When I first held my newborn child, I never dreamed being a mother might one day break my heart. I only pictured play dates at the park, books read by the bedtime nightlight, and chubby little hands holding my own. Anything less seemed inconceivable.

But then my babies grew up, entered adolescence. They became less boys and more men, less adoring and more questioning. They developed their own dreams and ideas, pushed against my convictions and fought my best attempts to guide. At every turn, I found myself negotiating and wrestling with near-adults who once savored my words but now argued with every. last. one.

Bless their hearts. Not nearly as adorable as when they were born.

Independence is expected, but it’s tough to watch our children chart their own course. Especially when their course is so different from our own. Whether it’s the friends they choose or the pastimes they pursue, we lose sleep and pace floors, afraid a day will come when we lose them for good.

And, much as we hope otherwise, at times we do. Life writes prodigal stories in even the best of homes.

If this is you, you’re not alone. I have no words, no promises your child will “figure it out.” And until she does, your ache will remain.

I can tell you this: the waiting doesn’t have to rob you of living. You may not be able to make her choose better, may not be able to save her from herself. But you can fight worry while you wait for her to come home:

Let Go. Sleepless nights have been a staple since my boys became teenagers. My worry worked itself out in the dark of my bedroom. But sometimes my motherly concern morphed into something far more dangerous: Control. As a mom of children who are now adults, I wish I would’ve learned how to let them go. I can teach integrity and responsibility, make them put their dishes away and brush their teeth. But when adulthood snatches them out of my grasp, there is little I can do force the course of their life. My over-control does nothing but close doors. I have to let go, and allow my children to find their way.

Never Stop Saying “I love you.” Last week, I read a poignant tribute by Frank Schaeffer to his mother, Edith, who recently passed. Although she was a woman of devout and bold faith, he spent years outright rejecting her certainty for cynicism. Now, decades later, he believes in the God his mother adored. Why? Because she never compromised either her beliefs or her love for him. You will not not always agree. But never, never stop saying “I love you.”

Pray Like a Life Depends on It (it might). Recently, when concern over one of my children brought me to tears, I struggled to think of something I could do. Surely I could say something, convince him of wisdom. But, in my heart, I knew I’d already said enough. That’s when I realized I’d neglected the one “do” that could make a difference: I knelt on our family room floor and prayed.

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father… I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you, my child, with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your heart as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you, my child, have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” —Eph. 3:14-17 (NLT)

Let go. Love. Pray. This may be your best parenting yet.

Have you known the grief of watching a child (or loved one) struggle? How did you cope?

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