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

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, differing personalities, behavioral issues and just did not think I was a natural mom. Yet, 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.

I believe it was the culture of freedom, grace, faith that God must know what He was doing to give me such children and believing in dreams, the unique design of God on their lives, and avoiding competition or comparison amongst my children, 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, 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 and that 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. –and always wanted to have his own way and do things that he had thought up in his brain.  (my creative inventor) Then there was Joy. Talking and questioning me from the day she was born and is now on a debate scholarship speaking for profit! :O)

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

Now, Sarah has written 2 books and has foregone the college path. Joel is a composer working in California on film and television scores. Nathan is dreaming his own way in 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.

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 for God’s plans.

So, 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 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. If a child has poor vision, you could not make him able to see by spanking him. He just needs glasses.

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 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 heard 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 were made to defend, battle and to become warriors for great purposes–and may be louder and more active, though that does not mean they are add. But my girls are wonderful spiritual warriors, and very strong in personality and strong-minded, as well and great thinkers and teachers. Girls are also made to help-meet needs–hormones pre-dispose them to be mothers—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 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.

PS Give a book for Christmas–something that will change lives forever! (Desperate: Kindle Edition is just $2.99 for a special Christmas sale, over soon. 10 Gifts will give you and your mama friends new inspiration for the New Year as you train your children with eternal values. (Place your curser on the pictures and you will find them at Amazon.) May you be blessed and inspired!




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  1. Elle says

    I soooo needed to hear this. I was my mothers problem child, the one who pushed everyone’s buttons. The loud-mouth, the stubborn, the opinionated. I also was the one who came to Christ first. And now homeschooling 3 young precious willful kids I find that I’m impatient and ungracious. I also feel I can’t relate to many Christian moms I know whose children are obedient and compliant. I’m always thinking “what’s the matter with me!!!”…and I get into a depression because a NON quiet and gentle person is not producing quiet and gentle kids. Oh thank you for your encouragement! Would love your prayers because I’m alone in this journey.

    • Renee says

      Elle, I am so thankful for your comment! I feel the exact same way much of the time, except that I was a quiet and mostly obedient child (went a little wayward in high school/college). My husband and I are both pretty quiet, actually, and God has seen fit to give us three willful, LOUD, rambunctious children! I love them to pieces, but often think that I must be doing something really wrong because that person over there has 6+ kids who are all so well-mannered and obedient! (sigh) And I do become impatient and ungracious. But it is encouraging to hear and know that each child is born with a certain temperament and that God has made them “just so” for a reason. I just keep praying for wisdom–lots of it!!–and the strength to love them well.

  2. Jen says

    Oh, Sally! Thanks for this lovely post. I have one ocd ( o only) child (so far) out of four. It comes out of the blue and is scary at first. Thankfully, I was able to research and realize how to deal with it, but it is a challenge and a constant worry.
    I really appreciate your view on training the heart, rather than pushing external rules. Its easy to fall to rules because it seems like a way to measure obedience to God.
    My husband says he is glad I have you as a friend, as he sees it has been hard for me to find friends with similar beliefs and values.
    I hope to see you at the California conference in Irvine; my sister and I plan to register to attend.
    Thanks for all the encouragement ( and friendship!).

  3. Courtney says

    Thank you so much for this encouraging post!!! My son has Aspergers and while he has grown out of the stage of making scenes in public, he still has anger issues to deal with. He is so much like me! My little girl is six and a handful; I am the mom people stare at in public like I am a bad mother. My family has told me she is out of control and we don’t discipline enough. We were asked not to come back to girl scouts because she couldn’t sit still (in a major way) and I have been asked by the director of our homeschool groups Christmas play to closely monitor her. She seems so disobedient but I can’t help but wonder if she can help it. I feel like I need help but my husband and I hesitate to get a doctor involved. My nine month old was born with separation anxiety-I kid you not. She is an extremely high needs baby and I don’t seem to get anything done and I’m trying not to stress out about how my home looks!! My husband and I joke that surly we are due for a ‘normal’ child. I feel like I’m complaining but I’m truly not trying to, I just feel alone and in need of help and prayer. Thank you for encouraging me to see their hearts and love them the way God made them!

    • says

      Courtney your daughter sounds like my little boy. When he was 2 they diagnosed him with Sensory Processing Disorder. When I read your comment I felt like I was reading about myself. My heart goes out to you and you are in my prayers. God Bless!

  4. says

    What a blessing this was to read. I remember trying the “spanking more” suggestion when my 2 year old was struggling… what he was really struggling with was Sensory Processing Disorder (among his other birth injury challenges)… what I thought was behavioral issues was really mental… oh, the guilt! If only I’d listened to my God-given mama instincts. Once we worked WITH the SPD, what a change that made!

    I quickly learned that while there are good suggestion… not all fit every kid and we need God and our Mama Instinct to discern.

  5. Billie Ruth Bingham says

    Thank you so much for your encouraging post. I appreciate the encouragement to focus on their hearts. This met me right where I am today. My son is very active, creative and different than I am. Some days I wonder what to do with him to train him to be more “normal.” After reading this post, I realized even more that he is “normal” just not what I thought was “normal.” God has given each of us a unique personality and the opportunity to grow in Christ-likeness through the experiences of life. Thanks for the reminder that focusing on biblical character training is what will matter most – not getting him to clean his room to my standard. As always, your words encourage and challenge me to be a better mom. Thanks.
    Billie Ruth

  6. Marlene says

    Oh thank you Sally. This post comes in just the right moment!! It is so hard to keep focus on God’s design for our children when their behaviors don’t fall in line as our friends kids do or even how relatives/friends think they should. I so appreciate the reminder that as momma I need to keep looking to their heart and continue in heart training. I need to persevere in parenting according to God’s plan and stop allowing friends and strangers pressure me. I also need to schedule time with a momma or two that trully understands parenting special needs. My precious two God gave me tend to not fit in socially and I am constantly told how their manners and their behaviors not up to par. My daughter is Sensory Processing Disorder and Tactile Defensiveness (although most days she doesn’t exhibit too much she has her quirks she is still maturing to handle and she is still learning how to deal with textures and tastes and smells at the table) and my son has speech apraxia, vision problems, and falls on autism spectrum. I so love them and in the quietness of our home most days I embrace God’s design but days are long and tough and this momma gets tired and then it seems there is always a helpful person full of advice on how to parent them better or correct their behaviors that make that other person uncomfortable. Then in my tiredness it’s very sad that I start trying to work on behaviors for other’s benefits. Thank God for His grace in those times but I need to stay on my knees and keep the course and parent on God’s advice as He gave me these 2 for a reason and I can trust Him to guide me.

  7. Doug says

    Your two paragraphs before point number 2 are so spot on. I WAS that child and have MAJOR issues in trusting others and believing that I’ll EVER be acceptable to God as a result. There’s so much in what you wrote that I’m so glad you were able to see through the religious advice and smoke screen and see what was best for your kids. They are VERY fortunate to have you as their mom. At the mid point of life, I’m of the mindset that in a lot of cases people who grew/grow up in a traditional or religious non relational environment as opposed to a home that points them to Jesus and explore their own faith are more damaged than those who grew up in a home with no spiritual influence whatsoever. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this!

  8. Cathy says

    Thank you for this…exactly what I needed to hear today. As a child, I was the compliant (though a bit OCD, even still) child, but really struggled with the legalism in the church I grew up in as a young adult (and sometimes still). My five are also all different, and at times I find it very challenging knowing how to appropriately parent my children who are very opposite of my own personality. Really, even the ones who aren’t different present their own challenges. I was discussing parenting and legalism and how to hopefully change that with my own children just last night, then this was in my feed this morning. Still amazes me how the Lord does that!

  9. Shellly says

    Reading the other comments made me feel in good company. I am a foster/adopt mom and out of 31 children we have had in our home, I have heard so much “good advice” from other parents of calm obedient (never been thru trama) mamas. I was told to spank, told that one of my children was probably demon possessed, told my child was not welcome in social situations and more. Yet I know God loved each one of them deeply. (as do I) I needed to be reminded to focus on their hearts and their relationship with God. I have no true friends except my Spouse. I wish we could have a troubled mama club. hahaha. I will be praying for all you and ask that you pray for me. God Bless you all. And Sally, thank you for your consistent words of encouragement. They are a lifeline for me.

    • Lola Conley says

      My survival during the days that were different and difficult, the days when I didn’t know what to do and was sure that what i was choosing to do was wrong and was wounding my child — during those days I also learned. 1. God knew me when he placed that child in my home. Knew me, my faults, my strengths. 2. He knew how i would help my child and How I would injure. Just as He knew me, he knew my future and the results those future actions would bring. 3. And in God’s greatness He has a plan to use my faults to build strong places in my children’s hearts. I can sit back and rejoice for God has taken the parts of my child that I tore down and He will build them up higher. He will heal them. And in this healing they will be drawn to His great love and find understanding for my faults. 4. Therefore I have never been in this alone.

  10. Tonya says

    Thank you so much for this post! I desperately needed to hear this this morning, every single word of it. As is so often the case, the Lord used you to speak so clearly the exact words my heart needed to hear. I literally sent two children out the door with my husband and sat down feeling discouraged and defeated by the resistance and battles that had already occurred within the first hour of the day. Opened my computer and read this. I know their strength will serve them well one day but it can sure wear a momma out in the shaping years! :) Thank you, Lord, for encouraging me…literally instilling courage in me to face this task of motherhood for another day! And thank you, Sally, for your always timely and well spoken word.

  11. Carrie says

    In reading the posts and comments from the last few days, it makes me sad to read of so many moms that are hearing condemning remarks from others, whether about putting up Christmas decorations or about how they are raising their kids. Maybe I have been blessed to grow up in non-legalistic churches–not sure what it is, but I honestly didn’t realize that Christians gave each other such a hard time about what my branch of Christianity would call the “non-essentials” of the faith. I love this quote by one of the early German reformers (not Luther himself, but not far from Luther, historically), encouraging Christians not to set up battle lines about the grey areas of the faith. Translated from Latin, it reads: “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.” (I guess the problem comes when we can’t all agree on what constitutes the doctrinal “essentials,” LOL!)

    I hope all moms on here experience the joy and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in a new way this season!

    • Sherri says

      Thanks for sharing that quote! I love it! I first heard it decades ago in my church & have been looking for it recently. I’ve hear it attributed to St. Augustine, Luther and other people, so I’m not sure who really said it, but it is so true.

  12. heartkeeper says

    There is so much wisdom here! Thank you for this kind encouragement, Sally! You are such a rare voice. This is another of your posts I will be referring to again. Thank you!

  13. Jennifer says

    Thanks for the great post! I have one child that I was also encouraged to spank/discipline harsher and now the older he gets I understand why I felt in my heart it would be the wrong thing to do to him. I am now reaping the rewards of following the path of the Spirit instead of caving fearfully to the people around me. Merry Christmas!

  14. Sally says

    Love all of your comments today. Praying for each of you sweet ones–you are the champions of history being made today–you bring such hope and life.

  15. Shawna Wingert says

    Thank you so much for your willingness to share your family’s unique, wonderful design. As a momma of two “mysterious boys”, I am grateful for your reminder of God’s grace and plan. I am also deeply grateful to feel a sense of community in this – following the Holy Spirit daily in parenting my boys, at times feels deeply isolating. Other, well intentioned, sweet mom friends often try to speak into my circumstances, but they can’t possibly understand the differences autism and severe learning disabilities have created in our day to day life. I needed a mom who knows (deeply, intrinsically knows) to affirm and gently guide. Thank you for being that mom this morning. I am looking forward to my third MomHeart conference in CA this year, and can’t begin to describe how much God has used your ministry in my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  16. says

    This, dear Sally, is what I have been waiting for you to write. Thank you so much! This is the most helpful blog post for me. I am encouraged and hopeful. Blessings to you and Merry Christmas! I am so sad that I had to miss the Christmas Tea!

    Shannon C

  17. Chelsea says

    Sally, thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Thank you not only for this great article, but for all the things you teach us moms. Your books and conferences have taught this first-generation Christian mom so much. I really would feel lost without your advice!

  18. Lisa Ruppert says

    Thank you, Sally for speaking such wisdom to Moms across the world. You are imparting wisdom that is hard to find anywhere else with all the “formula” books out there. My heart is ever-grateful that you are doing what God has called you to do. What a difference you are making in us Mamas and the next generation will be better for it.


  19. Erin says

    Add me to the list of those who NEEDED to hear this this morning!! Thank you, once again, Sally. I am so very blessed by you as a young Christian mom. I too feel like the one with the most difficult child in my circle of mom friends. Nothing diagnosed for my very strong willed, opinionated three year old girl, but I don’t know how far to go as far as medical intervention. Pretty sure there’s some OCD and/or ADHD in there. I love what someone up there said about forming a club! In all seriousness, is that a possibility?! An online forum or something??

  20. Kim Allen says

    Sitting alone in my bedroom tonight…wondering how on earth to put another foot forward – I happened to open up on your mail. Your words are just what I needed to hear.

  21. Helen says

    Thank you Sally for sharing about your own parenting struggles. It is easy for me to think that your children were easier and brighter than mine, than most children even and that you couldn’t possibly u derstand my struggles but when you speak plainly describing the difficulties you faced everyday I feel a sense of hope. Maybe I can do this maybe we will get there in the end. You encourage me to keep trying with my difficult one, to go gently, to pray more and just keep on, to love him more.

    Thank you Sally for being so honest and for taking the time to support all of us Mums.

  22. Ruth says

    Thank you for your insight! It is a relief to hear from someone who has been through it while I am still in the trenches. Our child has multiple learning and behavioural issues – could you point me toward some authors/books on discipline for children like these? I agree – spanking does not work with kids like these, but neither does reasoning or giving choices or timeouts or….. We’re at our wits end and have not been able to find the right help for him (and believe me, we have and are trying everything). Thank you!

  23. sue says

    this is exactly what i needed to hear. Our first year homeschooling, i know i made the right choice, but i also have out of the box kids, that is leading me to pursue God’s grace to love and understand how to train them up each uniquely. I have felt alone much as a parent, homeschooling in our church community, and also very challenging parenting stuff that not a lot of my friends are currently going through. It’s encouraging learning from other moms in this. I love this perspective and it encourages me to keep going in what God has called me to.

  24. Tara says

    This was incredible. The parts that resonated with me:
    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.

    2. I just didnt know how to hand one of my children until I learned his cues.
    ( I constantly felt like I was failing my son, all the ” helping advice” from others took me further away from my son, rather than following my instincts and flowing with him rather than trying to conform him to society norms)

    3 DOnt negatively judge a personality even if it is different than yours. GOD made your child that way for the work he or she will accomplish some day.
    This is my mantra on difficult days. that my child is learning what and how he needs to and going through things that are shaping him to be the man God intended someday. God put the desires and interests in his heart to be unique for him and for me to encourage that. How he learns what he is drawn to isnt as important as encouraging his path.

    I have 4 children with unique personalities All with minimally mild aspergers. and one with OCD one with ODD. all but one are adults and pursuing their lives now. I love who they are. They are productive people with incredible hearts for others. And they have learned their own puzzles. The oldest two were the most difficult and the younger two have been easy. I say God honed me on the first two and then gave me a break with the second two. But I also flowed with the second two and tried to conform the first two. Suffering happens when we go against what is rather than flowing with it.

    So if i have learned anything its this know your child and follow his lead. my youngest 10 struggles to conform in the schools and it is breaking his spirit and his love for his interests. He is not defiant at all, in fact is the opposite compliant and calm. Just doesnt learn best in that environment and constantly feels like a failure. I have been contemplating home schooling him and this is just another push in that direction. As parents we must see what our children need. And each child’s needs are different and unique. One parenting style doesnt work one educational system does not work.

    I remember my oldest needed to be pushed and pushed to do chores etc. so when my daughter came along i tried that with her. The more i pushed the more she rebelled. And soon learned with her to tell her what her chores were and give her an ample time frame and walk away and trust in her… the work was miraculously done no fighting no standing over her. Yet my son if I did not walk him through every step he did not know what to do next and would keep stopping. Lists began helping with that. I gave him a list to clean with each step spelled out. 1. pick up all the garbage in your room. 2. pick up dirty laundry put it in laundry room. 3 pick up toys and put them back where they belong. 4 strip the bed. etc. and then there were no fights. To tell him to clean his room meant nothing to him i would find him sitting there so the list was a God send. This is what I mean different temperaments and personalities. Once i learned to work with them it became much easier than to expect them all to conform to one set structure .

    It is great in retrospect to see how their personalities then manifested into the adults they are now. I look at the above paragraph and see those two so clearly in who they are now. It makes me smile.

    Thank you for a great post it reminds me of so much struggle and joy and it is very encouraging…i will be passing it on to other mothers I know!

  25. Erica says

    I also really needed to hear this. It brought tears to my eyes. My children are all adopted, 2 as newborns and 1 as a teenager. My two that we have had since birth everyone tells us that since we have been their only disciplinarians that their behavior is a reflection of us as parents. People do not realize the harm in their words. I have struggled feeling like a horrible mother to those two. The oldest is nine and has adhd and depression. The four year old has severe adhd, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, low muscle tone and global developmental delays. She cannot help her behavior sometimes. I am a pastors wife though and my children are expected to be perfect. Thank you for your encouraging words. I will print this out to remind me of how I am to best train my children!

  26. Cindy says

    I loved this post. I also loved a lot of the comments. I have a child with SPD, probably some OCD. He’s 9 and there are some areas that I’m just now realizing are not” behavioral flaws” but part of his uniqueness. I would love to hear opinions and get some advice on working with his more challenging quirks, rather than against them. I also have a 4 month old who is displaying a lot of the same sensitivities already. And then there’s my daughter: she, like another lady in the comments said, was born with separation anxiety! She’s Mommy’s girl, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I love these crazy little stinkers so much, I just want to learn to help them through this tough world with their personalities and zest for life intact.

    • Amy B says

      Hi there. My 3 children have SPD with different sub types I guess you call it. My second child is extremely sensitive and has very strong emotions….We found an outstanding OT who helped ease some of the SPD issues/symptoms as well as recommended practical tips. we had a “sensory diet” which is a list of activities to manage his stress – He is emotionally reactive and need a lot of physical input and output to manage that – on days we do this adequately he can control his emotions so much better – on the days we don’t provide outlets, he can fly into a rage at the drop of a hat – I would recommend finding an OT – We found ours from a testing facility that was recommended by a friend – just start asking around – our pediatrician keeps a list.

      Some of the SPD books are good if you are sure about our child’s particular needs – you probably are but the sensory diet the OT gave us was so helpful plus her specific tip for each of my children made my life easier – I still checked out a lot of the SPD books as well as one titled something like the Difficult or Challenging Child -It had some good stuff in there even though I hate to label my kids difficult. Challenging – yes!

      I also feel the pressure when our children don’t behave or look like other children. I am so thankful for Sally’s post. It is also encouraging to see others posts about SPD. Those issues are exhausting and being understood or not feeling alone is huge!

      I would love to form an online group!! SPD Moms :-)

  27. Rochelle says

    Thank you, dear Sally for being an encourager, and for being transparent about your own struggles, and your own family realities. I have been so discouraged this week, but your kind words bring hope. Being a pastor’s wife and traveling to many different churches is exhausting, and frankly sometimes embarrassing with 3 little lively boys who are ‘outside the box’. Thank you, too for your gracious words about mental illness; many of our family members, including our immediate family struggle daily with issues, and sometimes the church is the least understanding place to be, unfortunately. But thank You Jesus for not breaking a bruised reed, and for being the most understanding and kind One of all! And thanks again Sally for being so well used of Him.

  28. says

    Always appreciate and love your words of wisdom. You are so on the mark here and it makes me, a mother to two very young children who are so much like what you describe in your own children, have more of a sense of purpose and understanding. Thanks for sharing your stories and your path of motherhood. They are a treasure.

  29. Kris J. says


    An angel sent me this article just when I so needed a word of encouragement. So often, when you have OCD or anxiety issues in your family, it’s hard to talk about with any sense of honesty or openness for fear of dishonoring your husband or children and placing them, in the eyes of others, in a place where they cannot defend themselves. Yet the issues we mothers and wives face in these areas are real and somewhat daunting. It’s been so hard to go it alone in the Lord’s Presence! Thank you for shining a light of hope and joy across my mother’s heart. Blessings!

  30. Michelle Rivera says

    I have three gifts from God. The oldest is almost 20 and she has struggled with adhd and dyslexia. I also believe she has sensory issues. She is our strong-willed one to say the least and is the one I struggle with the MOST. I have been the micro-managing mom for so long and am sooooo exhausted and have finally come to the place of stepping back, praying a LOT more than ever, and quite honestly – just asking the Lord to help restore what the locust has eaten because I truly desire to have a relationship with her and I’m blessed that she still is at home with us where we have the opportunity to keep loving on her. Things have gotten so out-of-control with her that we asked her to make better decisions or she’d have to leave this past year. What a terrible place to be with your child but the Lord intervened and although things are always a challenge with her, things are also better than they were yesterday and I’m grateful for the Lord’s renewing mercies every morning.

    Our son will very soon be 18 and I believe (at least thus far) has been the buffer between the two girls. He’s the musician and comedian in the family. With what seems like constant insanity in our family life, the comedic relief is VERY appreciated. Praying for him to have direction in what to do in the future. I thank God my husband and he have a good and loving relationship and as I said before – I’m praying – praying a LOT :)

    Our baby girl is 14 and although I have never had her evaluated or diagnosed, I do believe she is challenged with adhd (very similar to her older sister), also had separation anxieties for a long time as a younger child, absolutely has social anxiety issues as well. I believe she might have mental illness but don’t really know how to address this with her or what to do next – if anything. Not in the way that she would hurt herself but too much to put into words here. I would appreciate any suggestions.

    After raising our children in the Lord for 16 years and homeschooling them for the last 13, I can humbly say that it’s only by the grace and mercy of God that: any of us know Him and have the privilege to call Him Abba; they have academically learned what they have needed to graduate and move ahead year after year; and He has given me each day to have a “do-over” as I learn more about my individual children, myself and how awesome a God HE is <3

    Thank you so much for this article. It's my first time reading anything of yours. As many have said already – it has come right on time. I have been the mom that other parents criticize, stare at as I drag my tantrum-throwing child out of a room, almost lost a friendship because of that child's behavior and also having been the wife of the Children's Sunday School Overseer, have had eyes on my children and expectations of what they're suppose to look and behave like as well. NO FUN, VERY DISCOURAGING AND FRUSTRATING… BUT GOD IS AWESOME, GRACIOUS, MERCIFUL, FAITHFUL and there's NO mistaking that HE gave us our children and us to them for a purpose <3

    May the Lord be glorified and continue to bless others through your humble and transparent Titus 2-type ministry. In Jesus' Name I pray.

  31. says

    Thank you for this great article/honest thoughts! I bought the Wholehearted Child book when my oldest was three and it’s been regularly read to gain perspective, patience, and to be encouraged to take joy in my children. I’ve come to a lot of the same conclusions. With eight children, there really are eight completely different personalities! But in learning to embrace the good in all of them, and encourage them in their weak areas, i feel that God has just been so gracious to the children, to complete what i lack, and also to give me faith for the future outcome. I wish someone could have shared this with my mom forty years ago.

  32. says

    Sally, I loved this post so much. Thank you for being a trail blazer and encourager. I value your wisdom and thank God that He placed on your heart to minister to us. Tara.

  33. Bethany Umble says

    I just have to tell you how very encouraging this post is! I have a very strong-willed, first-born child that I struggle to understand (but I want to very much!) and have been expecting too much of and micro-managing for a long time. It means so much to have such practical, encouraging advice on how to deal with this type of kid – who God WILL use mightily if we can keep their hearts and not break their fiery spirits! Thanks for shining a light into a dark valley, and your example of how to do it (raise the “out of the box” kids) by God’s grace.

  34. says

    This was passed to me by a dear Deacon friend. I enjoyed the read very much and laughed out loud when I read “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.” I can relate to this when I was a child.
    It’s a blessing to know that we mothers are not alone in the battle of life with our children. You love them beyond measure, but sometimes wonder and say, “What the Heck!” Lord, how could all three of them come from the same womb. And so we give them to God and as mothers, pray them through with hope, love, a listening ear and patience.

  35. Rachel says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I needed desperately to read these encouraging words today. I have a 12 year old son who is struggling both socially and academically. I often feel very helpless and exhausted because I refuse to give up on my son even when it seems the world is against us. I am a prayer warrior whose time spent in tears crying out to the Lord could fill a bath tub! I am in the beginning stages of finding some help and answers for my incredible son. Please remember him and me as you pray for moms everywhere. Thank you and God bless!

  36. says

    I’m near tears right now. This is EXACTLY what I needed, when I needed it.
    I’ve been desperate to seek out others who have wisdom on parenting difficult children ADHD. I joined two big FB groups recently in an attempt to seek out others who would not only understand truly, but who would also have gone through similar experiences.
    Knowing I’m not alone in dealing with some of the crazy & destructive things my son does is good for my heart.

    I thank you for sharing this wisdom that you learned along your rocky road of motherhood. It is nice to know that not everyone has easy children & has an easier path of motherhood.
    I do love my son beyond what words could describe, but it has been so hard to be around him lately.
    This is the first thing I’ve read that gives me hope for the future.

  37. Beth says

    With tears in my eyes, I thank you for sharing your heart. It’s such a comfort to hear your perspective as someone who has raised children and sent them out. I am in the trenches still with 4 little ones under age 7. My third is the one who keeps me up at night and drives me crazy in the day. I appreciate you helping to look past the NOW and toward the future. With God all things are possible.

  38. says

    I love this post. Thank you for sharing it with us. I needed to hear this right now.
    My tween is finding her independence second guessing me, back talking, standing her ground and on those days I think and pray to myself “My job isn’t to punish her Lord, or to break her spirit, but it is to love her unconditionally. ADHD and all.” And I know God isn’t giving me more than I can handle with her, but sometimes that willful girl makes me want to go play in my
    garden all afternoon ;)

  39. Linda says

    Please, please, write more on this, a book perhaps? I am a slow learner and there are some days I dread the thought of living the rest of my life with my 20 yr old autistic ,ocd, odd, sensory problems and the rest of her uniqueness. I see hope in your writings but I also would like more examples, and advice to love when it is difficult. How did you know when your child was questioning you because she wanted to know or because she truly was challenging your authority at that moment? What did you say at that moment? Thank you for sharing the hard times and well as the successes.

  40. says

    A friend of mine had this posted on her facebook page and I’m so glad I stopped to read it. I was in tears the whole way. I am that young mom of a young child (age 5) who doesn’t fit into any box. She is in public school for one year to help me adjust with her 18 month old sister and get through pregnancy with baby #3, and constantly her teachers are telling me they have no idea what to do with her or how to get through to her. I wish i had answers for them, but I still don’t. Her daddy and I are still trying to figure out how to deal with our brilliant yet very unique and difficult kiddo. She doesn’t fit any parenting book I’ve come across and I have yet to see a discipline method work with her (as in, change the behavior that was problematic). She has a host of issues that we’re only beginning to sort through and I needed this encouragment today! Thank you for posting this.

  41. Liz says

    Oh Sally, this touched my heart more than I can say. I sit here reading through tears and praying I can be the mom God has called me to be. As I’m over my head in laundry and homeschooling 2 school age kids with a toddler and preschooler at home, I often wonder if I’ll lose my mind! Ha. My mom has often said, “I just don’t remember it being this hard.” Well that just doesn’t help me at all! I pray daily for a mentor to help me along in this journey. I am incredibly thankful for every word you write. It’s inspiring!

  42. says

    Wow. There are other people out there who have children that no one can figure out. My 16 year old daughter has a laundry list of disorders on the autism spectrum, plus epilepsy, plus a sleep disorder. Jess, a few comments above, said what I would have said 10 years ago. Katie is #7 of 8 kids. I homeschooled until she was about 2, and when I became pregnant again, I gave it all up and sent my kids to public school. I hated the trade-offs, but I was worn out with this kid. She is currently in placement. The summer before 9th grade she started having seizures; the meds made her very aggressive and she got kicked out of school. I took her off the meds and supplemented with magnesium, which has kept her seizures under control for nearly 2 years. Last night she had 2 seizures. The residence called to let me know she was being taken to the hospital. I tried to sleep but all I could think of was “Lord, I can’t do this anymore.” How many times have I said that before? She is bright. I don’t know what to do to help her have any motivation. I’ve done everything to try to help her. The SPED program at school helped some. OT was wonderful, but I don’t think they have any idea what to do for these ASD kids. She is an engaging kid, and learned to manipulate the system throughout school. In a year and a half she will be 18. She will be given the choice to walk. Will she be ready? Will she be able to make a good decision? I would love to “meet” with other moms in similar circumstances. My blog, which I haven’t updated in a LONG time, relates much of what we have been going through: http://theancientpaths.wordpress.com. I try really hard to remember that God has a plan for her life, but some days it seems very hopeless. This is one of those days…

  43. Natalie says

    I cannot tell you how much your post means to me! I have 2 OCD and 1 ADHD/Anxiety/ODD. Your books were so inspirational to me when I first started on this parenting journey. Unfortunately, we decided to quit homeschooling because the home environment got so toxic, but I see and hear the comments of the parents at our private christian school. I know they are judging me for being “inconsistent with discipline” and “not setting limits.” I literally know of no one who is walking in our shoes… until I read your post. We are now looking at pulling our oldest out, in part due to his teacher’s total lack of understanding that “holding him accountable” for executive function struggles (giving him a “discipline slip” for forgetting a pen, for example… yes, this happened!) is like asking kid in a wheelchair to take the stairs…. It ain’t gonna happen, and will only discourage them. Much better to teach them how to use the elevator and be independent! This has been the hardest, most difficult journey of my walk so far. I have felt so alone and discouraged. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU, for the encouragement to choose to love these sometimes hard to love kids, and for the reminder to parent their hearts more than anything else. I am so encouraged by your truth telling that God does have a plan for them, and us, and that even though the road is long and sometimes hard, He really does work all things for good.

  44. ChristaJeanne says

    LOVE this!!! It’s not quite the same circumstances, but my brother and I were labeled trouble children. He was always in trouble at school; I was the button-pusher at home. Well, as it turned out, he’s bipolar and probably has Asperger’s, too (runs in our fam, albeit not all diagnosed, but he fits the bill). As for me, well, if you read up on the personality traits of a Red under “The Color Code,” I fit it to a tee! Intense and strong-willed… and not apt to obey “just because,” even though I’m no rebel by nature. We were both bullied terribly at school, and as someone who is an EXTROVERT to the extreme–and who had been popular prior to a mid-schoolyear move–it was devastating and crushing to become a social pariah for no good reason.

    But unlike all of these posts about deliberate, conscientious parenting, we were also neglected and lived in a contentious, terrible home. Love my parents, but they were a terrible mix, and as a result, we children got lost in the shuffle. My mom even says that she noticed the difference in me post-move… but she didn’t bother to DO anything to investigate the problem or ameliorate its effects, she was so mired in her own misery. It was heartbreaking but so validating to discuss this with my grandmother a few years ago and for her to even comment on how now that we’re adults, in hindsight, she could see how much the problems we exhibited were the byproducts of our environment. We were like unpruned bushes or trees, growing wild and desperately in need of attention, discipline, and nurturing to help us accomplish our designs.

    It’s so important to BE DELIBERATE and get to the bottom of perceived issues. It might not just be personality traits–there could be environmental/social factors (school, peers, neighborhood, etc.) that greatly affect your child’s behavior, and once those are addressed, it can make a HUGE difference. Granted, anyone who’s reading this is probably the type of parent to be proactive about these things… but still. My two cents as one who went from that kind of struggle and heartbreak to a rich, joyous, blessed, and successful adulthood. Can’t wait to put the lessons learned from the struggle into practice in my own turn as a mother!

  45. Karen says

    I am crying as I type this because I have felt lost for months. Daily I feel like a failure as a parent and a homeschooling mom. I have 4 kids as well – all fearful and anxious. Two of them have “something” going on that I can’t figure out…..not sure if it is an emotional issue or a mental issue or a maturity issue (and I am sorry if I have the terminology wrong – I have been attacked on a forum before when I reached out for help so it makes me nervous but I need help and direction – something is going on and I need help). I feel so lost – I don’t know how to help them and I also get comments from people who are trying to help but just don’t get it. Every night I tell my husband I don’t know what to do to help them feel safe or confident – the fights and tears flow daily in our house and daily I feel like giving up because I feel like I am failing them. Your post gives me some hope that I can find some help and direction. For now, I love that you say to parent from the perspective of looking at the fruits of the spirit. And praying. And knowing that God gave me these kids because He I can do it, even if I don’t believe I can. I have been needing to read these words and I am so thankful I found them tonight. If you can point me to what I should read next or how to figure out what the “something” is that I know is going on but can’t define I would really appreciate it.

  46. Megan Mattinson says

    Oh, Sally! Your writing is always an encouragement and blessing to me. I am a homeschooling mama to 4. A few friends and I led the Desperate Study at church over the summer and it was such a breath of fresh air for all of us to be able to say some of those things out loud! Thank you so much for sticking in there so you could have this ministry to all of us.

  47. says

    Thank you, thank you for this encouraging post, and wise words. I am just beginning homeschooling with my boys, but my five year old, who has many learning challenges is the child who keeps me up at night worrying. He has so many gifts AND so many challenges that I worry about how to help him the most. Your post gave me comfort and a lot to think about.

    Thank you!

  48. Kim says

    This was a GOd send for me today. I have been batteling depression over this for a week. I soooo needed this. Thank you for your wisdom.

  49. Kelly says

    This one is difficult for me. I have two girls ages 15 and 14. They are not into typical girl things. They love video games. It’s all they talk about. If we try to have family time they will talk about characters from these games and me and my husband have no idea what they are talking about. They love anime, want to live in Japan, and be video game programmers. I personally have a hard time seeing this as a good carrier choice. I don’t know how to relate to them at all and get frustrated with all this gamer talk.

    • Angie says

      I’m going to preface this by saying I’m not a mom, but would like to be some day, and I’m a supervisor, so some of the parenting tips actually help me understand my coworkers and how to relate to them better as adults who are not like I am. That being said, I love video games. I am a sci-fi loving, gaming, geeky woman, and I make more than double the average household income for my area by myself. If your daughters can get into programming or design with the intent of becoming video game programmers, that’s actually a fantastic growth market and can be very lucrative. Chances are they’ll not do it (especially moving to Japan, or residing for any time), but most gamers are technologically inclined, which is extremely helpful in the modern workplace. I work with network engineers, programmers and other techie people. Yes, they are mostly men. I happen to also like girl things (I crochet and just started making jewelry and have the materials to start quilting, and I love Jane Austen novels, decorating cupcakes, etc.), but many of my more “girly” interests developed as an adult. Some of it is, honestly, I believe because I feel a need to exert my femininity because, at the end of the day, I’m really not just one of the guys. I can’t give you parenting advice, but I can tell you that gamers can be very successful in their careers, and sometimes we have trouble relating to people who don’t appreciate games (which we see as mental exercise – some of them are incredibly complex and require quick decisions to do well in – as well as stress relief and an outlet – at the end of a frustrating day, it can be so nice to go beat on some computer generated, animated monsters; there are far worse ways we could choose to take out a little frustration).

      Try to be optimistic about their interests in technology, even if it’s something you see as a waste of time, because it can be a portal to excellent career opportunities.

      • Chanda says

        Wow! Did I ever need to hear that. I have four kids. My almost 11 year old son would eat, sleep and live video games, if I didn’t put limits on them. I’m seeing more and more that this is his bend and I need to be more accepting of it. Just because it’s not something that I see value in, doesn’t mean that it’s not valuable to him. Thank you!

  50. Laura says

    Thank you for sharing your struggles. I am in tears because I know and deal with all of those acronyms on a daily basis and it does wear you out. I am exhausted! Thank you for the reminder that I need to refuel and recharge myself to better help my children.

  51. says

    Thank you for your article. I am the mom of 5 – two of them have pretty significant learning disabilities and 1 is my out of the box thinker. #5 really spoke to me. I have thought more times than not that God chose the wrong mom. I needed to read these encouraging words. Lord knows I have been given poor advice and made to feel if I was just tougher or more disciplined my one son in particular would not be where he is. Blessings!

  52. says

    I am learning as I have been talking to my eight year old daughter’s therapist, yes my eight year old has a therapist. She has had a therapist since she was five years old. My husband passed away almost two years ago. It wrecked her spirit. So I put her in therapy when he had been sick for longer than six months. In speaking with her therapist the other day I realized that, as good of a mother as I may be, I still need help in raising this child to be the functioning human being I expect her to be when she gets old. It is really helpful to have other moms who are willing to speak out about the struggles of motherhood. My daughter doesn’t have a particular disorder to speak of but as you can imagine watching her father get sick and dying could cause quite a few emotional problems. She’s a really good little girl, very kind and loving but also willful, head strong and stubborn. We adopted her out of the foster care system so she is not my biological child. She actually is my younger half sister’s seventh drug baby. With God’s blessings she is healthy as a horse. She has no issues from the drugs. In saying all of this because of where she came from and because I am now a struggling single mother, we’ve been homeless three times, I find that I battle with her more than have a peaceful life with. Part of it is my pure exhaustion from being on my own trying to get back on my feet. I homeschool her, am rebuilding a business and handle her career as a child actress/model. Money has been an issue to say the least and I am more anxiety filled than not. I’m getting better at staying focused and working on my own struggles so they don’t rub off on her but I must say it’s post like this and all of your comments that make me feel a little better. It’s really nice to know that I’m not the only one out here trying so hard to raise a respectful, obedient and God fearing child that people look at and wish their child was just as obedient and respectful. She has a lot of good moments. A lot more now but I as her mother, I need to learn better ways of dealing with her. I tend to be hard on her because I expect so much from her because I see who she can be and because my mother didn’t discipline or do a good job raising my younger half sister, her biological mother, and I don’t want her to grow up behaving like she did. I want better for her. Thanks for all of your comments and this post. It gives me hope that I can get this right. Finding alternative ways to deal with your child is key. Spankings are good for certain situations but they don’t solve every problem. If I spanked my child for everything she does in a day, I would be spanking her all day long. That’s no way to raise a loving child. You all are inspiring and good moms. Hang in there. We will all make it out alive of that I am sure. God bless you all and Happy New Year.

  53. jessica says

    I find reading the comments just as encouraging as the post itself. We are not alone, mommas!!! I have three boys 6 and under. My oldest is Anxiety/ADHD/SPD/ODD??, my 4 yr old has autism and I have a 3yr old. It was so good to hear others with similar struggles. I do have a question for Sally (and anyone else), though. Do you find that with the host of issues these types of kids have, they fight like crazy? DH and I are pulling out our hair because we feel like there is no peace in our house because the kids are constantly yelling and screaming at each other. We have tried everything, scripture, behaviour charts, reward systems, punishment systems, nothing seems to get through. Did your kids fight like that when they were little? I am at the end of myself today.

  54. Holli says

    Thank you. That is really too simple for how it made me feel but it is heart felt. I have two very out of the box kids (7 and 9) in some people’s opinions. I just view them as creative and living with gusto. I try very hard to teach them along with their gifts and hope that I am allowing them to bloom into the grown up that God created them to be.

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  1. […] last night I checked it. I saw that one of my homeschool liked pages had posted this article,  What to do with a child who just doesn’t fit in… and pushes all your buttons! Whereas with the bully article I felt broken after reading, this article was a burst of fresh air. […]

  2. […] I am so glad that on this difficult day of parenting, through facebook I came across a blog “I Take Joy” which encouraged me to “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.” – See more at: http://www.itakejoy.com/what-to-do-with-that-child-who-just-doesnt-fit-in-and-who-pushes-all-of-your&#8230; […]

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