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What to Do When You’re Watching Your Child Suffer

  • Jeannie Cunnion Author
  • Updated Nov 10, 2017
What to Do When You’re Watching Your Child Suffer

[Editors note: Adapted from Jeannie Cunnion’s Mom Set Free: Good News for Moms Who Are Tired of Trying to Be Good Enough. Available at]

One of my boys recently endured a very difficult experience at school in which he was being targeted by another student. It was unbearably painful to send my son to school each day knowing the circumstances he would likely have to navigate as we worked to ensure the situation was properly addressed and resolved. Oh, my mama bear instincts were in full force. But I also had to remember that this is part of growing up in a fallen world, and the best thing I could do for him was equip him for the hardship, walk beside him through it, and point to God’s presence in it, rather than simply scoop him out of it.                               

This is another area in which we feel immense pressure—protecting our children from hardship and/or suffering. There is a profound difference in helping our kids navigate hardship and providing comfort in their suffering versus feeling guilty that we cannot completely protect them from it.                

We love these kids and want so much for them, and it is painful to watch them waste their gifts, choose the path of destruction, or doubt the fact that God made them for a beautiful purpose. We can (and should) cast a vision for our children. We give our children an extraordinary gift by teaching them that God made them on purpose, for a specific purpose, with unique giftings to fulfill their calling, all for the praise of His name. But just because we cast a vision doesn’t mean we can make them catch it.

“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified. What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything?” (Romans 8:28-32).                            

This passage can provide us much comfort as parents, but it can also create great confusion, which is why whole books have been written on it and entire sermon series have been devoted to it. So I’m not going to attempt to completely unpack it here. Rather my intent is to give us a glimpse of the sovereignty of our good Father. And my hope is that we will ultimately see this passage as an invitation to take a long, deep breath of relief.

It’s important to remember, God has given all of us free will. We are all responsible for the choices we make. Indeed, our choices matter. However, God is not limited by our choices. He is continually working everything according to His plan and His purpose. We may not always understand God’s plan, but we have to trust that He is working things for our good and His glory.                                                           

Here are a few encouraging truths that we can take away from this passage for our parenting, when we see our kids enduring hardship or suffering.                                                           

• God is loving—extraordinarily loving (Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalms 86:15; 1 John 3:16).                 

• God is not the author of evil in our kids’ lives (Deuteronomy 32:4; James 1:17).

• God is present in our children’s pain, as close as the air they breathe (Psalms 34:18; Psalms 56:8; 2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

God’s good plan for our children is to draw their hearts closer to His and conform them into the likeness of His Son. What more could we want for our children?                                                           

Watching God grow our children in the likeness of Christ—also known as sanctification—will rarely be pain-free. It will even break our hearts at times. Believers are not exempt from suffering. In fact, Scripture is clear, we should expect it. But as we expectantly wait for that day when God will make everything as it should be, let us not lose sight of the privilege we have in being part of God’s overall redemptive narrative. We can have full confidence that He is still on the throne and He knows exactly what He is doing. He goes with our children, He is for our children, and somehow, someway, He is working all things together “for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Jeannie Cunnion is the author of Parenting the Wholehearted Child, Mom Set Free, and the Mom Set Free Bible Study. She is a mom to four boys who range from toddler to teenager. She holds's a Master's degree in Social Work. She is a frequent speaker at women’s conferences and parenting events around the country. And her work has been featured on outlets such as The Today Show, Fox News, The 700 Club, and Focus on the Family. Jeannie's passion is encouraging women to live in the freedom for which Christ has set us free, and her writing is woven with humility, transparency, humor, Biblical wisdom, and a contagious love for the Good News of God's grace.

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