Resilient Faith, Session 6: A Parent’s Dilemma


by Joyce Ash

The phone rings. You listen with anguish to the pain in your daughter’s voice as she tells of a heartbreaking event in her life. It’s all you can do not to rush to her side and do something, anything to ease her pain. 

As parents, the desire to rescue our offspring never seems to end. When they were little, it was our job to rescue them when they were in trouble. We rushed to soothe their hurts, to make the problem all better. But once they become adults, the line between helping and rescuing is more distinct and more critical.

When They Hurt, We Hurt 

The first parental impulse is to rescue, no matter what the child’s age. Why? Because when they hurt, we hurt. No father wants to see his little girl hurting or in need, even if she is married and lives halfway across the country. What mother’s heart doesn’t ache when her boy is suffering and in trouble. But is rushing to the rescue best for the adult child? Here’s what may happen.

The adult child …

  • doesn’t get to see what God can do.
  • misses out on a faith-building experience, drawing her closer to her Heavenly Father.
  • loses an opportunity to depend on God in anticipation of the time when the parents are gone.
  • if married, fails to bond with his spouse by turning to Mom and Dad first.
  • misses out on the confidence gained in self and in God, knowing that with God’s help, she can do anything.

If rescuing our grown children is not healthy for them, then what should we do? Are we to turn our heads and hearts away and say, “Sorry, it’s not good for you if we fix this.” No, that would be abandoning our children, and that is not scriptural. We can help our children without rescuing them. But how?

Look and Lift Upward 

The first thing we can do is lift up our children to our Heavenly Father, setting a pattern for our children to follow.

Second, we can pray and ask for God’s best for them. Do any of us truly know what is best for ourselves, let alone our children? Our Heavenly Father has unlimited wisdom and power at His disposal to best help our sons and daughters. It’s hard to fathom, but He knows and loves them better than we. Compared to Almighty God, our power to help our children is puny, at best, so why not entrust them to the very One who created them?

Finally, we can seek His will as to what action we are to take to help our children. Help can take many forms, and the wise parent realizes and accepts that help means coming alongside, not taking over.

Help Versus Rescue 

One couple received a phone call from their daughter who lived three states away. The daughter’s husband was in the military, and the young couple were being transferred to a different city. Not anticipating the transfer, they’d bought a house two years earlier. In the ensuing hard economic times, their house was not worth as much as they paid for it. In paying off their mortgage, they came up $15,000 short. It was a staggering amount for a young married couple.

Here is where parents need to resist the temptation to rescue their offspring. The nurturing, loving parent must fight the temptation to raid their 401k, even when instincts scream otherwise.

The young couple had a track record of being responsible, so it was not difficult on the parents’ part to provide help. Between both sets of parents, the couple was able to get the support they needed. One set of parents offered a short-term loan. The other set offered help in the form of good, old-fashioned elbow grease and planned a trip to help ready the house for sale.

Of course the responsible adult child who runs into occasional trouble requires a different response from his irresponsible counterpart whose poor choices and/or sin lands him in trouble.

One mother learned her son had been jailed on drug charges. Unable to think of him in prison, she focused her efforts and prayers on his release. When he was given a 10 year jail sentence, she was devastated until she realized had he been released, he likely would have died as a result of his drug addiction. In time, she was able to see the wisdom of that jail sentence.

Will the adult child always be happy with the parent’s role as helper not rescuer? Probably not, especially if she knows the parents have the resources for rescue. It’s difficult, but as both God and parents can attest, sometimes it takes more love to say no to our beloved children than to say yes.

The responsible adult child who runs into occasional trouble requires a different response from his irresponsible counterpart whose poor choices and/or sin lands him in trouble. 

The Goal 

Think back to when our children were learning to walk. We could not walk for them. They had to learn for themselves. In that process, they acquired bumps and bruises, but eventually they did learn to walk. Isn’t that what we parents should want for our children — to be confident they can walk through life?

Our role in the lives of our adult children is to come alongside and be ready to offer help, not rescue. As godly parents, we fulfill one more role by continually pointing the way to the Heavenly Father who, just as we once were with our toddlers, is always ready and waiting with open arms to receive His precious child.

Mature-LivingThis article originally appeared in the March, 2012 issue of Mature Living. Subscribe

Joyce Ash, from Farwell, Mich., and her husband have three grown children, two grandchildren, and one grand-doggy. In addition to writing, she enjoys reading and exercising with friends. 



  1. Great article on helping adults understand how best to “help” their adult children. I just spoke to a great friend this weekend about this. Her daughter quit a job that had a verbally abusive boss. Mom mentioned that the daughter had not been putting aside money for her emergency fund. Mom has bailed her out quite often in the past to the point to the point where mom saught professional counseling. I sent this article to my friend in the hope it will help her with her decision of whether to offer help this time.

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