50 Things I Learned From Raising a Challenging Child

Emerging into the world our daughter arrived six minutes after I had waddled through the emergency entrance at the hospital doors.  Our family joke was that she was the creator of drama and the day of her birth was the beginning.  She had orderlies, nurses, and doctors frantically hustling for her grand entrance while my husband, Dave, was still parking the car.  We knew that she was special arriving on the infamous 8-8-88 and weighing in at two ounces shy of 8 lbs. 8 oz.

That was the day I came to a whole new appreciation in knowing that God is good.  It just so happened that Dave was supposed to make a four hour drive to Cleveland that morning for a mandatory work event that would have kept him out of town for three days.  Our daughter arrived just shortly after 6 am; my husband was supposed to leave on the trip by 6:30 am.  Indeed, God is very good.

By the time she was three and attending preschool two mornings a week, I had begun to realize that she was indeed a very special child.  One morning I had just dropped her off at her classroom door and was standing in the hallway talking with another mother when the teacher had the children line up single-file to go to the big room for games.  I hid behind a half-open door so my daughter wouldn’t see me.  I watched intently as I saw her tap the little girl ahead of her on the shoulder. She then began to whisper something in the girl’s ear indicating that she was supposed to be in line in front of her.  Sure enough, my daughter got in front, stood still for a moment, and proceeded to tap the little boy in front of her and move into the line in front of him.  As I watched this happen over and over, I knew this child was destined for greatness.  Each child she had tapped and spoken to seemed  oblivious to what had just happened.  She was grinning from ear to ear as she led her classmates down the hall.

By middle school, I saw the beauty and talent this child had within her.  She not only had a stage presence and a beautiful voice, but she had such a tender heart for others.  It was common for mothers whose children were a couple of years younger to call me up to see if our daughter would come play with their kids.  Every time I would hear something like “She is so creative.  When she comes to play my kids don’t get bored.  She is really patient and makes sure to include everyone.”

She also loved to be in the kitchen baking something sweet.  One Sunday morning the youth pastor was telling a story from the pulpit about how no one in his family liked pumpkin pie so he didn’t get a piece for Thanksgiving that year.  When my daughter heard the story, compassion welled up within her.  The next Saturday she spent the day making him his own personal pumpkin pie to surprise him with the next day.

The difficult piece of this seemingly wonderful child was a dark side that we never quite understood.  Given a simple “no” over something seemingly minor became reason for a fit of anger or defiance.  A quiet family afternoon at home could quickly spiral into a “you never” or “you can’t make me”.  Jealousy over things only God can control turned into, “I should have been the first-born. I need a sister.  I wish she was my mother!”  And the list went on.  

At 16 it seemed as if the heat turned up making things even darker.  Phone calls from teachers and other parents became a very real part of my life making me want to crawl into a hole and never come out.  I was trying desperately to find ways of helping this poor child that seemed destined for self-destruction.  Our family felt helpless in reaching her.  Counseling sessions were going nowhere so I did the only thing I knew to do.

I let go.

She moved out of our home at 18 and the path she chose seemed even more vile.  We kept in contact on a regular basis, but her antics kept our family in constant wonder of how to handle each new difficult situation.  We tried a reset of her life a few times, but the efforts would revert to a similar lifestyle breaking our hearts.

As I continued to maintain contact with our daughter, I employed new skills I was learning in an attempt to rebuild our relationship.  It was working.  She seemed more open, wanted to spend more time with me, was able to accept our family’s boundaries, and was beginning to reciprocate when it came to relationship.  She told my husband that I was her best friend.  

I thanked God for his goodness.  

But even through this glimmer of hope which included coming back to our home for a week, the choices she made were deadly.  Our daughter passed away May 30, 2017.  

I am convinced that even though we may not be able to save our children from destructive lifestyles, He uses it for good.  After all, God is good.  God is very good.

Because of my daughter I am changed.

Because of my daughter I know that God is my strength in times of need.

Because of my daughter I have learned to let Him be in control.


50 Things I Learned From Raising a Challenging Child

  1. Maybe God gives us these kids to change us.
  2. We may think there are only two sides to a coin, but really there are three. These kids see the rim on the circumference and make us think outside the box.
  3. I am not in control.  Let me repeat, I am not in control.
  4. There is always a different choice that I usually don’t see—this child does see it.
  5. These kids live life to the fullest in a very short period of time. We have to seize some of those moments to be in their world.
  6. These kids teach us to listen, listen, and listen more. As parents, maybe we should try talking less and listening one more time.
  7. These kids teach us that taking risks is part of life, and it shows we have guardian angels watching over us.
  8. These kids teach us to retract our words through apology over and over. They teach us that sometimes apologizing is more important than being right.
  9. These kids teach us to pause before we speak. We learn to gauge our words by their potential outburst response.
  10. These kids teach us to be consistent. One slip of letting them get by with something proves that they can change our mind.
  11. They teach us to learn who we are talking to. Is it our child or a voice from our past?
  12. Things we learned as a truth from childhood may actually be a lie; seek to find real truth.
  13. Friend’s “advice” shouldn’t drive our actions when it comes to parenting. We really need to listen for God’s guidance.
  14. It’s easy to give the impression that if you give me the right behavior that you will get my love. Work hard on unconditional love.
  15. Tension should be resolved quickly; don’t let it linger.
  16. We need to become masters at reading our child’s unspoken words. These are an indicator of what is truly below the surface.
  17. We need to do everything in our power to make sure there are more positive interactions than negative so they can feel our love.
  18. As moms, we need to make sure we have plenty of rest. Pushing ourselves to be supermom gives us less ability to respond with love and patience.
  19. These kids will push us to the end of our rope sometimes. Practicing non-emotional responses ahead of time will give us the skills to react calmly in the heat of the battle.
  20. My child taught me that every person has value and I need to show kindness to all. Inviting their friends in gives me opportunity to speak His truth to those who surround her.
  21. Beware of judgment. We are all on a journey; some are just farther along than others.
  22. It is important to break out of our place of comfort to enter their world at times even when it is a little scary and doesn’t make sense to us.
  23. Boundaries are important in the parent/child relationship as they keep us emotionally healthy. Mom and Dad need to be on the same team in setting them.
  24. Enabling our child to do less than what should be their responsibility stifles their maturity even if done in love.
  25. We cannot make our child’s life better for them. We need to teach them to own their own future.
  26. Letting go of one child sometimes means saving your other children.
  27. Rebuilding severed relationship can be done. Never stop trying, and be aware of the other person’s capacity to reciprocate at various stages of the rebuilding process.
  28. Make sure that the amount of energy poured into your challenging child doesn’t suck the life out of you so that you can’t be there for your other children.
  29. Behavior doesn’t necessarily define the whole person. It is only one slice of the pie.
  30. Children become the average of the five people with whom they surround themselves. Teach them to choose friendships wisely.
  31. Laugh often even when you want to cry. Laughter releases endorphins that will make you feel better in the midst of the pain.
  32. Our kids make choices that sometimes lead to destruction. We have to remember that they are their choices and the outcome is between them and God. 
  33. As parents we need to own what is ours to own and not accept blame for every mistake our child makes.
  34. None of us are perfect parents and neither do we have perfect kids. If our kid self-destructs it is not automatically our fault.
  35. Our child’s heart might pull them into a destructive lifestyle. We can warn them, but we can’t control the situation.
  36. “I always thought that I’d see you again” can be a stinging lyric that fits unspoken conversations that you should have had. Initiate those conversations often.
  37. We need to teach our kids that relationships are transactional. There needs to be give and take on both sides.
  38. It’s easy to start thinking of these kids as a bother because they know how to press our buttons. Find ways to engage for short periods of time about non-emotional issues so that the mending of the relationship can begin.
  39. Offering empathy and validation for your child’s feelings means more than telling them your perspective on the issue.
  40. Keeping the pain and frustration to yourself makes you an island. Reach out and find a “safe” person who has been through a similar struggle to lighten your load.
  41. When you feel like there is no hope, pray. Starting with Amen or “so be it” shows that you accept that God is ultimately in control.
  42. When consequences for actions fail, push the reset button and work out a better solution.
  43. If emotions are high, take deep breaths and slow the conversation so that your brain has enough oxygen to speak with respect.
  44. Give your child the benefit of the doubt even when the likelihood is that they were in the wrong. Allow them time to tell their side of the story.
  45. When parents, teachers, and other authority figures call you to tell you “that awful thing your kid did”, listen, thank them for calling, and pause before dealing with your child on the issue. Listen to your child while asking open-ended questions about the incident.  Whatever you do, avoid any knee-jerk reaction.
  46. Stand firm in what is right and what is wrong so your child will always know where you stand on a given issue. Silence can be interpreted as implicit acceptance.
  47. When our kids make choices we don’t feel are good for them, rather than say “I told you so” talk through what could have been a better option.
  48. Be grateful for the positive aspects of your child’s personality. Find the good in them and encourage them again and again.
  49. Become a “safe” person for your child to talk to—no condemnation, no advice without their permission, and lots of listening with validation.
  50. Be your child’s #1 cheerleader when you have opportunity to do so and give lots of hugs.

Because of my daughter I have learned to “Let go…and Let God,”








17 replies
  1. Tina Malott
    Tina Malott says:

    Thank you for sharing some of your memories of your dear daughter with us. I am sure you have a lot of good memories that you can call to mind and cherish her with. My thoughts and prayers have been centered on your family as you continue to work through your grief. I hope that you can feel all the love that is pouring out to your family from everyone that loves each of you. This article contains so much wisdom and good, sound advice. Again, thank you for helping the rest of us learn to love and respect our children in ways to continue to build better relationships. I will be printing this out for future reference. God is good, God created you.

    • Debbie
      Debbie says:

      Tina,thank you for your words of encouragement. The last few days have been difficult but God has been good in allowing us to hear stories about our daughter that we didn’t know. I’m starting to believe that sometimes we as parents don’t always get an opportunity to see the beautiful ways in which our children touch others’ lives. Because our children need a place to vent their emotions with people who are safe (family), we sometimes see more of the bad than the good. God is giving me opportunity to see more of the whole person she was rather than only the slice of challenging behavior that she reserved for us.

      Hang in there as you parent. God is so very good.

    • Debbie
      Debbie says:

      Carol, it is so good to hear from you. I know that you understand the struggle. Keep focused on him as you continue to parent the next generation.

  2. Saved Bygrace
    Saved Bygrace says:

    Thank you for sharing this, as a mom of a challenging child (and four others not quite so challenging) this encouraged me greatly. A reminder to live each day to the fullest, to enjoy the little moments and to appreciate him more. Thank you. May the Lord strengthen and uphold you in this time. He is ever faithful! Love in Christ.

    • Debbie
      Debbie says:

      Thank you so much for the encouragement and prayers. I know that you know the heartache when one tends to make choices against what they’ve been taught. God is indeed faithful and has be gracious to sustain us through this trial. Continue to pray as we seek to find our new normal. Blessings to you.

  3. Laura Hoevener
    Laura Hoevener says:

    Debbie, thanks for your personal and relevant post. Such truth in the midst of terrible hurt and pain. Praying for you through this tragedy and thanking you for words of wisdom I can use with my own difficult child. I see so much of what you wrote in my own daughter. I will take your advice to heart and I will refer to it often. Let Go and let God, yes, I will keep remembering that. And i will keep praying for you.

    • Debbie
      Debbie says:

      Thank you, Laura, for the prayers. Keep remembering that our kids are on loan to us from a Father who knows us and them. While we can’t change our kids, they will change us if we allow God to be in control. Praying for patience and wisdom for you as your parent your daughter.

  4. ML
    ML says:

    Thank you for ministering to us in the midst of your pain. I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter. My thoughts and prayers are with you. I’m trusting God with you to hold you up and sustain you. Thank you for your vulnerability and know that we are here for you.

    • Debbie
      Debbie says:

      Thank you, ML, for the prayers. I’ve been blessed by so many during this trial and I’m sure that the only thing that keeps me standing right now are those prayers. Blessings to you.

  5. Gina Sprague
    Gina Sprague says:

    Dear Debbie, First of all I am so sorry your family has suffered such a loss. I have been praying for you and your family. Thank you for sharing this post. It is filled with so much wisdom. I will try my best to put your wisdom to use in my own life. I remember your daughter when she was in youth group with my kids. I didn’t know her very well but I remember enjoying talking with her. She was always seemed happy when I knew her and I will always remember her that way. May the Lord give you peace.

    • Debbie
      Debbie says:

      Gina, thank you for the prayers of peace. This has been a difficult journey for our family and we’ve had so much love poured out to us and are touched by the number of stories that people have shared about interacting with Andrea. She could be so full of life yet those who knew her best could see a storm brewing beneath the surface that we never quite understood. As with you, we are choosing to remember the happy, silly, and comical side of life with her. Blessings to you and your family.

  6. Joanne Hayes
    Joanne Hayes says:

    Wow!! Hope I admire you you for taking the time to even think these things so soon after the passing of your daughter, much less write them down to help others with their strong willed children, and secondly, how I ACHE for your heart, as I’m sure it is broken!!!
    May peace and comfort come to you from God, the kind only He can provide. May you have love surround you in there form of good, safe friends who will listen to your every need you’re going to experience doing this terribly difficult time.
    I will be adding you to my prayer list and sharing this awesome article with my own adult daughters and my friends whom have children also!
    You are on my A list,
    May God bless you and yours!! Thank you for sharing!! I’m so sorry for your pain, which you’re already turning into Glory for God. He WILL use this and you for things you won’t even know until you enter His gates…
    So sincerely,
    Joanne Hayes

    • Debbie
      Debbie says:

      Joanne, thank you for your kind words and for sharing my grief. The list was written by Him and not me. As I lay in bed one night with my grief focused on the senselessness of it all, I kept being reminded that God uses ALL things for His good. In the midst of the pain I started thanking him for the little things in my daughter’s life as best I could through the tears. The next morning He woke me up at 5 am with the list. I find it no coincidence that our Focus on the Family broadcast aired that same week. After all, God uses ALL things. Thank you for taking the time to write and for sharing the list. My heart’s desire is that moms across the country will take their God given role seriously and learn to lean on Him as they parent. Thank you for helping to carry my burden during this difficult time for our family.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] to help Andrea’s life leave a lasting impact by sharing the broadcasts, or her blog. You can read this beautiful tribute to her daughter on her blog, or you can read it here. Either way, please share the lessons learned with others – it helps […]

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