This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of Mature Living.
Eight women sat sipping coffee on my back deck that sunny spring afternoon, having just finished our women’s Bible study for the week. Our conversation turned more informal as we caught up on what was happening in each of our lives, especially in our homes and with our children. One of the women, my friend Bonnie, was busy planning her youngest child’s graduation party. His finishing high school meant that she would soon be an empty nester.
Bonnie was crazy about her children — one of those mothers who attended every sporting event, cheering loudly in the stands. She was the first to volunteer to help with activities at school or church. I was sure her heart was heavy and that she was dreading the quiet days ahead with no kids in the home.
“Oh, Bonnie, what are you gonna do when all the kids are gone?” one of the women inquired. Bonnie’s face looked solemn as she gazed off into the distance, pondering her answer. I was afraid she might burst into tears. But then her countenance lifted, and she burst out in laughter, instead, as she boldly declared, “What am I gonna do? I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do. Order whatever I want on my pizza!”
The rest of us chuckled along with her. She then explained that an older mentor of hers had encouraged her not to dread the days of having adult children but, instead, to embrace them with joy, knowing that even though her children were not in her home, they would always be in her heart and even more frequently now in her prayers.
Now that I’m a mom of all adult children, I’ve seen how it can still be a joy to mother my kids, even if sometimes it is from afar. Although the time we spend with them physically decreases, the time cherishing them in our hearts and memories — and lifting them before the Lord in prayer — increases. And our joy does not go away; it just changes. Instead of being filled with delight over first steps or first words, our hearts are cheered as we watch our now-grown offspring take steps toward maturity, owning their lives as well as, hopefully, their faith.
In order to experience joy as we parent our adult children, it is helpful to keep the following in mind:
Realize you can both grieve and yet also embrace change. Change is hard. We not only miss having our children in our homes but also engaging in the activities that came along with parenting school-aged children. For me, Friday nights were the hardest. No longer was I sitting in the bleachers, watching one of my children play a sport. I missed cheering for my kids, and I missed the other parents I used to hang out with at the games. However, I learned to forge ahead and create a new Friday night routine I have come to love: my husband and I, home alone, eating a thin-crust pizza made just like WE like it and watching home-remodeling shows as we dream of renovating an old farmhouse someday. This Friday tradition has become a joyful new normal, even though I miss being up in the stadium stands.
We are raising individuals, not replicas. We will find joy when we determine to allow God to grow our children into the unique individuals He created them to be. To do this, we will need to fight against the urge to convince them to think, shop, celebrate, or parent exactly as we do. Their lives are their own. We need to let go of the expectations we have for them to replicate the life we live, making only the choices we would make.
Growth rarely happens without some mistakes. Our adult children are not going to live life perfectly. We certainly haven’t lived all our adult lives without making mistakes. Rather than lamenting when our children misjudge or misstep, we need to comfort and encourage them, asking God to help their mistakes make them wiser in the future. This leads us to the next point.
Pray often. Advise sometimes. Rescue rarely. Parenting requires us to be involved. However, we need to strike the delicate balance of just how involved we are with our actions. We need to pray more than we give advice. And our advice should not be unsolicited. Make it your aim to give your input only when asked. (This may require a roll of duct tape for your mouth!) And rescuing should be rare. Of course, I am not speaking about children who are in a situation of abuse or danger. I am talking about situations like bailing them out financially when they have run up a credit card bill. Letting them learn life’s lessons is a crucial part of your role as a parent.
Learn to connect with them on their turf. Are your adult children active on social media? If you’re not connected with them through social media, consider asking someone to help you create an account so you can interact with them there. It will speak love to them as you learn to connect with them on their own turf. And it can be a lot of fun!
Our job is to pray. God’s job is results. Keep in mind your role — and God’s. It is your responsibility to pray earnestly for your children, treasuring them in your heart. But leave the results to God. Often His path for them and His timing look nothing like what you have pictured in your mind. Petition Him on their behalf, but leave the results to God, trusting that He can parent them even better than you can.
Parenting adult children is much different from the decades we spent raising our little ones during the potty-training-to-drivers’-training years. However, with the right perspective wrapped in an attitude of prayer, it can be a joyful journey. We will not only see our children develop, but we’ll experience spiritual growth ourselves — not to mention enjoying our own custom-made pizza!
Karen Ehman is a New York Times best-selling author and Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker who has been featured on FoxNews.com, Redbook.com, Crosswalk.com, and in HomeLife magazine. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of three, she resides in central Michigan.
Want to read more by Karen? Check out her latest Bible study on Philippians, What Matters Most!