Delayed hope makes the heart sick, Proverbs 13:12 tells us. I sit with sick parents every day in my office. I’m not a doctor. I’m a counselor for children, adolescents, and families at Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville, Tenn. And as I’ve watched heartsick parents walk in and out of my office for the past 20 years, I’ve noticed a few themes.
The first is that it’s devastatingly easy to lose hope as a parent. It is as a person, too. But there’s something about watching your child suffer that drains hope like a free-flowing spigot. Or maybe even a fire hydrant. We suffer when our children suffer. It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter if the suffering is at the hands of a bully, an illness, or even ourselves. It shakes us to our core.
The second is that there are a few universal beliefs we fall back on when we lose hope. Actually, I think they’re more lies we accept when we lose hope. In our newest book, Intentional Parenting, Melissa Trevathan, David Thomas, and I outline five of the most common lies parents believe, and the truths that can shatter those lies.
Here’s the short list: three of the most common statements I hear from weary, discouraged parents every day in my counseling practice.
1. I don’t have what it takes.
I would guess that this thought crossed your mind at some point your first week as a parent, maybe even your first day. You were exhausted, overwhelmed, and had no idea how to stop your baby from crying. Since that time, no matter how old your child is, you’ve had the same thought hundreds of times.
- How am I supposed to help her with math? I don’t understand this stuff, and she’s only in the fifth grade.
- I don’t know what to do when he gets so angry.
- How am I supposed to know how to help her through this divorce? I have no idea what this feels like for her.
- I don’t know what to say.
- What am I supposed to do?
- I can’t …
- I don’t know …
- If only my sister were here, or my dad, or even my neighbor … he or she would know how to handle this.
Any situation can instantly bring parental insecurities to the surface. We believe we’re inadequate. The truth is that you have exactly what it takes. God gave you your child on purpose — on gracious, merciful, wise, providential purpose. He knew precisely what He was doing. You’ve got this, as your child might say. And I would say, as a counselor, that who you are matters more than any words you offer or any skills you possess. Your calling is to reflect God’s love to your child, and He has given you much more than your one heart can contain.
Romans 5:5 confirms, “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Or, as The Message says, “We can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” ¹
You’ve been given enough love to freely share with your son or daughter. And that’s what your child wants and needs the most. You have all that it takes as a parent because you have a Parent who’s given you all that you need.
2. Everyone else’s child …
You can fill in the blank on this one. In fact, you probably have countless times. Everyone else’s child can walk already or talk already. Every other child makes better grades or doesn’t have a meltdown every morning before school. Everyone else’s son knows how to learn from his mistakes. In our parenting seminars, Melissa, David, and I laugh a lot about how teenagers love words like always, never, and everyone else. We can act a little teenager-y, too, especially when we’re down on ourselves.
We have more than 1,200 families involved in Daystar, and after countless hours listening to those families, I can affirm that there’s nothing that everyone else’s child does or doesn’t do. Parenting can be an isolating journey, but it doesn’t need to be a solitary one.
It can be difficult to have an honest conversation with other parents, and sometimes church can be the hardest place to be vulnerable. But other parents are struggling, too — all of the other parents. It’s profoundly important that you find just a few parents you trust who can walk alongside you in your struggles. You need other parents — other believing parents who can pray with you, talk with you, and hold up your arms during the battle of raising children, like Aaron and Hur did for Moses.
3. Nothing works.
It happens in a majority of what we refer to as “parent consults,” sessions for parents who need help for themselves. Often, when we come to the time during which we talk about a child’s behavior, I’ll start making suggestions regarding discipline.
“Why don’t you try to use shorter, more intense consequences that can build on one another as the behavior continues?”
“We’ve tried that.”
“OK, let’s go with a chart. You can use stickers that your child can place on the behavior when she’s accomplished it.”
“Charts don’t work, either.”
And so it goes. What I’ve discovered is that many parents who say and feel that nothing works have tried a lot of things. The problem is that they tried them for only a short time. After week with no chart, it’s removed from the refrigerator. Following a disrespectful outburst that resulted in the loss of a phone, a new plan was needed. Parents must seek a solution that works. James 1:2-4 confirms this, ” …whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”
Consistency works more than any specific consequence. Find a plan and stick to it. Charts and reward systems only work when the rewards are repeated over a given time period or the consequences are given repeatedly. Your child has learned this specific behavior over time. It will take time to correct it. The U.K. Health Behavior Research Center in London recently released the statistic that a behavior has to be carried out for 66 days straight to become a habit. That’s a lot of stickers on a chart! A child’s brain literally has to rewire itself to learn a new behavior. But it is possible.
Charts work. Chores work. Consequences such as timeout are tried and proven. My fellow counselors and I even suggest families have their children run laps around the house, with the number of laps dictated by the severity of misbehavior. Rewards are fantastic, as well. Find a plan and give your child time to learn the new behavior.
Your child is a work in progress. As are you. Try to hold on to that truth when you become discouraged. I learned several years ago that we become ourselves when we know that life doesn’t work the way we think it should, and we don’t work the way we think we should. Parenting will get you to those two truths perhaps more quickly than any job you will ever face. But those truths are good news.
You’ve been chosen to be a parent. And you’ve been chosen to be the parent of your child … even though you don’t work quite right. But you serve a God who does. God is their — and our — perfect Parent. He redeems every one of our mistakes. He heals every hurt all of us will face. And that’s a truth you can fall back on any time things feel hopeless.
Books to offer hope and practical help in your parenting journey:
- Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood (Love and Logic Press), Jim Fay and Charles Fay
- Parenting with Love and Logic (NavPress), Foster Cline and Jim Fay
- Parenting Teens with Love and Logic (NavPress), Foster Cline and Jim Fay
- Intentional Parenting (Thomas Nelson), Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan
- Wild Things (Tyndale), Stephen James and David Thomas
- Raising Girls (Zondervan), Melissa Trevathan and Sissy Goff
- Raising Boys and Girls (LifeWay), Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan