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When It All Stops Working


This mothering gig that I had thought would be so natural, so full of blessings, so perfect. Oh, of course I wasn’t totally naïve. I mean, you only have to be a parent for a full ten minutes before you think to yourself, Self, what have I done? But all in all, I wasn’t super concerned.

I was parenting God’s way after all.

I was putting God first, then my husband, then my kids. (Actually, I was part of a pretty controlling cult, so it was, in truth: God, kingdom, spouse, children. I have absolutely no idea where I fit in.)

We went to church all the time. We knocked on doors, sharing our faith. We prayed with and for our kids. We read to them from their pint-sized Bibles. I took parenting classes from supposedly godly women who had gone before me. I read Christian based parenting books by the stacks and applied everything I could.

We – us Millennial Mamas – were going to have different results.

Our children were going to love the Lord and love their family. They weren’t going to rebel. It was guaranteed! Scriptures like Teach your children the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it rang in our heads. They would never disrespect anyone, ever.

They would be intelligent beings, of the world, but not in the world.

They would be pure and innocent. They would love their families and their church families so much that they would never even consider jumping ship.

Heck, I wasn’t even worried.

We had this in the bag.

And then … something happened.

Our children – oh, maybe not all of them, maybe not even one per family – began a silent rebellion. What are they rebelling against? we asked ourselves at night when we couldn’t sleep. Where did we go wrong? What have we done?

My daughter, at the age of thirteen, was brought home by the police. She smoked pot. She snuck out. She had a mouth like a sailor when I wasn’t around. She began questioning the existence of God, because everyone knew that people who believed in God were uneducated and didn’t think for themselves.

She cut her hair in a mohawk and dyed it blue. Then green. Then red. Then black. For a few months she only wore boy’s clothing and informed me she was pan-gender (don’t worry, I had to look it up, too). Then she went from that to dressing provocatively. By fifteen she was sexually active and flunking high school. Worse than that were the lies. They dripped from her mouth like honey. We never knew what was a lie and what was true. My relationship with my sweet, spunky, delightfully mature daughter had disintegrated into the kind that I used to silently judge when I saw it modeled in other people’s family.

We had become the other people’s kind of family.

Where was the kid I signed up for? The one who would frolic merrily off to Youth Group (instead of getting kicked out)? The one who would wear cute, stylish, yet modest outfits around town? The one who would boast a purity ring, and only court, never *gasp* date?

Um, hello, Lord, but this was not what we agreed upon sixteen years ago. You need to check your records.

For more than a year, we kept our secrets. We went to church and changed the subject if it veered into a territory we weren’t ready to talk about. We didn’t want to gossip about our own kid, not even in a safe space. We didn’t want to say things we regretted or get the wrong advice.

And, I’m not gonna lie, we were desperately hoping it was a phase. Something we could look back on and laugh about.

But after months and months of soggy, wet pillows to lay our exhausted heads on while listening for the sound of the front door opening (or a bedroom window), hours spent in counseling sessions that weren’t helping, and one memorable Date Night with the hubby where we walked down to Juvenile Courts and inquired about filing for emancipation (now you just don’t know romance if you haven’t done that, am I right?), we were thoroughly spent.

Nothing changed her heart.

Little by little, we began to let people know… things were not good in our house. We had laid down the law and she had called our bluff. Ground her for all of eternity? Did it. Remove everything from her room? Tried it. Treat her as a boarder with a rental agreement? Check and check. Nothing worked. Nothing changed her heart.

The reactions from people were mixed. Some were saddened for us, but simply could not relate. Sure, their children had bad days, but life was a joy. Homeschooling was a constant source of happiness. Their kids rose up and called them blessed. They gave us sorrowful looks and I knew what they were thinking. I knew, because I used to be them. They must not have said I-love-you often enough. I bet their marriage is failing and that’s why the kid is rebelling. They really don’t pray enough. I saw it coming. They should have spent more one on one time with her. They should be in a better church. They never should have done that year at public school. What did they expect? I would never have allowed that in my house.

Other reactions were ones of solidarity and I’ve-been-there. In fact, it turns out, we have a bit of an epidemic on our hands, us Millennial Mamas. The ones who read the same books I did. They listened to the same well-meaning women. They said the same prayers and sang the same hymns and did the same devotionals.

This wasn’t supposed to happen to us.

But it did.

And we’re sad. And we’re broken. And we’re ashamed. And we’re angry. At least during the times when we can muster enough energy to feel anything at all.

Why we were so surprised I can’t say. If I could actually be half the mother I planned on being, I guess I wouldn’t need Jesus.

(Is this what the verse about women being saved in childbearing means? That if we can survive this, we get a fast pass to Heaven? If not, don’t tell me otherwise. I’m clinging to this hope, I don’t care how theologically inaccurate it is.)

So, while we wait for our babies to come to their senses – whether it will take a year or thirty – and hopelessly watch them make decisions that rip the bandaids right off our fresh wounds every day, we say to you, mamas of sweet babes, that we will not judge you. We will not judge you or question your methods or ask if you had enough family devotionals. We will not rage at you if your child falls in a gorilla habitat or is attacked by an alligator while your back was turned. We will not jeer at you if your son comes out as gay, nor will we whisper behind our hands at you if we see your daughter come out of a Planned Parenthood clinic.

We will never make false promises to you that if do A you will get B. Because sometimes … sometimes, little mommies, you get Z. And it isn’t your fault. You don’t have rebellious teenagers or drug-addicted preteens because you didn’t do your job when they were preschoolers, and we won’t stand by and let anyone tell you that. No one, do you understand? Not a grandmother or a teacher or a pastor or a friend. We will take them on for you because we know you’re tired.

Do your best

Pray your heart out. Read and get advice if you must. But most of all, be prepared for the unexpected. Love your babies no matter what or who they become. This is their walk and their path and their life, and you get to be a part of it, no matter how small that part turns out to be.

The author has chosen to remain anonymous for this article out of privacy for her family, but can be reached for correspondence or comments through

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