Just four months before the release of my book, X-Plan Parenting, my wife and I awoke to a living nightmare on a beautiful February morning.
Our teenage son was gone.
Not left early for school (as he sometimes did). Not asleep on the couch instead of his bed (another norm).
Left behind was a note, telling us not to worry, that he would be okay, but he just couldn’t take this life anymore.
Without warning, we were thrown into a soul-raping riptide of sleepless nights, ragged hope, and desperate searches that dragged our family, friends, and countless strangers through thousands of miles of cruel terrain.
But the harshest part of the journey?
The mockery of people (even those we considered friends—yes, we heard and, yes, it hurt) who would never know (or care to know) the whole story.
I—the author of a Christian parenting book—suddenly realized what too many parents face on a daily basis: judgment and dismissal from the blissfully ignorant who haven’t the experience or wisdom to extend a bit of grace.
We should’ve noticed.
That’s the accusation Laura and I keenly felt when first looking back on the weeks before our son’s disappearance.
After a medication change, he’d become withdrawn. Unpredictably moody. But not too different from the behaviors of any teen going through the challenges of adolescence. And I should know. I’ve worked with kids for three decades.
There had been warning signs.
They’d just appeared with such glacial speed, we hadn’t felt the need to hit the alarm button.
Our kid was struggling, but we could get through it. After all, if he needed help, he’d just reach out, right? For crying out loud, I’d created the worldwide-viral X-Plan that kicked open the door for millions of parents to reconnect with their teenagers. If my parenting tips were saving kids thousands of miles away, how could the teen under my own roof be in any danger?
“It was nothing you did,” our son’s runaway note read, but the voices that pierced our hearts said otherwise.
If your kid runs away, it’s because of one thing and one thing only: you’re a lousy parent.
During a recent interview, I was asked how my son’s disappearance affected my book’s release. I stifled an awkward laugh, mostly because I realized the misconception of what my book is really about.
Nowhere do I sell myself as a perfect dad. In fact, I’d worked very hard to write with transparency about my own brokenness and parenting missteps. I offer more questions than answers, questions that hopefully draw parents into a greater understanding of themselves, their kids, and their unique circumstances.
“If anything,” I told the interviewer, “my son running away actually validates this book.”
“How so?” he asked.
“I have nothing to offer parents who want to pretend they have it all figured out and don’t face heartache and struggle,” I explained. “This book is for families who face adversity with honesty and courage and hope to come out stronger on the other side.”
Sadly, not enough parents do that—face adversity with honesty and courage—because they’re too busy trying to sell the image of the perfect family in the gold frame above the fireplace.
Of course they have struggles, but it’s more comfortable to point a finger than risk a little authenticity and vulnerability.
In my world, I see the best and worst of parenting. I’ve seen incredible, responsible, loving kids grow out of families that were more likely to have produced criminals.
I’ve also watched engaged, nurturing families limp through parenting minefields: drug addiction, mental and physical challenges, rape, and even death.
I once heard Christian author John Eldredge offer parents a bit a much-needed grace: “Your kids are not the report card on who you are as a parent.”
For the most part, I agree. We’ve got to cut ourselves (and each other) a little slack. It’s a dangerous, unpredictable, chaotic world. No parent can cover all the bases, nor should they be expected to. Heck, for those of us in the faith community, this should be a given. We have a supernatural, all-knowing, all-loving God, and look at what a mess we are. Shall we suggest that God’s a lousy Father?
The best parents know better.
They’ve learned to see beyond a season of crisis.
While the boorish masses might judge you for your struggles, those with insight recognize that whatever comes against your family isn’t a reflection of who you are.
However, your response to adversity is … and, dear lion-hearted parent, you have a say in that part of the story.
Our son ran away from home. It was a perfect storm of overwhelming circumstances. After a week in the wilderness, he came home an even bigger mess than before he left. The following months were more grueling and heart-wrenching than anything I could’ve ever imagined as a father … or a writer.
However, our family is coming out the other side stronger than we’ve ever been. For that, I am grateful.
I know a lot of you are struggling right now with your kids, and I know you feel judged because of your circumstance.
Friends, consider the source.
You’re only being judged by those who have never stepped into the ring to fight for their families.
But know this: you are not alone. Millions of us are cheering you on as we fight our own battles.
Your heart is tough enough for the task. Your family will grow stronger from the experience.
Forgive those who will never realize that sort of blessing.