SESSION 4: Differing Values
Doing Life With Adult Children
We will answer some questions from parents who have struggled with many of the same situations you may be facing today, and we’ll talk about what’s most important in order to maintain a loving relationship.
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Welcome back to Doing Life With Your Adult Children. Session four is one of the most difficult topics to wrestle with. What do you do when your children have seemingly abandoned the morals that you’ve instilled? How do you love them well while holding onto your convictions? Well, in today’s session, differing values, we’ll answer some of the questions from parents who have struggled with many of the same situations you may be facing today and we’ll talk about what’s most important in order to maintain a loving relationship.
In order to give you as much practical advice as I can around this important topic, I’ve asked a large group of parents to write in their questions. We’ve sifted through them, we’ve gathered the ones we receive the most frequently, and I enlisted the help of my table guest to read them.
I am struggling with guilt and doubt about my parenting. What could I have done differently to keep my daughter from the destructive path she has chosen? What part of this is my responsibility and how can I change things?
Well, the truth is, there’s no perfect parent, but your child’s decisions aren’t your own and that’s important for us to hear it and yet we’re going to own it. But it’s so important for us to understand that they are making that choice. Really good parents have kids who make oftentimes poor choices. Too many parents live in what I call silent shame. We don’t want to tell anybody what’s really going on. In fact, that’s just the opposite of what we should be doing but we live in silent shame. The what ifs paralyze our souls and wreak havoc with our confidence as parents. It’s a great question that actually sets up a principle perfectly. Here’s the principle, you can’t want it more than they want it. Way too many parents want it more than the kids want it. When that takes place, the kids aren’t going to make the changes that they need to make. So even though your heart may be breaking, don’t give up, miracles happen every day. I’ve seen this over and over again with people who don’t give up and they often do figure it out.
Yeah, they’ll have some bumps and they’ll have some bruises along the way but you know what? With some bumps and bruises, we all have them. We’ve all had them. We’re going to make it and I think they’re going to make it too, but we just can’t put it all on ourselves.
My son is dealing with addiction that I see affecting every area of his life. I’m trying to connect with him, but he doesn’t want to let me in. He says he needs to find his own way, but he is making choices that are literally breaking him. What can I do that won’t push him further away?
My God that’s hard, that’s a great question. It’s a hard question too, it’s a heartbreaking question. Addiction is complicated. One of the things I always try to communicate is the importance of not breaking the relationship. So most likely, this person’s son is eventually going to feel the effects of their choices. When they feel those effects, they’re going to need wisdom and love and I think they will come to the parent if they don’t break the relationship. It may be too late for prevention, but it’s never too late for redemption. I think we have to keep that in our mind with all of our kids and all things but especially when you’re talking about something like an addiction.
I love, love, love the story of the prodigal son, or I would call it the loving father. It’s actually in the Bible, Jesus told the story and it’s a story of a young man who took his father’s inheritance and left home and wasted the money and wasted it on partying and all these kinds of negative type things and finds himself in a pig pen, Jewish in a pig pen, feeding the pigs and even that food look good, it says.
Then one day he kind of wakes up and goes, “Wow, I could at least come home and be a servant to my father and may at least get fed better.” At this point he comes home and the father … It’s a great story and I’m not going to go through the whole thing, but it’s a great story. The father welcomes him and they throw a party. The interesting side to it is I hope that that father also didn’t give him back his inheritance and all the things because the kid had made choices.
So I want to give you some steps for what you do with your adult child when they make some regrettable choices. First of all, offer them tough love. I mentioned that word before. Tough love, don’t confuse tough love with meanness. Don’t confuse tough love with anger. I love you, I don’t agree with your decisions. I don’t want you to have to live with these consequences, but there are some consequences for your choices and I’m going to love you through this, but there are consequences. So tough love says, let them live out the consequences.
Secondly is don’t bail them out. As parents, it’s natural. We want to do this, we want to bail out our kids every time. Don’t bail them out. Sometimes when we want to bail them out, that’s our natural and that’s a mother’s tendency like crazy but again, we don’t bail them out. We can’t be a one topic parent. So the son has an addiction. I’m really sorry about that, yet that can’t be the only thing we do. That son still needs to be a part of life. If the son likes to play baseball or watch baseball, you take them to a ball game.
That doesn’t mean that you’re not frustrated like crazy that he’s addicted to whatever he’s addicted to. One thing I say to parents all the time is don’t dump your anger and your frustration on your kids. You got to find another place to do it because you do have anger and you do have frustration. Please hear that, don’t say …. I’m not trying to make this Pollyanna positive, let’s never deal with it, but don’t dump it on your kids. Then also make sure that you find support for yourself. We have to understand that we need replenishing relationships around us where we can be open and honest and saying, “Wow, here’s what we’re going through right now.” When you do that, I think that’s very, very helpful. Also, I would make sure that you find the wisdom and the counsel with the difficult issues.
Even the Bible says, it’s a proverb, “Where there was no counsel the people fall, but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” So with addiction, that takes it to a level that you can’t handle it on your own. Too many parents try to handle that on their own. Really, truly, I would find an addiction counselor who not only could help your adult child if they’d be willing, but who can help you and at least help you so you get the wisdom and care. Then also just make sure … this is my own opinion, you relinquished your children to God. Here’s my prayer, I pray this all the time. I release my child to your loving care and your tender mercies. Sometimes that’s all I got and I think that’s all we can do.
When my son turned 25, he told me he no longer believed in God and wouldn’t be participating in our family’s religious traditions. I want to support him while he’s searching, but I can’t tell him it’s okay or approve of the lifestyle he is now engaging in as a result. What is your advice for parenting through the loss of faith?
Yeah, well, I think it’s really fitting to recall that last point, relinquish your children to God. It’s heartbreaking for us and we have to acknowledge that. Though they may no longer identify with your faith and not make it their own, God hasn’t left them and God hasn’t left you. So pray that simple prayer every day. God, I release my children to your loving care and your tender mercies. Let me give you three things that I think can be available to encourage our children to renew their faith. One is for us as parents to maintain a climate of openness and grace. I’m not saying that you’re going to agree with everything that they do, but I’m saying you know what? Have a time of openness, we do that with our friends. We do that with our neighbors, but we’re going to have to do that with our adult children and that’s how you treat them as an adult child.
Also, refuse to beat yourself up. The amount of parents, including moi here, who at times has said, “Should have put them on another mission trip.” If as a family we prayed harder, we read the Bible more, or whatever. So, we beat ourselves up when that’s not the case, typically. They’re on their own journey and they’re going to have to figure it out, but then also continue to influence them whenever they come home, if they’re not living in the home. Influence them in ways that you can. That doesn’t mean you preach and lecture, it means that you influence them by … Maybe it’s just a part of your own life, or as a family continue to pray at meals or bring up an inspirational subject, or something like that, but you can continue to influence them. It’s not over.
There’s good news at the end that oftentimes we’re seeing these emerging adults come back to the roots and sometimes they come back when they get married and they come back when they have kids. So the question is, is does every story of a child who strays end happily? Now I wish I could say yes, but the answer is frankly, no. But the biblical principle rings true and this is a great biblical principle for anybody to remember. It’s a proverb, “Train up a child in the way that he or she would go, and even when they are old, they will not depart from it.”
That’s a great thing for us to be reminded of, especially when they’re in that process of strength. Somewhere in there are some foundational truths for that 25, 26 year old. There’s some foundational truths that are still in their mind and you imparted that, those truths to them and you loved them with that. So even though it looks like they’ve departed, if you would, remember that God hasn’t departed from them, and there’s still great hope, amen.