For the longest time, we thought our teenager was just a big giant brat. For some reason, the road into adolescence led us to a teenage daughter who struggled being around her younger siblings, whose rage was borderline scary for us as parents, and whose emotions were a veritable minefield.
This wasn’t the first time in her life that we’d had trouble with her. Her preschool and early elementary years were marred by her being kicked out of two daycares and the bus service to her school, as well as being put on a babysitter blacklist. These challenges led us to homeschooling.
While her extremely strong will made life with her challenging, it didn’t send up any red flags, as it was my own mother who gave us her well-worn copy of James Dobson’s The Strong-Willed Child from when I was younger.
It wasn’t until we started looking into Autism Spectrum Disorders for one of her younger siblings that we realized we had made a huge mistake. She seemed to be a poster child for the Autism Spectrum Disorder formerly known as Asperger’s.
The more we read, the more we saw the signs that we had missed. Slowly the guilt set in.
How many times had we punished her for things that were not necessarily under her control?
How many times had we forced her to do things she was sensorily adverse to?
How many times had we compared her in our own minds to the quiet and obedient little girls in her Sunday School class?
We were horrible parents. Not just horrible, but horrendous.
Here God had given us this special and unique child, and we mucked it up big time.
Our pediatrician gave us a pearl of wisdom that we now cling to, not just with her, but her siblings as well. She said, “I don’t care how ‘successful’ a child is. All I care about is whether they are happy and healthy.”
So often we can get caught up in the mindset that our children are a marker of our success as parents, forgetting to make sure that our children’s happiness is a consideration.
And those children who are not happy? Well, we just don’t talk about that.
Recently I asked a friend how her teenager was doing. She reluctantly told me that her daughter was struggling. She said that she did not feel comfortable telling people about her daughter’s struggles, even if it meant forgoing the prayers of her friends and family, because of what they might think of her family.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go.” Notice that it doesn’t say “in the way they should go”? God has set a path that is different for each of us, including our children!
For some of our children, this means a struggle. But this struggle is not something to be ashamed of, rather it is something that can be used in their testimony to bring others into the Kingdom of God.
So, as a parent, I have decided to take a stand: No longer is there a bar for my children to reach in an attempt to be seen as successful. And no more is there a standard by which they will be compared.
How am I living this out? Let’s just say that my re-education is on a day-by-day basis at this point. Living in a culture that expects near-perfection from its youth is a hard stream to fight against. We still get overwhelmed every once and a while, especially when we think about our child’s future. But it doesn’t take long to overcome that fear, not when we remember that not even our parenting mistakes can overtake the mighty plans of God himself.