How to Not Feel Like a Failure if Your Child Needs Therapy
- Kendra Fletcher
- 2020 5 Mar
Parenting isn’t the easiest job in the world… but I suspect you already know that.
Accompanying any sense of a lack of preparation we may have in every season of parenting is the nagging feeling that our kids are somehow attached to our identity.
And then there are all the related emotions we carry around. If you have a child who is struggling emotionally or because of any kind of trauma, even if you shoulder some responsibility for that struggle, please consider getting your child the professional help they need right now.
It may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but don’t let your personal feelings get in the way of getting help for your child.
Does that seem like an impossible ask? Is it just too difficult to separate your own emotions from the situation, and put your own hurts or associations aside? There’s help for that.
God sees straight into our pain and allows us to lean into him in order to do the things we just can’t do on our own.
Try Not to Make it about You
“Mom, stop making this about you!” Ouch.
In my attempt to try and relate to what my child was struggling with, I inadvertently made it all about me. That wasn’t my intention, but my teen daughter saw it that way, and it didn’t help her as she tried to process what was happening in her world.
Yes, I had gone through something similar when I was in high school (mean girls have been around since the dawn of time), but when I broke into her narrative to tell my own story, she felt like I wasn’t hearing her, and that just added more irritation to her mounting pile of pain.
I’m a slow learner, but I think I’m getting better at keeping my mouth shut and listening. When a child tells me something that I can personally relate to, I try not to offer that information unless they specifically ask if I have ever been through something similar.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I don't always successfully pull that off.
What our kids do need in the moments when they are pouring out their pain to us is a word of encouragement, a listening ear, a soothing voice that validates their struggle, and a parent who offers to pray.
If we make it about us, we might miss the red flags that serve as a warning or a marker pointing to the fact that our child may benefit from therapy and counseling outside of our home.
If we make it about us, we risk taking their struggle personally instead of acknowledging that our kids are different people than we are. We risk pushing their pain deeper inside because they feel we didn’t hear them.
If we make it about us, we’ll feel like our parenting has failed. Like we should have done x,y, or z to cure our child’s chemical imbalance, protect them from that bully, or make up for their perceived abandonment. Like we should just KNOW exactly how to help them navigate their grief, with no actual training. This just isn’t realistic.
Thankfully, I listened to the Holy Spirit when I felt he was prompting us to get our daughter some professional help. She struggles with anxiety closely linked with her ADHD, and the mean girl at school was saying and doing things that caused a small tsunami of inner turmoil that threatened my daughter’s mental health right at the start of high school.
The godly counselor she saw helped her untangle events from emotions and helped her create a personal plan for coping, healing, and eventually establishing healthy boundaries in her relationship with the mean girl.
If the burden our daughter was carrying had been a tangible load in a bright pink backpack, we would have seen her carefully slide her arms out of each strap and gingerly unload the weight she had been bearing, dropping it all to the ground and walking entirely away.
Therapy had been a gracious gift.
Don’t Forget to Remember Whose You Are
It’s so easy to lose sight of whose we are.
You remember, don’t you? You are a child of God, created in his image, empowered by the Holy Spirit to do good works. Ephesians 2:20 tells us just that: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
If we don’t remember whose we are, we can easily slide into the bad habit of defining ourselves by any number of other, lesser things: our education, our job, our possessions, our hobbies, our talents, our spouses, our children.
When the college admissions bribery scandal of 2019 broke, I remember thinking how those parents had been sucked into that insidious trap that is the prideful placing of our identity in how our kids “turn out”.
I also remember thinking that I could understand how that happens. The pressure cooker that is Hollywood coupled with the lifestyle and societal status pressure that those families live smack dab in the middle of naturally lends itself to outrageously misplaced identities.
Don’t forget to remember whose you are. He is perfect. He is our perfection. Both our weaknesses and our strengths are hidden in Christ Jesus. Colossians 3:3, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
That’s just as amazing and unbelievable as it sounds. But it’s true.
Our identity is in Jesus and his work on the cross, not in whether our children need therapy. Sounds silly when put like that, but it’s so easy to lose sight of.
In Light of the Gospel, Tell Yourself (and Your Child) the Truth
What is the truth? God made your child (and you)—Genesis 1:27. God loves you even though your child (and you) sin—Romans 5:8. God has provided relief and redemption through his son, Jesus Christ—Romans 6:22. You are a new creation!—2 Corinthians 5:17.
One of the most powerful things I think I’ve ever said to one of my kids is, “This does not define you. It is how you see the world right now, and it may be something you have to walk through, but your anxiety is not who you are.”
It was a truth that came straight from the Holy Spirit, and as it left my mouth, I could see it settle upon her heart. It was the balm her weary soul so desperately needed in that moment.
Who we are in Christ is the truth, and that truth sets us free to minister to our children in the hardest of moments. That truth allows us to let go of our personal feelings.
That truth alleviates our own issues with feelings of inferiority or having to portray our children as anything other than who they are in Jesus.
And sometimes that same truth can allow us to give our children the tremendous gift of help through a professional counselor or therapist because we were willing to see ourselves as who God made us to be.
And yet, getting help for your child may be the hardest thing you’ll ever be called to do. It may also be the most loving act you've ever stepped into.
That beautiful sacrifice of setting your personal feelings aside may open the door to the freedom and hope you've longed for.
It may also free your child to soar in ways you never imagined.
Kendra Fletcher is a mother of 8, speaker, author, and podcaster. She is the author of Lost and Found: Losing Religion, Finding Grace, and Leaving Legalism, and she regularly writes for Key Life Ministries. The Fletchers reside in California, where they play in the Pacific Ocean as often as possible. Find her here: www.kendrafletcher.com.
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