Relating to an Imprisoned Adult Child

Our hearts go out to you and your spouse. You're to be commended on your commitment to support your child in a healthy and redemptive manner. Your main concern at this point is to establish healthy boundaries with him. As you do so, remember that you can only take ownership of the things under your control. Keep in mind that your son is an adult. His life is highly regimented right now, and you can't possibly make his decisions for him.

In spite of these limitations, you may find some reassurance in knowing that the Lord loves your son as if he is the only person on earth. His heart's desire is to bring healing into his life. Remember, too, that the final chapter of your son's story has yet to be written. God can use his errors to teach him valuable lessons. He can still bring him to a place of humility and repentance. This is evident from the examples of many biblical characters such as Jacob, Joseph's brothers, and Jonah.

What can you do to help him as he moves through this difficult process? You're obviously operating under some severe limitations, but there are at least three ways you can offer your support and express your love during this time.

  • Pray. It's surprising how often Christians forget about or minimize the power of prayer. Circumstances like those your family is facing right now have a way of putting faith to the test. They force us to answer tough questions about what we really believe and don't believe. Our God is a living God. He can reach down and touch places in your son's heart that you didn't even know existed. What's more, He has a way of doing this most effectively when the human heart is at its lowest: "The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit" (Psalm 34:18). It's possible that your child is more open to the work of the Holy Spirit now than at any time in his life. This is the time to ask the Lord to bombard him with the message of Christ's forgiveness and love.
  • Write. The art of letter-writing has been largely lost in contemporary culture, but a situation like this, where contact by phone, email, or text message is out of the question, is powerful motivation to rediscover it. A letter is an excellent way to express your thoughts with care and deliberation. This is exactly what's needed under the circumstances. To the prisoner on the receiving end, it's a ray of light and hope from the outside world. So write regularly and often, at least once a week. Use the written word to reassure your son of your unconditional love.
  • Visit (if the facility where your son is incarcerated is not too far away). Face-to-face visits from loved ones mean more to prisoners than most of us on the outside can easily grasp. If time is limited, it may help to write out what you want to say in advance. Then you can read it aloud to your son at the time of your visit.

This last suggestion can be important if you and your incarcerated child are dealing with any "heavy" emotional issues or deep-seated conflicts. Has he accused you of anything unjustly or tried manipulate your emotions? If so, it might be a good idea to discuss your response with an objective third party – a friend, a family member, a pastor, or a professional counselor. Do this before putting anything down on paper. Remember that the purpose of the message you will convey is not to change your son's mind or to convince him that you're right and he's wrong. No one can control another person's thoughts or reactions. The most you can hope to accomplish is to share your heart and express your feelings in an honest, straightforward fashion.

In all of this, make sure that you have a strong support system in place. Make a determined effort to stay in close contact with loving and understanding friends during this challenging period in your life. Preserving your sense of perspective is essential to safeguarding your own health and sanity.

If you need referrals to qualified Christian therapists practicing in your area, contact us. Focus on the Family's Counseling department can provide you with a list of carefully screened candidates. Our counselors would also love to discuss your situation with you over the phone.


Setting Boundaries With Your Adult Children

Praying God's Word: Breaking Free From Spiritual Strongholds

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life

Peacemaking for Families

Prodigals and Those Who Love Them: Words of Encouragement for Those Who Wait

Bringing Home the Prodigals

Hurting Parent: Help and Hope for Parents of Prodigals

Praying for Your Prodigal Daughter: Hope, Help & Encouragement for Hurting Parents

Prison Fellowship

Establishing Boundaries With Adult Kids

Parenting Adult Children

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