When Good Kids Make Bad Choices

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We met at the coffee shop.  Two busy mamas with just an hour to spare to connect on an issue with which we both had recently come face to face.   We get right to the point.

“I don’t know how this happened.”

“I couldn’t believe what he said.”

“He seems like a different person.”

“I don’t know what to do.”

We both have a child who, though raised like all of our other children {same environment, same parents, same teachings, same diet} seems determined to make bad choices.  

You wouldn’t recognize him if you met him.  He would be polite and agreeable to you.  It is in the home, with those who most love him, that the beast of his dissatisfaction rears its ugly head.  

This child knows that the grass is greener on the other side.  If only he was at that school, had those parents, that family, those clothes, electronics…

The longer I walk with God seeking Him for wisdom and guidance in my wanderings on this earth, the more I realize how little I really know.  

It is tempting to think that I have somehow arrived at some pinnacle of understanding of God and His ways.  Then I am led to places heretofore unknown to me and I am humbled to realize that I am nothing without Him.  

As a mother, I have given up my career to homeschool and pour mind, body, soul and spirit into these children on this journey that finds me at the end of me – everyday.  

My world is rocked when my life’s work – this family that God has blessed me with – is hurting.  Having a child sick or discouraged, whose heart is weak – breaks mine.  When stubbornness sets in or grace is refused and blessings rejected, I experience a grief heretofore unknown to me, in this, my little world of love and warmth that by God’s grace has been created in our humble speck of earth.

What you can do:

Our first concern as parents is to see a heart change in our kids.  Faithfully wash them in the Word. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.  

Don’t be concerned with what you look like or what other people think.  That old trap of comparison will trip you up until {to save face} you begin to focus on cleaning the outside of the cup instead of the inside – out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  Focus on the heart!

Ultimately, as parents, we all fall short.  Don’t blame yourself.  Our kids will make their own choices.  We plant the seeds but it is God who causes them to grow.  It is God who calls them to faith.

Ask others to pray.  Like the mamas in the coffee shop, get advice and encouragement from other parents who have been there.

Don’t be afraid to let your kids face the natural consequences of their behavior.  Before honor is humility. 

Cry {lots} if you want to.  

Lastly, but most importantly, never give up – pray without ceasing.  

The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.  James 5:16
Linking up with the girls:

Marianne Sunderland

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  1. As a teenager I was the child who made the poor choices despite all my parents did to teach me otherwise. They learned, through the same humbling revelations, that there is no formula to follow which produces good Christian kids. But prayer and faith is definitely the wise place to start! Keep trusting Him to guide and pursue your child, He is faithful! And dare I say, my love for Christ is deeper because of my wandering, My appreciation greater for His incredible grace and relentless love! Loved reading your beautifully honest writing. Prayers and hugs to you!

  2. Thank you for this wisdom! Love the focus on prayer, and on our desperate need for God to do the work in their hearts that only He can.

  3. Ingrid Fiedler says:

    I love it! So true! The world can teach some pretty mean lessons. I rather my kids learn them in their youth than do all the stupid things I did! Praise God for His Word and His merciful protection throughmy learning curve. Great reminder of His faithfulness. Ingrid

  4. I once heard..at a Christian gathering….there are no guarantees when bringing up children. Indeed they have choices to make and each choice will have a consequence, good or bad. We teach and encourage and love and rebuke and pray and love and love and love and cry but in the end, it is them who chose their path. It is hard letting go. I believe that God has cried, rebuked, loved and encouraged and taught me…. but He allows me freedom to make my own choices. He also allows me to learn from those choices, even when the outcome is painful and many times heartbreaking.
    So it is when we see our own making bad choices, our heart breaks.We see the consequences stacking up, spoiling all that is good. It is almost unbearable. The Lord gave me the Abraham/Isaac story…I had to give my son to the Lord, that was all I could do.
    Big hugs and prayers for you and yours.

  5. I found your blog post today through the write it, girl link up. I wrote about this exact thing last year, only from the kids perspective. While I’m not going to pretend to understand what it’s like to be responsible for another human being, I can say, as a homeschooled kid myself, you’re doing it right. Love, Prayer, and making sure they know they are what they choose to be; and yes, when necessary, plenty of tears.

    Peace Be with You.

    • I’d love to read your post. How often have I wondered, “What is that child thinking!?!?”
      Thanks for posting and blessing to you today!

      • Personally, I have always been the “Good” kid. But what I tried to say in my post is that we’re all the same, regardless of outward actions. I guess some of us are just better at hiding our bad sides.

        I will say that there were some instances, particularly in middle school, where I locked horns with my mom on things like movies, make up, modesty, curfews, etc. And I probably would have gotten into more trouble in high school if health issues hadn’t gotten in the way. I didn’t always like being homeschooled. I didn’t always like being Christian. I didn’t like not being able to do what “everyone” else did. The root of the issue though, was that I struggled with being different; I struggled with being wrong. And when the whole rest of the world is telling you you’re not right, that you’re too strict or too protected or too whatever else they decide to pick on that day, it can be a bit much for a kid to handle.

        It’s slightly ironic, my overwhelming desire to be good made me behave badly. And sometimes parents don’t realize that there can be real pressure when your homeschooled that other people don’t think about. I wrote about some of it on my blog today when I talked about starting college. Everyone said it would be hard, that the whole world is out to get us homeschoolers. People ask stupid questions and try to make you prove that you’re on grade level. My own family members threatened to turn us over to Child Protective Services when my mom first started homeschooling.

        Of course, I can only speak from my personal experience, but from my perspective, it’s less about good and bad and more about how people respond to stress, challenges, and being different. We all grew up in the same house, had the same parents, the same rules, etc. But my three siblings seem to thrive on being different, where as I still struggle with it.

        But the reality is that I knew the three things you state in your post. I knew my parents loved me and only wanted the best for me, I knew my parents were praying for me and that prayers matter, and I knew that at the end of it all, regardless of whether I failed or succeeded; I was the result of my choices and my character, not the actions or opinions of an outside body. And even with all that aside, I still knew my parents had trained me up in the way I should go, and, if Proverbs was to be believed, I couldn’t depart from it if I tried.

        I realized that I’ve actually written two posts on this topic. One, on how to get good kids-

        And the other is the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a homeschooled student, which talks about some of those pressures and the feeling of being weird –

        But just in case you need a reason to keep going, here’s something I wrote at the end of my twelfth year in this “weird” lifestyle that was supposed to hold me back and turn me into a circus freak- http://nudgingtheuniverse.blogspot.com/2011/09/we-homeschool-for-bad-days.html

        I have learned that being part of such an engaged family that loves and serves the Lord in everything is a gift I can never replace. I pray that someday your child will come to the place that I have and be able to say the same. Peace be with you.

  6. Ahhh, Marianne, there are so many of us Mothers out there asking these same questions. I found that I had to believe that God would help to guide him. He has and I know that my prayers and my tears were answered. Ultimately we have to believe in ourselves as well that we gave them the foundation they need. Even if they deny it now, that foundation is there and they will begin to build their own life on that foundation once they realize that the choices they have taken are not ones that give them a strong and healthy life. Another mother who writes a wonderful blog about the struggles of raising a son who then went through addiction and how now found his path again has one of the most powerful messages which I use in my own life, “stay close”. You have to let them fail, you can’t live their life for them, you can’t support their addiction no matter what form that addiction may take, but you can “stay close”. You can let them know you are there and that you care and you will rejoice in their victories and that you love them. It is doing that which gives them the beacon they need to find their way back. Our sons challenge us beyond belief, but we have given them not only life, but guidance and a piece of our own soul that will always be alive in them. With prayer, and by staying close we can become a family again.

    • Beautifully said Sally. We are doing just what you said, staying close, loving but with boudaries. I can see the fruit and am hopeful, oh so hopeful!

  7. Visiting from “Write It, Girl” linkup. Such good thoughts, and good perspective for when our children choose to make bad choices. I have experienced many of the feelings that you wrote about. And I love it that with God, there is always hope, and as you wrote, we are to “pray without ceasing”. And through all that we experience as moms, God is drawing us closer and closer to His heart. Depending on Him for everything, and not on our own efforts.

  8. I’ve known so many women who WERE that child in their family. But your last statement about never giving up was the KEY to them turning their lives back to the Lord. The faithful prayers of their moms, particularly, were used by the Lord in powerful ways.

    I LOVE that with God, it is never too late to get our lives right – whether us or our children! He is the God of redemption and 2nd chances.

    Thanks for sharing this very real heartache many moms face and the reminder of God’s faithfulness in the middle of it. And thanks for linking-up on Loving Our Children. This is a perfect post for it!

    • Thank you so much Kate for the encouragement. I also am a mom of 8 and so am looking forward to meandering around at ‘Teaching What is Good’!

  9. Wonderfully written.

  10. I have a child like this, too. I’m praying, and seeking ways to bring a stronger faith element to our home. To train and teach him (and all of them) to depend wholly on God, and build a lasting faith in him. Teaching him to have a servant heart. It is hard to watch his struggle, but I know God is faithful.

    • My husband and I have been focusing on having all of our kids independently reading the Word. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. God bless!

  11. Found your blog via the WRITE IT, GIRL link up.

    I know that we’ll cross these bridges with four kids in our home. My biggest deal will be worrying about what others think of me. Oh how I needed the reminder how that doesn’t need to cause me anxiety.


    • Teenagers are a funny bunch. Understanding how they think is key. Try reading Preparing for Adolescence by James Dobson. It is written for the kids to read as well. Helps everyone to understand eah other at least a bit better. God bless your family!

  12. As a child of four grown children, two who are not serving God, I have come to several conclusions. The choice to serve God is theirs, not mine. God did not make puppets, he created people with a will of their own. My job as a mom is to Love, pray, teach, pray, guide, love, train, pray…. And be there for them at all times when they need me. I have no doubt that these two will come back to the Lord. I have God’s promise. I continue to pray and they know I love them and am here for them. Funny, the two children who caused me the most trouble, made the worse choices are the two who are serving God. Of the two who are not serving God one had been very hurt in a relationship and the other humiliated by a new pastor we had. We left that church. So, You just never know 🙂 And, I have faith and hope and God’s promise.

  13. As the mother of 2 grown daughters with their own families, I continue to pray for them, and even though they both know the Lord, the world has a way of turning their heads at times. I still have heartbreak (along with great joy at times), but God asks me to continue to pray and not “fix”.

    • So true Laurie! I have to remember that I, at my ripe old age, still mess up and that I need to have grace for my family when they mess up too. Oh for the power of prayer!!

  14. Great reminders when we feel downcast and frustrated with our kid’s poor choices. As a mom with 1/2 as many kids as you, I appreciate all wisdom and insight I can gain from your experience! Good to know that despite all our best efforts, our kids are going to make their own choices. We do our best to plant the seeds and allow God to do the rest of the work. (stopping over from Write it Girl).

  15. Our society defines success so differently from God. We are successful when we turn to God…so those prayers with friends in a coffee shop is exactly what God desires. Parenting is hard and can sometimes be scary, but we are not alone. Keep praying for your kids and for yourself, God is with you!

  16. Thank you, Marianne! I landed on this blog tonight, and I so appreciate your words. One of our nine children has decided this year that he has no need for the Lord. Praying without ceasing has taken on new meaning. A helpful book I read is *Engaging Today’s Prodigals* by Carole Barnier, a homeschool mom who was herself a prodigal (for 13 years!)

  17. Wendy Coyle says:

    Thank you and prayers to all who shared on this post. I found it to be a great encouragement to keep on the path of love and faith with my difficult children/prodigals. Thanks again Marianne for your candor, wisdom and encouragement.

  18. Thank you I have being praying for my daughter to come to God for 6 years.She still on the run and my hearts break to see that she is going deep in her sinful life stile.Thank You for encouraging me to keep praying and trusting God! God bless you!

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