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Stand Strong When Your Kids Go Off The Rails


“I will always be your mother” is one of those cliché phrases you might have heard often as a kid. It hung low on your list of parenting truths, down with conversation-enders like, “Because I’m your mother” and “How dare you speak to your mother (or father) that way.”

The older I get, however, the more I cherish that promise of lasting belonging, the profundity of a blood bond between you and the ones who gave you life. It is a pale, but comprehendible earthly reflection of the love God the Father has for his children. The selfless love and long-suffering of mother and father are a testament to his abiding sacrificial love.

I will always be your mother. I will always be your father. That promise isn’t just for a continued existence, a mere recognition of your parents’ kinship with you. No, for me it is set deep within the context of a rebellious, self-centered, sometimes spiritually troubled teenage years. This promise of parenthood is to keep parenting, no matter what, to pursue your children with love, despite their rebellion. It is a promise to never give up on your children, to never stop trying to point them, pull them, push them in the direction of what is pure, right, and true.

My adolescent rebellion wasn’t so dramatic as the ones people hear from guest speakers at youth group. There were no drugs, no running away (although I did consider it), no promiscuity, no rejection of my faith or core values. It came quietly, as a dangerous combination of loneliness and selfishness churned in my heart. I began a relationship that my parents had first deliberated over then expressly forbade. When I turned 18, they let me decide whether to pursue the relationship they thought I had rejected.

My Parents Were Honest, Not Codependent

It continued for a few months, and I told everyone I was happy. But the truth inevitably worked its way out; my parents were nearly struck dumb when they made troubling discoveries about this young man’s past (which I had known about). Hurt by the deception and surprised by my poor judgment, they cut me off. They severed that tie as swiftly and decisively as any parent could, hacking through a strong rope woven of codependence and the endorphins of infatuation.

In my most naïve, selfish, hateful moments, they were my parents.

I hated them. Not with a permanent attitude toward them, but with my actions, my thoughts at that time, I showed them hate. Disrespect. A complete disregard for their wisdom as protectors of my heart and body.

But even in my most naïve, selfish, hateful moments, when in anger I lashed out as fiercely as I could, they were my parents. Not just in a conditional sense, but in their actions. They chose the anguish of a turbulent relationship with their daughter over a nonchalant, hands-off approach that would have afforded them an amicable, much less stressful relationship. They sought after my welfare, not my comfort or theirs.

They were my mother and father all along. They kept that promise.

Like It or Not, Parents Are Powerful

I share this perspective not out of disregard for the love and care of friends, guardians, or other relatives who may have raised you. The bond of an adoptive parent and child is just as strong, and their role in your life just as critical. Yet I do mean to set apart the role of the parent from any other social bond you may have.

I knew that my pain hurt her, and a brief second of empathy interrupted my rebellion.

I’ve been told it hurts to see your child cry. How I cried! They devastated me. The weight of their judgment and the pain of loss pressed so hard on me that at moments it was difficult to breathe. I remember clearly how I dragged my body, late at night, exhausted by grief, to the shower. I laid crumpled on the floor of the tub, sobbing, while the hot water stung my skin, made hypersensitive by the depression I had concealed beneath the pretense of “love.”

I recall my mother getting out of bed and gently knocking at the bathroom door, with a tenderness only a mother has, to see if I was alright. I knew that my pain hurt her, and a brief second of empathy interrupted my rebellion. It was one of the moments, I believe, that eventually led my wandering heart back to clarity and peace between us.

There is no replacement for parents. A friend, no matter how close, has neither the power nor the authority to shut down a dysfunctional part of your life. Friends don’t monitor your texts to check the veracity of your own reports about what you’ve been doing. In my experience, a friend can care for you when you have the stomach flu, but they won’t book a psychiatry appointment when you are so depressed you must be force-fed graham crackers despite a complete lack of appetite. Friends don’t have the fortitude to slam the door in your face when mere words won’t show you how wrong you are. Friends don’t ship you off to volunteer at a children’s summer camp to help you overcome your self-centeredness.

Stop Kicking Or You’ll Miss the Good Stuff

I should have trusted the promise of parenthood when my mother and father needed it. Yet because I did not trust in crucial moments, but have lived to see the rightness of their judgment, I cherish that promise all the more. I cling to it desperately, and I pray the persistent love and persevering wisdom of my parents continue for my younger siblings and are passed on to the next generation through their children and my own.

The truth is, you never stop needing your parents.

Some time after I had married the man I was truly meant to be with, I was putting away dishes in my parents’ kitchen on a visit. In a conversation about relationships, my mother told one of my sisters emphatically, about me, “She almost missed this!”

She meant the peace and contentment in my life, seeds planted before I had begun that courtship that had grown and blossomed in our marriage. It was a precious state of being that had been completely lacking in my previous rebellion. I often think back on this, that I almost missed it, and I would have, if it weren’t for my parents’ intervening wisdom.

The truth is, you never stop needing your parents. Parenting doesn’t stop when a child turns 16, or 18, or 21. It doesn’t stop when kids graduate high school, get a first job, or decide they know better. Although eventually all your decisions are yours as you come into adulthood, the guidance of a mother and father, from both the lessons from your childhood and their advice in the present, is invaluable. Ironically, the less direct influence my parents have had on me, the more I realize how much I have needed their patience, discipline, and love.

Whether you are still under your parents’ roof or have long since left their nest and begun your own, cherish the promise of parenthood. Think on how it has influenced your character and choices. They have been, and will always be, your mother and father.