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 to Do When Your Child Breaks Your Heart
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’ve been in this situation a few times, and each time I learned from it as I sought the Lord through prayer and Scripture. I have seven suggestions for you–and I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.
1. Take a Deep Breath When Your Child Breaks Your Heart
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? Are you experiencing pride, fear, or anxiety over 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.
After you take a deep breath, pray, search Scripture, and consult your spouse, sometimes it’s a really good idea to get some sleep. Sometimes heartbreak is a different beast the next day–after the pain of betrayal has settled down.
2. Respond with Love When Your Child Breaks Your Heart
When our hearts break, it is so easy for us to react in anger. However, we must never forget that we are stewards only of the precious children we’ve given our hearts and lives to. Our children ultimately belong to God, not to us.
In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul reminds us that outbursts of anger are works of the flesh, and that habitually engaging in that sin will bar us from inheriting the Kingdom of God. Yikes! Instead, we are called to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48)–and our children. They are our neighbors.
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.
My husband and I once took evidence of our child’s reckless behavior to an authority in the area affected. Yes, there were some long-term consequences, but we believe in natural, real-life consequences. Now, this same child will tell you that action made a true impression.
4. Don’t BE the Consequence When Your Child Breaks Your Heart
When our children break our hearts, it’s so tempting to punish them by withdrawing our presence and love. It’s easy to confuse our role as steward or advisor with king or queen. We aren’t aloof rulers, however, 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 a parent 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 When Your Child Breaks Your Heart
If you have decided your heart is broken because your child is truly outside God’s will, you have a very important task. You must spend time on our knees, interceding for that child.
I spoke with a woman a few years ago who had 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. Now, years later, I know the pain and promise of her tireless commitment to pray for her child.
In Exodus chapter 32, Moses mourns God’s decision to destroy Israel after they worship a golden calf they have constructed. Moses pleads with God, asking Him to turn away from His fierce anger. Exodus 32:14 says, “And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing 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 When Your Child Breaks Your Heart
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 sinners (Romans 5:8).
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. When we are appalled and victimized, it is so difficult to love.
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) Be sure your children know you love them–no matter what, forever and ever.
7. Walk the Road with Your Child When Your Child Breaks Your Heart
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 out of wedlock? 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 hiking to do.
~ 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.