How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Parenting a Prodigal

RMlogo How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Parenting a Prodigal

Having a rebellious son or daughter can be an agonizing time. Experiencing the rejection of your child is not something you prepared for – or expected. That sweet baby you’ve loved and nurtured through the years is now a teen in full-blown defiance. They want nothing to do with you–or your God for that matter.

So now what?

When your child’s rebellion crushes your heart, and your head is spinning in confusion, how can you stabilize yourself and make sense of it all? While one article could never address every area of what you’re going through, I’d like to share with you at least a few things that can help you avoid some common pitfalls along the way.

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Don’t Allow Circumstances to Control

To think rightly about your child’s behavior and your situation, it’s imperative that you sift every single thought you have through these two fundamental and equally indispensable truths:

  • God is good
  • God is sovereign

Typically, you’ll stand firmly on one but stumble over the other. Let’s say you unequivocally believe God is good, but have a hard time resting in His sovereignty. As a result, you experience things like false guilt, blame, fear, and worry.

You’ll give yourself too much credit for your wayward child and develop a bad case of the could of/ would of/should of’s. This improper thinking consumes your mind with never-ending scenarios of what could have been done differently to change your script. That will drive you insane!

On the other hand, if you heartily believe God is in complete control over all that happens but you start to doubt His goodness, you’ll be disappointed, angry, and cynical (Psalm 22:2-3). Since God can’t be trusted, you’ll look for self-reliant methods to help relieve your suffering. That will drive you to sinful strongholds!

When life doesn’t make sense, your problems can become your focus. You process what’s happening to you through the lens of your hurt. This wrong worldview leads to feelings of discouragement and hopelessness.

Website Donation Text(3)The fact is: God IS good (Psalm 100:5, Psalm 86:5) and God IS sovereign (Daniel 4:35, Proverbs 16:9, ) no matter what has happened to you. Period. These two truths must be your starting point as you think about your child, the poor decisions they’re making, and the ways you messed up as a parent. This “mental realignment” will give you a solid foundation to proceed from as you walk through this difficult time.

Funneling your thoughts through the great and unchanging nature of God will stabilize your soul, no matter how bad your situation rocks your world (Isaiah 41:10, Proverbs 3:23).

Don’t Expect Others to Know How to Care

When you’re suffering, you’re fragile. This vulnerability can cause you to be overly sensitive, easily offended, and frequently disappointed with others (Proverbs 19:11). You’re hurting in a bad way, and so you want people to reach out and help you bear this burden (Galatians 6:2).

While this may be a good desire (believers are called to bear each other’s burdens), be cautious about turning it into an expectation for others to meet. If you do, you’ll find yourself becoming self-centered and resentful (Ephesians 4:26-27).

In no way do I mean this as a slight, but the reality is your friends may not know how to care for you. They’re ill-equipped to enter into the messiness of your mess, and quite frankly, it probably scares them.

The solution is not a quick and straightforward scenario that gets all tied up into a pretty little package in 30 minutes or less. It requires wisdom, discernment, long-suffering, correction, gentleness, and even a loving rebuke when necessary. Let’s just say it’s not for sissies!

Seek out one or two trusted friends and let them know you need help – and how. If you put on a brave face around them, then they don’t know what’s going on in your heart.

Don’t rehearse and repeat in your mind all the ways people have let you down (Ephesians 4:32). Tuck these life-lessons from God into your pocket for future use. It will make you a better burden bearer for others when the time comes for them to need care (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

Learn the Who, How, and Why of Sharing

I bet there’s a lot of junk going on in your home – and heart. Because of that, there are times you just need some practical advice and a sympathetic ear. But not so fast! Not everyone is a good candidate for you to unload your dirt on. Before you speak, think:

  1. Does this person have my child’s best interest at heart – and mine (Philippians 2:3)?
  2. Are they mature and humble, having a speck-eyed attitude about the sin of others (Matthew 7:3)?
  3. Do they gossip or slander people (Proverbs 20:19)?
  4. Can they handle the truth and not hold resentment as a result of this information (Matthew 7:1-2)?
  5. Are they objective peacemakers, and not side takers (Romans 14:19, Matthew 5:9)?
  6. Will they speak the truth that I need to hear, even if it’s hard (Ephesians 4:15)?

If you’re blessed enough to have people like this to share with, make sure you’re mindful of your words and the way you talk about your child’s sin. Your motivation about what to disclose should stem from an honest desire to help your child and your sanctification.

Oh, and since you’re sharing, don’t forget to divulge the sinful ways you’ve responded to your child’s sin. A wise friend will know this already and challenge you to examine yourself.

You may fall on the other end of the spectrum. Instead of talking too much to too many people, you don’t tell anyone. You pretend like everything is hunky-dory and try to cover things up. This approach is a wrong response as well.

When people don’t fall within those descriptors above, you can be honest without being specific. If they inquire about what’s happening in your family, you could say: “Yeah, it’s tough. Our daughter is making some poor choices.” Or “Yes, we are burdened that our son is walking in disobedience.”

This response doesn’t slander your child’s reputation, and it doesn’t ignore the sin and pretend it doesn’t exist. Now I realize they will make assumptions and come to their conclusions about what’s happening, but that’s alright. You’re not hiding anything, just simply using wisdom and showing grace on behalf of your child.

So guard what you say, who you say it to, and why you say it (James 1:26). You’ll be glad you did!

Don’t Map Your Experience On Your Child

News flash. Your child is not you! Now, I’m not trying to be “Captain Obvious” here but if you know this, why do you often take the dumb stuff you’ve done, and assume your kids will do the same?

They may make some of the same foolish choices you did. That’s very possible. They may even choose a more rebellious path. That’s possible too. There is nothing new under the sun after all (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Either way, you don’t want to make your experience theirs.

Your child was hand-crafted by God. He put them together with individual attributes and gifts that differ from yours (Psalm 139:13). There are other factors as well that contribute to the kind of person they become. Where they live, your parenting style, the date on the calendar, and their experiences all play a role in shaping their personality, proclivities, and presuppositions.

What you’ve learned from your mistakes has given you insight no doubt. It would be unwise to think your child needs the same lessons and correction you did. God’s means of grace may come to them in a much different package.

Don’t be rigid about your expectations of what you believe it will take to turn them around. God has a way of custom-tailoring the events of our lives to bring us to Himself (2 Samuel 14:14).

In the story of the prodigal son, he had to end up eating some nasty pig pods (whatever that is) before he came to his senses (Luke 15:16-17). That was his “bottom.” He came to the end of himself. Me? God had to send a triple whammy my way – a health scare, a death in the family, and my marriage in shambles.

How about you? What did God use as your “pig-trough moment” to turn you around? I’m sure it’s amazing how He got a hold of your heart and opened your blind eyes.

Don’t give up hope friend! Continue to pray that God would bring your son or daughter to their end and they would have their “aha” moment. It’s probably going to be different from what you think, but that’s okay. God’s ways are far superior to what we come up with (Ephesians 3:20).

God is able. God is willing (2 Peter 3:9). But even if He doesn’t do what you’re begging Him to do, He’s always good, dear sister and brother. He hasn’t left His throne of grace and He rules righteously over all He has made (Hebrews 4:16, Lamentations 5:19). And because of that, you can trust Him completely.

You are in a tough spot, I know. There’s no simple solution or easy process to “fix” your child and your relationship. There’s much more to this discussion, so please reach out. Let us know how we can help.

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