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Archive for the ‘Adult Children’ Category

How to Love Your Kids Unconditionally

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

One of the most important things we can do for our children is to teach them that God loves them unconditionally.

It’s extremely important that we teach our kids that they are loved, not because they earned our love or are good enough to be loved, but that they’re loved because God put them into our families to be loved.

This is hard for many of us because we have had a hard time receiving God’s unconditional love ourselves. God wants us to spend some time with him, letting him love us, and in turn giving that unconditional love to our kids.

How can we show God’s unconditional love to our families? Here are two practical ways:

1. Forgive your kids as God forgives you.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ” (NCV).

I love that God forgives me, but I’m not always ready to give that same kind of forgiveness to other people. Parenting requires massive doses of forgiveness. You’re in a position all the time to forgive your kids for things that they do.

2. Never give up on your kids.

We’re told in 1 Corinthians 13:7a, “If you love someone . . . you will always believe in him, and always expect the best of him” (TLB).

From the Phillips translation, that same verse says, “Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything.”

We can face just about anything if we know somebody believes in us. Families are supposed to do that. We’re to give that kind of love to our kids.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. It’s unconditional. It’s a forever bond. No stupid mistake on our part, no dumb decision, no period of rebellion, no overwhelming doubt — nothing can separate us from that forever bond with God, our Father.

As parents we are to develop that same kind of love for our kids. No matter what stupid thing our kids do, no matter how many times they walk away, we believe in them.

God wants you to treat your kids the way he treats you.

Parenting is an emotional roller coaster. One minute you’re so proud of them, you can hardly wait to squeeze them. The next minute you’re frustrated with them and fed up with their behavior.

You may be worried about your kids. You may be frustrated with your kids. You may be fearful about the direction one of them is going. You may be discouraged. If the truth were known, you may be disappointed in one or more of your kids.

Maybe the deepest hurt in your life is when you think of your child or your children. You feel like giving up sometimes, but you can’t resign as a parent. You signed on for life.

If you try to parent in your own power, you’re going to fail. It takes God’s love. Human love runs out. There is a limit to how much you can handle. There’s a limit to how much you can take.

There are days and there are nights when you don’t have any more to give, and you know it. You want to say, “Take care of yourself!” Because human love does run out.

What you need to do is get plugged into God. God is love. He’s the source of all love. When you’re plugged into him, he’ll give you power and energy and love that you didn’t know you had.

God will also give you the wisdom you need. So no matter how you feel emotionally about your kids today, Jesus is ready to help.

The key to becoming a great parent is to become a godly person. How?

First, you invite Jesus Christ into your life. “Lord, become the manager of my heart.”

Second, you pray and say, “God, I need your help daily. I need the wisdom and the love and the patience to be a wise parent.”

Third, you ask your kids to pray for you. I pray for my kids so I ask them to pray for me. Say, “I want you to pray that I’ll be a good parent.”

It may have to start with an apology. There may have to be a little reconciliation first. You may have to contact them, call them on the phone and say, “I wasn’t always the parent I should have been. I feel bad about that. But I want things to change. I want to be the kind of parent God wants me to be and that you need, so I’m going to ask you to forgive me. I apologize.”

It’s never too late to start showing God’s unconditional love and forgiveness to your kids. God never gives up on us. So never given up on your kids!

Divine Words for Desperate Parents

SOURCE:  Nancy Guthrie/The Gospel Coalition

I’m not exactly sure how it happens, but almost as soon as we visit the doctor to confirm we’re pregnant we start getting coupons for formula and diapers and magazines that include all kinds of articles about how to raise healthy, well-adjusted children. All of these “five steps to . . .” and “ten ways to get your child to . . . ” articles can fool us into thinking if we try hard enough and do everything right, our child will become and do what we want.

But anyone who’s been a parent for long knows parenting requires a lot more than simply following the right steps to success. To raise a child toward godliness, we need much more than the good advice parenting experts have to offer. We need what only the Scriptures have to offer.

We need the commands and expectations of Scripture to keep us from complacency, and the grace and mercy of Scripture to save us from guilt. We need Scripture to puncture the pride that rises up in us when our child is doing well and we’re tempted to take the credit. And we need Scripture to save us from the despair that threatens to sink us when our child is floundering and we’re tempted to take all the blame.

While we have influence and responsibility, we don’t have control over our child. We can teach our child the Scriptures, but we can’t be the Holy Spirit in our child’s life. We can confront sinful patterns that need to change, but we can’t generate spiritual life that leads to lasting change. Only the Spirit can do that.

What we can do is pray for and parent our child the best we know how. We can keep trusting God to do what we cannot.

But how or what do we pray? The Scriptures help us with that, too. In particular the Psalms—divine words God has given us to talk and sing to him—provide us with not only wisdom and perspective for parenting, but also with words for prayer.

In His Grip, Not Ours

From the time they’re newborns, we’re concerned about our children’s progress. We want to know what we can do—what we can feed them, what we can teach them, how we can train them—to keep them moving toward a bright future.

During the school years, our parental fear or confidence rises and falls on how well our children are progressing in school and sports, as well as physically and socially. As they emerge into young adulthood, we can’t help but set mental timelines for them to finish their education, find a mate, and establish a career. And all along the way, we often think and act and feel as if it’s up to us and our children to chart out a path for their lives—and to make it happen.

But King David knew otherwise. He recognized he wasn’t ultimately in control of where he came from or where he was headed. Nor did he want to be.

I am trusting you, O LORD, saying, “You are my God!” My future is in your hands. (Ps. 31:14–15)

Our child’s future is not in our hands. It’s not under our control. It’s not in their hands either; it’s in God’s.

Meditating on Psalm 31 helps us to pray: Lord, I find myself obsessing over many aspects of who my child will be and what he will do. But I know my child’s future is not in my hands. And deep down I don’t want it to be. The safest place to be—the place of favor and blessing—is in your hands.

In His Strength, Not Ours

As parents we tend to be pretty hard on ourselves. We’re well aware of our deficiencies and our hypocrisies. We’re determined not to raise our own children in some of the ways we were raised, yet we instinctively repeat similar patterns. We want to listen, but we’re distracted. We want to play, but we have so much work to do. We want to engage helpfully, but so much of what we throw out there doesn’t seem to stick. Even our most brilliant efforts at parenting don’t always work well.

In Psalm 103 we find good news for those of us who have failed our child, good news for those of us who have been angry, impatient, or cold.

The LORD is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
he remembers we are only dust. (Ps. 103:13–14)

We have a Father who is tender and compassionate toward us. He’s not pointing fingers or putting us on trial. He is mindful of our limitations and frustrations. He knows how weak we are in faith, in discipline, in consistency, in wisdom, and in relational skills. He remembers we are dust, doing the best we can in a world we don’t control to raise kids we don’t ultimately control. We have a Father who works in and through our weaknesses to put his own power and strength on display.

Meditating on Psalm 103 helps us to pray: Father, we need your tenderness to release us from our regrets, and we need your compassion to assure us of your long-term commitment to see us through all the seasons and struggles of parenting.

By His Voice, Not Ours

When we read Psalm 29, we get the sense that David is looking up at the sky, watching the progress of a storm sweeping over Israel. But he’s not just watching it. He’s hearing what the Lord is saying to him through it.

The voice of the LORD echoes above the sea. The God of glory thunders.
The LORD thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
The voice of the LORD splits the mighty cedars; the LORD shatters the cedars of Lebanon. (Ps. 29:3–5)

The Lord’s voice is shattering. The same voice that splits the mighty cedars of Lebanon can cut through any resistance our children have toward God.

The Lord’s voice is striking. It can speak to our children like a gentle rain of gradual understanding or like a lightning strike of life-changing insight.

The Lord’s voice is shaking. It can jolt our children out of their apathy and comfort.

The Lord’s voice is stripping. Just as it leaves the forest bare, it can peel away negative attitudes and arguments from our children’s hearts and minds.

Meditating on Psalm 29 helps us to pray: Lord, we long for our child to hear you speaking. Won’t you sweep down over our home in the way David saw you sweeping through Israel? Come and let your mighty, majestic voice be heard.

In His Timing, Not Ours

How hard it can be to wait on God. When we’ve prayed for months or years and see no visible signs of change, no tangible evidence of God at work, we can begin to lose hope. We wonder not only if heaven is closed to us, but if there’s really anyone there, listening and able to act.

I am sick at heart. How long, O LORD, until you restore me? (Ps. 6:3)

When we’re sick at heart over the direction of or difficulty in our child’s life, we can be sure God will restore us to a healthy confidence that he is at work. When we’re worn out from sobbing over the pain in our child’s life, we can be sure the Lord has heard our weeping. He has heard our pleas and will answer. It may not be today or tomorrow. In fact, God may not accomplish all the healing and restoration we long for in this lifetime. But we can be sure the day will come when his work in our lives and in the lives of our children will be brought to completion. And in light of eternity, it won’t seem it took very long at all.

Meditating on Psalm 6 helps us to pray: Lord, I am impatient for you to accomplish all you intend in my child’s life. But I am not hopeless. Even when I don’t see you working, I will trust you are. Even when it seems it’s taking too long, I trust you to accomplish all you intend to accomplish, and I have faith you will complete it on time.

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Adapted from Nancy Guthrie’s The One Year Book of Praying Through the Bible for Your Kids.

Hope for Hurting Parents When Kids Rebel

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

As a pastor, more than other people, I see the hurt and the heartbreak that happens in a family when a child makes rebellious and destructive decisions. And thankfully, there’s a story in the Bible that offers us a lot of insight.

What has often been called “the story of the prodigal son” is really a picture of how God shows his holiness, his goodness, and his kindness to his children — each son in this story was rebellious in his own way. Some of the insights we learn about parenting from this story might surprise you.

The story, found in Luke 15:11-32, unfolds in three stages.

Stage 1: Rebellion.

Beginning in verse 11, “Jesus said, `There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.’”

Stage one is rebellion. In every parent-child relationship, there’s going to be a struggle. It’s a struggle for control, a power struggle.

At birth, as a parent, you are 100 percent in control. But as your child grows, the power gets transferred. Your control is not permanent. Kids want control sooner than we want to give it. They think they deserve it sooner than we’re ready to give it out. Kids have a sin nature. If you don’t believe that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” you’ve never been a parent.

So what do you do when a child is legally independent and you can’t control them anymore?

  1. Let them go.
  2. Let them make their own mistakes.
  3. Let them experience the consequences of their own choices.

There is a price tag for rebellion. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (NIV).

How do you as a parent feel when your child rebels? Guilty? Embarrassed? We tend to practice a lot of self-condemnation when our children rebel, but you are not the only influence in your child’s life. Your child has choices that he makes. She has friends that she chooses. He has teachers that you don’t control. She has books and movies that she sees. He has all kinds of influences and choices.

Stage 2: Regret.

Back to our story. Verse 17 says, “When he came to his senses…” You might be praying for that sentence in your child’s life. When is my kid going to wake up? When is he going to come to his senses? When is he going to see that he’s ruining his life? You’re praying for that.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and I will say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.””

Notice the change in attitude. He goes through a process of re-evaluation, regret, and repentance.

What do you do during this stage, while you’re waiting for your child to come to repent? Three things.

  1. Pray for your child, non-stop.
  2. Commit your child to God’s hands.
  3. Wait patiently.

Stage 3: Return.

Verse 20 says, “So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

Remember that in this story, this is the ideal father responding. This is God. This is not a typical human being. This is what God would do.

In fact, it is what God does to you in your rebellion. It’s a model for us.

  1. Love them faithfully, stubbornly.
  2. Accept them unconditionally and affectionately. (This doesn’t mean you approve of their actions.)
  3. Forgive them completely.

Verse 22 says, “But the father said to his servants.`Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate!’”

What I like about this father is he didn’t rub it in. He didn’t keep reminding his son, holding it over his head the rest of his life. The father gave him a second chance. He forgave him completely.

This story shows how God deals with our rebellion. That’s the primary purpose of it. We’ve taken matters into our own hands. The Bible says that we’ve all sinned and we’ve all done our own thing. We’ve messed up our lives. But God says, “Come on home!” God gives us another chance.

The 9 Unwritten Rules of Grandparenting

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Kristen Sturt/Grandparents.com

Abide by these handy guidelines, and your grandparenting experience will always be a breeze.

Rule #1: You’re responsible for staying in touch.

Whether they’re halfway through college or just starting kindergarten, one of the biggest complaints we hear about grandchildren is that they just don’t reach out. It’s a kid thing, not necessarily exclusive to the current generation. Either way, the onus is on you to stay in touch.

“The ticket to keeping ties with your grandchild strong is maintaining open lines of communication,” says writer Jodi M. Webb. To do that, you need to reach out to kids in ways they’ll respond to. Learn to text! Communicate on social media! Make the occasional phone call! Ask about their interests, and try to keep things light and loving.

Rule #2: The favorite grandparent is the one who is the most fun.

They might not admit it to your face, but secretly, grandkids have a favorite grandparent. (Admit it: You did, too.) The favorites are willing to try new things, suggest kid-friendly activities, and go with the flow. They’re the ones who laugh freely and hug closely, who—cliché as it is—have the most cookies on-hand.

Rule #3: Offended? You gotta move on.

At some point, when it comes to your grandkids, you’re gonna feel left out, guilty, confused, frustrated, or worse. Your son and DIL might not invite you for Thanksgiving. Your grandson might disrespect you. Your granddaughter might forget your birthday! (Oy. That kid.) In these inevitable instances, you can air your feelings and even expect an apology. But unless it’s something irreversibly hurtful, you can’t harp. Grudges damage relationships. Forgiveness and communication strengthens them. Go high and be the bigger person.

Rule #4: Pitch in up front.

Grandbabies are a blessing, not to mention a ton of work, and new parents may need help during those first hectic months. (You did, right?) If your kids are amenable, lend a hand any way you can:cleaning, cooking, babysitting, etc. It’s a great way to get off on the right foot with your family, and—bonus!—you’re sure to get quality time with your new favorite infant.

Rule #5: Share the grandkids with others.

When a grandchild is born, you want that baby all to yourself, and probably always will. But there are other grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and more to think about. Sharing can be hard. Head off problems by planning ahead and keeping lines of communication open. Try creating ground rules when appropriate (take turns visiting, switch holidays yearly, etc.), and be welcoming, flexible, and understanding. Oh, and wine helps, too.

Rule #6: Bite your tongue.

Disagree with your grandson’s sleep schedule? Think your daughter is too strict with sweets? Unless you’re asked directly or believe your grandbaby is in danger, keep your child-rearing opinions to yourself. Too often, a grandparent’s unsolicited advice comes off as veiled criticism, which can breed resentment and drive a wedge between family members. If you need to vent, your partner, friends, and coworkers are ready and waiting.

Rule #7: Act like your grandchildren are always watching (because they are).

“Saying we want good behavior from children can be vague for them, especially when they are young,” says children’s advocate Kathy Motlagh. In other words, if you want well-behaved grandkids with good values, talking isn’t enough; you have to practice what you preach. Model kindness and respect through your everyday actions. Resist impulses driven by anger and fear. Be the good in the world, and those babies will follow your example.

Rule #8: Get the gear.

To paraphrase a famed author, it is a truth universally acknowledged that grandparents in possession of good fortune must spend a little on stuff for visiting grandchildren. When the grandkids are young, a few books, toys, diapers, activities, bottles, and dishes are simple enough to acquire and store, and ensure parents don’t have to haul extra belongings. If overnight stays are in your future, you might consider a highchair, small stroller, or even a crib. Space and income will play a factor in your equipment list, but really, any effort will be appreciated.

Rule #9: There are no rules.

Grandparenting changes from generation to generation; you’re different from your grandparents, and your grandchildren will differ greatly from their own grandchildren. And while experience and history offer some guidance, all we can ultimately do is confront the challenges in front of us at any given time. Heed good advice, do your best, and love and enjoy your grandkids. It’s all anyone can ask for.

Tips for Giving Advice to Your Adult Children

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

For years, I’ve marveled at how good my mom is at giving advice.  She has a knack for knowing when, and how, to do so.

And as my kids have entered adulthood, I’m even more impressed by her example.  But it can be so hard, with all my years of experiences and hard knocks, to keep my parental opinions to myself.

Giving advice well starts with knowing when the conditions are right for our older children to hear, and really think about, our advice.  Giving advice well also requires some artful actions.  Here are some tips to consider:

The Best Times to be Giving Advice:

  • Give advice when you’ve been asked for your advice.  I’ve noticed through the years that my mom, as well as my dad and Susan’s parents, were patient with their advice. And that patience made me more willing and interested in seeking their advice. For the most part, they only gave advice when they were asked to do so, plain and simple.
  • Give advice when you recognize something that could potentially harm them physically, emotionally or spiritually, and you’re not sure they see it. Generally speaking, my mom keeps her thoughts to herself and lets us work through things on our own.  But when she believes she sees a landmine in our lives that we might be blind to, she isn’t afraid to speak up.  She risks being viewed as nosy because she cares more about us than about her own feelings.
  • Give advice when you are in a frame of mind to be gentle with your advice. Whether I asked for my mom’s advice or not, she has always been gentle in her delivery. She understands that a parent should want not only to be effective in expressing advice but in getting that advice to be grasped. If you are in a highly emotionally-charged state of mind, that’s not the best time to share your advice.  Be sure you can maintain control of your emotions.  Wait for a better time, with a cooler head, rather than forcing the issue.

  The Best Ways to be Giving Advice:

  • Give advice by being clear about the difference between opinions and facts. When you give advice, you can use both facts and opinions. Either way, let your child know whether your statement is fact or just your opinion based on your wisdom and experience.
  • Give advice by thoroughly listening to them. Don’t just wait for their lips to stop moving so you know when to shower them with your insights. Listen well and repeat back to them what you heard them say. Being a great listener is key to your relationships.  And as your kids get older, they need to know they can just express themselves without getting lectured.
  • Give advice by asking thought-provoking questions instead of making blanket statements. When giving advice, my mom always uses great questions to get me to think, which inspires me to use a sort of “Socratic method” with my kids, even when they were younger.  I like to ask them questions that stimulate their critical thinking and leads them to the conclusion I had in mind in the first place. When they get more active in the discussion and do some thinking as well, they’re more likely to receive your advice.

How to Repair a Distant Grandparent-Grandchild Relationship

SOURCE:  Kristen Sturt/Grandparents.com

You wanted to be a hands-on grandparent, but things have worked out very differently. Here’s how to fix it.

You had every intention of jumping in with both feet. The minute that baby was born, you wanted to see her, hold her, and be around for every milestone, major and minor.

Instead, her parents—your child and his spouse—have relegated you to a sometime visitor. You get together on holidays and birthdays, but you’re not part of your grandchild’s everyday life. You receive an occasional update or maybe even a photo, and that’s about it.

Carol R. knows the deal. The New Jersey native is grandmother to a two-year-old girl she rarely sees. “They’re very good parents to her,” she says of her son and daughter-in-law. “There’s no problem there. I just wish I felt a little more warm, fuzzy feeling with all of them.” She cites the lack of communication as her biggest issue. “I would love to get pictures once in a while. I would love to have an email or voicemail returned to me. It could be days. It could never be responded to [at all].”

Carol’s situation isn’t uncommon. One of the biggest complaints we hear at Grandparents.com is that the cozy expectations of grandparenthood frequently don’t match up to the distant reality. Some GPs complain bitterly about the perceived coldness and lack of contact. Others, like Carol, have learned to live. “I’m just accepting it for what it is, because I’ve beaten myself up over it,” she says. “It’s just different. It’s not wrong. It’s just not my way.”

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be a struggle. Whether you’re a new nana or a veteran grandpa, you can improve your state of mind and bridge the distance to your grandchildren by taking two important steps.

Step #1: Adjust Your Expectations

“A grandparent has all these fantasies about how they’re going to be as a grandmother,” says Deanna Brann, Ph.D. the author of Reluctantly Related—Secrets to Getting Along With Your Mother-In-Law or Daughter-In-Law. “They have their own concept and idea of how they’re going to be involved in the child’s lives.” When parents fail to indulge that vision, either because they can’t or don’t want to, tension inevitably occurs.

The key, then, is creating a grandparent-grandchild relationship that everyone can live with. Instead of grandparenting on your own terms, ask parents how they see your role. “Do it in the form of a question so it shows respect for the parents,” suggests Dr. Brann. “Say, ‘Would you ever consider having me babysit if you want to go out to dinner?'” An informal approach is important. “Do it over dinner when you’re chatting and you’re talking and it’s much more casual. You don’t want it to be intense.” Respecting parents’ wishes goes a long way towards creating trust and warmth.

For new grandparents, it’s especially important to keep expectations in check during the first few months of a grandbaby’s life. “The parents are going to be very overwhelmed and self-absorbed,” says Dr. Brann. “Give it a few weeks so they have the chance to adjust.” If you must be involved, do so in a strictly supportive manner. “Offer to come to the home and help. This isn’t about you coming to take care of the baby. This is about you doing the laundry, the housework, the grocery shopping, so [mom] can take care of the baby.” You’ll ingratiate yourself to the new parents, and most likely nab some time with the newborn, either way. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Step #2: Improve Your Relationship With Mom

While Dad plays a role, more often than not, the gatekeeper of the grandparent-grandchild relationship is Mom. “If you don’t get along with her, it does impact your ability to see your grandkids,” says Dr. Brann. Consequently, it pays to endear yourself, even if you think she’s in the wrong: “Sometimes, certain daughters-in-law are so off they’re not even willing to give you a chance, but it’s not that common, even though some mothers-in-law think it is. You need to try.”

The best way to warm your MIL-DIL relationship? Show interest in her as a person, and not just as the mother of your grandchild. “Call to find out what’s going on with her, and don’t talk about the baby. Be interested in her, and what her day is like,” recommends Dr. Brann. Even if you are tremendously different people, “find one thing and focus and build the relationship on that.” Writing a letter of appreciation is another helpful tactic. Express your admiration and tell her what she means to you, without asking for anything in return.

Don’t forget: Turnabout is fair play.

In addition to engaging your daughter or daughter-in-law more, you should examine your own behavior, “because there’s probably something you’re doing that she’s reacting to.” Perhaps she’s misinterpreting your baby advice as disapproval of her parenting, or thinks your cleaning offer means you believe she’s a poor housekeeper. When you pinpoint a possible trigger, quietly change your ways. “The reason is, when you change your behavior, they can’t respond the same way. It just doesn’t fit,” says Dr. Brann. It’s a confrontation-free way of improving relations. “It’s more subtle, it’s non-threatening, and it’s just easier for both people.”

What Not to Do

If you want to reduce emotional distance, it’s crucial to avoid certain negative behaviors, the biggest of which is playing victim. “It’s easy to be the victim, but you really have to get yourself out of that victim perspective, because it will not help you,” says Dr. Brann, who believes that empowerment is key. “Changing your behavior is about empowering yourself.”

Another classic error: raising a ruckus when you’re not getting the relationship you want. “The way we do it is usually wrong and we end up creating a bigger mess,” says Dr. Brann. Though it’s not suggested, if you feel you absolutely mustair your feelings to your daughter or daughter-in-law, do so calmly and non-judgmentally: “You have to be very careful, and you have to be willing to not get defensive, rationalize, or explain—just listen to her perspective.”

Finally, never, ever give up. “MILs give up too soon and throw up their hands in the air,” says Dr. Brann. “Always keep trying. You might just have to try different things.” Because when it comes to your grandchildren, communication is a lifelong effort.

Adult Children: 8 Steps for Parenting a Prodigal

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

All of us stumble a time or two on the journey to adulthood; after all, no one is perfect. One of the challenges of parenthood is gradually letting go of our children, giving them more freedom and responsibility as they grow. But what do you do when it’s not just a slip or a slight detour but your older child goes completely off the rails?

There’s probably no greater heartache for a parent than when their dream for their child dies, when someone they have poured their life and love into for so many years seem to reject everything they have ever wanted for and taught their child. My wife, Susan, and I have discussed this in our podcast, Loving Your Child Thorough Teenage Rebellion.

If you are facing this kind of difficult situation, take heart. Consider these eight lessons that are to be found in one of the most famous stories about rebellion ever told: The Prodigal Son.

You may recall how Jesus told of the young man who asked for his father’s inheritance, took off for a place far away where he squandered everything on wild living and finally came to his senses in a pig sty. The son returned home to ask to be put on his father’s payroll as a hired hand. Instead, to his great surprise, he was welcomed with a big hug and big party.

But beneath the happily-ever-after surface of the parable of the prodigal son are some steps to help you—and your child—through a time of rebellion.

1. Let them go.

Putting your foot down and locking them up won’t change their heart. The young man in the story realized the foolishness of his ways as he was allowed to follow his choices to their conclusion. The father didn’t try to shield his son from the law of cause and effect. That can be a scary thing, especially when there is risky behavior involved. Obviously, you may need to step in if they are younger or are seriously endangering themselves or others, but don’t be too quick to try to protect them from all that may follow as that could just prolong their waywardness.

2. Face your feelings.

Parents feel a great loss when children willfully turn their backs on all they have been modeled and taught. Take time to grieve the loss—and allow room for the anger that may surface too. Don’t bottle it all up inside. Here are 3 things to do when a dream dies.

3. Keep your head up.

Adding to the heartache of a child gone wild can be the sense of shame and failure. You think everyone else sees you as a failed parent. It can be healthy to reflect on the ways you may have contributed to your child’s decisions by your own mistakes or inadequacies so that you can change moving forward. You may even need to seek your child’s forgiveness. But your child is still ultimately responsible for his or her own choices. So don’t go into hiding; the father in the story continued about his business and waited out in public for his son to return.

4. Let them fail.

The prodigal only came to his senses when his life was in the dumpster and he was in great need. In that sense, the greatest gift the father gave his son was to let him become desperate. He didn’t keep bailing him out. Had he forced his son to stay home he may have simply nurtured a low-grade resistance for the rest of his life. Sometimes people need to be allowed to realize the poverty of their decisions.  How to Create Healthy Boundaries for Rebellious Teens looks at some ways of establishing rules and consequences appropriately.

5. Remember the other kids. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, and the troublesome child can draw most of the attention. In the parable, the older brother certainly resented his father, to a degree. Ensure your other children know they are loved and accepted for who they are. Reading Attitudes: Steps to Opening Your Child’s Spirit may be helpful.

6. Be expectant.

Waiting, wondering, and worrying about a child is hard. A friend whose son disappeared into drugs and alcohol abuse told me how he feared every phone call from an unknown number, wondering whether it might be the police calling to tell him his boy had been arrested—or worse. But remember that while your child may be beyond your reach, he or she is never beyond God’s. Hold onto hope, just as the father looked down the road for his returning son.

7. Don’t rescue them too soon.

They may need to stew in their own juice for a little while to really come to understand where they have gone wrong. There’s a difference between remorse and repentance. It’s one thing to feel bad about something in the moment; it’s another to demonstrate a serious desire to change over time. The son did that by walking all the way home from the far place he has gone to. He didn’t just say he was sorry and have his dad FedEx him an airline ticket. It’s important to know that your child really wants to change and isn’t just uncomfortable.

8. Offer grace.

They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the purity of your love for your child will never be more apparent than when they come home with their tail between their legs and find open arms and forgiveness rather than folded arms and a lecture. The prodigal son knew he’d messed up; he didn’t know until he got back the full extent of his father’s love.

They call all this tough love. Not just because it’s firm for the one to whom it is offered but because it is a hard balancing act to manage for the ones extending it. But being firm does not mean being harsh.

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