How can I help my daughter heal from my inadequate parenting?

Happy Monday everyone!

I have been busy all weekend working on a new presentation I am giving this week at the American Association of Christian Counselors conference in Branson, Missouri on The Emotionally Destructive Relationship. I hear almost weekly from people who have found inadequate counsel when struggling with these difficult and destructive relationship problems. Please pray for me as I have the opportunity to train Christian pastors, leaders and counselors in this very important issue. I will be speaking Friday afternoon, at 1:30.

The more I read, the more I study, the more I pray, the more I am convinced that God wants to deal with this sin in the body of Christ. I am humbled that he has given me a voice. Please hold up my arms as Aaron and Hur did for Moses (Exodus 17:11). Sometimes the battle gets too much for me and I’m tempted to give up. But if there is one cause, one passion that I want to pour my heart into it is how to have healthy relationships and identifying abusive and destructive ones.

This week’s question: I am the mother of 4 children. My 2nd child is almost 19, and we have always had a conflicted relationship. Indeed, she has negative personality traits which inhibit many of her relationships. Looking back, I believe (know) that I suffered with depression when she was less than two, and I believe it significantly impacted her personality development. When she was 9 months old, her dad and I separated. I was pregnant again and my father died.

How do I help her? I believe there was insecure attachment that I failed to recognize and now I see the results.

Answer: It can be very painful to recognize things in ourselves that we wished we had done differently and see the consequences falling on our children. I think every parent has some regrets but it sounds as if you are feeling totally responsible for the person your daughter has become and are now wondering what you can to do help her heal, change and grow.

Probably the biggest question that I have for you is does your daughter recognize her problems and want to heal, change and grow? This may sound like an insane question but no matter how much you regret what happened when she was a kid or how much work you’re willing to do to help her, she has to now assume the responsibility for the actual changes.

Sometimes I find those who have been wounded in childhood stuck in the blame cycle. If only my mom had stayed with my dad. Or, if only she wasn’t depressed………. You know where that goes. Nowhere! You can’t change the past however much you regret it. But you can learn and grow from it as you are attempting to do. But your daughter will need to play an important role in her own healing process if she actually wants to change.

When Jesus asked the man who was paralyzed for 38 years, “Do you want to get well?” it seems like a crazy question (John 5). Who wouldn’t want to walk again? Who wouldn’t want to be whole and healed instead of lame and dependent on others to care for him. Yet I think Jesus knew that healing this man’s legs would only be the beginning of a total life-style change. Was he willing? From now on, he would have to be responsible for himself. He’d be required to work to earn a living instead of beg. He would need to interact with others face to face instead of from on the ground. What other changes would healing bring to his life and his relationships?

So here is what you can do to help your daughter. Have a heart to heart talk with her. Pick a good time and place and share from your heart what you have learned about yourself and observed in her. Tell her how sorry you are for things that you did or didn’t do and what you wish you would have done differently,

But, and this is a big BUT…however much you are sorry and are willing to help her, you must help empower her to take responsibility for where she is now. It is HER life and much of how she lives her life will be up to her. So, in this heart to heart talk you can offer to pay for her therapy. You can offer to go to sessions with her if she needs to deal with some hurts with you in a safe way. You can give her some books to read that will help her understand her issues. But ultimately, you cannot make her relationship style change, you cannot change the way she sees things or help her feel any differently inside. Those changes will be up to her and the hard work she is willing to do.

I would encourage you to do your own work so that you do not continue to engage in the conflictual relationship style that you described. Sometimes doing your part encourages and invites the other person to also do the work needed to make relationship improvements.

A book that I’d recommend on the whole attachment issue is called Attachments: Why you love, feel and act the way you do, by Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibcy
Another good book is Changes that Heal: How to understand the past to ensure a healthier future by Dr. Henry Cloud.

But ultimately all of us have hurts and wounds from others that affect our lives – both in good ways and bad ways. Elizabeth Edwards (wife of Senator John Edwards) quotes the Leonard Cohen song “Anthem” in her new book, Resilience.

Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.

No one escapes childhood without a few scars. Your daughter can find and develop her strengths and work on her weaknesses. But she will never get to a place where she doesn’t have any. Yet, Paul reminds us that when we are weak, He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). His light shines brightest through our cracks.


  1. Anonymous on September 20, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    You are so anointed by God. You give hope to the hopeless, calmness to the anxious,& Biblical guidance to the wavering. This answer is so full of wisdom! I look forward to learning more. Thanks for this avenue of Truth.

  2. Lisa Harr9s on September 21, 2010 at 12:21 am

    God Bless you Leslie. I will be praying for you and the upcooming ministry/teaching opportunities He has opened the door to for you. I pray that the Lord will continue to fill you with His spirit and truth as you bring forth, share and teach your divinly inspired wisdom. You are in Him and in our weaknesses He is strong.

    The Lord never ceases to amaze me. Your ministry and wisdom has been an answer to prayer for me multiple times. Just today I was praying about my seventeen year old daughter, asking the Lord for guidance in how to handle a tough behavioral situation with her. Tonight I received your newsletter… that is a perfect example of how awesome our God is! Thank you, again, for allowing Him to shine forth through you! Lisa

  3. Anonymous on September 21, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    I never dreamed I would find myself in an emotionally abusive marriage, but after 21 very rocky, very, very difficult years of marriage, I am finally realizing what is wrong. I cried all the way through reading your book (The Emotionally Destructive Relationship)because it finally gave voice to what has been going on in my life all these years. I am devastated…..I feel like I am in this vortex of emotion, because I honestly have no idea what to do. I meant the vows that I took when I got married, and it somehow seems unfathomable to me that two Christians could end up in a marriage like the one we have. I could give a million examples of things that have gone on through the years, but I honestly wonder if any counselor would believe me if I went to them for counseling. I think that unless you have lived through this kind of abuse, or somehow witnessed it first hand, it is nearly impossible for the average Christian counselor/Pastor to know how deeply and profoundly this kind of hidden, insidious abuse destoys its victims. I have pondered at great length lately whether it would be worse for my children to have to live through a divorce of their parents, or to continue to witness the awful, awful fighting, etc. that has become a near-constant part of their lives. I think that the importance of this kind of teaching for Pastors and counselors cannot be overemphasized. I know that Pastors, especially, tend to think of many marriage problems as being rooted in a lack of submission or a lack of respect, etc, on the part of the wife, but I know from living through the past 21 years that issues like that don't even come close to the reson for a marriage falling apart sometimes. I will pray for you, Leslie. Your books have been like a lifeline for me, and helped me know that I wasn't crazy for the grief and engulfing sadness I have known for so many years.

  4. Anonymous on September 22, 2010 at 4:02 am

    Thanks for sharing. You are not alone. I remember that feeling of reading for the first time about the abuse in my marriage when finally it clicked for me. You are not crazy, but it sounds like your life has been.
    Best Wishes!

  5. Amy on September 22, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    To Anonymous #2-
    I lived through an emotionally, verbally and mentally abusive marriage for 20 years.
    We were not Christians when we married, but both accepted the Lord around our 10th wedding anniversary. It was around that time I was finally able to put a finger on what had been happening for 10 years of my life, and my two sons, but now as a Christian, I was being told to just submit, respect and pray more, then God would bless my marriage and make it all right.
    I suddenly found myself surrounded by Christians whom would rather turn away from what was happening to me and my children, then help me.
    I'm afraid that most pastors do not know how to help in abusive situations, especially in the case of emotional abuse which is harder for them to understand.
    The pastor at my recent church hasn't spoke with me in over a year since my husband left us and recently wanted to know how I was. I broke down in his office when he asked why I wasn't divorced yet and I told him I was so scared to face my husband. I think he finally "got" it and is now encouraging me to move forward with the divorce, has helped to pay for groceries and paid for me to see my counselor again.

    I pray that you do not spend one more day just staying where you are at. Find a Christian counselor that deals with domestic violence, specifically emotional and verbal abuse, and go. Do not go as a couple for counseling…you go and get help.

    I am praying right now for you that you find clear direction today to make a decision not to allow anymore abuse in yours and your children's lives.
    After my husband left, both of my boys have told me how much more peaceful our home is and how happier they are.
    Feel free to contact me if you wish.

  6. Sharis on December 10, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    You will find that there are many Christians working in the secular domestic violence agencies–and even if you don't find any, God can use them to help you get wisdom and information you need to get you and your children safe. Go there. It is where I finally found help. And read the book "Why Does He do That" by Lundy Bancroft. God used this book to help me see my situation clearly for the first time. Also, real the Christian book "No Place for Abuse" by Catherine Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark. After several months of support groups thru the domestic violence agencies (where I met many Christian women) I finally had the information and courage I needed to separate and it was the best thing I ever did, for me AND for him. Also, if your husband wants to change, ask him to commit to a program for abusive men (NOT an anger management program). You can find programs for abusers thru the domestic violence agencies. Also, PRAY for God to give you specific direction and stay in the Word. God led me out with much confirmation and encouragement and I've been separated over a year now. I have found much spontaneous healing from mental and physical disorders caused by the stress of the abuse since I moved to a safe place. And the separation was a gift to my husband who has decided to change and attended the abusers group for the full six-month program and got a lot out of it. He now needs individual counseling, and then perhaps marriage counseling will follow in time as he proves himself to have changed. But God will help you with all these things–keep asking Him for direction and stay in the Word. I'm sure He will speak to you. He does NOT want you to be abused! He is the deliverer of the oppressed! The church has a lot of learning and repentance to do in this area, but there are some Christians who do understand; ask God to help you find them. Take care and be safe. God bless!

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