5 of the Hardest Things Parents Face: How to Handle the Most Challenging Parenting Issues


Watching my child struggle without stepping  in to “fix” things for him was  one of the hardest things I’ve personally  experienced as a mom, even though I  knew it was the best thing for him. And the  truth is, from the very beginning,  being a mother is a balance of taking care of  your kids while letting them grow  up and learn from their mistakes. Your role  of simply loving and protecting  your baby from pain and discomfort changes to one  of accepting that your child  or teen will need to experience natural  consequences for his or her actions.  The hard part (for them and for us!) is  that these consequences almost always include some discomfort,  disappointment  or pain.

“It’s  helpful to allow your child to struggle. Change happens out of struggle and in  moments of accepting responsibility for our actions.”


Along with the good, the list of tough  things we face as parents is long—and  as we all find out pretty early, there  are so many challenges that we never  even considered or knew about before  having children! As a mom and  therapist  of 30 years, I’ve found the following to be five of the most  difficult.

1. “Parent the child you have, and not the child you wish you had.” Many  times, we try to parent our kids based on what we think  they should be like,  and not upon who they really are. Listen, it can be tough  and exhausting to have a son  with ADHD, or a teen with ODD who’s defiant and disrespectful. Or you might simply   have a child who’s very different from you, so trying to see her side of things   becomes a constant, draining battle. You might think, “Hey, this isn’t what I   signed up for! Is this what motherhood is supposed to be like?” As a  mom and  therapist, I know that when you accept that your child is not who you  thought  she was going to be, a real grief can emerge. You might have to give up  certain  dreams you had for your child’s future when you realize she’s just not  going to  take the path you’d hoped she would.

Understand, though, that once you let go  and accept who your child is, a  different kind of love can develop, because  you’ll be able to see her clearly  for the person she truly is. I have  found that true acceptance is one of  the most powerful,  loving things a parent can give to their child. It’s  the basis for so many things, including being able to develop and communicate  reasonable expectations for  appropriate behavior. Old power struggles fall  away, which can give you  space to nurture new aspects of your relationship. As  an added bonus, when you accept your child for who she is, she can then become   better at accepting herself.

Related: Learn how to “parent the child you have, not the child  you wish you had.

2. Letting  Your Child Experience the Pain and Discomfort of Natural  Consequences: I remember feeling terrible when my son,  who was a  toddler at the time, pushed a door open and fell down some stairs  while we were  visiting family. We’d all looked away for a split second, and  that was all it  took. This was traumatic not only for my son, but for us as  parents. I remember  realizing that I couldn’t always keep him safe from  everything. (Thankfully he  was only a little bruised.) Even though it was clearly an  accident, I still  felt like a bad parent. These feelings are natural, but it’s  important that you  learn how to deal with them. The goal for all of us is to  learn from each  experience and try to be reasonable about what you have control  over – and what  is beyond your control.

It’s not a good idea to try to protect your  child from experiencing the  consequences of his actions. Look at it this way:  how will your child learn  from his mistakes if you take away the natural outcome  of a poor choice he  makes? In fact, we humans learn through trial and  error. We try something, it  fails or we get in trouble, and we try another way.  We misbehave, someone gets  mad, so we stop. If you put up a protective  fence around your child and try to  fix things for him, how will he learn to do  things differently next time? As my  husband James Lehman said, “It’s helpful to allow your child  to struggle.  Change happens out of struggle and in moments of accepting  responsibility for  our actions.”

Related: How to give your ODD child or teen “Fail  Proof” Consequences.

It’s our job as parents to help our kids  through these difficult times, but  it’s not our job to bear all their burdens  for them. This may mean letting your  child feel some pain and disappointment of  natural consequences if he’s acted  out. You can help him by talking about how  he can handle himself differently  next time, and teaching him some good coping  strategies. By simply letting your  child know you’re there for him because  you love him, you’re giving him one of  the most important things a parent can ever give.

3.  Facing Judgment, Shame and Blame from Others: If  you have a child who acts out and engages in other challenging   behaviors—tantruming, yelling, disobeying you or being annoying and  obnoxious—you’ve  probably gotten “the look” from friends and strangers alike.  You know the  one—it says, “What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you doing  something about your child’s behavior?!” It  can make you feel like a terrible  mom or dad, even if you know you’re doing everything  you can to raise your  child the best you know how.  And the truth is, others will probably judge   you—it’s human nature. If you’re in this situation, it’s natural to worry about  your  child disappointing you or embarrassing you, and also worry about how  others  will react to your child’s misbehavior and blame you.

But when your child is acting out and  you’re feeling judged by others,  stop and say to yourself, “I can’t read other  people’s minds.” If you try to  imagine what others are thinking, 95 percent of  the time you’re going to read  something negative there. That’s because  whenever we’re negative, we interpret  other people’s perceptions of us as  negative, too. And in these situations we  don’t read people’s minds in search of  hope. We read them in search of  criticism—especially when something is going  wrong. So when you feel yourself  trying to guess what your neighbor, your  mother-in-law or your friends are  thinking, just tell yourself, “I’m not a  mind-reader; I don’t know what they’re  thinking.” Stop the tape that’s playing  in your head and move on. This is also  part of the process of learning how to engage in “positive self-talk,” or   talking to yourself in a way that promotes calmness and hope, rather than  panic.

4.  “I Hate You, Mom!” One of the hardest things  parents  face is when their child is mean, rude or disrespectful. Your  child may have  always been this way, or the change in their personality might have seemingly   happened overnight—perhaps when they hit the pre-teen years. Your  10-year-old  loves being with you, but the next thing you know, she’s screaming “I  hate  you,” calling you names, and refusing to go anywhere with you.

The words “I hate you” can have the power  to reduce any parent to tears or  anger—it can make you feel like you’ve failed  and wonder where you went wrong.  Kids know that saying these words  can paralyze a parent during a fight, which  is why they use this tactic to get  what they want. As hard as it is, try not to  personalize your  child’s behavior. When you personalize things, it makes it  very hard to be  objective about how to respond to your child in the moment. A  good thing to do when  this happens is stop, breathe, and instead of a knee-jerk  reaction, respond  with (for example), “We’re not talking about that right now.  We’re talking about the fact  that you need to do your homework.”

You can also ask yourself, “What does my  child really need from me right  now?”  It might be some space, or it might be for you to follow through on  a  consequence you issued. But remember, try not to take these  words from your  kids personally.

Related: How to stay calm with your child, no matter how many  buttons he’s pushed!

5.  Letting go: During your child’s pre-adolescence and  adolescence,  you are constantly confronted with letting go, especially if your  kid seems  to need to learn things the hard way. A natural part of adolescence  is risk  taking – which often results in breaking rules and inappropriate  behavior. It  becomes extremely important as a parent to be able to disconnect  from your own emotional  response to this misbehavior (feeling guilty,  embarrassed, ashamed, or simply  disappointed). As parents, when our kids get  older, we need to pull back and become coaches and  teachers, still loving our  children as people, but giving them space to learn.

As painful as it is to accept sometimes, our  children are born to move away  from us. There is a sense of grief that goes along with this; I’ve experienced  it myself. It’s important to remember that  this work of caring for our children  while they are constantly separating from  us and becoming individuals can be  stressful and demanding.

A  “Good Enough” Parent

You can’t protect your children from  everything bad that might happen to  them, or from the poor choices they may make, but you can  help them learn from  the bad situations they get themselves into. Your child will likely not thank  you now for letting her struggle on her own and suffer through a  consequence,  but she may surprise you when she’s an adult by telling you  that your coaching,  teaching or limit setting made a positive difference in her life.

One final word: It’s difficult for parents to figure out   what is right; and the truth is, there really isn’t a “right” answer all the  time. It’s  important to accept that there are choices to make, and that choices  often come  with anxiety. Remember that you are doing the best you can  and making the best choices  possible. More important than trying to  be a  perfect parent is to be a “good enough” parent , who takes care of their  child and  tries their best. Hard situations are part of life – situations from  which we  can learn and grow. And as parents we can support our children through the   difficult times. This doesn’t stop at adolescence because we will be parents   forever – our role just continues to change over time.


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