Parenting Adult Children

IMG_1160Transitioning from adolescence to adulthood can be a crisis. Choosing a career direction, buying auto insurance, paying rent—it’s a time of huge change. Not only for your adult child, but for you.

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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7 Comments on “Parenting Adult Children

  1. When my kids were little, I read Dr. Doolittle to them. There was a creature in that book called a Push-me-pull-you. That is my parenting angst, in a nutshell. How hard can I push, and when do i need to pull back and pull away. God has His work cut out for me in guiding my parental steps. He’s impressing upon me that one kid’s push too hard is another kids’s pulling back, and that His grace is definitely sufficient for the gaps and individual needs of each kid. God has also reminded me that although we all need His parenting all our lives, as an earthly parent, my job is to work myself out of a job. I’ve given roots. It’s my job to give roots, and to provide a soft spot on which to land. It’s their job to try to work their wings. I try to remind myself of that when any particular child of mine is so exasperating because s/he sees the world so differently than I, and wants to do things her/his own way.

    • I hear you. Each kid is so different–there is no one-size-fits-all. Once you’ve got one figured out–like that ever happens–then the next one responds in the opposite way. Praying for wisdom for us all.

  2. I have been saying for the last several months how much harder it is to me to parent adult children! You want to protect them and keep them from making mistakes but you can’t. Knowing when to let go and stand back so they can learn from their own choices is so hard! The biggest part of parenting has just begun, I believe. Walking along side and loving them unconditionally through all their choices, good and bad. I know my “temper tantrum” parenting style in their earlier years left me feeling like my kids had no good memories of their childhood! I have asked for forgiveness but forgiving myself is the hardest! Thank you Miss Jean for sharing your heart and wisdom!

    • Hi Patti–Yes, parenting adult children is hard! But what helps me is remembering all the mistakes I made, and how God mercifully helped me learn from them. Plus, my mom was a prayer warrior, and her prayers made a HUGE difference. That really helps me have faith that when I pray, God hears and acts. Usually not in my timing, but His.

      His hand is on your kids, Patti. Our job is just to keep praying.:-)

  3. Our oldest, Doug serves in the US Air Force, we always figured that he would find his wife overseas and that he did. We reminded him that we have prayed for his (and all of our children’s future spouses since they were babies). Doug bent over backwards to be sure that we were involved from proposal to wedding and a local reception. We had to learn how to be supportive and strong during a long distance broken relationship.
    We figured that Delayna would find her spouse in college (not realizing it would be a different college). Danielle fell in love and married her high school sweetheart. Not sure if I would have hand picked any of these young people for my babies, which has just encouraged and reminded me to pray even more diligently for these young people that have joined our family. As for grandchildren, Delayna’s constant apologies when Eva was 2 is thanks enough :D. I count myself fortunate that Delayna’s husband, Matt is a Christian man and patient with his Mother-In-Law, as they allow my 2 cents and are not afraid to give me back the change.
    I have found an even bigger blessing, when I realize that each of my children are choosing a direction that I would not have chosen, only to say, “I know that God is leading me…” What’s left to challenge? I love those kids and I love their strength to respond to God’s direction.
    We are blessed.

    • Thanks for your comment, Debbie. I agree–when they are being led of God, what IS left to challenge? You’ve got a great family!