Parenting Adult Children
For them, it involves taking on adult responsibilities. For you, it means divesting yourself of the responsibilities you’ve had for 18 years.
If you’ve been wise, this has been a gradual transition, almost from the time they were born: teaching and coaching your kids to (a.) make their own choices and (b.) live with the consequences of those decisions.
Usually, though, the road is bumpy–for them and for you. Parents are often reluctant to let go of control, because what if their kids fail? And what will the neighbors think? For their part, kids sometimes would rather put up with the annoyance of parental control to avoid the risks associated with decisions, and consequences of those decisions.
What to do, what to do.
First, let’s think of this as a give and take. Becoming an adult means that we as parents need to give up the control and responsibility that now belong to our kids. Adult children need to pick them up. In this transition, there will be awkward moments when things aren’t getting done to our exacting standards. And what is our job when this happens? To resist taking back the responsibilities that are theirs.
How can we help our children in practical ways?
- Listen, don’t fix. Our kids are making life decisions about where to go to school, what vocation they’ll pursue, and who they will marry. We can listen as they work through these things. We can ask thoughtful questions rather than hammering them with advice. We can give them space to through it, and make sure they hear from us that we believe they can do it. They’ll believe us when we quit bombarding them with our solutions. Through it all, we can pray.
- Let them plan the details of their wedding. If you help pay for your kid’s wedding, consider it a gift, not a license to decide where the wedding will be, who will wear what, and what old neighbors from Chicago you have to invite. You already had your wedding, remember? This wedding is theirs. Write the check and keep your mouth shut.
- Support the autonomy of their marriage. The Bible says “the two shall become one.” Not, “The two shall include Mom.” Repeat after me: Leave and Cleave. Let your children leave you and cleave to their spouses.
- Encourage them to make their own holiday traditions—even if their decision is to spend Thanksgiving in New York—without you. This may mean you need to find your own friends and not expect your kids to be your only social outlet.
- Never be critical of their spouse. Never, ever, ever. Encourage them to work out their issues together. If they need advice, encourage them to seek out another older couple they can trust, not you or their dad.
- Support their parenting. Don’t pick at their technique, decisions, or subvert their authority over their children. Praise their efforts; pray for them constantly.
What if they fail?
They will fail. We certainly did, (and do!) right? And when our kids fail, we need to be good listeners, not good fixers.
What if we’ve failed?
Anyone honest with themselves recognizes that in the course of their long parenting lives, they’ve failed at least once, and will again. For me, it’s a daily occurrence. However, when Bill and I dedicated our children to the Lord when they were babies, we promised God we’d raise them to know Him and obey Him, and trust God to help us. And we did the best we could at the time, with the information we had.
Did we do it perfectly? Ah, no.
And my darling adult children will confirm this to you. They love to gather around the fire on cold, winter evenings and recount in painful detail the ways I majored on the minors, and didn’t allow them to watch the Lion King on account of which they were ostracized on the playground for six months in the 4th grade. For that I repent in dust and ashes.
Folks—we’re not perfect. And we need to ask forgiveness of our children for our failures. But after we sincerely ask forgiveness, and do all we can to make any necessary restitution for our sins, both for things we did and things we failed to do, we need to let it go.
Have we asked forgiveness of our kids? Have we asked forgiveness of the Lord? God says in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness–including our failures as parents.
It’s freeing to be forgiven. (And, the grace of God usually allows us the amazing blessing of do-overs with our grandkids!)
Parenting adult children can be a tough transition for us. But we can be agents of blessing to them as we listen, encourage, and pray for them.
If you’re brave, share what your challenges are in parenting adult children. What things have you learned that can help us?
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