by Linda Tomblin
What do you do when your grown child declares your rules and values outdated? How do you handle the constant conflict and stomach-churning anxiety when you see your beloved child heading down a dangerous path?
If your child were younger, you could turn to parenting books to find answers, but a whole new set of rules come into play with an adult child. The best source for guidance is the Bible. What does God say about your relationship with your grown child?
1. Teach through actions, not words.
“In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself ” (James 2:17).
Your adult child will pay more attention to the way you live than to how you tell her to live. God has put you in the position of parent, and even though she may not admit it, your child still looks to you as a role model. It’s important to be honest, real, and willing to admit your own mistakes, as your child tries to make sense out of all she has been taught through the years.
Jana’s daughter was in and out of jobs throughout her 20s. “She’d rather stay home and watch TV from the couch than work and build a life,” Jana said. “Because of her unreliability, I refused to let her live with me, until one day the Lord showed me that my first ministry was to my family. So I took her in and told her she’d always have a home. I vowed I’d never close my door to her again. The Lord blessed that decision. Eventually she turned her life around; and today she is a wonderful mom and loving daughter, living a wholesome, productive life.”
2. Back up, take a deep breath, and simply love.
“Walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us” (Eph. 5:2).
The phrase “unconditional love” is used so much today, but how exactly are you supposed to love unconditionally when your adult child seems to be throwing away everything you value?
Anne learned what it meant to love unconditionally when her daughter came to her with a serious problem. “Even though she was a woman now,” Anne said, “she sat cross-legged on her bed, just like she had when she was troubled about something as a little girl. Tears were streaming down her face as she tried to form words that wouldn’t come. I knew what she was trying to tell me before she said it. She was pregnant. I was devastated. This was not the plan I had for her life, but I had always told my children there was nothing they could do to make me love them less. And now I had to decide if I could live what I had preached. So I had a good cry, prayed for strength, and then set out to prove that what I had said was true.”
With God’s help, Anne and her family triumphed over what at first appeared to be a tragedy. Her daughter married, a beautiful granddaughter was born, and all of them are in church together now. “Her life did not go according to my plan, but I have seen God’s plan unfold as He took the ugliness of sin and turned it into something beautiful.”
3. Respect your child as an adult.
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won’t become discouraged” (Col. 3:21).
Give your child the respect you would give any other adult. Even if she rejects Christianity, recognize that she is a separate person. If you try to manipulate or control your child, you’ll only push her further away.
Mary tried to be strong, but her words gave her away as she told her story. “It is hard to watch my little girl, all grown up, go from believing in healing to becoming an adult who destroys herself. She grew up in a spirit-filled Christian home where she proudly shared Jesus with friends and strangers. Now, she is raising her 7-year-old son to believe that there’s more than one way to get to heaven as long as you live right. Street drugs and marijuana are a part of their lives, and there’s nothing I can do about it. All I can do is pray that God will remind her of His love and His will and that my grandson will have a shield of the Lord’s protection around him.”
4. Release your child into God’s hands.
“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil: 4:6-7).
This passage doesn’t mean you should give up or give in. You are simply admitting that God is much more capable than you are. If your child has strayed from Christian values, ask God to enable you to loosen your grip and let Him take over.
Karen remembers when her son was arrested for drug possession and the troubled years that followed. When he finally called Karen from another state, he said, “I have a job, a place to stay, and a girlfriend. And I’m not coming home.”
“Eventually he did come home,” Karen said, “and I was truly grateful … even with dreadlocks and a foul mouth. Not knowing what to do, I asked the Lord. After I calmed down, I heard His still small voice say, ‘Take him to Mount Moriah.’
“‘But God,’ I said, ‘You mean like Abraham? Then You might take his life!’
“All I heard was, ‘Yes.’
“It took days of trying to reason with God before I finally came to the point where I was truly ready to release my son to Him. I knew he was saved because of childhood confession of faith, so I finally was able to stand on that word and trust God. Thankfully, God has not taken my son, but I have learned to let go and be truly thankful for everything that brings both of us closer to Him.”
5. Never, never, never stop praying.
“Pray constantly” (1 Thess. 5:17).
The final step is to never stop praying or believing that God is hearing and working in your child’s life even though you may not be able to see it.
After Mary shared the story of her daughter’s detour around Christianity, she said, “I continue to pray. For when I pray, I am at peace, knowing that grace gives each of us, including our children, what we don’t deserve, and mercy shields us from what we do. Only then can I truly leave it all in my Father’s hands and at the feet of Jesus.”
Even though you hurt over the choices your child has made and the lifestyles he leads, remember that God is also working through these times of trials and disappointments. You are ultimately responsible for your own spiritual growth; the same is true for your son or daughter. The best thing you can do is grab a little tighter to God’s hand and believe that He will take care of you and your child.
Linda Tomblin, from Rutherfordton, N.C., is the mother of four and grandmother of 12. She has been writing for the past 30 years. Winner of numerous writing and teaching awards, she has taught at writers conferences and workshops across the nation.
This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Mature Living. To subscribe, click here or on the magazine cover.