Holy in the Daily

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How to Avoid Burnout With Your Difficult Child

Raising kids isn’t for the faint of heart. Sometimes we’re blessed with children or grandchildren who are flawless… like never! And some come prepackaged with enough difficulties to drive us crazy. Literally.

A few days ago a young mother asked me this:

I have a parenting question. I feel burned out by my super difficult child, and I find myself cringing whenever he walks into the room. Honestly, I don’t like this child very much right now. How do I rebuild things between us and soften my heart towards them again?

Now I admit, my advice to her wasn’t based on my parenting skills at age 35, but more on what I’ve learned since then. Ask my kids. They’ll verify that I practiced on them, and I didn’t always do it right.

But you don’t have to wait until you’ve learned the hard way, you can grab these tips and move forward wiser and better equipped to handle your difficult child.

Here’s what to do when your difficult child burns you out

  1. First of all (and I know you’re already doing this) ask the Lord to give you His heart and mind for this specific child.
  1. You can’t do this without drawing constantly from your Source (the Holy Spirit and His power). Make time daily to get into a place of connecting with Him, even if it’s in the shower or when your husband can take over kid duty for a while.
  1. Take a deep breath when your child walks into the room. Say a quick mental prayer for grace in your attitude.
  1. Remind yourself constantly that your child’s difficulties are not your responsibility. They are God’s.

Focus on what is your responsibility, which are only the things you can control about yourself. (You’ve already learned that you have no control over others, right?)

Honestly, if you can focus on this—your responsibility of controlling your own thoughts, emotions, and actions—you will find yourself responding differently to your child and have a much clearer understanding of what God wants you to do.

God’s the boss and the One in charge of your child, not you. You get control of you by doing #1-3 above. You’ll be able to “hear” God tell you what He wants you to do with the child at any given moment. Even if it is to do nothing.

  1. Repeat this over and over again like a broken record in your mind:

I am only in charge and in control of me. I cannot change my child and it is not my responsibility to do so. My child will only learn to be self-governed if I model it for him by being in control of myself under God’s grace and direction.

God is in charge of my child. He is perfectly capable of telling me what to do in any given moment as long as I stay tuned into Him and listening for His lead.

  1. You need to be mindful of your own self-care. If you are cringing when your child walks into the room, it tells me you’ve been traumatized more than you realize. You’re being triggered.

Pick up Lucille Zimmerman’s book on self-care, Renewed, Finding Your Inner Happy In an Overwhelmed World. This book has ideas on self-care that you might not have tried before. And continue any counseling you might already be getting.

  1. Check with your child’s doctor if your child is on medication for anything, or has allergies. See if his meds might need to be adjusted. (And if you’re on any meds, you may need to have them checked too.)

Now, I don’t know enough about your child to give more counsel—if he has special needs, past trauma, going through the terrible twos, or trying to survive his teen years.

But I do know that you’ll make it. Cuz you love Jesus and are stronger than you realize.

Now, what have you learned through raising a difficult child that you can share with us? Pass your wisdom on, please!


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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Norma Gail

    I always prayed that God would take the negative traits I struggled with and turn them into positive traits that could be used for His glory. My daughter is now 29. The combativeness and need to be in control, the boundless energy always searching for the next adrenaline fix, the in-your-face attitude, have all been turned to good purposes as she works as a paramedic in a large city and frequently deals with difficult people in less than good circumstances. Those traits come in handy when dealing with drunks and druggies, and she has learned to be calm and kind, but very much in control of the worse situation. There is hope for your difficult child.

  2. Susan Gaddis

    Norma, that is such a cool story of persevering and seeing an outcome you couldn’t have imagined when you were dealing with your daughter as a “difficult” child. I wonder if you had known God’s plans for your daughter to be a paramedic, and the character traits she would need to be a great paramedic, would have done anything differently as your raised her? Looks to me like you must have done a lot of things right! Thanks for sharing a positive and hope infused story.

  3. Heather

    I love this one. Straight from God. Good advice for any type of relationship not just the parent/ child. Thank you Susan for being the voice of Jesus today.

    1. Susan Gaddis

      Glad you found it helpful, Heather. And you’re right, it can be applied to any relationship. We just have to remember to do so, right? 🙂

  4. Jean Knox

    I have experienced these difficult times, too. Something that can be helpful is to think in terms of bonding with the child. Bonding comes before discipline. It makes that foundation for caring. One technique I learned from a study put out by the American Association for Christian Counselors – Caring for Kids Gods Way – is to set aside 15 minutes a day – an appointment or time you and the child or teen look forward to – and do something the child or teen might choose to do. This is not your choice. It is not a time for teaching or correction, it is just a time to let the child lead and be with you. (At first you might have to make a few examples of option choices, so the child can know what is a good idea). Even if this is hard, doing this at least a couple times a week yields great benefit, and there can be good memories, even though the daily issues might be a struggle.

    Look for how the child is different, and how these difference are causing these struggles. Some of the same traits that are making life hard will be traits needed to accomplish certain things in life.

    Sometimes a child can be deeply depressed or have handicaps that make facing the every day world hard. People can recommend tests and counselors that cost thousands of dollars. Sometimes those recommendations – when one follows them up, are just fluff. Of course, do your best. But especially remember 1) our relationship is with God – I Corinthians 2:12-16; God can give us wisdom, and 2) be careful of what you are speaking – Proverbs says that death and life are in the power of the tongue, and Matthew says that we can move mountains by what we speak and pray. Watch for God’s working. But, think of Job, too. God might not work in the way we think God should.

  5. Tabitha

    Wonderful post! I’m not a parent, but I know my parents went through this with me, especially when I was a young adult. Growing up, we were unaware that I had a mental illness, and so my parents believed I was just an extremely difficult child.

    I truly believe it became harder for them once I was diagnosed and brought back home for recovery after my mental/emotional breakdown. No longer could they chalk it up to me just being difficult and punish me. For one, I was an adult, and punishing didn’t work. But two, they had to face the fact that a lot of what I was doing was not my fault, which made it even more difficult because they had to have added patience. Instead of getting angry with me, they had to work to calm me.

    My mother has shared numerous times that it was completely through prayers and the grace of God that they made it. Some people have thought hearing that should hurt me, but it doesn’t. It actually makes me love them more because I know that when they were burnt out and at their wits end, they still did what they had to in order to love me and carry me through.

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