How To Handle The Grief You Feel For Your Child.

You’ve probably been down this road before: your child suffers from extreme depression, hurts others, or makes decisions that are against everything your family holds true. It causes unimaginable grief. How do you handle the extreme emotions you feel, while making sure your children are taken care of?

Single woman alone swinging on the beach

I stand in my kitchen, early on a Monday morning, coffee in hand, feeling sad. The sun has begun making its ascent over the tops of the trees, spreading tiny rays of light across our yard. The dew-soaked blades of grass shimmer in the fresh morning light. In the past, I’d step outside, breath in deep, and take in the new day. Now, I feel restriction when I so much as inhale normal.

It’s been a tough 8 months. We thought bringing our son home from residential treatment would be a good thing. I was even duped into thinking that things had changed with him. I was wrong. We sent an aggressive but compassionate child into treatment, we brought home an aggressive, violent, non-compassionate, non-caring, belligerent, vulgar child home from treatment. It’s been an uphill climb ever since. But not just between us and him. Our other children have gone through secondary trauma as a result of his behavior. Our younger children are on edge all the time, and another child deals with major depression.

So I stand in my kitchen, as morning dawns, and grieve.

I grieve my son’s behavior. Why can’t he just be normal for one day? I think to myself. I grieve his birth mother’s choice to use drugs and drink throughout her pregnancy with him. I grieve the loss of the day, as I realize that it’s almost time for him to wake up. I grieve for my younger children, who are innocent and kind-hearted. Why do they have to go through this? I question. I grieve for my child dealing with depression, as a result of all of this. I wish I could reach into her heart, flip a switch, and make this all better.

I grieve.


Have you been there with your children? Are you there right now? I can safely say this to you: You’re not alone! If tears drip from your eyes as you read this and identify, we’re right there with you. We understand. If you’re wondering how you’ll make it through this, here’s some encouragement from our life and what we’ve learned to do…

  1. Grieve. I need to let myself feel loss. You actually need to grieve. It’s okay. Grief is a natural part of life. When we lose a loved one, or we lose something valuable, we mourn the loss. Give yourself permission to grieve over your child’s depression, bad choices, hurting spirit. Too often, we take on a “pull myself up by my bootstraps” mentality, even in dark circumstances. And while there’s a time for pulling it together and moving on, you need time to feel deep loss. You need time to mourn over your child and the circumstance they’re in.
  2. Hold fast. I need to stick to my guns. As hard as it may be to do, hold fast to the decision you’ve made (if you have made one) to discipline, restrict, or protect. If your child’s decision making is bringing harm to others, or putting your child’s life in danger, it’s your job to protect. For us, our son has an alarm on the outside of his bedroom door to alert us when he opens it in the middle of the night. He also has an extremely strict bedtime which is much earlier than other kid’s his age. But, we’re not dealing with a normal 13 year old boy. His brain damage, suffered from FASD, could lead him into dangerous situations which could compromise his safety and the safety of our family. So, we hold fast. We’re not backing down. It’s exhausting but it’s one of the main things that keeps us on a straight path.
  3. Seek. I need to find help for my child. Be willing to seek out the help you need for your child. We recognized that circumstances with our son would cause our other children to go through the ringer. Mostly due to lack of structure. So we sought out camps and summer programs that helped keep his day structured. We also filled out paperwork to gain services for him such as a caretaker to help him after school with homework and transitioning to home after a structured day. For our children’s emotional needs, we’ve hunted down counselors who know exactly what we’re going through as a family. Finding the help you need for your family, and your children, is critical.
  4. Hope. I need to hold on to hope. Fact is, there IS hope. I know it’s hard to see it when you’re in the middle of this trench. You reach up, hoping for the sun, but all you get is muddy walls, and a soupy, dismal life! There is hope. The trauma your child is going through, and acting out of, does not define his or her future. It’s a reminder that I have to give myself every single day of my life.

Tell your heart to beat again.

The other day I was at our local fitness center, getting some exercise, when a song by an artist named Danny Gokey came across my playlist. It’s entitled “Tell Your Heart To Beat Again.” The lyrics go like this….

You’re shattered. Like you’ve never been before. The life you knew, in a thousand pieces on the floor. And words fall short in times like these, when this world drives you to your knees. You think you’re never gonna get back to the you that used to be.
Tell your heart to beat again. Close your eyes and breathe it in. Let the shadows fall away, step into the light of grace. Yesterday’s a closing door, you don’t live there anymore. Say goodbye to where you’ve been, and tell your heart to beat again.
Beginning. Just let that word wash over you. It’s alright now. Love’s healing hands have pulled you through. So get back up, take step one, leave the darkness, feel the sun. ‘Cause your story’s far from over, and your journey’s just begun. Tell your heart to beat again. Close your eyes and breathe it in. Let the shadows fall away, step into the light of grace. Yesterday’s a closing door, you don’t live there anymore. Say goodbye to where you’ve been, and tell your heart to beat again.

[Lyrics from “Tell Your Heart To Beat Again” by Danny Gokey]

Your story and mine, are far from over. The same is true for our children. We stand together, hand in hand, through these dark times, holding on to hope. Holding on to one another. In the middle of your unimaginable grief over your child, place your hand on your chest, and feel your heart beating. There is hope.

Question: Are you grieving over your child’s bad decisions, extreme behavior, or depression? Share your story with us. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Jennifer Whittemore

    As you know, I currently have one in residential treatment for being suicidal and depression. She has been there 4 months and now really likes it there. She has fallen in love with a 16 year old boy with a 3 year old daughter. We just had her home for the first time for the weekend and all she talked about was missing the treatment center. She would stay there if she could. We don’t feel she has processed nearly what we had hoped for while in care and the depression scares me. We are planning on bringing her home the middle of next month so she can start high school with her peers. That scares me too. I just have to pray and have faith we can make a difference in her life and help her in her depressions. We are so afraid she is right around the corner of having those suicidal thoughts again as she has not really processed her traumas and doesn’t want to process them. We will continue to seek treatment for her up here and really like the therapist she will have. We are hopeful, but scared.

    • Kym Faulkner

      This entirely hits home with me especially today. Our son went to one treatment center and was treated like a criminal and he learned to be a criminal. We had him home for 3 weeks and then found a really good Residential Treatment Center it’s in Provo Utah it is called Provo Canyon there he is been treated therapeutically. He will be coming home in about a month and yes I am trying to schedule him to keep him busy until school starts. Thank you for the article.

      • Kym, it’s my pleasure. That’s exactly what happened to our son the last time he was in residential.

    • Jennifer, our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. We know how hard this road is. Hang in there. You are not alone. 😉 😉

  • Sarah

    Thank you! I recently shared that one of our boys was running away and telling the cops we were horrible foster parents. Well, our other foster son (almost 13) has been stealing women’s lacey thong underwear and recently we found 2 more in his room. One of the pairs was our pastor’s wife’s underwear. At this point, we know he has a fetish and it’s been so hard to talk to anyone about it. Mainly, because people laugh. Even his counselor was giggling. This actually made me quite angry, because if this was your son doing it, YOU would not be laughing. At one point both my husband and I were laughing and crying deliriously at the same time because I feel we are so ill prepared and I never thought I’d have to parent a boy through an underwear stealing fetish. We are 33 and parent pre-teen foster sons with major trauma + 3 bio. Lord, help us all get through summer! Thank you for this blog!! It’s been such a blessing!

    • Allisonm

      You are not alone. We’ve been dealing with the underwear issue for about eight years now. It goes up and down in frequency. We don’t view it as a fetish, but rather as a way for a child who has a lot of abuse in his history to feel closer to me. We do discuss it with his therapists and given the source and nature of some of his abuse, we treat it compassionately and by working on making our relationship feel closer and safer in entirely appropriate ways. My husband also talks to our son about ways boys and men learn and exercise self-control in the face of those types of feelings and impulses. Those feelings were awakened in my son long before he had the maturity to handle them, so it’s really hard for him. But he is very determined to be appropriate–especially with me–and is able to show far more self-control than he started with. If your son’s therapist is not handling this appropriately as a therapeutic issue, you may want to seek someone who can provide your son with meaningful help and who won’t start from the perspective of viewing your son as a criminal. We have found that working on it as a trauma issue has been both healing for our son and has helped him curb the associated behavior.

      • Sarah

        Interesting and thank you for sharing! Yes, something was awakened in our boy long before he came to us and I don’t know if he can even pinpoint it. =( I do believe our counselor is ill-prepared to handle it.

    • Hey Sarah, this is such a hard battle, especially the issues that your foster son is going through. Not a laughing matter when it’s happening in your own home. I’m sorry you are in this trench. We understand. It’s one of those things that you look at yourself in the mirror and think….how did we get here? So glad you are connected to us. Hang in there. 😉

      • Sarah

        Seriously, thank you for sharing your heart on this blog! I share it with my adoptive and foster mom friends all the time! God BLESS you and your family in this journey.

        • Thanks so much Sarah. So glad you can use this as a resource. 🙂

  • Laura Richards

    I just found yalls blog…my husband and I are adoptive parents of 3 girls, who are 13, 11 and 9. We’ve had each one since they were infants, each one has special needs now and disabilities. Our oldest actually also has FASD..your’s is the first time I’ve even heard another parent use the term. We have alarms too…There’s so much, too much to even type out. We’ve been married almost 25 years and we are passing like ships in the night. Our girls consume every part of us, there is nothing left. I fall, I get back up. I don’t want to fear everyday…We are lost. We are so broken. We are doing everything possible for them. Yes, we also try to take care of ourselves..but there are really no “selves” left. No one is coming to rescue us or our family. There’s no fairy god mother. We fight alone. All alone in a family of five…

    • Allisonm

      I’m part of a family of five by adoption, though our children came all at once as school-aged siblings. I can relate completely to the feelings you described. I used to feel that way almost all of the time. We found hope and healing for our family. Things aren’t easy now, but they are manageable most days. We don’t have alarms anymore.

      We have adoption subsidy that enables us to get help for and with our children. Also, we have a state program that offers free services to adoptive families, regardless of the type of adoption. Those can include advocacy, in and out of home counseling and parent assistance, respite care, and training on issues like trauma, FASD, brain development, and therapeutic parenting. They also have support groups for parents with childcare during meetings. In both states we’ve lived in, I heard a lot about there being no services available. But we eventually found services that have held our family together and moved us toward thriving. Most public agencies, such as the mental-health system and developmental disabilities system, have a person who serves as an ombudsman. That person can often short-circuit bureaucracies and knows how to get things moving in their system. That’s the human I call when I feel like I’m alone and can’t keep going. Once we got intensive case managers and therapeutic workers into our home, often virtually every day for most of the day, I felt less alone in our struggle. Because the services actually helped us over time, we have been able to do more things besides deal with relentless crises.

      There is hope and you are not alone.

      • Laura Richards

        Goodness Allison! What state do y’all live in? Pleaseeeee say Florida 😉

        • Allisonm


        • Allisonm

          I’m afraid not. In retrospect, the two most important things I did were to find people who could educate me about the systems my children and I interact with, learning their structure, processes, and language so that I could get as much of what we need as possible from each one, and being determined to take whatever we could get from those systems and shape them into services that helped us. I’m not afraid to work from the top down to get what our family needs. Medicaid is supposed to provide medically necessary services. That includes respite when called for. When something was medically necessary, but not contracted for by our local system, we found a provider and the local agency contracted with them for our children. I talked to a lot of clinical directors and went to stakeholder meetings and met other moms who had gotten there before me and knew the ropes. I picked people’s brains for that sliver of information that would change our trajectory in treatment. I attended any training I could get someone to let me into so that I could talk more knowledgeably and effectively with people who had the power to help us.

          If your children are on your state’s version of Medicaid and/or DD services, call and ask when the stakeholders meetings are held and go. That’s where you will meet people who can short-circuit the learning curve and help you plug into a community of others who understand and can point you to the help that’s available. Contact NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and ask whether they have support for caregivers of children suffering from mental illness. If they don’t, they will know who does. Ask for respite and to be put in contact with that system.

          I googled “Florida support for families with mentally ill children” and got the state’s children’s mental-health agency resources page:

          I would start with the family resources and see whether any of the local agencies can point you to some support and help you move from being so alone to being a part of a community of families who are pulling together. Some of our best support came from groups not focused specifically on adoption, but on raising kids with mental-health challenges. I hope this helps empower you!

    • Hey Laura, I just read your comment and my heart is breaking for you and your husband. I know exactly how you guys feel. Kristin and I have been in that trench more times than I can count. in fact, we’re in it in a lot of ways right now. What part of the country are you from? Might be a network nearby. In any case, we are hurting for you and you have a safe place here or on our Facebook page. We totally get it!

      • Laura Richards

        Thank you Mike for your words. We live in Florida, if there is some kind of network, please share! We are plugged in with therapist, doctors etc. but it’s not enough. The waves are still falling over our heads and we are drowning.

        • it’s our pleasure Laura. We will keep our ears and eyes open and let you know as soon as we hear of something. Hang in there and feel free to reach out for anything at all. 🙂