When Your Family Falls Apart

How I've responded to the most painful parenting reality

Children sometimes grow up and walk away from the love of their family. The experience shakes your world. Nothing has been more painful, but I have learned to respond appropriately.

Easter 2016.

Easter 2016.

Many of my friends are going through family turmoil. We all had thought parenting would grow easier as kids launch into adulthood. It gets tougher. Of my friends I know of “kids” running away, sleeping around, stringing themselves up on drugs, etc., etc. How naive we were to think we’d escape the pangs of parenting. If you’re going through trials like these, my heart bleeds for you.

Disillusionment, depression and anger can overwhelm you. In fact, they can ruin you.

They nearly ruined me, as I’ve witnessed firsthand how these feelings destroy other parents. Your child did not realize the devastation they were wreaking on you or the rest of the family. They likely thought they were just “walking away,” perhaps feeling it was for their own good. It is so easy and so, so common for parents to respond as Wendy and I have with each of these feelings…

  • Disillusionment. I put a lot of hope in my parenting. What parent doesn’t? When it came crashing down, the temptation was to think that I sucked as a human being. Do you identify? The truth is that no, you don’t suck. You are a good mom/dad and you did the best you could. If anything, you have other children who need you to be strong, just as strong as you were to the sibling who left. Even stronger.
  • Depression. Whenever I realize that I cannot change my circumstance, I feel hopeless. I am not able to control an adult child, but I have complete control of me. So do you. Turn away for a moment from your hopeless situation and focus on the blessings that aren’t hopeless. Your kid may have left your family, but the rest of your family remains—your spouse, your other children, your extended family. You’re not as hopeless as you think.
  • Anger. The children who leave do not see the fallout. They likely believe they “escaped,” but the rest of the family feels sad, abandoned, shamed. I can easily get wound up in anger, reprimanding them in my head, imagining what I would say to them when they come to realize the harm they have caused. I need to resist this anger for the black abyss that it is. If anything will bring me to ruin, it is anger in my heart.

I still wrestle with these feelings now and again, but I’m glad they did not manifest themselves into who I am as a father. Disillusionment, depression and anger must be consistently fought against, for my own good as well as my family’s. If these three manifested feelings gain a foothold in my home, it will lead to more heartache and pain.

Trust me on this. If you let disillusionment, depression and anger win, you will suffer in the long run. Some day your “prodigal” children will return. In their own way, of course, not in the way your mind has conjured up, but they most definitely will return. If you don’t dispel these three feelings, your first encounter may look like…

  • Disillusionment. “How dare you show yourself back to the family you disgraced.”
  • Depression: “Don’t you realize what you have done to your family?”
  • Anger: “Go away; you are not welcome here; you have walked away and this is no longer your home.”

Do you see how this can ruin your family even more? As justified as you think your feelings are, manifesting these feelings into strongholds in your home will build walls that may never be overcome. Chances are the so-called “prodigal” children gathered a lot of courage to return home and attempt to connect with you. They may not be totally apologetic, but desiring at least some reconciliation. Returning the attempt with disillusionment, depression and anger will only trigger them further away from the family. Perhaps to the point of no return.

Your family is not falling apart. In fact, you are a much healthier family today than you were when the conflict began.

As long as you don’t give these three desperate feelings stronghold in your home, you will overcome your trial and become stronger. Feelings of disillusionment, depression and anger will fade away.

Especially when the children return to the family, these feelings turn into encouragement, joy and love.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I want to give you a hug, man.

    A lot of this in our family. No, we will never be perfect. But we are learning how to be a family with all of our unique differences.

    Keep being an encouragement to parents. You’ve crossed the Red Sea and now you have a powerful message of hope and love that can be bring restitution to so many other families.

    I hope they listen.

    Side note: the fact that I have commented on your last three blog posts probably means that I am now your biggest stalker.

    • Thanks Quinton. I don’t mind the stalking…and virtual hugs are just fine. 🙂

  • Kathi

    Perhaps as a parent we need to look at what WE did wrong to force this so called “prodigal” child away. Parenting is not a one size fits all process. Each child is different, has different skills, talents, needs, desires, etc. So, if as a parent we try to “control” them with a one size fits all way of thinking, there is no doubt in my mind you will “lose” some if not most of them. By using the word “prodigal” seems to me you are putting all the blame on the child and taking no responsibility for your part as to why one or more children make these very difficult decisions.