The holidays can be a tough time for everyone. And when you’re parenting an oppositional, defiant, or challenging child, the holidays can be more than tough—they can be downright awful.

My son is in his thirties now, but all I have to do is close my eyes, and I can remember so clearly the arguing and my feelings of hopelessness and despair. Hearing Christmas songs on the radio didn’t make me smile—it made me change the station!

Instead of anticipating the holidays with joy, I absolutely dreaded Christmas as it typically brought disappointment, anger, and sadness. One year, while most other families were shopping for Christmas presents, my husband and I found ourselves shopping for plaster to fix the hole my son had kicked in the living room wall.

So, if you’re going through difficult times with your child or your family’s situation in general, I understand. I’ve been there.

The saying goes that time heals all wounds. I can honestly say that looking back on things after several years have passed does give you a different perspective. And so my gift to you is the most valuable thing I can think of: the gift of hope. With the perspective of a survivor, here are some reasons why I wouldn’t go back and trade the experience of parenting my son for anything else.

Tough Times Make Tough People

Yes, my son was oppositional and defiant. He challenged me at every turn. He pushed every emotional button I had. He found every weakness within me and played upon it. He brought out fear in me from insecurities I never knew I had.

But out of chaos and crisis come change, and I found a strength within that I never realized I possessed. While my son may have brought out the worst in me (at times), he also brought out the best in me. And for that, I thank him.

I Belong to an Elite Group of “Special Forces” Parents

One thing is certain about parenting a challenging child: it sets us apart from all the rest! Like the Navy SEALS, we’ve undergone some of the most challenging and intense situations possible—situations that developed our courage and resolve.

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We have our battle scars. But we also have the knowledge and wisdom that come from understanding that life is far from perfect and that sometimes you have to throw out the traditional “parenting book” and write your own.

The Most Difficult Christmas Ever

I remember the most difficult Christmas season of my son’s childhood. When he was 13, he kicked a hole in our living room wall. Grounding meant nothing to him, but possessions and money did. I told him:

“You will need to pay for the damages you have caused. I will be deducting the cost of the plaster and paint from what I normally would have spent on you for Christmas.”

This meant little to him at the time because Christmas was still weeks away. He figured I would cave, as so many of us do.

Christmas is about giving. Not buying my son gifts was one of the toughest things I’d ever done as a parent. But the life lesson my oppositional defiant child had to learn—“you are responsible for your behavior and there are always consequences to your choices”—was so much more valuable than the latest video game or cell phone. And so, I lovingly placed a Christmas card under the tree:

Merry Christmas, son. I love you! As your present this year, I fixed the hole in the wall. Your bill has been paid.

It was the last time he ever punched a hole in the wall.

It took tremendous strength not to give in and buy him at least something for under the tree. He is my son. I wanted him to be happy, especially at Christmas. But more than that, I wanted him to grow into a responsible, law-abiding citizen.

Material things are lost over the years, but values and morals are the gifts of a lifetime. And all my “special forces” training gave me the clarity of purpose and willpower I needed to face this challenge!

My Son Needed Me

When our children are misbehaving, that’s often when they need us the most. This is easy to remember when your child only misbehaves sometimes.

But my son argued and defied me daily. How easy would it have been to fall into the trap of emotionally distancing myself from him? It hurts to face your child’s anger and defiance. But the bottom line was, my son needed me—even though he didn’t know it and certainly would have argued strongly that he didn’t, he absolutely did.

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Years later, I can see that this seemingly “stubborn” child was born with the personality and the will to not compromise when he feels strongly about something. At times, those traits have served him well—at other times, not so well. But because I know that I provided him with what he needed growing up, now that he’s an adult, I can accept that it’s his journey, not mine.

I Love My Son

Finally, no matter what we’ve gone through over the years, I love my son. I haven’t always liked or agreed with his behavior or his choices, but I have always loved him. There were days I had to dig deep to remember it. Sometimes I had to write it down to remind myself, but love was what got me through the challenge of parenting. Through good times (and yes, there were some good times) and bad, for better or worse, he’s my child and I love him.

My wish for you, your child and your family this holiday is hope. If the peace and joy of the season seem overshadowed by the challenges you are facing, know that you are not alone. Everyone here at Empowering Parents is here to support you. And I am with you in heart and spirit.

Related Content:
9 Ways To Get Through the Holidays With a Defiant Child
Restless and Bored: How to Use Structure to Keep Your Child from Getting into Trouble This Summer

About and

Kimberly Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner are the co-creators of The ODD Lifeline® for parents of Oppositional, Defiant kids, and Life Over the Influence™, a program that helps families struggling with substance abuse issues (both programs are included in The Total Transformation® Online Package). Kimberly Abraham, LMSW, has worked with children and families for more than 25 years. She specializes in working with teens with behavioral disorders, and has also raised a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW, is the mother of four and has been a therapist for 15 years. She works with children and families and has in-depth training in the area of substance abuse. Kim and Marney are also the co-creators of their first children's book, Daisy: The True Story of an Amazing 3-Legged Chinchilla, which teaches the value of embracing differences and was the winner of the 2014 National Indie Excellence Children's Storybook Cover Design Award.

Comments (20)
  • Noel
    This brings me comfort, while simultaneously making me sad and emotional. My kids are 6 & 9 and, I love them so much, but they are MEAN to me. I do everything in this world for them, and I suppose that’s how I’ve created their behavior…I showed them love throughMore acts of service and gifts and now they make me cry and crush my heart multiple times a day. It’s scary to read this, and these comments, and know there isn’t an end in sight; it won’t get better…but I find solace that I’m not alone. I can’t remember the last holiday I enjoyed or looked forward to. “It’s the most (awful) time of the year”
  • Lily
    You could’ve at least got him something little. I bet he would’ve even appreciated one piece of candy with a ribbon around it :’(
  • Zamiah
    You could’ve got him something little at least chocolate :( Maybe he was unhappy and needed the cheering up!
  • Patricia
    I am a parent of 2 teenagers, 14 and 15 and have to put up with the shouting, accusing of unfairness, coming home late (even early hours of the morning are not unusual). I feel like I am going mad but am told by them that they do not behaveMore badly as others they know are much worse. I believe this may be true but remind them swiftly that we live by our standards and do not gravitate to others I have just had christmas and while they were not too bad, you could really tell that Kevin and Perry were in the room (for those that dont know, google Harry Enfield the comedian and his take off of stroppy teenagers. Even with the hell I feel now some of the time, I do still admire them as individuals and what they are achieving in their lives. I really cant wait to leave all of the drama behind and hope this is sooner rather than later.
  • Heather
    You sent this message for me, didn't you? We discovered last night that our 15 year old son spent hundreds of dollars on our credit card on DoorDash and gaming coins over this last month. As much as it pains me, and as much as I fret aboutMore what anger and retaliation reaction this will trigger in him, I followed through with your advice and initiated returns on his gifts. I'm holding out hope that this lesson will help him in the long run.
  • Andrea
    Hi, Thank you for your detailed experience with your child and I feel much better about whats happening to my 18 year old son. He's just turned 18 two days ago and he thinks he can do and say anything to me. But I now know I am not aloneMore with this issue that really has upset me and the rest of our family. Thank you for sharing your experience all the best Andrea xx
  • Enabling my child
    Even though I know I am doing my son an injustice by giving him things, as crazy as it may sound, I really can't help myself! I've always been known to be a very wonderful parent. I taught him right from wrong, morals, values, etc...but, he is a classic Narcissist.More I'm sorry, but it's true. It's so difficult to accept what I've been seeing all along. I feel so helpless. I love him so much b/c we grew up together and went through a lot together, some of it not so good. I feel so sorry for him b/c his father was always absent and he couldn't understand why and it still breaks my heart today. I KNOW what I should do, but my heart takes over every time.
  • Scott
    My kid has put me through a proverbial wringer every holiday for the last five years since I had to end my marriage to his mother. It isn't that, though it was part, but that he is absolutely defiant and emotionally disregulated. He is now 15, 12, 13, and lastMore year were the worst. This year is better, because he has gained a tiny bit of maturity and self introspection via counseling, more because I am changing. I won't accept his manipulations and "promises" anymore, and it feels really good to take back some self respect.
    • Daphne
      We just went through the most difficult Christmas ever. We gave one daughter that earned her phone hers for Christmas. Our difficult daughter who is failing in school didn’t receive hers. She thought right up until Christmas that we would cave in & giveMore it to her anyway. She screamed, yelled & kicked things nonstop until 4am It was so bad we all had to leave our house. We couldn’t take the abuse. Now every day until she gets her grades up -it’s a constant battle!!!
  • Woody
    I absolutely hate Christmas. My children are not grateful for what they receive and as soon as presents are opened they go back to their rooms leaving a mess. I’m at my wits end with my 13yo son. This year was a little better at least they liked what theyMore received.
  • Kavita
    Thank u for ur read.tho i m not so sure whether everything turns out happily for all.my girl is 18 now n from 13 yrs age she has been unmanageable.i kept going thru all this with the hope that as she grows older she will mellow down .but she isMore actually getting worse n i despair many times.i keep thinking where I went wrong in her upbringing.now she is demanding an iPhone 11 which is beyond our budget n she knows it yet she creates hell everyday .n in India kids don't leave the house after 18 ...so that's not an option at all.m hoping to pass thru this to see a ray of light some time in later years at least
  • Thank you for the Christmas hope

    I love my son but I feel he is killing me emotionally. I lose my strength and happiness every day. I then recuperate and try again to help him and I can never make him happy not matter how much I tried and keep running out of ideas to deal with his behavior. It is not a happy Christmas today but I keep trying to make it happy. However, I am beyond exhausted.

    Thank you for giving one more hope this Christmas

  • Hope
    Thank you so much for this article. I work with students with ODD and other emotional issues and find this site and resources to be so helpful. I tell parents about your website all the time. The best line from your article, and one that’s repeated oftenMore in your materials is that with most children, the average parent with average skills and who loves his/her child will do well. But some children require “navy seal” parenting. When I explain this to parents who end up in my office it is such a relief to them to know that they are not bad people or bad parents, but that they have a child with very severe needs, as much as a child with cancer or a child with learning disabilities. While the parent of a child with a debilitating illness gets support and admiration, parents of children with ODD deal with so much judgement, guilt and shame on a daily basis. Thank you for all the work you do!
  • Annie
    This was a beautiful early christmas present for me. Lovely read for me! The wind down for christmas has possibility been the worse yet for my husband and i with our nearly 13 yr old son. Arguments over xmas gifts what he wants being an Xbox..but us not givingMore in as he isnt getting one to defiance over not wanting to go to his grade 6 graduation with other kids were wearing suits and dressed up young girls which was surpose to be exciting and a proud occasion was filled with stress and defiance over clothing and basically not wanting to go. And an aweful end of year report. Ive spent more days in tears than not in the last 2 weeks but our commitment is strong even when i feel so weak..he is one tough kid but im tougher !yes with love and compassion to see the bigger picture and never giving in to bribery and manipulations and always following through with consequences will only help our son in the end...ha but will i survive..!yes i will because i have the most amazing heart warming job that touches every emotion i have and moves me constantly towards learning more about myself and my beautiful family.. merry christmas to all the families that struggle. Yes there is alwsys hope..
    • Z
      If he doesn’t want to go don’t force him to go
    • Daphne
      We just went through the most difficult Christmas ever. We gave one daughter that earned her phone hers for Christmas. Our difficult daughter who is failing in school didn’t receive hers. She thought right up until Christmas that we would cave in & giveMore it to her anyway. She screamed, yelled & kicked things nonstop until 4am It was so bad we all had to leave our house. We couldn’t take the abuse anymore. Now every day until she gets her grades up -it’s a constant battle!!!
  • Louise
    Hi, this is so reassuring. But the future for my son scares me. I’d be interested to know how your son has turned out?
  • Bennett

    You just described me to

    The tee. I am sitting here at work

    Crying over my son, how he is acting and the fact that Christmas is coming ! Christmas is my favorite holiday ever and in 50 yrs I can say this is the first time I have ever dreaded Christmas! I

    Don’t think he deserves any gifts and I

    Don’t want to pretend to be happy at the relatives house ! I am at a loss !

  • KMarie
    Thank you. A timely message for those of us who have been or are going through some tough challenges with our kids. Love is unconditional and this message touches my heart and does give me hope. Merry Christmas
  • Deb
    Wow, so powerful, it made me cry. My son is also 13 and we are really struggling, even with professional help. Let's hope he comes through as your did.
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