Focus on the Family

Parenting Adult Children

by Karen O'Connor

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!

Empty Nest Syndrome

When the youngest child is finally old enough to move out, becoming empty nesters doesn't have to be traumatic. In fact, it has many advantages.

by Linda Sasser

It will be gone before you know it. The fingerprints on the wall appear higher and higher. Then suddenly they disappear. - Dorothy Evslin

One woman was describing her first grocery shopping trip after her youngest child had left for college. She said she reached into the dairy cooler, pulled out a gallon of milk and suddenly realized she no longer needed that quantity. She burst into tears and had to leave the store without completing her shopping.

If you have recently become empty nesters, you are probably being asked, "What's it like?" or "Are you coping alright?" Many parents begin to become anxious at the thought of an “empty nest” once their youngest child has vacated the home. It is definitely a change in lifestyle, the empty-nest syndrome, but it doesn't have to be negative.


The first thing most empty nesters notice is that the house is quieter. You can get to bed earlier because there's no more loud music, the clatter of young people arriving and leaving, the TV or talking keeping you awake. And it's easier to fall asleep when you're not worrying about whether your teenager will make it home safely. An added benefit — the car is available when you need it!

One extremely noticeable difference is at dinner: you and your spouse alone, facing each other across the table, wondering what to talk about.

Becoming Friends

In Song of Songs 5:16, his lover calls Solomon her "friend." The empty nest can be a time to become "friends," to renew and deepen your friendship with your spouse. Without interruptions from children, you can have longer and more meaningful conversations. Since you are no longer attending school activities and meetings, you can use evenings to go on dates again. Or you might start traveling by yourselves and rekindle the romance of your pre-parenting years! Another upside is simplified meal preparation (e.g. one meal is enough for two nights of dinners). Eating out can be spontaneous and will cost less.

The empty nest is generally not the same experience for dad as it is for mom, especially if dad is still at his job all day and the mom is primarily a homemaker. For her, the added time can be used to resume or start a career or to pursue hobbies and projects she didn't have time for with children underfoot.

Dads get phone calls from fledglings whenever one of them has a computer problem or needs advice on technology purchases (digital cameras, iPods, cell phones). Moms get the calls during peak emotional times (roommate crises, boyfriend/girlfriend concerns, stress overload). Fortunately, our generation benefits from technology that allows us to stay connected with our children via e-mail, cell phones and Facebook!

Continued Prayer

You can spend some of your newly-found extra time praying more for your children. Job "would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, 'Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.' This was Job's regular custom" (Job 1:5b, NIV). You might also consider spending more time in ministry, finding new ways to serve the Lord through church or community involvement.

A blessing you may experience is seeing your grown children making responsible choices and wise decisions. Many will see their offspring walking closely with the Lord and making their relationship with Him a priority, even though they no longer dwell at home. You can breathe a sigh of relief when you see your positive influence being lived out in their lives, as Proverbs 22:6 suggests: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." (NIV)

When Adult Children Move Back Home

Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy your newly empty nest, your adult child decides to move back in. Here's how parents and grown children can work together to make the experience a positive one.

by Roberta Rand Caponey

"Alone at last!" you and your spouse exclaimed when the last of your kids flew the coop to take on such formerly alien concepts as rent, utility bills and car payments. But wait. Who's that familiar face coming up the walk with suitcases in hand? It's your grown progeny!

These days, many so-called "empty nesters" now find themselves with at least one grown child living at home. Some pundits refer to these adult children as the "boomerang" generation. Whatever you label them, they're returning home in record numbers. Some come back hoping to save money for school. Others return so they can take time to search for the perfect job. Still others may have personal problems and need a refuge.

If you and your spouse find yourselves hosting kids you thought were launched, there are practical steps you and your child can take to minimize conflict and maximize the opportunity to strengthen family bonds. Before any move-in takes place, have a family powwow to discuss mutual expectations and establish house rules. Do this as early as possible to help prevent misunderstandings and friction later on.

If you don't approve of overnight guests, blaring stereos, bad language, questionable religious practices, the use of drugs or alcohol, etc., then make those expectations clear before your son or daughter moves in. Depending on the child and the circumstances, you might want to draft a brief "contract" naming the conditions that must be met in order to live under your roof. Have your son or daughter indicate by signature that they agree to your terms. Inform them (lovingly) that if the rules are broken, eviction may follow.

Ask questions. How long does your son or daughter envision staying with you? What would you both consider reasonable rent? If rent is not an issue, how will he/she contribute to the cost of food and household expenses? What chores will they be expected to carry out? The rules for your grownup kids will be different than when you were rearing them.

Generally speaking, curfews aren't appropriate for an adult. As long as your grown child acts responsibly (holding a job, contributing financially or helping with meal preparation and household chores), he deserves the same liberty to come and go as any adult. Respect his personal boundaries and preferences.

Of course, some situations are more complicated. You don't want to enable a grown child who's looking to avoid adult responsibilities. If your daughter seems a little too comfortable at home, setting a move-out deadline (and sticking to it) may be necessary. Knowing the clock is ticking at the "Mom and Pop Hotel" may be just the motivation she needs to get serious in her job search.

What about an adult child with more serious problems? If your son or daughter shows symptoms of mental or emotional illness, is doing drugs or shows signs of an addiction, intervention may be the only option. Don't be afraid to seek help from a qualified Christian counselor, mental health agency or other trained professional. 

Generally speaking, most kids are just looking for a temporary retreat while figuring out their next step. If you want to maintain a healthy relationship with your adult child, consider these tips:

  1. Trust your adult children to make wise choices, even if they sometimes don't. They'll eventually figure things out. After all, didn't you learn much the same way?
  2. Squelch the impulse to give advice unless it's asked for. That's easier to do when your kids are out of your radar range, but when they're sleeping just down the hall, self-censorship can be more difficult. You don't want to sound like a nagging broken record of "You shouldn't have" and "Why didn't you?"
  3. Communication is key. Set a regular time to discuss issues, clarify expectations, or simply clear the air. Pray together regularly.
  4. Practice grace — everyone. We all have bad days. Three or more adults living in one house is a challenge whether you're related or not. Give each other some space!

We all need a refuge from time to time in our lives. Your kids should know that home is a safe, accepting place to land when they need to regroup. Be thankful that your kids like you enough to want to come home. Your dream of an empty nest can wait a bit longer. Besides, you may actually enjoy this chance to relate to your children as grownups — just like you.

When Adult Children Reject the Faith

What do you do when you realize your adult child has not made a commitment to God?

by Clem Boyd

Your son or daughter is now an adult, living comfortably in a decent home with a strong, healthy marriage and a couple of great kids. You should feel a sense of accomplishment, but there's something missing from your child's life — a commitment to God.

"You want the best for your adult children, but you also know you can't tell them how to live," explains Dr. Alan Nelson, psychiatrist and family therapist. "You cannot make that decision for them."

Psychiatrist Lee Bishop says rejection of faith sometimes stems from childhood trauma, such as physical abuse by a significant "Christian." However, many influences affect the spiritual direction of a child, including friends and society.

Childhood Faith

"The faith of childhood, although genuine, is a simpler faith," he explains. "If they don't have the resources externally and internally, as they mature they will find [their childhood faith] is inadequate for the storms of life [and reject it]."

Nelson cautions over-50 parents not to push the faith issue. "The child needs to know when he sees you that he won't get a lecture or concerned look," he says. "Try to maintain an honest relationship in other areas without pushing that one. And, still pray for intervention."

Also, it's not a good idea to assist God by asking a sibling to get involved. "The parent can tell other siblings about the situation and ask for prayer," Nelson says. "But adult children don't want to be manipulated. [Asking siblings to get involved] may build the wall higher."

Steps to Take

There are a few steps you can take that still respect the faith boundary, Bishop notes. "A parent can talk about their own struggles with the faith," he offers. "It allows them to be in more of an adult-to-adult relationship."

Share a book that's helped you, Bishop adds, but offer it in a discreet manner, not at a family function where attention may be focused on the son or daughter. And give it without pressuring the child to read it today. Say something like, "This book helped me and when you get a chance, I thought you might like it too." Writing a letter is also a good way to share your feelings in a manner that's safe.

Inviting the adult child to a Sunday service, Bible class or special church event is a possibility, too, Bishop says. "There are fathers who've used a Promise Keepers event as a way to develop dialogue with an adult son," he explains.

Don't spend a lot of time beating yourself up over parenting mistakes you've made. Acknowledge those errors to yourself, to God and to your children. Also, don't let yourself become embittered against God because you feel He has failed.

"The heavenly father hates to see any of his children leave their relationship with Him," Nelson says. "He'll use the Holy Spirit, an angel, a sermon, a life accident, a song, some other human being, but in the final result, you'll be able to look back and say God left no stone unturned to reach that person."

Taking the Stress Out of Family Get-Togethers

Do you experience stress, anxiety, even dread about some family get-togethers?

by Karen O'Connor

I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13 (NIV)

Jennifer laid a plate of homemade cookies in the center of a sheet of holiday gift-wrap. She looked at her friend Betty, who was busy wrapping loaves of gingerbread and fruitcake. "My stomach is churning," said Jennifer. "I know I should be grateful that Mom and Aunt Helen are coming for Christmas but I'm more anxious than thankful." She pointed to a family portrait on the dining room wall. "Tom and Mom have never liked one another and Aunt Helen claims she can't stand to be in the same room with Tom's dad, Bill." Jennifer sat down and propped her elbows on the kitchen table. She looked at Betty, hoping for a sympathetic response.

Betty let out a long breath. "I know what you're talking about. I have a similar situation with my sister. Nancy lives alone and likes to do things her way. She can't seem to go with the flow when we're all together. I feel obligated to include her for Christmas dinner but I'm not happy about it."

Harnessing Your Emotions

If this scenario sounds familiar, you may be feeling similar emotions — fear, anxiety, even dread — about getting together with some of your family members. I experience the same with one branch of our family tree. We have repeatedly invested our time, money, labor and love into the life of this family and have been frustrated by the lack of response of any kind.

Finally, after 20 years of the same behavior, my husband and I decided to set boundaries for ourselves. We now limit our visits to short periods, send one family gift at Christmas, greeting cards for birthdays and we limit the number of get-togethers in our home. We've accepted the relationship as it is and have stopped working so hard to change it. That decision alone has lessened the stress. It also has helped us keep them in our lives and remain a part of theirs — without taking their behavior or comments personally.

June O'Connor, professor of religious studies at the University of California in Riverside, in an article titled "Ready For Reconciliation?" for Catholic Digest (December, 2007, page 110) reminds readers that "Although we cannot force change to happen, we can continue to hope, and we can pray that the other's heart, too, might be softened…"

This statement has challenged me to go a step further when my husband and I are together with these family members who, for us, are difficult to be with. The author has helped me raise my "compassion quotient," remembering that I don't have all the facts about other people. I don't know their challenges or fears, their concerns and worries, their likes and dislikes. And I must also accept the possibility that these people simply may not want to be with me! When that appears to be true, then I am being disrespectful if I keep pushing for time together.

Asking God for Discernment

On the other hand, such individuals may feel insecure. If I sense that, I can pray for discernment, asking God what small gesture I can make to help them feel welcome and comfortable. For example, at a family birthday party one year I befriended a woman whom many overlooked due to a severe hearing impairment. I sat with her, talked as best I could and we shared the meal together. Later that week I received a handwritten note thanking me for taking time to be with her when no one else had. I saw how one small loving act could mean so much to another person — and to me, as well.

With these examples in mind, how can you make family get-togethers less stressful? Here are some ideas to consider and practice:

Give the other person the benefit of the doubt and express love and courtesy regardless of how you are treated. The old cliché Kill 'em with kindness holds true. Smile, nod, acknowledge what's said and show interest.

Choose joy despite the circumstances. The event will be over in a few hours or days and you can then resume your life. Don't allow anyone to steal your good will and well-being. Trust the Lord to cover your time together. If difficult people are in your home for an extended period, give yourself some time off. Grocery shop alone, get up early and take a walk, excuse yourself for an afternoon nap. If you work outside your home, you have those hours away from the stress.

Ask questions. People love to talk about themselves. Find a point of interest and explore it with one or two individuals. This is a good way to learn more about other people and to distract them from disrupting the get-together with hurtful or difficult behavior.

Provide opportunities for your guests to participate according to their skill and interest — setting the table, leading a game, reading a poem or prayer over the meal and so on. People like to be useful. When they are involved they are less likely to grab the spotlight. One woman learned that her mother-in-law, who is most comfortable in the kitchen, creates less havoc when she has a job to do. For years now, the older woman has been in charge of whipping the potatoes, tossing a fruit salad and setting out the cakes and cookies at family celebrations. The grandchildren tell her, "We can't wait to eat your whipped potatoes. They're the best." The stress when Grandma's around has nearly disappeared, now that she feels useful.

Limit the amount of time you're together and stick to it. Set a time frame, whether the gathering is at your house or you're the guest in someone else's home. When you reach that point, excuse yourself gracefully. You have the right to come and go as you please. Others have the same right.

Keep a sense of humor. Laughter is a great antidote to stress. If someone criticizes or bullies you about something you say or do, take a breath, ask God for grace and respond in a playful way. "Thank you. I'll keep that in mind for next time." "I wish I had your leadership skills." "I look forward to our get-together at your house. You sound as if you have some great ideas." Such statements acknowledge the other person, while retaining your sense of self.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5, NIV). Remind yourself that God created every one of us no matter how difficult we may seem to one another — and He loves us unconditionally. If God can put up with you and me, surely we can put up with the people who annoy and frustrate us. And perhaps one day we will even grow to love them as we hope they will one day love us.

Communicating End-of-Life Wishes

More folks are realizing it is a natural and necessary way of alleviating pain, misunderstandings and of bringing considerable peace of mind for the whole family.

by Jane Terry

Talking about end-of-life decisions and final wishes would probably never be ranked by anyone as the most pleasurable or anticipated conversation. But those conversations between parents and their adult children are among the most critical of family discussions. It is also among the most unselfish and loving things that one generation can do for another.

I suggest that the parents initiate the conversation. It is a mature thing to do, and is a life-gift to their adult children, who will be eternally grateful. If, however, it is the adult children who take the initiative, I encourage the parents to honor the request, and then share as much information as possible about their preparations and personal desires for the inevitable end of life. Many midlife-and-beyond people have told me that when one generation opens that sometimes scary door into their most personal wishes, their children will open up to ask questions and share their own thoughts.

What makes it so hard?

As recently as the 1970s, a majority of the older generation would not think of discussing the inevitability of death with their adult children. Many considered it a burden that their children should not have to bear. However, more folks are realizing it is a natural and necessary way of alleviating pain, misunderstandings and of bringing considerable peace of mind for the whole family. Men especially would not think of discussing intimate details about their financial situation, about medical intervention at urgent junctures or the funeral. They consider it inappropriate, even with their wives, let alone their adult children. On the flip side, adult children seldom initiate the conversation with their parents. Some consider it disrespectful. Many just want to hide from the truth that their parents will eventually die.

Times are changing!

Fortunately, in the 2000s, that trend is reversing, for myriad reasons. There are countless resources outlining the importance of end-of-life discussions. They're readily available in doctor's offices, at your church, through your attorney, banker or financial advisor. The topic is explored in helpful and frank ways in the media, on websites, in newsletters and seminars.

If you haven't been to a doctor's office or hospital in a while, you may be surprised to learn that the standard questionnaire you fill out now includes questions like:

Another reason for increased disclosure is that people are living much longer, and medicine has become so advanced that people can be kept alive for years beyond their ability to function with any kind of normalcy. And finally, parents and the children themselves are hearing stories of the benefits of open communication years prior to mother's or dad's death. Not every parent dies of old age and unexpected things happen, so the earlier the conversation can take place, the better.

One Family's Story

My passion for this subject comes from firsthand experience. I'd like to give you a rather personal peek into our own family situation.

My parents were among those who considered the subject of their finances, details about their estate and funeral arrangements pretty much off limits to my brother, sisters and me even though we were at midlife ourselves. They just had a trusting attitude that everything would work out when the time came. After all, we were a loving family, so there would be no problems among the siblings. And our parents thought that maybe their wishes were not the most important thing. That was a hallmark of a generation born in the early 1900s. They were middle class people who had provided as best they could for their future. But then an unexpected illness, a nursing home stay and a bill for $250,000 — following an emergency helicopter transport and a 45-day hospital stay — turned their lives on end.

In 1987, our father, never sick more than three days in his life, was suddenly stricken by an aortic aneurism. His doctor pronounced his death as imminent, but thankfully, the Lord had something else in mind, and we brought him home. I was the youngest child, and as so often is the case, both my mother and father's well-being and care became my primary job and I moved in with them.

At first, the crisis was one of health, but quickly it became more complicated. I knew little about their true financial situation. It was just assumed that the eldest child would handle things when the time came for major health, financial and life issues that would accompany our parents growing old. But she was in a different state, and her husband was very ill himself. So I was thrown into the unknown in the middle of chaos. One learns quickly when there's no other alternative than to learn and act.

But if we could do it over, I know we would all prepare more adequately. Were they debt-free? What bills needed to be taken care of immediately? Did they either one have a will, a living will? Did their banker or attorney know their true situation? Would we have to help sell our father's business? What did their health and life insurance look like? Could they even remain in their own home? With their death predicted by their doctors to occur in the near future, we all realized that they had not told us, and we had naively not asked them, about their preparation, nor their wishes, for the end of their lives.

Our mother, who suffered with the ravages of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, had been much more open than our father about her wishes. For example, she didn't want to be cremated. She wanted a vault around her casket. We knew her doctor personally. And, she had already either given her children and grandchildren many of her special possessions, or they had earlier identified those things that would be given them upon her death. But, she had no will at the time, no living will, no power of medical attorney and very little knowledge of their actual financial position, since our father had handled those details.

I held her in my arms as she took her final breath. Her last words were in the form of a question that I never had time to answer before she died. I realized at that moment that had we openly discussed years ago the subject she now probed too late in life, she and I would both have had greater peace.

During the last few years of their lives, we lived in the same house and had precious time to talk. Even then I sometimes had to probe harder than I would have liked to discover their deepest end-of-life wishes so we could respectfully carry them out.

Unfortunately, many families never get the chance to do that — all because the parents and their adult children are too uncomfortable, too busy, too stubborn or too ill-informed about the importance of exploring life-end decisions, while parents and children are both living and competent.

Just Do It. It's a Gift.

Some families sometimes find it easier to entreat a third party to be present when discussing these issues: a trusted friend, a pastor, a doctor, an elder-care attorney or even a mediator, if there are rough spots in the relationship between parents and children or siblings. This discussion is not always easy. But the eternal consequences of not communicating about this time in life that we all will face, negatively outweighs the frequent stress and discomfort that surround these conversations.

One of the biggest and sometimes overlooked bonuses is that subsequent generations will find it easier to communicate with their own parents when the time comes, because they've clearly seen and experienced the benefits. We can be mature role models for our grandchildren and their children.

I promise you will never regret your decision to intentionally engage your adult children in one of the most important and compassionate conversations of your life. Purposefully taking the reins, even if you would rather have a root canal than do so, just may turn out to be the best gift you could ever give your adult children — and one that will just keep on giving from generation to generation.

Responding in Love to an Adult Gay Child

You may feel hurt by your child's decision to "come out." But remember, this is not something they have done "to" you.

by Roberta Rand Caponey

If you've ever heard the words "I'm gay" from a son or daughter, the announcement probably came as the shock of a lifetime. You likely cycled through an entire catalog of extreme emotions: shock, disbelief, anger, guilt. Then came the questions for you and your spouse: Why did this happen? Where did we fail? And how do we as Christians and loving parents respond to our child's proclaimed homosexuality?

Stephen Arterburn, best-selling author and respected Christian psychologist, says many parents of homosexual children withhold love and affection because they're afraid to appear approving of the gay lifestyle. The truth is that your child needs unconditional love and acceptance more than ever. Withholding love will only make a difficult situation worse. Remember that acceptance is not the same thing as approval. Acceptance means acknowledging what is true. It does not mean you must compromise your convictions about what constitutes right and wrong, nor does it mean you condone homosexual behavior and practices.

Chances are your son or daughter wrestled long and hard with the decision to confess their homosexuality to you. They braced for judgment and rejection. That's why it's all the more important you let them know they are valued and loved as much as ever.

You should feel comfortable stating your concerns about the morality, health risks and potential dangers involved with the gay lifestyle. But don't belabor things. It's especially important that whatever statements you make be couched in love. The important message remains: I love you and accept you — that will never change.

You may feel hurt by your child's decision to "come out." But remember, this is not something they have done "to" you. Their homosexuality is not something they conjured up to purposely embarrass or punish you. It's most likely been a painful secret they've kept hidden for years precisely because they feared you would be hurt. This is your child's struggle, your child's wound. As a loving parent — and a Christian — you must be mature and courageous. Now is the time to show your child the same grace and unconditional love that Jesus shows to all of us who struggle with sin in our lives. Pray for wisdom, understanding and the right words to say in this difficult and delicate situation.

Withholding love from your hurting child will only make a difficult situation worse. You may feel hurt by your child's decision to "come out." But remember, this is not something they have done "to" you.

Next Steps/Related Information

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