If you are reading this article, we are going to make a few assumptions. You are a committed parent who takes seriously the responsibility God has given you to raise your children up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” You have most likely read a number of books on parenting and/or have attended classes or seminars designed to equip you for this monumental task. Those things are commendable. Of course God has entrusted us with these precious children and we should not take that responsibility lightly. Just one word of caution though — there are no guarantees that we can claim as we endeavor to raise our children to love the Lord and follow Him with their whole heart.
Many parents rely on Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” as evidence that good parenting will produce a child committed to the Lord. Proverbs are not promises. Instead, they are generalized statements of how things usually go. Dr. Charles Swindoll has noted that the Amplified Bible renders a more precise translation of this proverb. It reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it.” As you can see, the proverb doesn’t promise you that you can mold your child into the man or woman you want them to be. God is the only potter with that power.
To even discuss adult children, you have to begin with the contrasting concept. At best the title of “Adult Child” seems something of a contradiction. We as parents have to understand that children become adults. They cross the bridge into adulthood ready or not. The question becomes one of whether we still see a child or an adult. I remember our son saying that I still view him through a child lens. He is a six-foot, bearded, driven man that owns a car, but part of me still sees a three-foot, baby face being driven somewhere and needing help into the car. It is a contrasting visual that parents must struggle with. Yes, my child is always my child, but as an adult I must see the adult in the child rather than the other way around. As a parent, I should recognize the change.
Another of the changes that takes place when a child becomes an adult is the parent’s job of guidance. A child needs to be told, but as an adult they need to be advised. Once they are full-fledged adults, your role becomes that of an advisor, and that advice will not be welcome unless they ask for it. Your children are now responsible for their own choices. They may veer away from the path you had hoped for them, but they are a work in progress, as we all are. Pray for God to capture their hearts, and that they would fall deeply in love with the Lord. Continue to ask good questions and listen more than you give opinions about their lives. When they do come to you for advice, realize they may not take that advice. Refuse to feel hurt or insulted. I appreciate the way God spoke to Adam by asking, “Where are you?” after the first sin in Genesis 3:9. Jesus in Matthew 20:32 asked the two blind men, “What do you want me to do for you?” In both cases, I’m certain Divinity knew the answers, but wanted and waited to hear. I think, as parents, we are too quick to tell rather than ask. Ask good questions, allow them to wrestle with the questions and don’t steer the decision.
While adult children should make their own decisions, parents should also. This means that if an adult child decides to depart from the truth, the parent should stand by the truth, not by the child. This is not an easy choice, but my faith is in God, not in my child. For those children who as adults have distanced themselves completely from the Lord, do all that you can do to continue to nurture your relationship with them. It may have to be a more superficial relationship than you would like, or visits may be few and far between, but do all that you can do to keep the door open towards them. You may have to accept the fact that they are in a different place spiritually, or even behaviorally, but you do not have to affirm their choice. Accepting without affirming might look like being able to welcome them home for a visit but having some boundaries on their behavior (such as language, additional guests, etc.) while they are in your home. Didn’t God continue to pursue us while we were in rebellion toward Him? Continuing to extend love and grace is one way parents can “be” Christ to their children even if they refuse to hear anything about the faith they have left.
Your adult child may have taken a different path, but he or she still has many things that you can affirm and even celebrate. They may have a charming personality, a great sense of humor, a commendable work ethic, a strong sense of justice or a compassionate heart. Praise the things you can, and make sure they know that you will always love them, whether or not you agree with every part of their lives. Keep your hope in the Lord, not in your child. God is the only one who can change hearts, and He has resources that we do not have. Pray for your children, and trust that God is big enough and loving enough to reach them, even if it looks like they have become unreachable. What is impossible for man is possible with God.
Finally, be of great joy that God uses flawed parents. In reality, He doesn’t have much to work with in humankind. We have seen and personally experienced failure as parents. That does not excuse or remove us from use. Some of the greatest leaders in God’s kingdom had the worst lead-ups to their ministry. King David, Peter and Paul as a small sample had as great of short-comings as any representative of God and His work. Yet their disappointments seemed to provide a pathway to restoration and purpose. God wants us to see that our relationship with our child begins with our relationship with Him. After all, the goal is an adult child having a relationship with their Creator, not with us. We want an adult child to see Christ in us. Our humble acceptance of God’s work in our life clears the way for His success in our adult child.
-Marsha and Richard Inman