“‘I’m Stupid!’ She Howled. And My Heart Fell Out”: Struggling Mom Gets Honest About Raising a Challenging Child

challenging child

I sat in the bed watching some late-night television, and as my middle daughter entered the room, I knew immediately something was wrong. She was a waif of a child, a tiny wisp, and somehow the slenderness of her face made her expressions all the more animated. A grimace crinkled her countenance, slowly becoming a mask of wailing, and I knew she was about to crumple into emotional tears.

“I’m stupid,” she howled!!

And my heart fell out. It literally came out of my body and dropped onto the floor. It had to of, but then it must have hopped back in, cause I could feel the ache of it all through my chest. I rushed to her.

I’m not normally one to jump up and rush to a crying child. I’m not trying to sound callous. Just being honest about parenting multiple, miniature, drama queens. I mean, it was no thing to hear a scream like a limb had been severed, only to discover the cause was something akin to a broken crayon. But this was different. My sweet, sensitive star was proclaiming insults over herself, but it was more than that. At her tone I had felt a sense of defeat in her voice, as if she was finally admitting to herself the negative connotations floating around out there.

As I reached her side she was confessing, “I spilled my drink! Again!”

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A chocolate, protein drink (provided by me to help add a few ounces, at least, to her spindly frame) sat overturned in a puddle of sticky brown, soaking into the carpet, and streaked across the pages of her favorite, Bible story book. She was right about the again part. She had just spilled another of these pricy drinks in the kitchen less than a half hour earlier, but she was wrong about the “stupid” part. So I went about trying to convince her of that, while her dad mopped up thick, chocolate liquid from the hallway. Parenting was hard, man.

I mentioned as much to my husband later. I complimented his gentle handling of the situation, and he expressed my own heart in return, how hearing her ridicule herself had broken our hearts. Had we said things in the past to make her feel this way? Or to make her feel less? Probably. When you sign up for Parenting at the local job fair, no one explains how you can scar a human for life if you aren’t careful. I wasn’t one of these softie-types, who let the kids rule the roost. We believed in discipline, for sure, but we also believed in love. Every child needs both, but some need each piece in different doses.

I could correct my oldest and she’d try to argue with me about it. I could correct the youngest and she blew me off, or wrung out some fake tears of manipulation. The middle one, though. Each word she took to heart. Each word, I had learned over the years, had to be measured carefully. Like I had told my husband that same night, “she’s the child that makes you want to lose your cool the most, but she’s also the child who takes you losing your cool the hardest.”

She was my sensitive soul. She cried with pain when she felt she disappointed anyone. She was accident-prone. Yet her tears were usually less about the pain of her mishap, and more about the disappointment she felt over the incident happening at all. Your human brain wanted to scream, “you klutz!” But your mother heart usually scooped in with a “it’s ok, baby. Accidents happen.”

I had learned when she was around three years old that I would need to handle her differently than I had her older sister. I could see it shining in her big, brown eyes. Something different, something spectacular. I had never seen a child so concerned with the feelings of others. I had never seen such a young child surrender her spot in line, her turn to others, or even the last piece of cake. She was a tiny thing, but somehow carried a heart bigger than the ocean. I knew God had created the most wonderful, caring spirit. I realized then that my job would be to cultivate that, and not to dim it. I wondered how many selfless souls had once existed in little bodies, but had suffered the world taking their shine away? I didn’t want to be responsible for that.

And so began the journey of parenting my special sprite. It. Was. Hard. It still is. Sometimes when she cries loudly over something I consider ridiculous I want to scream, “am I in an insane asylum, or something?!” I can’t promise I’ve never uttered those words. All I know is, God has a beautiful plan for this challenging child, and my main goal is to show her more of Jesus, and less of what I think she needs to be. Many times when I pray for her I ask the Lord not to change her, but to help me parent her the best way I can. I ask Him to give me wisdom, to help me lead her to becoming the young woman He has for her to be.

If she was in public school I’m pretty sure somewhere along the way a teacher would suggest medication for ADHD. She’s so hyper sometimes, full of energy and giggles. Sometimes I have to make her stop moving, look into my eyes and focus to hear the instructions I’m giving. I’m grateful we can provide tactile learning in an environment that stimulates her particular style of education. I would hate to see medication change the person she is.

She’s frightened easily. She cannot walk by Halloween decorations or the horror movie section in electronics. If she doesn’t like the “feeling” of a place, she’s ready to go home. If it’s too loud, she doesn’t want any part of it. Yet, in the quietness of our home or vehicle, she’s the loudest kid I know. The shy, timid one among strangers, but the class clown and comedian of family gatherings. I think her giggles could fuel a flight to the moon.

She’s a happy girl. She loves so passionately. She prays for strangers at night. She teaches me how to be compassionate to others, when I am lacking that part of me. She reminds us all how to be better human beings, each and every day. Every time I look at her I am in awe of her beauty, and each night I thank God that I get to be her mommy. I sometimes feel like I fall short in raising her, but I also cannot imagine a better blessing in life. A practice in patience, but also a treasure chest of never-ending joy. That’s the best way I know to describe raising a challenging child. I only pray I can do it well.

Brie Gowen
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Brie Gowen is a 30-something (sliding ever closer to 40-something) wife and mother. When she’s not loving on her hubby, chasing after the toddler or playing princess with her four-year-old, she enjoys cooking, reading and writing down her thoughts to share with others. Brie is also a huge lover of Jesus. She finds immense joy in the peace a relationship with her Savior provides, and she might just tell you about it sometime. She’d love for you to check out her blog at