grace, guidance, and grudge-holding

parenting during frustrating moments
I’ve been hashing over a dilemma that has plagued me to a degree ever since my first kid told me no, and continues to challenge me these days as we parent many teens.  In nearly every parenting journey, there’ll be times when a kiddo looks you in the face and blows a big fat raspberry, whether you’re asking him to pick up his blocks off the floor or reign in a sassy tongue or walk upstairs to get something.  Obviously that kid is immature and needs some re-directing. Usually the first time or two it’s not too hard to look him in the face and say, “Answer me with respect, please.” But along about the 4th or 14th or 44th time that the same old junk rears its nasty head, it can be darned hard to keep the tone even yet firm, with eyes that are loving instead of flashing your own personal brand of flames.

Kids can be relentless.  And some are just plain more hard-headed than others. How do you act in love toward them when they are choosing wrong? How do you keep your own frustration from clouding your judgement (not forgetting that ALL of us have a great need for grace and love exactly in our hard moments) while also lovingly addressing the very real issues that parents are called to address?

I do it so imperfectly. But one of the things that I was reminded of recently in Bible study is this: though God calls me to guide and direct and speak truth to my kids, He doesn’t call me to sanctify them. I can’t stop them from sinning, or from struggling with their fallen human nature. All true growth and change is between them and God. And even when I handle things well, there will be times when the middle of their struggle can look really messy. My job is to be faithful to the best of my ability. But the outcome belongs to God.

Another thing that I was reminded of by a friend is that God’s grace is there for me too, even as it is there for my kids. Yes, even when I get impatient and zip out angry words I instantly regret. That very forgiveness that I’m so grateful to have myself is also the forgiveness I need to keep offering my kids. We all need grace.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about balancing grace and guidance, and avoiding frustration when a child is being hard-headed. How do you encourage stubborn kids in a better direction?


  1. Oh wow. I needed to hear this. God has been teaching me the same balance with out kids but I feel like I’m failing at it. Thankful for grace for both, me and them. To hear this from a seasoned mother is such encouragement to me. Thank you!

  2. Shelley says:

    Very refreshing! Thank you!

  3. Stubborn, hard-headed children are so challenging! I have two, I have taught many, and I was one. Although, it is easy for me to get angry, showing that anger rarely works for the child or for me–I never feel good about it. Along with my desire to raise respectful children, I also wanted to raise children who would grow up to be strong enough to say “no” when others pressured them into doing something they did not want to do. Teaching the children both–who they can so “no” to and who they can’t say it to was important.
    I have found a few things that have worked for us, at least some of the time. When I can show my kids enough respect to help them save their dignity, we usually come out ahead. I have said things (with a smile, when I can) like “you must have mistaken me for a friend, I’m your mom, let’s try again.” or I’d laugh and say “that’s so funny, you thought I was asking a question” It helped to lighten up the situation. Even now, my graduate student son will send me a paper to proofread for punctuation and in the e-mail he will tell me when the paper is due. I will e-mail him back and say “did you have a question for me?” Thank goodness I can bite my tongue and add a smiley face emoticon–I will always get a polite email in return, asking (sometimes begging) me to read it if I have the time. It has taken him a long time to see beyond himself,-life has been hard for him, but he is getting there.

    Stubbornness can be difficult to deal with, but it can also be a good thing. I tried to look at it as perserverance, which is something I want my children to have. Looking for the positive in what seems like a negative was an eye-opener for me.

    Mary, I only know you from your blog and your daughters’ blogs. You have a lot of kids, and from what I see, they are turning out pretty good. Look at your grown children. They seem kind, independent, responsible. Whatever you are doing, must be working.

    • Hi Fern,
      Thanks so much for your wise words!

    • I agree, when it is okay and when it is not can be a tough line to discern for teens. I also agree that infusions of humor (even if you are not actually amused) are almost always useful and serve to lighten the mood for everyone so that corrections can be made in a gentler manner.

  4. Oh I needed to read this today. All 4 of mine stubborn but my son,13, and my 2 younger girls, 5&3 are taking it to a new level. My 3 yr old has horrible tantrums. And I am a single parent without help from my exhusband. God gives me the power to keep going and being patient.

    • From one single to another, hang in there! You really will make it through these difficult times. God promises to be a father to the fatherless, and goodness knows I reminded Him of that many many times. 🙂

    • Yes! That’s the only way any of us can do it– by grace…

  5. I find myself often struggling to react in a loving manner!! I have one that was adopted a couple of years and her maladaptive learned behavior from her days in ET where there was much neglect was manipulation, conniving, and making others angry. Even though I truly believe much of the time she can’t yet control her behavior, it has been the most challenging thing to react lovingly to that behavior. For one, I find it useful to take a deep breath and count to ten before I react! When you have many kids the repetition (or 44th time) in reminding them just gets down right tiring!

  6. Required reading in our house is ‘Ten Mindful Minutes’ by Goldie Hawn. Yes, I know what everyone is thinking right about now but believe me when I say this book changed our family. Before you blow it off- please take the time to read it. She is one smart cookie.
    This little book changed how my children act towards each other, toward me, and towards other people in their life as well as how I act toward other people- including my children. Everyone has to read it cover to cover, highlight points they want to remember, and then we reread parts of it every week as a family. Everyone has their own copy it is that important.

  7. Mary, thank you for this great reminder. I appreciate the unvarnished glimpses that you allow us into your daily life, your family dynamics and your heart. You have the gift of coming alongside and offering encouragement with humility and humor. I’ve often felt blessed by your writing, but today I felt blessed to overflowing and simply needed to express my gratitude!

  8. Yes, yes! My 16yo has always been a person who learns through challenging authority, making mistakes, and earning consequences. This was challenging when he was 3, and it’s much more so now. As I pray and ponder and pray and pray, the answer I keep receiving is exactly what you said. That it’s my job to teach, to be an example, to love him where he is, to hold him to standards, yet to understand that its his job to make his own choices. Not easy. But I think the process has given me insight into the way God loves us as we make our imperfect journey through life.

  9. New here after reading your book, Mary.

    I SOOOO needed to see this. I have a 5-year-old daughter who’s giving me payback for all the sass I gave the folks who brought me up, in spades. Where I’m sitting amid seemingly perfect mothers with seemingly perfect daughters (and one mom with a boy who’s running the house, and not in the sense of he’s-so-responsible), it’s a lifesaver to hear that other decent mothers are struggling with strong-willed, sassy kids…

    …and that it’s not my job to make them perfect. Because I can’t do that, and I’ve been trying, to the point that it is taking the love and the joy out of our relationship. I don’t want to raise bad kids that turn into bad adults; nor do I want to raise kids that are so heavily punished that they flee home never to look back as soon as the law sets them free.

    I thank you, and my kids thank you, for reminding one very frustrated mother that it’s my job to correct the behavior and to set the example, but NOT my job to make them be perfect (or to be perfect myself). Bless you, Mary, for keeping it real.

    • I’m so glad this was an encouragement to you. I had MANY years of success parenting easier kids, and it really threw me for a loop for a few years to be so unsuccessful at parenting some really hard-headed ones. I’m so grateful to realize that just as God is working on me still now into my 40’s, He is also at work teaching, maturing, and perfecting my children.
      Thanks for writing.