Picture yourself sitting at the table with your now grown-up daughter as she plops down a packet of information with the title “Peace Corps” on front. Your mind drifts to the first time you ever held her as a precious baby in your arms—then quickly rushes to images of hostile foreign people groups trying to pry her from your grasp (while in the Peace Corps, of course). All at once you reel in your imagination and regain your dignified, yet slightly shaken, composure. She looks at you, “Mom, are you okay?”
These are the many crazy feelings and emotions we as parents of adult children can experience in the flash of a moment. No one prepared us for this season and all at once it’s here—like a wrecking ball minus Miley Cyrus. Getting our minds around this natural, God ordained, metamorphosis in the life of a child is no easy feat. However, understanding the process will help us to weather those ideas and plans that may go against our dreams and expectations. Keeping in mind that God has made our children individuals and he has his own plans and destiny for them also helps.
For adult children there is a transition time from how they grew up in a Christian home to making their own way spiritually as an adult. Transitioning means they come to the place of their unique individuality and direction, and this can be a difficult season for parents. Of course, everything we have taught them as parents is solid foundation and we can feel confident knowing our training will stay with them: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV).
The transition process reminds me of Galatians 3:24-25 which talks about the law being our tutor until we are of full age (then we come under the Spirit). In a sense, the Christian upbringing is a lot like this. When full age comes, adult children jump out of their foundational spiritual nest—even if they still live at home. They start exercising their own wings of faith and find their own strength and preferences. They may stumble a bit at first, and some of their techniques may differ, but the Spirit will be faithful to guide them where he wants them to go in their walks.
Instructions for parents
Now, it’s time for our instructions. Getting a good grasp on the do’s and don’ts of responding to our adult children’s independence can save us a lot of heartache. During our children’s growing up years we have had complete liberty to express our thoughts and concerns, but this all changes once they begin to transition into grown-ups and make their own choices different than ours. Our job is to “not overreact” when we don’t agree—this will be a catalyst to their development. One, it makes them feel like they can come to us if they have questions about life and not get blasted, and two, it gives them the freedom to make mistakes and gain their own bearings. How we present our case if we disagree at this phase of life becomes paramount. Being respectful of their individuality and the steps of this process is key.
For instance, when it looks like they might be making a mistake, we need to remember not to react in a controlling or super-spiritual way to avert their mistakes. Instead, we need to listen without initially responding, take it to God in prayer, and then calmly come back with the red flags that we might see. Pointing out danger never goes away as a parent.
Here is the tricky part: we must purpose in our hearts ahead of time not to argue about the red flags. The more we jump up and down to keep them from going a direction we don’t want them to go, the further that direction they might travel—simply because of human nature. For some of us, this will feel like holding back a dam that’s about to burst. Can you imagine if it bursts? All it takes is a few of these dam-bursting experiences to realize that it just doesn’t go well. If this happens, there can be days, months, or sometimes years of repercussions. In a satirical sense, it would be like one of our kids telling us they are moving to the next town and instead of being supportive we protest, bombard them with the potential dangers and present all the latest crime statistics. The next thing you know they announce they are moving out of the state completely.
Our new place
Many times we look back and shake our heads at the degree that our emotions have carried us, wishing we could have handled our concerns differently. Well, now’s our chance. We don’t have to bulldoze or hide in the corner, defeated, like we have no place. We do have a place—a new place as a parent of an adult. There is a great opportunity here to trust the Lord and consider our words wisely in our new relationship with our children. A gentle, careful word when expressing a red flag of concern might make all the difference.
Yet, we must leave the red flags in their hands allowing them to make choices without pressure. At this point, they may still head their own way—remember it is a process—but the red flags will eventually be seen as the Spirit reveals and leads. This makes it their own, not because they feel guilted or oppressed, but because they are making their own discovery about important life choices. Showing our adult children that we value their abilities inspires great confidence—it is a gift. We become more of an adviser, less of a parent (although they will always love, honor, and cherish us as parents). This creates in them a tremendous respect and desire to come to us with issues and a willingness to listen.
Paula Masters is the author of “Exceptional Bloom: Coming Alive After Fifty” and the founder of True Source Ministries, an online ministry to hurting women, found at tsmwomen.org. She stays connected with her readers on her “Over Fifty And Fabulous” facebook page and online at OverFiftyandFab.com.