While You Wait for Your Child to Come Home

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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20 thoughts on “While You Wait for Your Child to Come Home

  1. I have a brother who has struggled to find his place and is currently homeless. Prayer, and encouragement are things that I know he appreciates. Also, standing alongside him and just being around him when needed.

  2. Beautiful post, Michele. It spoke to my heart as a mother who has had rebellious, think for themselves instead of what I want them to do, boys. Still they knew we loved them. Thankfully we never lost their love and today we are still close to them. Do they do everything we think/thought they should? Nope. But they respect and love us, and the feeling is mutual. Thank God he was with us!

    • I haven’t experienced mothering teenage girls (yet), but having raised three boys, I know that independence is a critical part of boys becoming men. Tough for us moms to handle! But, as you said, they still knew/know I love them. Thank heavens.

  3. Excellent post, and while I’m not there in my parenting yet – I have family members whom I have to apply these principles to on a regular basis. I am a fan of Al-Anon’s 3 C’s – “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, I can’t cure it.” I can pray, but I have to let them go, and make their own (good or bad) decisions.

    Hang in there my friend. I can only imagine how much harder this is when it’s your child.

  4. OH MY WORD! Are we on the same page or what??? As you may remember, my daughter was born with 2 birth defects and has suffered a myriad of both physical and emotional challenges. The “fixer” in me has basically “controlled” every experience within my ability to protect and help this child. She is now 21 and doing well both physically and emotionally and SHE IS PULLING AWAY FROM ME! She is making her own decisions and managing her own life. I’m am simultaneously happy and terrified! I’ve done my job to the best of my ability but who is this person challenging me at every turn and who NOW, at 21, can do as she pleases even if I don’t agree??? Say what??? In my effort to “let go,” I have a prayer/worry box that I write down all my fears, prayers, concerns etc. on tiny slips of paper, fold them and put them in the BOX. I choose a beautiful little wooden box that belonged to my late sister and I keep it on my nightstand. IT IS COMPLETELY FILLED! It’s my GOD box – it’s my way of “laying it down and letting go” – God will handle it for me. It’s symbolism really helps me to remember that HE is in control, HE is with me and I WILL NEVER be alone in my desire for the best for those I love. May God bless you my friend on the journey called, “motherhood.” HUGS!

    • The pulling away is so painful, isn’t it? Part of us realizes it’s “normal” and a part of growing up. But it feels like a ripping. I LOVE the idea of your prayer/worry box. So wise!

  5. Michele, once again you share, you write the words that are a part of nearly every mother’s heart! Waiting, is about surrender isn’t it, about not interfering in what God is doing in your son or daughter no matter how hard. It’s believeing that while there is breath then hope remains sure. It is believing that nothing is “wasted” in God’s economy, within His purposes and plan! And take it from a mom’s heart that knows the pain of loss, pour out all your love, all your heart on them while you have them. Life does literally change in a heartbeat! Don’t miss a moment to love, it is part of the cross we are to carry, to take up, to live out as testimony of a God who is far greater than anything or anyone! Love you bunches!

  6. This is indeed the hardest part of parenting. There were far too many times one of my three were beyond my vision and direction and I struggled, cried and even once asked God to take me because I couldn’t stand the pain any longer. Instead He gave me a vision of Mary at the foot of the cross and as I looked into her face I knew He understands my pain. From that time on it was easier to turn the worry to him. With the advise from a good Christian friend I envisioned that child – opening my hand and releasing them to God’s much bigger hand. My three are now beautiful parents who survived in spite of themselves. I believe because of the blanket of protection prayer offered.

    Thanks for sharing Michelle. Beautiful.

  7. Michele thank you for touching on this very painful and most complicated topic. I have lived though some very challenging times but nothing ever has demanded more of my faith and trust than raising my teenage children. When my youngest daughter turned to drugs and drinking in her teens I blamed myself end…less…ly….because I was certain if our 20 plus year marriage had stayed together she wouldn’t be doing “this.” When another one of my adult children became pregnant out of marriage I once again knew I was a total failure as a Christian mother. How could this happen to my Christian family? Failure failure failure. The shame and striving were endless.

    And I wrote Christian books. And I hosted a national Christian TV show. And spoke to thousands of women….
    And it just made me feel like more like a failure.

    Until one day.

    I was having lunch with a close amazing friend of mine. She and her husband had raised 6 children, 4 though birth and 2 though adoption. She was a deep Christian woman full life and grace. I started to share with her my outright dismay over choices my teenagers where making. My inability to control what was happening. I want on…and on…and on…smitten with grief over the choices my children were making.

    Smitten with the grief over many of the choices I had made.

    She grew quiet. She smiled and said.

    “Tammy do you take the credit for this or that child making right choices? Doing great in school? Choosing to love God?”

    I said “no.”

    She said thats right…and you can’t take the blame either. Your do the best you can… with what you know…when you know it. God is responsible for the rest.”

    Really? Yes really. Rest.

    And it is often a daily choice. Learning to chose joy…stay out of judgment and remain in curiosity.

    Trusting God He is still writing the stories of our children’s lives.

    Love you Michele.

  8. My daughter is only seven, but I’m nearly half a century and I’ve seen my share of kids making poor choices. I hope for the best for my daughter, but know there will be the possibilty of hard situations. Your advice is solid.

    • Thanks, Dan. You have years and wisdom behind you, not to mention a strong sense of leadership. Your daughter will have to find her own way, but she’s blessed to have a good dad leading her through.

  9. As a momma to ten, with three boys 24, 22 and 21, I hear ya’! Of the three, our oldest, a worship leader until he was 17, decided to suddenly walk in rebellion. The only thing more painful than his public rebellion was the shame of my silent frustration with parents who had “perfect” children. Why? Because so much of our worth as parents is measured by the behavior of our children, grown or not. Today after many years of rebellion, he has chosen to again walk with the Lord, albeit not quite our version yet of “sold out.” If I could give any encouragement from our experience, it would be this. Do not measure your worth by your children’s choices. Instead, measure your worth by the Savior’s yard stick. He felt you were so valuable that He gave his very life for you! He doesn’t look at you and all your hard work to raise your child in Christ with a wagging figure, even though He knows we weren’t perfect parents. He looks at us with compassion. The Father, who had to look at the sins of the world heaped on his own son, He knows our pain. He gets it! We are so valuable that He chose us to be the parents of this child who He knew would rebel. And even though, at times, we may ask why?, we have the awesome opportunity to continue to love and pray for our child, living the way back to Christ. The other advice is simply practical. Only fight battles that are absolutely necessary and fight them with the right people. Don’t argue with your spouse when you’re really angry with your child. Identify the source of the trouble. I realized that a friend was the source of my son’s rebellion. Not that my child wasn’t responsible for his own actions, but that the friend was truly the source of putting actions before him. When I realized this, I took the battle away from myself and my child, addressing the friend directly. The friend looked me square in the face and said, “If I’d realized you were this much trouble, I’d have dumped your son a long time ago.” And so they did. The devil just loves to beat us up and leave us dazed, confused and ineffectual for the Kingdom sake while we muddle through the process. Use the opportunity to live victoriously in spite of the struggles, for you are loved! “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you, and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

  10. Michelle, we have five teens in the house right now. They are wonderful, but the launch is tough. And you are so right about sleep! Until everyone is back in the nest, I don’t sleep. I also appreciate your link to Francis Schaeffer’s tribute to his mom. I linked that on my blog a few days back a well.