Keep Calm and Parent On: Raising a Prodigal

Posted by Lisa DeBusk, Legacy Campus Elementary Pastor, on May 28, 2023

Keep Calm and Parent On: Raising a Prodigal

I became a parent in early 1990 when I was still 24 years old. My husband was 28. We had been married for 3.5 years and thought we had that down. It was time to start a family…the next step in our adulting process.

Our first was born, and we read all the books, went to workshops, learned how to get her to sleep through the night in six weeks (which did work, by the way…for her). She slept through the night quickly, and took two 4-hour long naps until she was about 3 years old. Then she switched to one 5-hour long nap. We knew we had this parenting thing down. We were brilliant!

She was our only child for 8 years and then the rest of the clan proceeded to show themselves.

Our second came along in 1998, and she never slept. When she turned two, she actually grew easier to parent, if you can imagine that. At a little before 2, she spoke, and spoke a complete sentence: “I like the bubbles.”

Child three came in 2001. She was also easy, but was always on the tail-end of “normal” when it came to hitting her milestones. She didn’t talk until she was three, and has been cautious and careful ever since.

The first man-child arrived in 2003 and he was all boy! He noticed every ball in the room, and gravitated toward a golf club and any sport he could. He was very sensitive and curious.

Our last child, another boy, graced us with his presence in 2006. He always seemed angry; he was also very tender and sweet, and then would turn around and throw the biggest tantrum that has ever been thrown.

With each child, we realized that some of the tools we had worked and some did not. We tried to learn from other parents and gain new tools for our toolbelt. We tried to work with each child’s specific bent.

Basically, we began to realize that with our first four, we were able to be coaches. Little actual parenting had to happen. Again, we thought we were brilliant. Our last one, with me at 40 and my husband at 43, required us to be real parents. We had so much to learn.
As our children grew, the normal activities, misadventures, and ballyhoo took place. We could see some of the giftings that God had given to each child. Our last child, though, had giftings that would be great as an adult, but had to be channeled wisely to be positives. They could quickly turn to negatives and place him in a position he did not want to be in. We noticed things like impulsivity, no fear of just about anything, older-than-his-years humor, a brilliant vocabulary and working of his mind, and skill at always placing the blame on someone else for his behavior. Do these sound familiar to you?

We homeschooled in the early days—and we frequently had to call the principal (my husband) at work and ask him to speak to our youngest son. We then placed him in our local public school, and after I was finally able to meet the teacher, she recalled an exchange that happened every day during the first week of his schooling. Each 1st grader was given an 11x17 sheet of paper and asked to write something every day. When he received his paper, my son quickly brought it up to the teacher and said, “Thank you for the opportunity, but I will not be doing this today.” He was six years old!

We later moved to Italy to help plant a church, and each of my children were put into Italian school. They were the only Americans there and it was a daily challenge for them. To this day, they are my heroes for persevering in that situation! However, my youngest and his teacher did not get along. This is when we noticed that if there was an argument, he would always escalate higher than the person with whom he was arguing. He was brilliant at it! But it caused problems in the school and we ended up pulling him out, and then putting him in a different school at the suggestion of the superintendent. That was a bit better, but not much.

We left Italy to come back home for various reasons, but our youngest was one of those reasons. We wanted to get help for him, to have him in more familiar territory, and to see if things got better. They did for a bit, but his violent outbursts returned. Calls from the school were not abnormal and my prayer, every time I saw that school number scroll across my phone screen, was “Please let this be the nurse telling me that he had a cracked skull.” But it never was that. It was always some trouble that this child had gotten into.

He has been sent to the alternative school twice. He does really well in there as almost all of his decisions are taken away and there are only a few people in at a time. But eventually he has to come out and begin to learn how to interact among the world.

He has gotten into drugs and made other bad decisions while at school, and I am on a first-name basis with his principals and counselors.

All of these actions remind me of the story of the prodigal son, found in Luke 15. In the story, the youngest of two sons basically asks his father to die so he can take his share of the family inheritance. I am always amazed at how it seems like the father takes this request so easily. I wonder if over the years, the son had had his share of troubles and the father had witnessed (or had to be a part of) it all.

The son takes the money, happily, and goes on his way, only to squander all of it in short order. He finally realizes that even the servants of his father’s house are treated better than he is living, and makes his way home.

And this part gets me every time: the son walks along the road leading to his childhood home. As he draws nearer, his watching and waiting father sees him and runs toward his son. He orders a lavish celebration to share the news that his younger son has returned. Clearly, the father never lost his love for the son. He treated him with utmost love and dignity both upon leaving and returning.

So I will try to do the same. At some point, our youngest is going to have to try life out on his own. He is going to have to go and, honestly, I might be ready for that day, but I will also be watching for his return. And when I see him, I will go running to greet him, hug him, and love him.
Parenting a prodigal is far from easy. Other people watching from the outside (and even other siblings) are not going to always understand your parenting choices. You do become much closer to God and realize that as difficult as this is, you are the perfect parent for this child.

And just like in the story of the prodigal son, while the father embraced the son and brought him back into the family, there was not another inheritance for him. The Bible tells us that the father told the older son, “..isn’t everything I own yours?” We know that the rest of the inheritance was given to the older son. Restoration has occurred, but it does not mean that consequences are wiped away.

My favorite quote states, “Even God, the perfect parent, has children who are rebellious. Who are we to think we won’t?”

I have always loved this quote, but these days, it holds a special place in my heart—the very same place my youngest son occupies. I will love this kid forever, as I love all his siblings. I am absolutely the perfect mom for him. My husband is the perfect dad for him. There has been no mistake.

If you are struggling with your own prodigal, lift that child up to God daily. Always keep your voice calm and collected, and don’t ever get a surprised look on your face when something is being revealed to you (as a strong reaction could be the fastest way to stop the sharing process altogether). Never stop loving that kid, and remember that God did not give this child to you by accident. You are the perfect parent for him or her.

So keep calm, be strong, and lean on God. You’ve got this!

Looking for a place your older child or teen can find a supportive community? Visit our Students page for a list of groups and additional resources. 

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