need if You are the Parent of a Difficult Child

I am the parent of a difficult child. If you are too, you know the exhaustion, the tears, the feelings of helplessness and the cycles of prayer/throwing hands up/let’s-try-again talks. You know the extra burden of feeling like you are often not emotionally (or physically) available to your other children because of the intensity of this one.

I have some good news. First, you aren’t the only parent who struggles. Who loses his temper, swears to never do it again, and breaks the oath before the day is out. Secondly, you have the strength to get up and keep fighting. You must. I must. And we have a promise that in our weakness, He becomes stronger. May I suggest pleading with the Father, even as Jesus Himself did, until He answers.

A friend loaned me a fantastic book, Age of Opportunity, that has encouraged me so much and I want to share some practical insight from it:

“What we need to understand here is that this is not just a “flesh and blood” struggle, with parents trying to open their teens’ eyes to what they are really like. This is spiritual warfare. There is an enemy who is a liar, a deceiver, and a trickster. Teenagers are particularly susceptible to his lies about the self. They will believe that the problem is not with them, that they have been singled out for unfair criticism and correction. We will need to stand strong and patient, not being drawn into those debilitating verbal battles that do not open the teenager’s eyes, but only make him more defensive and distant. With love and a humble dependency on Christ, we need to take every opportunity to expose critical issues of the heart, helping our teenagers look at themselves in the perfect mirror of Scripture.

Issues of wisdom and foolishness, legalism and true godliness, friendship, sexuality, eternity, and a personal awareness of the heart all are on the table during the teen years, providing wide open doors of opportunity. God uses discussions like these to help your teenagers come to know him, and love him, and to internalize his truth in a way that gives practical direction to their lives.

These are also the things that make this a scary time of parenting. These are issues that can cause parental panic and dread and become the occasion of parental anger. These are the issues around which parents say things they live to regret. These issues can be used of God to form a deeper bond between parent and teen, or be the thing the Enemy uses to drive a deeper wedge in the relationship.

If you respond out of anxiety, irritation, and fear, you will try to control your child all the more. Instead of seeing this as a time of preparation, you will take on a survival mentality. You will tend to see life as a minefield, and you will hope for little more than getting your teenager across it with all his limbs intact.

In your desperation, you give in to raging emotions and you do foolish, unproductive things that you will later view with embarrassment and regret….In your self-pity over the toughness of your job as a parent and the peace your child has taken away, you will resort to beating him with words and seeking to motivate him with threats. You will try to control and manipulate him into obedience, and you will initiate unproductive power struggles. All the while your relationship will disintegrate while your teenager’s rebellion increases. At last you will admit you are powerless and, as a final act of anger, you will quit parenting altogether, telling yourself that you did everything you could do.

But if instead you move toward your teenager with a confident faith in the Redeemer, whose Word is true and whose sovereign persence empowers your weak and feeble parental efforts, God will use you to communicate love, understanding, grace, hope, and life. You will ask calm but probing questions that cause your teenager to examine things that he would never examine alone. You will engage your teenager in thought-provoking debate without it ever becoming hurtfully personal and condemning. You will correct in a spirit of acceptance, forgiveness, and hope. You will smile when your child comes into the house, and she will not tense up when you enter her room. You will find her pursuing you to talk about things that many teens hide or ignore. And as your relationship deepens, you will watch her progressively taking on the character of Christ.”

Carry on and fight for your children. Kneel with them and beg God’s mercy for you both. Show them your love just as God articulates his by saying, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” That’s what they need to know. That we will stand and fight and never give up.

Get the book, Age of Opportunity (Tripp).



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19 Responses

  1. Thank you for this. Every day spent at home I feel as though I spend half the day in tears as I struggle with my 3 year old. I keep telling myself things will get better when he’s 4 (as it did with my now 5 year old). Or I tell myself I will have more energy once this baby comes (pregnant with number 4). I hate wishing the time away. I wrote down the words “God, please use me to communicate love, understanding, grace, hope and life.” My hope is that I will pray these words before lashing out at him again.

  2. My prayers for all the parents of difficult children. I’ve been there, and by the grace of God, things are now so much better.

    The last two sentences of the quote could be talking about my seventeen-year-old daughter, a formerly challenging child who has matured into a remarkable young woman: “You will find her pursuing you to talk about things that many teens hide or ignore. And as your relationship deepens, you will watch her progressively taking on the character of Christ.”

    There is hope. Always. Soli Deo Gloria.

  3. Thanks so much for these encouraging words. Just to hear that others have these same struggles helps me feel not so alone in the battle. I appreciate your openness.

  4. Thank you for this. I have a very trying 10 year old daughter (the last of 7 kids). And I was certainly described here. The guilt and shame of words spoken harshly – ouch!
    Thank you again for sharing. I appreciate your blog.

  5. Forgive me but I didn’t see the author’s name mentioned in your post about this great book. I looked on Amazon and there are two books by this name, one by Paul David Tripp (a Christian author and so I assume this is the book you’re talking about), the other by Laurence Steinberg. Which book are you writing about? Thanks so much!!

  6. Thanks for this, Kelly. I too, have an extraordinarily difficult child. He is rebellious and stubborn to the point of absurdity. “You’re fighting me about that? Seriously?” He rebels against doing his math problems the way you are supposed to do them (the algorithm) because he wants to do them “his” way even though it takes him 10 minutes per problem, and he still gets it wrong “I didn’t get it wrong, the numbers are just mixed up”. Sigh. It’s exhausting. We are working hard at not engaging him (he is very good at drawing you in to an argument) and not lecturing , and we’re definitely making progress in “letting the chips fall where they may” regarding his actions and he’s had some difficult natural consequences, which taught him a lesson (we hope) without us saying a word. But it is a daily battle, and even when we are working at not battling him, it’s a battle. But, I think we’re in the right track, we know what to do, it’s just a matter of doing it. And I bought this book, too. Looks like it will be a big help!

  7. Thank you for posting this. I spend half the day in tears dealing with my 13 year old son (the last of 9 children). He is VERY difficult. I’ve had this book a long time, but never have a chance to read it. I’m making a point to get it read. 🙂 I could have written Kristen’s post (just above this one). It’s a constant battleground in our home these days.

  8. To Kristen (the commenter above me), I would love to know some of the things you’re doing…. Your son sounds EXACTLY like mine. Some things are SO absurd, I can’t believe he’s even arguing. 🙁

    1. Vicki, right now we are working on not arguing with him. Even if he says “the sky is orange” we just try to move on. It goes against the grain of rational people to let a comment like that just hang, because it sounds as if we are then agreeing and letting him have the last word. But he will argue that. So, I work very hard at holding my tongue and then saying to myself, “good job, you handled that well”. I don’t nag him about schoolwork. We homeschool and there are days he’ll just sit for hours doing nothing. So, I just let him do nothing. Of course, he can’t go play or do anything else, but if he chooses to waste his entire day refusing to do his work…. Well, that’s his foolish choice, right? Everyone else is out playing, doing their thing and he’s sitting there because he doesn’t want to do his work. Of course if he’s supposed to go to his friend’s house if he gets his work done on time, well you can be sure he’ll get done lickety split. He doesn’t have a learning problem, he has a rebellious heart problem.

  9. I was having some of those power struggles with my 12 y.o. daughter. After much research and prayer, we changed things a bit this past year. I gave her options in her school work. I put the ball in her side of the court and let her decide how she would handle the game. I showed her the options, told her I believed in her and she picked. She gets bored easily with school work, so I let her change her math curriculum every few months. She has done Singapore Math, Saxon Math, Khan Academy and now is doing Life of Fred Pre-Algebra with Biology. She is also doing Biology HS level from Apologia. She picked a few Study guides from Progeny Press to do and has completed 2 in 5 months. I noticed that our struggles have been reduced by 80%. There’s still a few days in the month where she is more argumentative. But I have learned to see her triggers and call her attention to it. I learned NOT to take it personally. I also noticed that we have very similar temperaments and that is why we clash so much. I took the opportunity to step back, after all, I should be the more mature Christian, right? (most time I feel like a 3 y.o. having a tantrum :/) I make an effort to NOT talk back (like Kristen) and when I am struggling I call for reinforcement (my husband). What I do notice is that she has so much in her heart. There’s so much she’s pondering and sometimes she says those thoughts out loud. I shouldn’t recoil from them but listen and guide her gently to Jesus. As for your boy, maybe it could be helpful if your husband took the forefront in dealing with him? God enables us to never give up and persevere. One day we will look back and smile at all of this. 🙂 Take heart. (I’m having a good day today.) 🙂

    1. Tereza,

      These were very helpful, encouraging words to me. You described much of my experience (same temperaments which clash, feeling like I lose control of my emotions). Thank you. The not engaging/reacting part is so key, and so hard.

  10. Thank you so much for this post. We have a difficult oldest child (17 yo girl) that we are doing many of the same things mentioned above. It has been one of the most exhausting years of our married life dealing with her. It has also pushed us more Christ and put our own glaring faults in the spot light–a humbling place to be. She was one of the key factors in the decision for my husband to start working from home. I just couldn’t handle her and the other 8 children anymore. Things are some better, but not great. There are many days when I feel like there is very little hope. But, by God’s grace we continue to persevere and try bring her to the foot of the cross. We haven’t read ‘Age of Opportunity’ yet (it’s on the shelf waiting), but one book that has really helped us is the book ‘Heart of Anger’ by Lou Priolo. Learning to not engage, dealing with manipulation, bringing scripture to bear on specific offenses (foolish man vs. wise man), etc. One of the most difficult things for us to navigate is the effect on the younger children, and trying not to set a precident for them. How long does one persevere when there are other children watching? It is affecting them. We cry out to Jesus to bring peace and healing to our home and our hearts and that the Lord would use the means necessary to do so.

    1. Rebecca,

      I have been grieved too, over the influence of my difficult child on the others, in addition to the sheer energy it zaps from me. I will share a praise here, that this past week has been one of the best ever. I see the Lord working and I am so thankful we have hung in there, even though I, too, have felt hopeless many times. It is not hopeless. Keep battling for the heart of your daughter.

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