Et Tu Brutus? What to Do When Our Children Break Our Hearts

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What to Do When Our Children Break Our Hearts {Danika Cooley at Thinking Kids}

It’s an age-old story:  we bring our children into the world or into our home, we raise them, love them, pour our lives into them.  Then, they break our hearts.  You don’t have to look too hard to find a parent with a story of heartbreak.  Maybe your preschooler flushed your grandmother’s pearls.  Maybe it was that call from the school when your child stole chips from the cafeteria. Perhaps your child betrayed you publicly in some manner, hurting a relationship.  Maybe it was more serious.  Maybe your child was arrested, or caught in a compromising position.  Maybe your son took out the trash, and never came back.  Perhaps you’re a grandparent, but not yet an in-law.  Maybe your child has made a blatant decision to live apart from the Lord’s grace and mercy.

What’s a broken-hearted parent to do?  How do we respond?  Where do we go from the point that our beloved children rends our beating organ from our chest?  I could write a book on all the things ping-ponging through my brain right now, but instead I’ll hit just a few points.  Perhaps you can add a few ideas of your own.

1.  Take a Deep Breath… Sleep on it if Possible.

It’s vital that we give ourselves time to cope with ourselves before we work on coping with our children.  Remember – our emotions are sometimes good inward indicators of an outward reality.  Other times, they are just a loud indicator of the sin in our own hearts.  Take a moment to pray about your emotions and your reaction.  Why is your heart broken?  Pride?  Fear?  Money?  Is your pain about you – or about your child?  Perhaps your child has stepped far outside God’s will and you are mourning the consequences that disobedience will bring.  Perhaps your pain has more to do with your own embarrassment over your child’s behavior.  Perhaps you view your child as simply an extension of yourself.  Perhaps you really, really loved your grandmother, and her pearls reminded you of her.  These are good things to work through with God and with your spouse before you take action.

2.  Respond with Love

When our hearts break, it is so easy for us to react in anger.  However, we must never forget that we are stewards only.  Our children ultimately belong to God, not to us.  In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul reminds us that outbursts of anger will bar us from inheriting the Kingdom of God.  Yikes!  Instead, we are called to love our enemies – and our children. We must remind our children of the truth of the gospel: we are all sinners, and we have all violated God’s holy standard. It is only through Christ’s sacrifice—and our belief in Him—that we are restored and forgiven.

3.  Let Your Child Bear the Consequences

Oh, how we 21st Century American parents love to rescue our children!  May I suggest that you let your child bear the consequences of his or her own actions?  Yes, they may be painful consequences.  However, natural consequences tend to be terrific methods of discipline.  We don’t even have to step in and “punish” artificially.  If our children have already grown into adults, it is all the more necessary that we take a loving step back.

I’m not suggesting that we avoid stepping in and helping our children to their feet when they are repentant.  I’m suggesting you kindly refuse to pay bail, that you let your child endure detention, that you resist the urge to write the rent check.  Oh, I know it’s a strong urge.  But selling the stereo system to buy diapers is something your “child” needs to do.  Selling the stereo is something your child will remember.

4.  Don’t BE the Consequence

When our children break our hearts, it’s so tempting to punish them by withdrawing our presence and love.  It’s so easy to confuse our role as steward or advisor with king or queen.  We aren’t aloof rulers, summoning only the good and righteous into our court.  Remember that wonderful story of the prodigal son from Luke 15?  Remember how the father welcomes the wayward son home without reproach?  It’s so easy to compare ourselves to the father, waiting and praying for our lost child.  Dear friend, you and I are not the father in the story.  We are the son.  We were lost and now are found.  We have been given grace and mercy when we deserve only death and condemnation.  Let us remember that our children, also, are loved by a Father far greater than we could ever be.  We can mourn the consequences of their actions with them – as long as we continually point to the Savior.  Let that be the one thing we never fail to do with our children.

5.  Intercede!

If we’ve decided our hearts are broken because our child is truly outside God’s will, we have a very important task.  We must spend time on our knees, interceding for that child.  I spoke with a woman last week who has been faithfully praying for her daughter for more than 10 years.  Never once has she seen a softening in her young woman’s heart.  However, she intercedes tirelessly, with faith that her Jesus is also standing before the throne of God, interceding as well. In Exodus chapter 32, Moses mourns God’s decision to destroy Israel after they worship a golden calf they have constructed.  He pleads with God, asking Him to turn away from His fierce anger.  Exodus 32:14 says, “So the Lord changed His mind about the terrible disaster He had threatened to bring on His people.”  Our prayers matter. God is absolutely sovereign and He knows His plans for us, but I am convinced He sometimes waits upon our requests, simply because He’s a Father.  I often wait for my children to communicate before I act as well.  Pray, dear one, pray.

6.  Reaffirm Your Love for Your Child

Again, we are not to be the consequence for our children.  They need to know we love them unconditionally, just as Christ loved us enough to die for us while we were still in our sins.  Yes, I know – we have quite a standard set before us.  Sometimes it can be difficult to express our love for our children when we cannot remember any of the warm, fuzzy feelings we once professed.  It is then that we, again, pray.  There is no sin in asking God to help us love our children today.  Remember, those fuzzy feelings were never truly love.  True love is a verb.  True love stands through every circumstance.  (1 Corinthians 13:7)  Then, be sure your children know you love them – no matter what, forever and ever.

7.  Walk the Road with Your Child

This last step may not be necessary for every broken heart.  Your child flushed your grandmother’s pearls?  That’s sad, but not life altering.  Your child is having a child?  That’s a long road.  My friend, your child and grandchild are going to need some company.  More than company, they’re going to need some biblical mentorship.  So, if your child is willing to have you, lace up those walking shoes.  You’ve got some hikin’ to do.

The photograph above was taken by Chris Sharp from

~ Danika Cooley

Danika Cooley is the author of When Lightning Struck! The Story of Martin Luther (Fortress Press, 2015), Wonderfully Made (CF4K, 2016), and Bible Road Trip. Her work has been featured in internationally-recognized children's magazines over 150 times.


  1. Debbie Wenzel says

    When our hearts break watching our child choose to live outside the expressed will of God, we can take heart in the steadfast love and grace of God. His heart broke first. He planned for this choice and made provision for repentance and redemption. He is not giving up on them. He is at work to draw them back to relationship with himself. I have drawn solace, strength, and perseverence for the fight from the promise found in II Samuel 14:14 ‘ But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.’

  2. Rena says

    You mention Galatians 6:19 under “respond with love”. I looked it up to find that there is no Galatians 6:19! What verse did you mean to cite? Thank you! I was just introduced to your site through a friend, and I love it. :)

    • says

      Oops! I’m so sorry, Rena! Sometimes my editing skills are terrible. It’s Galatians 5:19 (and verses 20 and 21 to be more exact). I added a link to the NIV version, as well.

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying the site, and I look forward to having you join our discussion about raising godly, thinking kids! :)

    • says

      Well, thank you Stephanie. I think we want to guard our kids (and ourselves), so we don’t always talk about our true parental pain in public. But, we’re not alone in our struggles. Thanks for finding me. Hopping over to your blog to take a look. :)

      ~ Danika


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