Living with a Rebellious Child – ETB #87

What should you do when you have a rebellious child? When your child pulls away from you? When your adult child is estranged from you? We don’t openly talk about these kinds of struggles or share these heartbreaking experiences readily on social media. The picture of life can become blurry during these kinds of painful seasons, but there are things that you can do. Let’s talk about the possibilities!

Living with a Rebellious Child - ETB #87

Living with Rebellious Child or an Estranged Adult Child

I say frequently that rules minus relationship equals rebellion. I wrote in Parenting Beyond the Rules about how you have to go beyond the rules. You have to be willing to pivot and adjust. There’s freedom in the pivot! Rules don’t always mean rebellion and having a great relationship doesn’t keep your child from having a mood swing!

I remember my parents’ divorce. I was just 11 years old when my dad told me that he was leaving and that it was all my mother’s fault. Processing that with all of the information that I had and could understand as a child, I became very angry with my mother. The problem is that an 11 year old doesn’t know how to process that. If you know my story, you know I love my mom dearly. Over the years, I let many career opportunities pass by so that I could take care of my mom until her passing a few years ago. Sadly, there was a lot of ugly in the in between years.

There is a raw kind of pain deep in a mom’s heart surrounding rebellious children. If you tried to articulate it, you’d choke up and become speechless. Words cannot express the pain you feel. I’ve sat with many moms in this messy middle. Maybe you’re in these in between years? You have a rebellious child. A child who is sneaky or lies. A child who is estranged. A young adult child who doesn’t respond to texts, doesn’t come around to celebrate the holidays, or doesn’t send a birthday card. You are not alone!

If you have a child and a relationship like this, you likely want to chase after this child like the prodigal son. But, don’t forget the ones who are still at home and doing life with you like your spouse and other children. Despite the hurt, you have to remember to keep showing up for the ones who still present and asking to spend time with you. Letting go seems hard to do. It’s like a death of sorts. It carries so much guilt and so many unspoken words. But you do have to find a way to carry on for the rest of the family.

I’ve written a lot about the challenges of parenting teenagers. I had no idea how hard it would be when they became adults. Everything changes. Your focus needs to be working on the parent you want your child to get to know. So many times, children create a narrative; some of it is real while other parts are not. The story they hear or tell themselves can become etched in their hearts when they put up a wall. They think it is to protect them from you, but it keeps them from seeing the real you. Your heart. Your love. Your devotion over the years. 

The Gift of Time

“There is a gift of time, but you aren’t the controller of the time clock.”

Connie Albers

Time can be a great healer. I can’t tell you how much time is required. Maybe it will just be a year, but it might take 5 or 10 years or more. Here are some things that you can do along the way:

Don’t dwell on the situation. Be sure to focus on the children who do want to be near you.

Guard your heart against bitterness, anger, and resentment.

  • Bitterness will hurt you and the others living with you more than the wayward child.
  • Anger will cause you to do and say things that you regret.
  • Resentment keeps you from having an open heart. 

Don’t withdraw or isolate yourself. Find a friend or support group or ministry you can connect with. We are made for relationships! When a relationship is broken, so is our heart. 

Don’t expect your friends who aren’t walking this journey to understand. They simply can’t understand. Some things can only be understood after the fact.

Moving Forward

Here are some practical reminders and steps forward:

  • Stay kind. 
  • Stay full of hope.
  • Believe the Lord is still at work. 
  • Be faithful to show love when or if you are around that child. 
  • Remember that God can restore what was lost. 
  • Remember that God cares about your relationship with your child. 

“Keep working on the parent you want your child to know.”

Connie Albers

If you’re trying to figure out how to live with a rebellious child or an estranged adult child, ask God for opportunities to rewrite the story. He can restore, redeem, and make things new.

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Living with a Rebellious Child - ETB #87