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What to Do When Your Child Rebels and You Feel Like a Failure

What to Do When Your Child Rebels and You Feel Like a Failure

Ask Dr. Meg

Dr. Meeker,

I’m a father of 5, 2 boys and 3 girls. Married for 19 years to the woman which God delivered to my doorsteps after great repentance and direct heart-felt prayer.

I am a wreck!

I was lied to as a young man about who my father was. I finally met him at the age of 24. Although it was great to finally connect with him and my long lost family, I remain broken. I sought God's face because I still desire a connection with my dad, and I accept that it may not happen. He is a good man, but I am just a boy in a 40-year-old man's body. 

It's hard for me to connect emotionally as a dad because I don't know what that looks like.

I am moved by a story of a young man’s step-dad, who drove him in his car each night of his rebellion. I WANT THAT AND NEED THAT, NOW! Most importantly, I want to be that kind of father to my babies.

Recently my 16-years-old daughter, told my wife and I that she gave herself away to a couple of boys over the past two years, and has used marijuana on several occasions. She started at the age of 14. She just told us this past weekend.

My wife and I feel like failures, and we both still yearn for compassionate love from our dads. We are seeking individual and family counseling. I don't know what I'm asking or what I need, but I must do something so I don't lose my baby girl or have her siblings follow in her steps.

She is a smart beautiful 16-yr old girl, who is working on her college degree while she finishes high school.

I'm hurting Dr. Meeker, what do I do? I'm afraid I am ruining my family. I feel I have no one who can show me how to lead my family beyond this crisis. Most of all, there is no man I trust who would guide me in the right direction!

I'm back deep in my Bible and seek God's face.

                    -Wreck of a Dad

Dear Wreck,

Thank you for trusting me with your pain. Here are some things that you need to think about. These will take a while to sink in but think on them over and over and they will.

1. You and your wife are NOT failures. Life is hard. You did the best you could and that's good enough. We all make mistakes with our kids that we wish we could redo. But- it's NOT too late for you to have better relationships with your kids. I promise.

2. You have all the important things that you need to improve life moving forward. These are: understanding that you made mistakes, a big heart, a willingness to change and a willingness to ask God's forgiveness and help. Let me encourage you that when you ask God for forgiveness- He is quick to do so and even forgets what you' ve done. Your problem is: you won't forgive yourself.

3. Your daughter has made some mistakes but they are not irreparable. She's looking for approval so you need to begin spending more time with her- tell her that you want to b/c you know that you've made mistakes and you need her help in doing a better job as a dad. Also- get a copy of my book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. It will encourage you and give you helpful tips.

4. Concerning your Dad- this is tough. He and your mother piled a lot of pain on you by not telling you this earlier. Hearing at your age that your father isn't who you think he was shakes you at your core. You feel betrayed, insecure, perhaps unloved and certainly confused as to who you are. These are all normal feelings. Again- you didn't bring these on, your parents did. You are absolutely right to be mad at them.

5. You may feel like a 14 y/o in a man's body and you have a lot of insight. The feelings that you have are from a time when you were 14, so in a way that kid is stuck inside of you. But- with help, you can "grow that 14 y/o up" and be whole.

6. Put aside wanting to have a relationship with your biological father now. This relationship is emotionally loaded and it is important for you to have some inner healing before you approach this.

7. Finally, ask yourself how your life so far has influenced your parenting. For instance, boys who grow up with cold parents, have a hard time being close to their kids. If their parents yelled, they dislike the whole idea of parenting and take it out on their kids. So- try to identify what you learned and how that spills into your relationship with your kids. Then, you really can break the cycle.

God loves you so much. You do have a father. He is the God who created you and right now you sit in the palm of His hand. Allow God to love you and ask Him that you feel it now because you need to.

Stop feeling like a failure. You are a normal parent. You have a bright future ahead of you and your relationships with your kids can get dramatically better. Hold on, ask for help and keep moving forward. You've got this.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/eyetoeyePIX

Meg Meeker, MD is a best-selling author and pediatrician. To find her online parenting courses or listen to her podcast Parenting Great Kids, go to To send in questions of your own, email them to