A Time to Weep: 4 Practices for Parents of Troubled Kids

by | Jul 24, 2023 | what you can do | 12 comments

photo cred. unsplash

My seventeen-year-old-daughter had shown signs of improvement. Taking her newly-prescribed medication for depression and anxiety, she appeared to be coping better … at least that’s what I thought. Then I discovered what I hoped I would never see again—blood on her sheets and red-stained tissues in the trash. Noooooo!

In addition, my husband and I had repeatedly caught her drinking and smoking. All the consequences we tried had no effect. Overwhelmed with fear and desperate for answers, I was a mess. Help, God! I don’t know how to walk through this kind of despair. All I can see is doom and destruction looming on the horizon. And I’m so sad. I’m so very, very sad.

My emotional upheaval made perfect sense: constant tears, an ache in my gut, pressure on my chest. The proverbial invisible elephant took up residence there, squeezing the life out of me. Other symptoms plagued me as well: loss of concentration and an inability to focus; insomnia; a poor appetite; rapid heartbeat and uncontrollable shaking. What’s wrong with me?

One day another seasoned parent of a prodigal asked: Dena, did you know you are grieving?

No. I didn’t know. I had no idea. Now my concerning symptoms made sense.

As parents of troubled sons and daughters, we grieve the death of the hopes and dreams we had for them. They’re still alive, yet we mourn.

Reasons We Grieve

We grieve for many reasons. Our child has:

  • Walked out of our life and rejected us. They no longer want our company, wisdom, or love..
  • Our child has a substance use disorder (SUD) with alcohol and/or drugs. Overdoses, rehabs, and incarcerations litter their story.
  • Our child has been (or is) suicidal; they’re in a dark place of hopelessness. They may have made more than one attempt to end their life.
  • Our child is incarcerated; in jail or prison, maybe a repeat offender; part of us dies every time you visit or are denied a visit.
  • Our child struggles with a mental health diagnosis. They might have been suicidal and made more than one attempt to end their lives. They’ve possibly been hospitalized and refused ongoing treatment.
  • Our child has made gender/sexuality decisions that we never imagined would happen. They have pursued transgender protocols or are in a relationship with the same sex; possibly have married them and have children together.

Four Practices to Help us Cope

photo cred.Mike Labrum on Unsplash

When our child is not doing well heavy, dark emotions can take over and ruin our lives. Disheartened, miserable, and depressed, how can we cope? How can we mourn in a healthy way?

We can follow these 4 practices:

  1. Give yourself permission to weep. It’s okay to grieve and lament. To express grief is not unspiritual. Although our culture handles loss poorly, it is a healthy response to the emotional pain of loss.To show heartache is uncomfortable for most of us. We hold back. We suppress our emotions and hide them.

The truth is, parents like us have lost a great deal. Our pain is real and deep and worthy of sorrowing over.

But God welcomes us to express the sadness we feel. Large portions of the Psalms are of lament. Here’s an example:

Psalm 13: How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?… How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? (v.1,2 NIV)

     2.  Find ways to release your sadness. Don’t bury sorrowful feelings anymore. Look for healthy outlets that come naturally and schedule time for them: art, music (play an instrument, sing, or write a song), write or keep a journal, exercise, talk to someone (a trusted friend, a counselor, or clergy), garden, exercise, etc. Yell, wail, or pound on something soft like a bed or pillow. It’s okay. Emotions are a gift from God. The Bible even affirms there is a time for us to weep:

There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens … a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 NIV).

But beware: our mourning can make those around us uneasy. Choose a few, select individuals to be real with. If we share too broadly, we may unintentionally push people away. Not everyone can handle our pain. And that’s okay too.

     3. Renew your mind. What we spend time thinking about affects us positively or negatively. What we put in our thoughts influences our mood and what we believe. Stay close to God, dear friend. Spend time in His Word. Not sure where to read? Psalms and the Gospel of John are good places to start. Read other encouraging materials too. Go to church, get involved in a small group or Bible study. Listen to podcasts. Spend time in prayer talking to God. Use Bible verses as your prayers when you don’t know how to pray, but try not to do all the talking. Practice sitting in silence, letting God speak to your heart.

Listen to uplifting music. Go outside and let nature be a reminder of how near the Creator of the univese is. It’s also good to protect your mind at night when thoughts and emotions are most difficult to control. Meditating on Psalm 23 or listening to soothing music while falling asleep can help.

Make a list of promises from the Scriptures that can be depended on, truths to lean on. Put them on index cards. Place them where they can be seen often: bathroom mirror, kitchen sink, car dashboard, etc. Reading them often will make a difference in your mood and fill you with a spirit of hopefulness. That’s a big part of who God is — the God of hope.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 NIV)

    4. Remember who God is. He’s sovereign, loving, and kind. He’s righteous, just, and eternal; powerful, compassionate, and good—even when life is hard. He is a personal God who He cares about each of us. He is this and much more. When we look to Him, He can take the worst parts of our lives and bring something beautiful out of them.

Sufficient Grace

photo cred.April Yohe Photography

I like what pastor and author Mark Vroegop said in a radio interview:

“When things are really hard, live your life in twenty-four hour periods of grace. God’s grace is new every day. Day by day, His grace will be sufficient for whatever that day holds. God will be faithful. He will cling to us and help us keep clinging to Him.”

Turn to the Bible for comfort:

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. (Psalms 34:18 NLT)

Make time to weep, dear friend. Your burdens will feel lighter and your soul will thank you.

Resources for you: Three pianists who play soothing music are David Tolk, David Cardall, and Jim Brickman. I listen to them on Pandora radio.

You might also like Mark Vroegop’s book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament.


I welcome your thoughts. We learn from one another.

**(Today’s blog post is from the archives.)


  1. Beth

    Thank you Dena. We are so broken hearted. I try to read your email everyday. I believe Jesus but my body seems to have a mind of its own. The grief and loss overwhelms us and our bodies react. I never dreamed we would face this. There seems to be relapse and rebellion and we hardly recognize our child any longer. It is tragic and harder than death. Thank you for your ministry. It truly blesses me daily. Your ministry is different bc it keeps pushing me back to God yet it allows me to be sad.

    • Tom and Dena Yohe

      Thank you for your comment, Beth. I am so very sorry for how brokenhearted you and your husband are. We understand how painful and difficult this is. Our sufferings do take a toll on our bodies that seem outside of our control even though we’re doing our best to trust God. Yes, it definitely feels worse than death…it keeps going on and on with no closure. We just experience more and more heartache. I’m so grateful our ministry is helping you. May the Lord help you as you find ways to lament in the midst of surrendering what you want. A book that helped me was Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb.
      I’m praying for you right now.

    • Sue Winner

      Thank you Dena for your life giving words. Our daughter who we adopted at birth is about to turn 21 and walked out of lives 2 years ago to choices of homosexual relationships and now has moved back in with her birth mother. This has been the hardest most agonizing time in our lives, and would appreciate your prayers.

      • Tom and Dena Yohe

        Oh Sue, I am so sorry for this heartbreaking situation. May God, the ultimate brokenhearted and rejected parent, comfort and sustain you. He understands more than anyone else ever could. Put your focus on him and stay close, daily filling your mind with His Word, the Bible. Be devoted to prayer, never giving up. God can do the impossible. I pray he will do whatever it takes to open your daughter’s eyes and bring her “home” to you. Amen.
        “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our tine of need.” (Heb. 4:16)

  2. Denise

    So much wisdom and encouragement in this post. Thank you for coming alongside all of us parents who are broken-hearted over our children and encouraging us!

    • Tom and Dena Yohe

      Thank you for your comment, Denise. God led us into this ministry and we are just so grateful to hear that our efforts are helping to encourage you!

      • Toni

        My husband and I are on our 8th year of grieving. Thankful that we are rooted in our faith. Never imagined our faith would be tested to this level. We have learned to encourage ourselves in the Lord. We have several groups of people who pray for us and our son and daughter continually. With God’s grace we push through and we also know when to just stop and rest. We have to be intentional in every way to remain healthy physically, mentally and spiritually.

        • Tom and Dena Yohe

          Thank you for your comment, Toni. Those are some wise practices you and your husband have. Thank you for sharing what has helped you over these 8 years of grieving your son and daughter. I am so very sorry for all the pain. May God’s grace and the prayers of those who care about you, continue to sustain you on this long road.
          In Christ, Dena

  3. Kari

    It’s been 3 yrs since we’ve seen or heard from our son. He legally changed his entire name and uses them/she pronouns. This mourning consumed me in the beginning. It’s still painful but I joined one of your on line support groups. Continue to stay rooted in my church community and stand on Gods promises.

    • Tom and Dena Yohe

      Kari, I am so sorry that you have had to walk this grievous path with your son. I’m so glad one of our online support groups has helped. You are so wise to stay rooted in your church family and stand firm on God’s promises. Where would we be without these? Thank you for sharing what has been helping you. And I pray that God will open your son’s eyes and bring him home to you and to Him.

  4. Anonymous

    Thank you for all you do for us broken- hearted parents out here! I just finished your book You Are not Alone. And when our daughter lived at home with us , I first heard about TWLOHA from her. Things have gotten easier but it definitely felt like she was and is still dead to us. But thank you , because you are making a difference!

    • Tom and Dena Yohe

      Thank you for your kind commend. You are so welcome. Everything I do is all from God and by His prompting. If not for others who helped me I don’t know where I’d be today. I hope my book was helpful to you too. Maybe the new Study Guide will be helpful as well? Our connection with TWLOHA was an amazing God-thing. I hope what they were doing helped your daughter at the time. How heartbreaking that it’s still as though she is dead to you. You must be weary. Thank you for telling me that what I do has made a difference. That really blesses me to hear. By the way, you might want to try one of our online support groups. We now have two just for parents who are estranged from their children, if that’s your situation, in addition to our other online groups. The information is on our website, but they meet on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of the month. One group meets at 1:30pm Eastern time, the other one at 7:00pm Eastern time. Let me know if you have questions: hope@hopeforhurtingparents.com
      By His Grace, Dena