What to do with that child who just doesn't fit in... and who pushes all of your buttons!

2013 Family Day Mueller 109
2013 Family Day Mueller 109

My 4--one adhd, ocd, odd; three compulsive ocd children, one obsessively fearful child, two introverts, two extraverts, two very driven and orderly, two out of the box, totally non-conformist. Two somewhat compliant, two who questioned everything I said and did. One actor-producer; one full time writer (books, blogs), one debater and trainer-leader; one dreamer and musical composer. (Aren't they cute?)

I am no expert, except on my own journey as a mom of such different children, who did not all fit the box of the norm--whatever that is!

Take a deep breath--it is a long journey, this motherhood call. Yet, it will be the making of your faith and character and will shape the character of the next generation.

No two alike--yet now I see that God created all of them to have different dreams, different work, different calls on their lives--yet all are so deeply connected with invisible threads that make them undeniably Clarkson's, fiercely loyal and best of friends.

There were times when I thought God had pushed me just too far.

I had learning issues to deal with, differing personalities, behavioral issues and just did not think I was a natural mom. I did love my kids a lot, but often felt over my head.  Yet, now these many years later, it is easy to read back and see why the kids were so different and why God gave me out of the box kids.

And even, in spite of some of their challenges, they were able to become healthy adults, though at least 2 still deal on a daily basis with their long term issues, and always will. Many adults have hidden medical, mental and emotional issues that are not evident on the surface because they have learned to cope in a healthy way with their own puzzles. Often they hide mental illness or learning issues because they wanted to be understood, and understanding often came from learning to fit in.

I believe it was the culture of freedom, grace, faith we engaged in through our home culture, that God must have known what He was doing to give me such children. Slowly, I came to a philosophy of believing in dreams, the unique design of God on their lives, and avoiding competition or comparison amongst my children. I searched for who they were inside where their hearts beat with passions, interests, loves in life and that helped them to become healthy adults. As a young mama, I did not know or understand all of the letters that represent problematic issues with children (Add, Adhd, odd, ocd, mental illness, etc.) and yet,  eventually, I could see that several of my children had some unusual, out of the box issues.

In a moment of frustration, my mother said, "Well, you are just getting what you deserve. What goes around comes around, because you were the child who would lay on the floor and throw fits if you didn't get your way. You threw a fit when your brothers got guns and holsters and all you got was a doll. You threw your doll across the room, wrestled down your brother and almost undressed him when you tried to confiscate his gun and holster."

That didn't help.  I just didn't know how to handle one of my children until I learned his cues, but had no helpful or informative input. But learn I did and little by little we made it all the way through childhood alive! There are some basic tenets of Biblical design that helped me free my children to be themselves.

1. I believed that God had crafted them uniquely by design to fulfill a calling on their lives.  Their very different personalities would eventually show me why they were so different and what they were made to do. Sarah was reading books hundreds of pages long when she was 6.  Joel was harmonizing when he was 3. Nathan just couldn't do math--or grammar rules but was writing stories 100 pages when he was 12, if he dictated them to me, as he couldn't spell, either.  Always, Nathan wanted to have  his own way and do things that he had thought up in his brain.  (my creative inventor). Slowly, slowly, I taught him to choose to submit his strong will to Clay and me so that we could train his character, his values, his decisions.  Then there was Joy. Talking and questioning me from the day she was born who  is ended up in college with a debate scholarship  :O)

I learned to just love the unique people God had formed inside of me,  when He crafted my children for a specific purpose.

Now, Sarah has become a writer, finishing her degree at Oxford, and she is still reading hundreds of books. Joel is a composer, still singing,  working on film and television scores, producing his own original music.. Nathan is dreamed his own way through Hollywood--launching his first film under incredibly difficult circumstances. Joy entered college at 17, is on a debate scholarship--and is still questioning all issues, but now I can see it was a gift, not a detriment. Now she is getting her masters in theology at St. Andrews--all those questions are still bubbling up, but now they are focussed on bigger issues, perhaps to fulfill her long term work.

And the others had some interesting issues--but each required unique wisdom to understand their motivations and hearts and limitations, so that I could parent them according to their own bent. Study your children and pray for insight.


Out of the box kids may be in the box of God's plans.

Six Ways that helped give me grace with my "different" children

1.  I looked for my children's unique personality traits. I tried to understand them when they struggled with our training or discipline to figure out how to speak to the heart of the personality God had given them and asked for insight into these differences that seemed to create stress in our relationship.

 I have seen so many children rebel when they were forced to live within the parameters of conformity and legalism and when their parents tried to control them as young adults instead of setting them free to exercise their own spiritual, emotional and mental muscle.

Pressure to conform turns a child away from the heart of God, because a child is made to know the acceptance God has for them--as He made them the way they are. I am not speaking of not disciplining or training your child, but of making sure  parenting is not working against the very way God made them to "tick," so to speak.

2. Don't try to train a child with learning issues or mental or emotional issues through harsh discipline or by using guilt. If a child has poor vision, you could not make him able to see by spanking him. He just needs glasses. A mentally ill child also needs medical help.

In other words, accept the limitations of their disabilities and learning issues. And children with medical or learning issues may require more of you their whole lives—it may never be easy. It is a part of the puzzle God has asked you to live by faith and grace. 

Read and inform yourself the best you can about any issues your child is exhibiting. I researched all sorts of material on OCD and educated myself on what caused it, how to recognize it, how to deal with it when it was severe, (and yes, a couple of my children struggle with it excessively, clinically and will probably forever.)

I received some very idiotic advice from some people who were uneducated and were not knowledgeable about my children's issues, and learned discernment of how to throw out the foolish input I received. (""You just need to spank your child more," was heard many times. But that would never change the brain structure of my children with learning disabilities--it would just make them angry and frustrated.)

I was advised that all children who struggled with mental illness were possibly demon possessed, from one friend. (Does that mean that children who can't hear well or see well or have an illness are also demon possessed because they have a physical weakness?! of course not.) So be careful of who you choose to advise you--there are all sorts of opinionated people who offer no wisdom or insight at all.

3. Make the issues you "stand strong on" with your children Biblical principles. (fruit of the spirit training, telling the truth, learning to respect others, practicing wisdom) and not external rules of behavior.

In other words, focus on the heart issues, not the external issues.  Your child may choose a different style of clothing, or like different artists in music or have a different sense of humor or be quieter than you--but that does not make their personality wrong--just different.

Enforce the non-negotiables and accept the gray areas that are a matter of taste and personality, but are not an issue of righteousness. (I remember that in some circles I was surrounded by, any young man who wore a necklace was condemned outright--or a girl who wore 2 earrings on one ear, or tattoos, or rock music or clothing--how long, how modest, etc. I have found that if you are cultivating the inside standards of heart, the outside usually conforms to acceptable behavior. But parents may lose the trust of their children if they focus on external man-made rules as the Pharisees did, instead of looking at the character of their children.)

Your children will probably be different, in some ways, than some of your values because they are of a different generation and may have differing personalities. Don't expect your children to confirm to cookie cutter proportions--no two children are alike.

4. If you have a very difficult child, or one so different than your personality that it is an issue daily, be sure to get some breaks for yourself. Fill your own heart with friends who love and accept you and understand you. Take time to have un-pressured time away from the "always problematic child" so that you can gain perspective and also so you can maintain your commitment to love the child.  Grow in patience. It is a work of life. Refueling is essential, so we can continue to be gracious mamas.  Some children are difficult for many, many years, but they will mature and respond in time. Don't feel guilty if you need a little break from your children to gain perspective and to restore.

5. Remember that God loves you. He has not made a mistake. He has not trusted you with more than you can handle. 

He will give grace, but it is usually one step at a time.

My most difficult children are the ones who have given me the most relevant examples in m ministry to help other parents have wisdom in their own lives. If I had not struggled with my children and their issues, I would have never developed compassion with other normal mamas. The very problems and burdens drove me to God and to seek out more wisdom. He sees, He understands, He will lead, and he can open the hearts of our children in His time to cause them to respond to us and to help us to learn to respond in love to them.

6. Extend grace for gender, (boys have testosterone -and may be louder and more active, though that does not mean they are ADHD. But my girls are wonderful spiritual warriors, and very strong in personality and strong-minded, as well and great thinkers and teachers. Girls' hormones pre-dispose them to be mothers and nurturers—but boys can also be used by God to be gentle and practical--some male nurses are the most strategic in hospitals.

Don’t live by limiting paradigms that are not truly Biblical. God is a God of variety and diversity. He is the one who made zebras and peacocks and mice and elephants--let us not prejudice ourselves by false standards of what our children can and cannot do, because of arbitrary cultural definitions.

God made men who were artisans for the temple and woman who saved a battle by  cutting off the head of a king, because the men were cowards; men who were great warriors and women who influenced historical decisions--Esther.  Just use wisdom as God slowly reveals the design of your child and guide him with wisdom and faith.

Extend grace for age--don't be too hard on your first child, or micro-manage them. This can create problems in children that  cause young mothers to suppose there are learning issues or behavioral issues, when their children are perfectly normal, but under too much pressure to "behave a certain way" before they are able. Sometimes when young children are pushed too early, they react out of defense and then behavioral problems develop.  

Don't try to force your 3 year old to sit still to homeschool---give them room to breathe, to grow up into maturity, to play, to develop. We tend to rush our children when they are small instead of letting them be age appropriate in their behavior. Give them time and space to grow and to mature--it is a slow process for all of us. (As Clay once said to me, "How old were you when you quit sinning?!) Obviously I was expecting my children to be more perfect than I had ever been. Too much pressure and guilt creates misbehavior and rebellion.

So much more to say, but these are a few thoughts to answer some questions I have received. I pray it helps and pray for you mamas trying to figure it all out!

It is our sanctification and our humbling to raise the children God uniquely gave to us, but also our gift that God uses to shape us in the direction of His love and wisdom. God will give you understanding to be able to act wisely with your out of the box kids. May God give you the ability to breathe and to find freedom and grace for each of your days, and may you know you are not alone.