How could two children raised in the same home turn out so different from each other? Our son is popular at school, gets decent grades and loves the church youth group. Micah has his days, of course, but overall he wants to please us and make us proud of him.
Our daughter, Kayla, is a different child altogether.
Two years younger than Micah, but with a temperament twice as fiery, it’s as if she’s determined to be the opposite of her brother in every way. I’ve already been to the school to meet with her teachers four times this semester, but she doesn’t respond to discipline. If we try to talk to her about our concerns, she becomes belligerent, taking our remarks way out of context and throwing them back in our faces. Even when she was a child, her flashpoint temper erupted over the slightest thing.
My heart aches for her. I love my daughter very much. After her latest outburst at home, I realized something I hadn’t dared admit to anyone. Somehow I must have failed as a mother, and Kayla is now paying for my mistakes.
Though they would never say it to my face, I know people believe that all rebellious children, including Kayla, come from dysfunctional homes. And looking back, I know my husband and I weren’t the perfect parents. But we tried to do everything we could for our children to make sure they grew up in a stable home environment. I gave up my career to stay home with them. We took family vacations together. We went to their piano recitals, choir concerts and basketball games. We tried.
I know a lot of parents who haven’t invested nearly as much attention in their kids as we have, and their children turned out fine. I thought if I did everything right, if I loved my children enough, they would turn out OK. Where did I go wrong?
We hear of healthy, successful children who somehow survive dysfunctional homes. But, as illustrated by Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu, it’s also possible to have a dysfunctional child despite a healthy home environment (see Leviticus 10). The assumption that good parents always raise good children is unrealistic, and the harsh judgments that come from that assumption have devastated many good parents whose child rebelled. Parents rehearse the past, trying to pin the blame on themselves for how their children rebelled against them and their values.
Because God has lovingly created us with free will, no amount of good parenting, fervent prayer and the best of intentions can control an individual’s choices. The Bible reminds us that the potential for disobedience is within each child (see Proverbs 22:15). Most Christian psychologists will agree that the reason why some children who are raised in a healthy, Christian family grow up to be compliant, decent citizens and others rebel against a Christian upbringing is a mystery. It just happens.
If you have a prodigal child, remember this:
It’s normal to grieve the sense of loss you experience as a mother—this isn’t the family you’d envisioned.
If necessary, seek professional help for you and your family. Don’t suffer alone.
Lean on Christian friends who will pray with you and give you insight.
Recognizing how your own faults may have contributed to the family dynamics is not the same as weighing yourself down with irrational blame.
Don’t give up. It may take years, and there’s no guarantee that your child will change, but with Jesus there’s always hope.
Remember that God loves prodigal children—even more so than their parents do. Ultimately, the best thing good parents can do for their rebellious children is to bring them to their heavenly Father through prayer.
“Let’s be candid. All of us Christian parents, no matter what our background, parenting style or level of spiritual maturity, share a common fear—that a child will become a prodigal child. There is no jolt of agony to compare to the child who says with his words and his behavior, ‘I reject you, your values, your lifestyle, your God.’ We desperately desire that this will never happen in our homes. But it can and does.”
“The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10