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Prodigal in the House

Have you ever tried to wake up from a nightmare only to find that you were awake? That's how I felt when our "perfect" daughter became a strong-willed, rebellious teen. The transition seemed as quick as switching TV channels. It caught us totally unprepared.

Although we made many mistakes during our five-year ordeal, we learned a lot. As a pastor's family, we faced the added pressure of being the role model for our church on how to handle this. Actually, we were clueless. We didn't know to buckle in for what seemed to be a long roller coaster ride in the dark.

We learned many lessons and gained new perspective the hard way. My husband, Charles, and my daughter, Heather, wrote about our adventures in Daughters Gone Wild, Dads Gone Crazy. We certainly don't claim to have all the answers, but I share from the vantage point of having lived through it and survived, even in the fish bowl of ministry. Here are a few lessons I learned:

1. Take action, but don't overreact.

When our daughter began acting out we were initially shocked and then became enraged. Angry words began flying that polarized us against her. Unfortunately, our main communication became shouting matches with no winners.

We learned that when a drastic change in behavior occurs in a teen, it is usually a result of some internal pain. Sometimes it's hard to look past your own pain to perceive the pain of your child. Before carrying out consequences for such behavior, it's wise to gently probe to find the source of the pain. Be firm but loving. Remember Proverbs 15:1, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (NIV)

2. Don't let guilt immobilize and defeat you.

As Christian parents our first tendency was to blame ourselves for Heather's consistent rebellion. If a parent is partially to blame, it's important to confess and seek forgiveness. Remember, though, that God, the perfect parent, had rebellious children. Please don't turn yourself into a punching bag. It will rob your emotional energy to deal with the real issues at hand.

3. Intensify the other relationships in your home.

Although Heather, our squeaky wheel required much of the grease, we didn't put it all there. Prodigal rebellion can create wounds in the family structure. Your other kids can become confused and hurt, too. Look for opportunities to connect with them.

The same holds true for your husband. These trying times put a strain on any marriage. We sought to be there emotionally for each other as much as we could. I realized how challenging this becomes when both of us were drained emotionally, while desperately needing each other's support. Sadly, neither of us had anything to give. I came to understand that this is the point where many marriages start to unravel. I found myself thinking, My husband is not meeting my emotional needs! It's easy for anger and resentment to drive a wedge between the two of you. If you go there, it will just make things worse.

You must pull together as a team as you draw deeply on the power of the Holy Spirit. Treat your husband with kindness and respect. Be quick to apologize when you blow it. There were periods of time during our ordeal when my husband and I related as cordial roommates. That's OK if that is the best you can do temporarily. Remember, you plan for your husband to be around long after your youngest child leaves home.

Next month, I'll share some additional thoughts. Until then, what are some insights you could share from your experiences that may help others deal with a prodigal?

February08, 2008 at 3:28 PM

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