I love being a parent.
The winding path of my life is filled with the laughter and hugs of my children. Memories often flood my mind of days gone by where my oldest daughter, Emily, was but a child crawling up onto the couch to snuggle near to me. My facebook feed will frequently provide video footage of all my children dancing to their own magical tune in the living room of our small place in North Carolina as their mom and I watch on in joy, completely unaware of the time that was fleeting before us.
My kids are now either adults or teens and the frustrations of those days filled with diapers, tantrums, and bedtime routines have been eclipsed by the good memories and deep relationships now formed with our children. Though there were many hard times in Amy and I’s parenting adventures when our kids were smaller, I can honestly say that those moments of hardship have been worth it.
At the same time (and brace yourself if you’re a young parent) none of those lessons learned in the early days of parenting really prepared me for one of the most difficult seasons in our family: parenting an adult child.
While each child will bring with them their own unique challenges during this transition, the primary difficulty connected with parenting adult children is not the child themself but the changing nature of the relationship.
Consider our children, they are transitioning from being completely dependent on parents who should have protected, provided, taught, and guided them into being independent adults who are now responsible for their own actions and the consequences of those actions.
…the primary difficulty connected with parenting adult children is not the child themself but the changing nature of the relationship.
Stepping over the Threshold
Even as I write out the description of this transition I am struck by the profound nature of it. It is a bit like the marriage process in reverse. In marriage, a man and women will date, seeing each other on occasion so that the relationship can grow in depth and understanding before they take vows and step across the threshold into a life united together.
In parenting the reverse is true, we are thrust into a deep abiding love for our children at their birth. They are instantly part of our family and united with us in our household until the day they are old enough to step across the threshold leaving our house and entering their own life. We do not cease to love them less, but like a dating relationship, it takes greater intentional effort to meet together, connect personally, and grow in greater love and understanding.
Seems simple enough…until they begin making decisions that you don’t necessarily agree with and you realize that you don’t have as much control as you thought.
Control vs Connection
One of the most difficult parts of this experience was the incredible loss of control that Amy and I felt. It was not that we longed to dictate every decision that was being made, but rather we knew that some decisions would lead to great pain and we wanted to keep our kids from those things.
When a child is a toddler there is a physical exhaustion that is very real. You collapse at 8pm after getting them to bed because the last few hours of dinner, bath, playtime, and bedtime felt like an eternity. After all, you are in control of all the variables and therefore have to see that they all fall into place for the benefit of your little one. For many parents, as your child moves towards adulthood, the exhaustion is not as physical as it is emotional, because the decisions are of greater consequence and the control available is lessoning. Unlike before, bedtime may not bring relief because your soul aches over the potential trajectory of their life, so you weep over what feels like helplessness.
Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there. When we feel a loss of control, we double down on anything we can find that we have some sort of influence over. When I get stressed I clean stuff, because I can control a sponge much more than I can control my circumstances.
The same can often happen with parenting.
One of the most difficult parts of this experience was the incredible loss of control…
I believe that is the tight rope that many parents of adult kids walk, and it is not easy.
To help us in this balancing act, let’s consider the words of Paul to Timothy. He was not writing about parenting, but he was writing about confrontation and dispelling untruth among people who were ignorant and quarrelsome.
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:24-26
Notice the words used to describe the person confronting those who needed correction:
- Not be quarrelsome
- Patiently enduring evil
- Correcting…with gentleness
This is a conversation that is not built on control and manipulation, but on truth and the kindness of God, even to the point of enduring the brokenness of others in order to better help them take those steps towards maturing in Christ.
Finally, notice who is the one who is responsible for bringing about understanding?
It is God who Paul writes “may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” God is the one responsible for freeing from the devil’s snare and providing a way of escape through understanding of the truth.
Therefore, as parents of adults we should always be ready to provide godly wisdom and guidance, while guarding against our desire for control.
While I am still learning this lesson today, I am grateful for the example of my own parents who have demonstrated this over the last 20+ years of my life. I know there have been times they have chosen to bite their tongue in order to maintain that steady, godly influence which has had a profound impact on me and my family. They played the long game and I am thankful for it.
,Hope Among Our Helplessness
The warning against control may help us better interact with our adult child during this transition, but what about the helplessness we feel as parents? How do we sleep at night knowing that our children may do things that we don’t just disagree with but that may be harmful.
I think Spurgeon’s famous quote is a good place to start:
“When you go through a trial, the sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which you lay your head.” -Charles Spurgeon
This is, of course, true. Our faith in God’s sovereign rule over the universe brings peace to our mind and to our heart. That said, an even more famous writing from Proverbs is even more helpful:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones. Proverbs 3:5-8
Ultimately, parenting our adult children is an exercise in faith.
Do we trust the sovereign God of all creation with our children? Is He really capable of caring for them appropriately? Can he truly provide for their needs, protect them when needed, and bring them to full maturity in His due time?
In our minds we can easily say “yes”, because we know that to be true. The hard part comes when our knowledge of this truth collides with our human understanding of our children and this world. We acknowledge that God is in control, but we simultaneously acknowledge that things can go terribly wrong for our children in a moments notice. We declare that God’s wisdom is best, yet our multiple decades worth of wisdom can easily become the foundation of our security for our kids and their future rather than the infinite wisdom of God.
To all of this God says “trust me.”
He promises that trusting Him and walking in His ways brings healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones, so that rather than soul crushing helplessness you can find soul reviving hope in a God who loves your children far more than you ever could.
Our child’s path may move in ways that we didn’t foresee, but the same promises that God has given us in His word He has given to them. The same faithfulness He has shown to us He will show to them. The same grace and mercy He has shown to us He will show to them.
In the end, our Mighty God can be trusted with everything we have – even our children.
Pastor of Church Communications
Mike joined the HBC staff in 2015 and is passionate about exalting Christ through any medium available, whether online or in person. He also enjoys cooking, hiking with his family, and playing 90’s video games.