How to Deal with a Difficult Child

Encouragement for the Mama Who’s Dealing with a Difficult Child

Have you ever gone through a season where you didn’t want to go to sleep because you’d rather avoid facing the next day?

Me too. 

The hardest part was that it had to do with parenting: my biggest dream. Parenting is hard. It’s beautiful and it is wonderful. It is exhausting and messy.

Maybe no one told you that the best days of your life might also be some of the loneliest and hardest, but it’s true. Days can be even longer and lonelier when you’re dealing with a difficult child.

Maybe you have a kiddo with a diagnosis that surprised you. Maybe you have a baby who won’t quit crying and won’t sleep. Perhaps you have one who spends more time in trouble at school than completing work.

Or possibly, you have one with anxiety who walks through continuous fear. Maybe you’ve had to call the authorities on your own child because they’ve hurt others.

Maybe you have one so withdrawn from you that you are on your knees begging God to bring them back. Whatever has led you to this point, you’ve probably experienced the ups and downs of motherhood.

A Bit About My Roller Coaster

I prayed for kids for years. My whole life, I knew that I was meant to be a mom. My dream was to drive a minivan! But not just any minivan. One that was filled with kids.

I was made for motherhood. But it wasn’t happening. I was sad and frustrated. I wondered what was so wrong with me that I couldn’t do what I felt I was created for. (I’ll share the rest of this story some other time, I promise).

Fast forward a few years to a long-awaited and miraculous adoption… all of a sudden I am the mom of the cutest toddler boys ever. There are so many special things that happened during that season. We really enjoyed bonding and learning how to be a family of four.

We got our minivan. I got my dream come true, and we all lived Happily Ever After.

Well, not quite.

I remember driving down the road with these two precious toddlers. The dream of my heart was finally a reality. However, in that same thought, I noticed that my dreams had come true, but my heart was still unfulfilled.

Things were hard.

Walking through life with little ones that had been put through really hard things led to questions, doubt, and lots of fear. I thought, “If I love them enough, then we can conquer anything. Easily.”

Love is amazing, but anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that it doesn’t necessarily mean things will be easy.

Transitioning into this family of four was blissful at times, and wearying at others. I remember asking my dad when I would  be able to sleep through the night again without worry. He said, “I’ll let you know.” So, I guess we never stop worrying about our kids, right?

As time went on, these sweet toddlers turned into little boys, who turned into big boys. Even though we had struggles along the way, I wasn’t concerned.

Remember, I thought our faith in God, and our love for our kids would get us through anything. Easily. But easy wasn’t really the norm for us.

I Am That Mama Who’s Dealing with a Difficult Child

The “difficult” didn’t just happen one day. We felt like we were on a slow and continual spiral of disaster that wouldn’t stop.

It was a road that was laced with struggle. And we had just enough training, resources, and counseling (for us and them) to “make it.” Barely. At this point, we were at a stage in our life where we had six kids.

And one of those cute toddler boys that grew into a big boy was really struggling to make it through the day without an explosive fit of rage or some extremely out of control behavior.

Our entire family was upended depending on the mood of said child, who could also be a true delight. We never knew which version of him we were going to get and that was scary.

I am not writing this to throw him under the bus, but to be real about our struggle. Dealing with a difficult child is hard! It affects the entire family!

Sometimes we don’t talk about these things for fear of what other people will think. (I did ask his permission to share this and he has given me his approval.)

We went through some really hard times. Seasons of dealing with his erratic behaviors that were so hard that we lost friends, became isolated from family members, and I nearly ran out of faith.

We went through nine months of appointments, meetings, diagnosing, and asking for a lot of help to try to find a placement. Our son needed to go to residential treatment. Those are really scary words for a mama who is involved in everything my kids do.

He needed to be somewhere where they could do intensive therapy and we needed space to heal from the trauma that he caused. It was one of the hardest decisions we have ever made, but we knew that we had to let him go to find healing.

All of this for our son, who we love so much, but knew he needed more than we could give. It was a battle I never thought I would fight.

I wanted to be mad and take it all out on my boy. But at the same time, I wanted to fight for him. The hurt and frustration was so confusing. It kept getting harder until it all just broke and came together at the same time.

A residential treatment facility, with the right treatment, became available. It was time to take him and it broke our hearts.

We knew he needed it and God would be with Him every step of the way. I desperately needed to know that God was with me every step of the way, as well.

Angry with God

One of the amazing things about God is that He is big enough to handle our questions, anger, doubts, and fears.

So, I yelled at God and got mad. Really mad.

I saw the words from that hymn, “It is well with my soul” everywhere I went. It just made me mad! I kept crying out to God, “It is NOT well with my soul!”

Have you ever been in a season that wasn’t well with your soul? I knew God could make beauty from ashes, but I could not see anything good coming out of what we were going through.

I had nothing to hold onto.
I couldn’t be a good enough mom to make my son obey.
I couldn’t feed him the right diet to take his unfair past away.
I couldn’t give him everything he needed to get right with God.
I had to release him to Jesus, forgive him for all that he had done to obliterate the safety of our home, and trust God with the outcome.

Not an easy task.

I was so desperate for answers, and truth, and for all of it to make sense, when it really didn’t. It was in that desperation that Jesus met me.

One night, in the midst of the worst part of this particular storm, we were at a worship event at church. We sang Elevation Worship’s song, “Do It Again.” Take a minute and listen here:

My mind focused on the lines:

“Your promise still stands
Great is your faithfulness, faithfulness
I’m still in your hands
This is my confidence, 
You’ve never failed me yet”

>> >> >>> Click here to get a free mobile screensaver of these lyrics as a good reminder!

I sang and I bawled and I didn’t believe the song I was singing. It felt like God had failed me. I was mad and I wanted Him to fix it. I wanted him to fix my son, fix my family, and fix everything else along the way. Right away.

But I kept singing anyway. When I was done singing, I asked Him to show me that He hadn’t failed me.

I prayed, “Show me Your faithfulness so I can say, ‘It is well with my soul’ and really mean it.”

Asking for Help and Encouragement

I dove into scripture like never before. I needed to see for myself that Jesus could be my peace and my joy when I didn’t even think I had the strength to get out of bed.

Five other kids and an amazing hubby were walking this journey with me, and I needed to be there for them too.

I held tight to Nehemiah 8:10,

…Do not grieve, for the Joy of the Lord is your Strength.

Nehemiah 8:10

I kept begging God to help me find my joy in His strength. I kept leading my bible study, sharing as much of my journey as I could. As women, we need each other. If we can help shoulder each other’s burdens, then we can walk together. Lighter.

We are better together because God created us to be a part of the body of Christ. I knew I needed the women in my life and bible study group. I couldn’t have made it through this tumultuous time without them by my side.

My friends and family met me in my need because I asked for help.

I don’t ask for help very well, but I had no choice. Some of the most amazing people helped us when we didn’t have the strength or ability to get through this on our own.

I was given the scripture John 14:27, 

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives peace do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.

John 14:27

I was begging God to give me peace because nothing in this world was working.

7 Steps that helped me Learn How to Deal with a Difficult Child

Believe me, I tried to self medicate with carbs, and that only made things worse 😉 Parenting is never easy. I have had seasons where I was convinced that all I needed to do was wake up because it had to be a nightmare that I was living in.

Instead, I would get up the next day, and the next day, and keep trudging forward.

It wasn’t until I walked through the 7 steps below that I started to see growth and redemption:

  1. Read the Bible
    *Read it, lots of it. Every day, fill your head and your heart with the goodness of God.
  2. Worship
    *“Raise a Hallelujah.” Even when you feel like you can’t.
  3. Remember that you are not alone
    *Talk to someone and get the help you and your family need.
  4. Look for the good
    *The sun rises again and God’s mercies are new every morning. Look for these things and you will see His goodness. 
  5. Celebrate the little victories
    *Even when small, give a shout out to every positive step that is made.
  6. Ask for help
    *It is not weakness. No one can help if they don’t know the need.
  7. Love unconditionally
    *It may be with boundaries, but never let go of hope and love.

How to Deal with a Difficult Child

There were days when I truly felt like all I could do was keep my head above water. Because my Savior was with me, I didn’t go under. The waves and the storms come, but we have a God who calms the storm and who walks on water.

He even calls us to walk on the water with Him. We just need to keep our eyes on Him!

This past fall, my son came home. He graduated successfully from his 18 month program. We are tiptoeing on a delicate walk through our new normal. It is not a perfect journey. I know we have a long way to go, but we truly have come so far.

I am at a place where I can say, “It is well with my soul.” Not because this life is perfect, but because God gives me peace in the storm.

Desperation for Jesus led me to depths with Him that I never would have known otherwise.

And to the other Mamas dealing with a difficult child, I want to invite you into the depths, too. Not because I like it and want to stay there, but because more of Jesus is always worth whatever we face on this earth.

Read Also! How to Support an Adoptive Mom or
Prioritizing Marriage (even when your kids’ needs are screaming louder than your husband’s)

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How to Deal with a Difficult Child


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