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Parenting Adult Children

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5, NIV)

One Sunday I broke down in tears at a prayer meeting at church and asked what I could do to restore my adult son to me. He had made some chilling decisions and I was powerless to change him. A dear, older woman hurried across the room, sat down beside me and slipped her arm around my shoulder. "Your parenting in the flesh is over," she said softly. "It's time to parent him in the Spirit. Pray for your son and trust God to do what you cannot do — and He will," she added confidently.

I was set free that day. Gradually I began to see that God, who reconciled His relationship to His children through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, would surely give me and all mothers and fathers who asked for it the grace to reconcile our changing relationship with our adult children. I have found that such grace has helped me and others to incorporate three helpful steps into our parenting process. And they work! Today, 20 years after that life-changing day, my son is a fine, responsible adult, who has become one of my dearest friends.

Recognize and Respect Your Differences

During a discussion about parenting, Chet shared his experience:

"Finally, I'm beginning to see my children in a new way," he said. "Both are married and have kids of their own. I'm amazed at what good, capable people they are. I realize in talking with others that I have not been as encouraging as I could be. I wonder if that's why my daughter seems distant. I feel anxious around her, like neither of us is telling the truth. I want to change that. I need to apologize and tell her how truly proud of her I am. I've been measuring her by my standard instead of seeing her for the beautiful person God created."

Share Your Wisdom and Insight (Without Being Critical)

Regardless of the past, I believe our children, whatever their age, want to know who we really are. I had occasion to discover this for myself about 15 years ago when my youngest daughter was still in high school. At the time, she was living with her father following our divorce. Unexpectedly, she accepted my invitation to live with me during her two years of junior college. During that time, our relationship took an important turn. We were once again together under the same roof. I had experienced a lot of emotional and spiritual healing by then, so I knew that, finally, I had something to give her — my true self.

There were sweet and loving times, and times of tears and long talks as we walked along the ocean hand-in-hand, cooked and baked together — and shopped! It was also a time of deep inner healing for both of us as we drew closer to the Lord and prayed with each other. By the time she left for her last two years of college in Northern California, I felt our relationship had been restored, and that regardless of what surfaced in the future, we'd be able to face it and deal with it. That has proven true.

Relinquish Your Adult Children to the Lord

If we do the vital inner work necessary to spiritual and emotional parenting, then relinquishing our children will be easier than we might expect. We will no longer feel compelled to use them as a means of working through the unfinished business of our past or as the focus of our future desires.

Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. Consider your own situation. Is the Lord telling you that now is the time for you to take steps to restore your relationship with your children? If so, incline your ears to the words of His mouth (Psalm 78:1). Admit your imperfections and commit them to a perfect God — who will guide, guard and govern your sons and daughters in ways you could never carry out on your own. Then put into action the truths the Lord reveals.

Only with God is it possible to find hope for restoration. It is never too late . . . even now that they're grown. Jesus promised in Mark 10:27, "With God all things are possible." We can count on it!

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Copyright 2002 by Karen O'Connor. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Next in this Series: Empty Nest Syndrome