If you’ve got adult children, chances are good that you also have questions. Questions like…
When should I give advice, and when is it better to keep my mouth shut?
What’s the difference between helping and enabling?
Is it okay to let my adult children fail? What if they really blow it? What then?
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure (the fun!) of interviewing a fellow who has answers to questions like these.
Dr. Jim Burns would be the FIRST to tell you that he’s not a parenting “expert.” But with a Ph.D., a book called Doing Life with Your Adult Children, and three all-grown-up kids in his bio, Jim has both the education and the experience to weigh in on any number of tricky topics, and I loved our convo.
If you missed it and want to watch, click here.
And if all you’ve got time for is a quick highlight, I’ll recap Jim’s counsel on one of the questions I hear all the time from my own readers: What do I do when my kids make a really bad choice? How should I respond?
Because let’s be honest. Our kids will all blow it, in one way or another. They might get in trouble. They might violate our values. Or they might just do stuff that boggles our minds, like when one of my relatives tried to unclog his toilet with a cherry bomb. He dropped it in the bowl and then stood on the lid.
(I’ll wait while you just process that one for a sec.)
The consequences of poor choices can be really, um, messy. They can be hard to clean up. And the fallout might last a long time.
C.S. Lewis noted that “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
That’s a motivational thought (and one we might all agree with), but when it’s your child who’s walking through something awful–a toxic relationship, a battle with substance abuse, a pornography addiction, a rejection of faith–it can be heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking. And as parents, we can find ourselves flooded with doubt.
Was it something I did?
Should we have prayed more, as a family? Gone on mission trips instead of vacations?
Would this have happened if my marriage hadn’t failed?
The what-ifs, Jim says, can paralyze our souls and crush our confidence. But as I’ve said in this space before, our ability to ruin our kids is nothing compared to God’s power (and his desire) to redeem them. And as Jim writes in his book, “Your child’s regrettable decisions do not make you a bad parent. Even good parents have children who make poor choices.”
So what do we do, moving forward? How can we love our kids well, even when we don’t love the choices they make?
Jim made lots of good points in our talk (and you’ll find even more in his book), but here are three of my top takeaways:
For starters, don’t bail your kids out. Their crisis doesn’t need to be your crisis, and when you repeatedly step in to “save” them, you might unintentionally block the path to healing and wholeness. “If you take on the consequences your child should be experiencing,” Jim says, “you are robbing them of an opportunity for growth and change.”
Next, don’t be a one-topic parent. Our adult children already know how we feel about the choices they’ve made; instead of harping on whatever it is that is breaking your heart, talk about other things. Engage your child the way you’d talk with a friend. Talk with them, not at them. Ask open-ended questions about issues where you might not know all the answers, and listen more than you speak.
And finally, relinquish your kids to God’s care. This one is seldom easy, but it’s super important. We can’t fix our kids, but we can make the deliberate choice to entrust them to a God who knows them, and loves them, even more than we do. We can pray the same prayer that Jim does every day: “God, I release my children to your loving care and tender mercies.”
All of these things–the tough love, the grace-filled conversations, the surrendering of our kids to God’s care–can create a climate where healing and growth can take place, one in which relationships flourish.
Which, at the end of the day, is what matters. Because the number one thing our adult kids want to know isn’t what we think of their choices or what we wish they would do. The number one thing they are asking is this: “Do you still love me?”
Do you still love me.
Is that what the prodigal son in Luke’s gospel wanted to know? He certainly didn’t feel worthy of love. He knew he’d made a mess of his life. He did not expect to be welcomed with open arms.
And yet that’s how his father–our Father–received him.
We can do the same thing. We can love our adult children, even when we don’t love the choices they make. We can ask God to bless and protect them, even as we ask him–and trust him–to work on their hearts. And we can be ready, with arms open wide, to welcome them when they come home
“Do you still love me?”
We know, even when our hearts break in a million pieces, that the answer is always yes.
If you’d like some specific ways to pray for your adult children’s needs–whether it’s a marriage concern, a crippling addiction, or they’re just in a lonely place where you want God to bless them with friends–you’ll find encouraging stories and hundreds of prayer prompts in my book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children.
And if you’d like to hear more from Dr. Jim Burns, check out his book (which, I must say, has one of the best subtitles I’ve ever seen): Doing Life with Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out.
(As always, I only recommend books here that I truly love, and f you purchase via a link in the post, I make a tiny commission…for which I am grateful.)