When Parents are Failing

What do you do when you think your friends are failing at parenting?

Of course, it’s easy to have all the answers about parenting before you’ve tried it out yourself. But suppose you have parented several children already, and what you see in other people makes you shake your head in despair?

Let me tell you a little secret. Having parented successfully does not make you an expert. The end.

Here’s why. You can follow basic guidelines for providing for your children’s needs, but it is impossible for one person to experience every possible parenting scenario. Children are all very different, and beyond that, some children are born with needs that go far beyond what you can put in the “different but normal” range.

However, the pressure to produce well-behaved, smart, socially-adept, flexible kids is high, and steadily increasing with the influx of media-sharing and sermon-sharing about how to raise the best kids possible.

While parents do need to learn all they can about how to raise their children, and it’s important to offer whatever resources they desire, I think many people have forgotten the simple and powerful practice of sitting beside others.

Let me explain from my own experience. My first child was unusual from the start. Although he was incredibly responsive and sweet at home, many times when we took him out he cried and cried.

I spent Sundays in the nursery trying to soothe a crying baby while the other ladies discussed the finer points of doctrine in Sunday school. After church I would ask Will what the sermon was about, because I usually missed most of it.

When we went to a friend’s house for a meal, the rest of the group laughed and chattered over their pizza while I sat in the bedroom with a crying baby, tears rolling down my own cheeks.

People noticed my cute baby, and they also noticed that something was wrong, but they could not see how fiercely I loved him and how hard I tried to take care of him. They could not see how alone I was.

Before communion at our church, we had a special service in which each of us had to meet with one of the preachers to talk about how our spiritual life was going. Our son was still a baby when Will and I unsuspectingly sat down and shared about our lives.

“I have a concern,” the preacher said. “Your son is too noisy in church, and I feel you perhaps are not disciplining him appropriately.” The rest of what he said was a blur, and although I’m sure he meant to be kind, I felt my cheeks burning in shame. How could we possibly begin to explain what we didn’t yet understand ourselves? That we knew there was something wrong, but we were pretty sure it wasn’t a discipline problem?

I’m not a person given to public displays of emotion, but I slipped to the coat rack in the back of the church foyer and burst into tears. Will and I collected our baby and quietly left for home.

Later we learned that our son was on the autism spectrum and had, among other issues, extremely sensitive hearing. Church services, especially the music, were physically painful for him, and that was why he cried. But we didn’t know this at the time, and going places became miserable.

On one hand, some people were openly critical. They sat over us in judgment about all the wrong ways we were parenting. We heard sermons and topics and group discussions on how to properly raise children, with little sympathy for anyone with unique challenges.

Then there were also people who politely sat out. They were too kind to judge, so they carefully looked the other way when our son misbehaved. They maintained cheerful talk even when things were going badly, and pretended that we were fine. They did not offer judgment, but they did not either give us the support we truly needed.

We needed someone to sit beside us in the difficult place. And one Sunday, this happened.

I was in the nursery (again) with a crying baby (again). By this time, I had mostly resigned myself to spending my Sundays this way. I knew my baby was tired, and if he could just fall asleep, I might be able to get a little out of church. But he was overstimulated and could not fall asleep, so he wept.

Partway through the sermon, the nursery door opened, and a youth girl slipped in. She smiled and asked kindly, “Do you need me to hold your baby?” I could feel the genuine sympathy and care flow from her heart and wrap like a mantle around me and my baby. I knew my child wouldn’t do well with a stranger holding him, so I told her that I just needed to hold him until he fell asleep.

But she didn’t leave.  She settled into a rocking chair beside me, and talked to me in her sweet way. Within a few minutes, in the glow of her gentle presence, my son relaxed and fell asleep.

Several years went by, as Will and I loved and delighted in our child and did our best to take care of him. He was funny and frightfully clever–at five years old he could crack a side-splitting joke and accurately describe in great detail how a car motor works. But some things were so different for him, and the judgment never stopped coming. It got to the place where I felt skittish every time I saw a preacher drive in the lane, or heard a discussion on child training. I didn’t enjoy going out in public. And I felt incredibly alone.

I remember lying on my bed one Sunday afternoon, sobbing into my pillow and pleading God to send someone to come talk to me and encourage me in my parenting journey. I was too battered to reach out for help myself. “Send someone to talk to me!” I cried. But nobody came.

As our child got older, his emotional problems and developmental delays worsened. Then one evening we went to a big auction designated to raise funds for Haiti. The event consisted of lots of high-sugar foods, noise, excitement, people, and kids tearing around at breakneck speed. Our son’s motor amped up and up, until it was time to leave. Then his fuse blew, and he unleashed the worst tantrum I had ever seen.

As our son thrashed and raged on the floor, Will tried his best to gain control of him while a large circle of shocked onlookers stared in silence. I knew that a mental health therapist (who was also a family friend) was in the crowd, so I dashed off to him and asked him for help.

He came immediately, and went right to Will’s side. Together they were able to calm down our son enough to take him outside into the quiet darkness. The therapist sat with Will for a long time, talking with him and our son, offering hope and companionship.

As we drove home, Will and I both wanted to cry, because while everyone else either looked on in horror or looked away in polite denial, this man sat beside us and extended grace. Just as the young girl had that Sunday in the nursery, this therapist’s presence channeled the healing love of Jesus into our breaking hearts.

That is why I say that when you see your friends struggling with parenting, they don’t need you to sit over them in judgment. Chances are, anyway, that they are not failing as much as it appears. Likely they are facing challenges that require a unique set of skills. These parents are probably more resilient and courageous than you can imagine, and are crying to Jesus daily for wisdom. When you judge their parenting, you are essentially saying that you do not believe in who they are. You are saying that they are not worthy of raising their children.

Neither do they need you to sit out and ignore them. Ignoring sends the message that you are uncomfortable and unwilling to engage in the messy parts of their lives. It tells them that they are not worth noticing, not worth the effort to support. Ignoring says that you don’t care.

Struggling parents need their friends to willingly go to the center of their pain and sit beside them.

No pat answers, no disengaging, just sitting and holding their souls in the love of Jesus. This sitting-beside is what paves the road to redemption.

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

I Corinthians 12:26 (ESV)



How have other people “sat beside” you during hard seasons of your life?



26 thoughts on “When Parents are Failing

  1. Carolyn Thompson

    Thank you for this…. as it shows how hard it can be and that no one can judge as they do not really know…. most people “react” to how they also have been treated. Spectrum children can only handle so much …people and noise… and need our protection to know when they just cannot take an atmosphere. My son is a spectrum and he is precious, different and needs certain things to be centered in his happyness. Crowds of people is probably the last thing he wants to be in. Yet he is now a young adult and doing great. We never used drugs, or some psycho-therapist. We used honesty. We just talked about any of it. “Other people” wanted me to do so much MORE intervention, and I backed away for doing so much less. Cleaner foods (no addititives), simpler atmospheres, we stay away from dishonest people and life is good. He now is working very hard and people love him at work… he has made himself the “go=to” guy for answers as he read the full department store manual and knows how they want things done. Self driven and I am so proud I did not fall for all the “others” ideas of how to raise my child. Raise them to be happy and loved… the rest blooms! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Melanie

    Thanks for writing this! I cried most of the way through too… I know the loneliness of parenting an extra challenging child and you put words to the whole thing so beautifully. I’m also convicted of my own “standing over” and “sitting out” from time to time. Thanks for the opportunity to repent of this! I pray for grace to “sit with” others and for people willing to “sit with” me in this parenting journey.


  3. Our situation is very similar but very different. Our son has FASD rather than Autism, however I can totally relate to the loneliness, the trepidation when out in public and the heartbreak when you are wrongly judged. I took to blogging to help people understand our family and the unique challenges we face. I have found that when people understand it makes all the difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dolores Miller

    Rosina, this has touched my heart deeply. As I raise my youngest three, I realize I have been so judgmental of other parents… Thought I had it figured out with the first four. I have shed a lot of tears and spent time in intercession- and I still have one who declares there is no God- it is a humble path… A tiring journey. The best part about moving back to the states is I have friends here who get it… In Thailand I did not. What am I all saying in this, not really sure, thinking out loud I guess. But you certainly moved something in my heart… I think my passion in these next years is to walk along side mothers who – actually I won’t specify… Any mother in this day and age can use support and encouragement. I pray this is widely read by people who need to hear… I love you girl… God is using you through this blog… May He continue to provide!!!! Aunt Dolores

    Sent from my iPhone



    1. When their inner pain causes them to doubt God…that is one of the hardest things a parent can face. Many times when I urged my son to pray about his needs, he said, “I tried that and it just doesn’t work.” My comfort is in knowing that God pursues His children faithfully, and loves them even more than I can.


  5. Rebecca

    Oh, Rosina! I have been in your shoes! Our son has Williams Syndrome and has autistic tendencies. We did not get a diagnosis until he was almost 11, so we had years of people looking sideways at us. Tim is now 30 and it’s much easier to not worry about what others think. We know our son and love his special gifts. Yes, there are still hard days and occasional tears and questioning why us. Life is never going to be “normal” whatever that is. Many blessings to you on your lonely journey. May God send those people who can sit beside you. If I could, I would give you a big hug!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Debra Wolfe

    Oh, Rosina! I had no idea! How you suffered, needlessly!! But now God is using you in such beautiful ways to help the rest of us understand. Although my son does not have autism, he did have dyslexia and dysgraphia and I was so puzzled and helpless of how to help him, especially without diagnosis! It is heartbreaking for a parent whose child is hurting!! Many hugs to you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Anonymous

    One of my deepest longings is to find people who will sit with me as I fight for the child Jesus has given me and died to save… it is hard to even look up and notice others when you find yourself in such intense pain, but I know somewhere there are people who care!


  8. I was crying too reading this, and I have never been a parent….but I have been blessed by people who have sat with and walked with me in hard times. For me sometimes a touch at just the right time has meant the world. Yet, I find myself afraid at times to go hug someone who is obviously hurting or to go be there for them since I feel unequipped. This is a great reminder to be brave enough to jump into the messiness of life.


  9. K

    Thank you for this. I was convicted and ashamed of my “standing over” tendencies, esp in a specific situation. I hope this will stay in my heart and change the way I relate. “It takes courage to care, it takes strength to sympathize. “

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Rebekah

    Yes. My oldest daughter, while not autistic, has always been more… She needs more from me. This winter a phrase from a Sally Clarkson book stuck with me, “Mothers of young children need physical help, not philosophical discussions.” I try to remember that when I find myself standing over; and I remember how it was with my oldest.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Darlene Schrock

    It can be so lonely to parent a child who “is a lot.” I understand-I have a few. And that man who sat with you at the Haiti auction…one of my favorite men in the world!:)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Browsing

    Wow. I’m so sorry for the pain and isolation and rejection you were facing then. How awful. You already face too much isolation when the hearing loss gets in the way, I’m glad things have sorted a bit.

    Did you ever read the accounts Corrie ten Boom gives in some of her books about the back-and-forth conversations she and Betsie used to have with God as they laid there in their bunk in the concentration camp? I wonder if it would encourage you as to His closeness. To my knowledge Corrie never talked about the qualitative difference between her relationship with God before they were arrested and after she was released from the camp, but it’s clear it must have been a huge difference. When we’re in dire straits it’s a special opportunity.

    I wonder if you would like to be able to pray in the spirit as you cook and clean, and hold your crying children? I wonder if it would encourage you when you don’t know how to pray, and if it would encourage you in believing God’s nearness to you. It isn’t necessary to make noise– just like praying in English, you can whisper, or move your tongue with your lips closed and make no sound at all. We’re to eagerly desire the greater gifts, and tongues is the least of the gifts, so surely there should be a modicum of desire for it as well? Why don’t you ask God? (If you’re interested, I wrote my story of how I started to pray in the spirit over on Simon Fry’s blog. It’s in my comment on his “Holy Spirit….something something..Part 2” post.)

    I’m going to start praying for your son when I feel God prompt me.

    God is close to the brokenhearted.


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