Thursday, June 14, 2012

Parenting Adult Children


Someone responded to a comment I had made on Facebook regarding the "science" of parenting adult children. "Please write a book about adult parenting," she urged. Well, since our young adults are basically in "phase one" (college-to-post-college; unmarried) how about an article for now? By the way, for those of you in "phase two" (married adult children) or "phase three" (your children have made you a grandparent); you're the ones who need to write the books!

Parenting adult children without "cutting the apron strings" is like training drivers and never letting them drive alone. Even though they've learned all the needed skills and passed the required exams long ago, we keep riding along in their car for years, stomping the invisible brake on the passenger side!

Norman and I have three young adults all "driving" at the same time, so we're learning as we go, trying  not to get tossed from the vehicle by frustrated young adults. To get the "been there, done that" counsel, talk to someone who has adult children with a bit of wear on their tires, who are doing well in the Lord . For instance, I asked a Mom who has adult children in their forties what she did to train them up so well. She gave me a one-word answer: PRAYER.

I think we're expecting something complicated, when in reality, we just need to simplify. Here are my simple observations for this awkward stage:

1. Don't be too proud to admit that you've blown it when you blow it, and you will blow it. "Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well-advised is wisdom." (Prov. 13:10) Our children have heard these words before: "I was wrong. Will you forgive me?" You've seen these words in my Blog before, too. Seven simple words to diffuse a bomb. A young person can overstep their bounds, but so can a parent. When we're willing to humble ourselves and ask forgiveness when we've done wrong, we're being excellent role models. No one needs a pride model.

2. Be patient with growth. "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise." (Prov. 12:15) It took us a while to figure out how smart we weren't. Let's allow our young people to go through this process, too! When I was in my early twenties, I was quite sure that I knew at least as much as most adults twice my age. Now that I'm more than twice that age, I am always looking for ways to "sit at the feet of the wise ones." Spiritual growth, as well as emotional and physical growth, takes time. You may catch yourself wincing now and then over things that seem a bit on the shallow end of the pool, but keep the wincing to yourself (and the words, too).

3. Don't offer your advice unless asked (or unless you ask). "He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction." (Prov. 13:3) This verse makes a strong case for keeping our tongues on a tight budget. I had an opportunity to blow this one recently. I asked our oldest son a question about getting his car repaired (it sounded sort of like a freight train). He told me his game plan for the repair. I had other ideas, but instead of voicing them, I asked him if we could help. I could have said, "Boy, are you CA-RAY-ZEEE? This car is going to fall out from under you. Get it to the shop TODAY!" And then I could have added, "Because I SAID so," but it would have only succeeded in making our son's jaw go into that flexing thing that guys do when they're miffed and don't want to say what they're thinking. So, I asked permission to help. Permission granted, under son's terms, his way. He is a man, after all. It's just confusing at times that I changed that man's diapers. So when something is important, I approach the topic with caution by asking what's being done rather than telling what to do.

4. Stay balanced in your own life. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2:10) Once the children are at the stage where they don't "need Mom" as much anymore, it's a difficult change for some. Now in my case, I was training my children to need less of me; but some women love being needed! If you're one that delights in making lunches for people and doing their laundry, focus that attention now on your husband, or on some other adult like your own aging parents. Pray and ask the Lord what else He may want you to be doing at this phase, and be willing to do it. This also means that there may be times when you're not available to handle every crisis that comes into the life of your young adult. Good! More learning opportunities for them, and growth for you, too. Young adults need to see what happens in the next stage. As one friend put it, "Our later years should be our greater years."

5. Don't expect them to be where you are spiritually (if you're in good shape spiritually). "Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." (Jude 1:21). Once and a while I have to say to myself, "Francie, remember when?" I was a piece of work as a young adult! Not an outright rebel; I was a quiet, secret-service rebel. I'd rather have the kind who is in need and shows it than the ones who seem to be going along just fine and then WHAMMO: A cosmic life explosion out of nowhere! As I made mistakes, my walk with the Lord actually grew. Did you read that sentence? "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes." (Psa. 119:71) Struggles are humbling, growth-inducing experiences when they're taken in the right spirit. Mistakes provide educational feedback for future reference.

6. Use your words meaningfully. "There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health." (Prov. 12:18)  Let's face it: when we're upset, we tend not to be Christ-like. The potential to say something that we'll regret is magnified when we're standing toe to toe with someone who used to respond with a simple, "Yes ma'am." Our young adults have...gasp...opinions! They also have minds of their own, and they would like to have an opportunity to express themselves without getting pounced for being on a different page. Rather than using your tongue like a sword, make a point, then drop the subject. And avoid being loud or harsh. A controlled, moderated tone of voice using as few words as possible is part of being a good example. If  you can't manage yourself due to anger, hold off on the conversation until you cool off. Relationships are too important to lose over words.

7. Humbly pray for your young people every day. "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for  you." (I Pet. 5:6-7) Things can get hair-raising during this stage; I'll grant you that! There have been times when Norman and I have added fasting to prayer for our young adult children. I sometimes wonder if this stage isn't just another drill to teach us, the parents, to be more dependent upon God. After all, we can't control the outcome, so we might as well skip the panic button and drop to our knees in prayer instead. There will be times of disappointment and maybe even despair. Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, turn disappointments into prayer requests. We may not be in control of our young people's lives, but we have control over how often we go to the Lord in prayer. We will never be guilty of praying too much!

Make it a habit of praying Scripture for you children. This insures that you are praying within God's will for their lives. For instance, pray that your children will "walk in truth" (III John 1:4). Do they struggle with making wise decisions? Pray for the Lord to "cause them to know the way wherein they should walk" (Psa. 143:8). Are they facing multiple temptations? Pray that the Lord would "deliver them from evil" (Matt. 6:13). As I study God's Word daily, prayer requests flash from the pages and I boldly ask the Lord to work in the hearts and lives of our children. Every day that we're on this side of heaven, we should be praying for our loved ones. While we're praying for them, it helps to pray that we will have the wisdom needed to be the right kind of parents. Contrary to popular opinion, we don't always know what we're doing!

 Young adult children who are still living in our homes do have to follow some sort of structure, and parents are still the authorities at home, but on a different level than before. If your college-or-career-aged young person is still living at home, make the house rules clear, but stay flexible whenever possible. For instance, I had to learn to give up my love of having "all the birds in the nest by 10pm" after our oldest graduated from Bible college but was still living at home for a couple of years. He had paid his way through college, lived over 2,000 miles from home nine months out of the year, maintained an old beater car, got half-decent grades and even voluntarily paid rent when he got home. Did he really need permission after all of that to stay late working at the church?

When young adults graduate, if they don't immediately take a job elsewhere or marry and move into their own homes, there may be an awkward phase of "Where do I fit in?" to go through together. Pray for direction, but don't try to be a traffic cop at this point. You figured things out, didn't you?

As I said in a previous post on Facebook, parenting adult children is a tightrope walk at times. There is a tendency to want to smother our adult children with advice and guidance, which may be met with a chilly breeze of disapproval that rightfully comes from an adult who can figure things out. Be careful not to be a smother mother. How can you tell if you've crossed a line? Feel the icy cool breeze...then back off a bit. A trusted advisor can put their advice on hold until needed.

"In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise." (Prov. 10:19)

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