In January 2016, Elsie and I added Parenting Adult Children to our six areas of counseling focus. We added this important area because we continue to see more and more parents come for counseling on how to deal with the problems of their, now, adult children. Their children are running the gamut of problems from cut-offs to divorce to drug/alcohol addiction to sexual immorality. The parents are asking how can we help our children and, even more, how can we protect our grandchildren. This becomes especially heart-wrenching when the parent is attached to the grandchildren. It causes them deep pain and, often, anger to see the mess their parents have made of their lives and the impact it is having on the grandchildren.
Here are some thoughts on parenting adult children. First and foremost, if these adult children are born again believers in Jesus Christ they need to move from parent-dependent (as children) to self-dependent (as adults) to God-dependent (as believers). As the parent of adult children, you no longer have the authority to compel them to do your will. They no longer live under your roof and you are no longer the authority in their lives. The goal of Christian adulthood is that we would become God-dependent and submit ourselves to His authority to do His will.
Second, being a parent of an adult child who is making a mess of his life is difficult. If you are doing childcare for the grandchildren you have all the responsibility during the time they are with you and none of the authority. You are now in the position of “parenting by permission.” As a parent you can ask if your children want your counsel or advice but you cannot force it on them. Although time and experience have not made your children equal with you, you still need to parent by permission. Hopefully your children will value your wisdom and seek out your counsel.
Many parents of adult children try bribery using money, trips, gifts, etc. to buy compliance from their adult children. This may bring temporary compliance but usually doesn’t work long-term. Adult children are glad to take the bribes but continue to do life on their own terms. A healthier approach to parenting adult children is to build a genuine relationship with them that is mutual, reciprocal, and free (for a deeper understanding of these terms, read Elsie’s article in the March 2016 Hope Line). Those are the marks of an adult relationship.
The bottom line is that we want our adult children to love Christ, love their children, and love us. We want them to submit their wills to the Lord’s and serve Him with their lives. We want them to see us as a valued resource and include us in their lives not out of duty but out of love. One final thought, you never stop parenting! Until the day you die you will be parenting your children because you love them and care how they live their lives!
Parenting adult children is a sacred privilege,