Three practical ways you can be present with your adult kids.
As new parents, we dream about how our kids will turn out. We picture what they’ll be like, what career they’ll choose, and as Christian parents, we pray fervently that they will walk a long, beautiful road with Jesus. Sure, we may fret through the junior high and high school years, but when they launch, we hold out hope that they’ll flourish.
What happens when our expectations don’t meet the reality of our adult kids’ actions? What do we do if they deconstruct their faith? How do we work through disappointment if our expectations are shattered? What do we do with the feeling of failure if our kids don’t fit what we hoped for?
Before my (now) adult kids launched, I received several communications from a parent whose kids were far from Jesus. Not only that, but they had mostly ghosted their parents, sometimes canceling them outright. Their actions and attitudes, coupled with their lack of care for their parents, devastated this parent, so much so that she could not move beyond it. It caused me to pause and ask myself what I would do if I were to face similar circumstances. But beyond that, I prayed that I’d learn how to find joy even if every expectation for my kids were dashed.
We live in a world of questioning, deconstruction, and the siren call of the world. Our children are immersed in this opposite-of-God’s-kingdom world when they leave our homes. Once they fly from the nest into their next adventure, we have little control over their choices or the outcomes of their actions. So, what’s a parent to do? Here are three strategies:
Err on the side of love. When our children were little, we had a goal to make our home a haven, a place they were wildly enthusiastic about coming home to. This has not changed as they live on their own and pursue careers. We still want our home to be inviting, a safe place.
Recently, one of our adult kids faced a crisis. Even though we disagree on many things, my husband and I have worked hard at continuing conversations with this child. When our adult kid faced trauma, we were the first people they called. Love means loving our children in the midst of our differences; that’s what makes love, love.
- To love is to serve, to uncover what encourages each child, and to meet those relational needs.
- To love doesn’t mean we approve of every decision; instead, we love no matter what our adult children choose.
- To love is to remember that we were in our twenties once too, and if we can offer grace for our mistakes back then, then surely, we can afford the same kindness to our kids who are simply trying to make their way in the world.
Parents of adult children often feel helpless once their kids move away. What can they do? Used to a more direct role, suddenly they have little or no control. This is by design. Since God has granted humanity free will, parenting is an exercise in seeing that in play. We cannot control outcomes or behaviors precisely because our adult kids are now autonomous.
As we feel the ache of kids moving away, we can access the heart of God who watches every child He’s created make their own choices. It’s also comforting to realize in the garden of Eden, God had wayward adult children (and He is the perfect Parent!). In that place, what we cannot do is replaced by the privilege of prayer. No one can stop a parent from praying. With the heart of God to see our kids thrive as adults, we can get on our knees, lifting our children to the Lord, even if we are grieving their choices.
We live in a world of shouters. Everywhere we turn, particularly on social media, people are hollering at each other, megaphoning their opinions. Sadly, adult children and parents have hashed out political disagreements in public. We talk a lot, but we fail to listen.
To listen well is not to simply wait until it’s your turn to talk, so you can impart your parental knowledge to your adult child. It’s to seek to understand. I love how The Message translates James 1:19-21:
“Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.”
Although we’ve spent our adult kids’ childhoods helping and coaching them, now is the time to be quiet and lead with our ears. To seek to understand is a rare gift. I have found that even when we disagree politically with an adult child, if I ask enough questions, I find common ground. And in that, I show each one that I care more about getting to know their heart than I do expressing my opinions. (And, surprise, surprise, they probably already know our opinions.)
There is immense joy available for parents who launch their kids. It may not come from their decisions or behavior. (Their choices may break your heart). But in Jesus, who loves our children far more than we do, we have a Friend who helps us to let go, mourn well, and cheerlead our kids no matter what direction they move. Their success or failure need not inform how we react or live. We can love our adult kids (even from afar). We can always pray for them. If we continue in relationship with them, we can dignify them by listening.
If you think about it, that’s how Jesus treats us—He loves us with abandon; He intercedes for us constantly, and He listens to our worries. In that, there is joy.
Mary DeMuth is a literary agent, podcaster of the popular Pray Every Day podcast, artist, speaker, and the author of 40+ books, including Love, Pray, Listen: Parenting Your Wayward Adult Kids with Joy (Bethany, 2022). She lives in Texas with her husband and is the mom to three adult children. Find out more at marydemuth.com.
Get 52 fill-in-the-name prayers for your adult kids, one for every week of the year, at marydemuth.com/lpl