Life brings countless trials. For many parents a prominent trial is the raising of a particularly sensitive, intense or strong-willed child who struggles more in life than other kids. Some of these parents grow increasingly discouraged by the challenge. But those who struggle well learn to view that challenging child as the blessing in disguise that God can use to transform both parent and child. How would seeing your challenging child in this way change things for you?
We love a quote from Julie Barnhill, “God didn’t give you your child so you could fix him or whip him into shape. God gave you your child to make you more like Jesus!”
One parent told me what she said to her very strong-willed child when processing a difficult interaction, “Your intensity is a wonderful gift. You demanded that we become better parents, and because of that our whole family has been blessed.” This mom and dad are now regularly mentoring others, built on their foundation of coming to know God’s grace and love in deeper ways.
This is not an isolated story. It’s the story of our family too. In my (Lynne’s) shiny “pre-children competence,” I got straight A’s in school, and excelled at all I did. People told me they were intimidated by how I “had it all together.” Ha! Little did they know… I didn’t have it all together – I had my rigidity, perfectionism and anger nicely stashed away, carefully hidden from everyone I knew.
And then along came Daniel, our intense, oldest, strong-willed child who rocked my carefully ordered, hide-my-junk world. When my goal was simply to fix him, so everything could feel smooth and shiny again, it never went well and I grew more discouraged. I can still remember the day when I looked at my son and thought, “You are the three-dimensional representation of my failure as a parent.” (Fortunately, I quickly recognized how dysfunctional and unhelpful that thought was.)
In essence, Daniel led the pack as my kids flung wide the “closet door” that hid all my junk, and all the contents came spilling out in a jumbled mess. But that was the beginning of knowing I was loved in spite of all my mess, and that Christ would work with me to clean out the junk and replace it with God’s grace, peace and freedom. I grew to gradually trust God in my parenting, with a pivotal moment being the prayer, “Lord, I believe that you are going to use our challenges for Your good purposes.” That perspective felt much more peaceful, even though our immediate circumstances didn’t change quickly.
And indeed, God has used it! Both to free me from much of that soul-eating rigidity and perfectionism, and to spread help and blessing to other struggling parents as Jim and I launched Connected Families. Years later, when Daniel was Connected Families’ first website developer, he took his turn introducing himself to a new employee at a staff meeting, “I’m Daniel Schulz-Jackson, and I’m the reason Connected Families exists.” We all laughed, but there was a lot of truth to that.
When you are in the daily grind of parenting, it is easy to forget the truth we learn from scripture:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28:
This is not a fluffy, “God’s goal is to make everything easy and cushy for us”, kind of verse.
God’s work on our behalf flows through His purposes to conform us to the image of His Son and usually that work includes “trials of many kinds” that grow our perseverance and character. (See James 1:2,3.)
Are you raising a challenging child? Consider these questions as you transform your thinking about your blessing in disguise and how your “misery can become your ministry”:
- What are some of the positive things you have experienced as the result of raising a challenging child?
- How is your heart being transformed through this experience?
- How might God use you to encourage another struggling parent?
When parents come to us for coaching determined to fix their child’s behaviour, they soon realize that transformation starts with them. As they bring their discouragement, anger, and anxiety to the Lord, and experience His limitless mercy and love, they are changed. We celebrate when we see parents shift from a goal of behaviour modification to one of heart transformation for both parent and child. Be encouraged as you parent your children, especially the child who struggles the most. God is working to transform you through your kids in a wonderful way!
I’m now so grateful for all those life-changing challenges in my early parenting years! May you also persevere to grow in grace, peace and freedom as you parent your “blessing in disguise.”