Parenting Adult Children

The transition years as children launch into young adulthood can be exciting and a little challenging. What does the Bible say about parenting adult children?

The years fly by when it comes to watching and helping children grow. One moment they’re newborns being weighed on a small scale. The next moment, it seems, they’re crossing a stage filled with people receiving their college diplomas. Our children quickly inherit the status we call adult or at least young adult.

This is a defining moment for parents as well. Your children may be grown up and legally adults, but they are still your children. What do adult children want or need from parents?

How involved should a parent be?

When it comes to adult children, some parents are at a loss as to how to walk the line between parenting and interfering with their adult children’s rise to independence.

Laurence Steinberg, in his book The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting, described the parenting process this way: “Being a parent is a lot like building a boat that you eventually will launch. The building process is gratifying, but so is launching the boat and seeing that what you’ve built can handle the seas. At some point as a parent, you’ve got to start getting your child ready to be launched” (2004, p. 85).

Do we view our young adult as a tiny baby bird leaving the nest or as a young adult capable of taking the next step in life?

Our emotions may cause us to be so afraid of what will happen to our kids that we still think of them as children, rather than adults. Thinking of adult children as incapable is a disservice to them and keeps you in parental caretaking mode instead of parental advisory mode. This can damage your relationship, as the young adult feels “stifled” or that you are “controlling.” In this regard, consider the apostle Paul’s warnings to “not provoke your children to wrath” or discourage them (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21).

On the other hand, some young adults may need encouragement to take more responsibility. It can be hard on them and hard on their parents, but it’s what they need to experience in order to make changes within themselves.

Loving and involved parents know their children better than anyone else does. They are familiar with their children’s strengths and areas of challenge, and they can continue to have a positive and motivating impact in their lives.

For children who have just finished college, trade school or other educational program, parents can help them transition to the working world by offering assistance and advice when it is asked for. Your adult child might appreciate help in these challenging areas:

  • Job hunting.
  • Apartment/house search.
  • Obtaining his or her own auto insurance, cell phone service, etc.

Making your boundaries clear

If a young adult child is still living at home, it can be easy for him or her to reason that boundaries that once stood firm when he or she was younger are no longer applicable. But that should not be true of family standards. Parents are not obligated to change or suspend the standards of the house because a child has reached young adulthood.

Limits and rules are widespread in society, and most of these standards know nothing of age limits. Driving the speed limit is just as important when one is 21 as it was at age 16.

As a child grows through the teen years and into adulthood, levels of responsibility should increase as maturity increases. So it is with a young adult living at home. There should be a clear expectation that family members, no matter the age, abide by the standards of the family, yet there is a different level of responsibility and choices that can be made.

This can be somewhat difficult for parents and young adults alike. Adult children have a responsibility to “pull their weight” in the home, helping with household chores and perhaps contributing to the household budget or providing some food, etc. In some cases it may even be beneficial to draw up a type of contract that specifies the terms by which the young adult will comply with the rules and be a contributing adult in the home.

<p>Moving away from home is a major milestone for grown children and for parents.</p>

Moving away from home is a major milestone for grown children and for parents.

Note that an adult child is not automatically entitled to live at home. It’s a privilege and parents have every right to set the parameters.

Parenting adult children after they leave home

It may be challenging, but parents can assist their children in facing the realities of living on their own without “controlling their lives.”

For example, if the adult child lives in a separate residence yet still depends on the parents as a source of income, it’s important to make the boundaries clear. Parents can state the amount they will pay a month, or they can list what will and will not be paid for. This clarity goes a long way in helping everyone know what to expect.

It’s best to teach the basics of budgeting before your child leaves home, but parents can continue to offer budgeting advice when asked. Real life has a way of reinforcing what is essential (groceries, auto insurance) and nonessential (membership to a tanning salon or upgrading to a “smarter” phone). Young adults may also need help finding ways to save, from clipping coupons to using the public library for Internet access.

Parents may be able and choose to help in certain areas financially, but be careful not to become an enabler of bad budgetary habits by being a type of ATM for your adult children!Parents may be able and choose to help in certain areas financially, but be careful not to become an enabler of bad budgetary habits by being a type of ATM for your adult children!

How to stop enabling your grown child

Many parents feel compelled out of love and guilt to intervene time after time self-inflicted emergencies of many kinds. Discerning when help will be truly helpful and when it may be just enabling bad habits can be challenging for a parent. Seeking wise counsel is the biblical solution to our limited perspective.

  • “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).
  • “Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established” (Proverbs 15:22).
  • “Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days” (Proverbs 19:20).

Learning sacrifice and self-reliance

In her article “Failure to Launch” (www.empoweringparents.com), Kim Abraham explains that the issue with many of the young adults in today’s generation seems to be a sense of entitlement and an aversion to sacrificing.

According to Ms. Abraham, “Gone are the days of ‘If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.’ Today, society is all about technology and instant gratification. But it’s not too late to teach our adult children the values of delayed gratification and working for things they desire. It’s okay for them to be uncomfortable and realize they have the ability to survive hard times through self-reliance.”

Results of a good foundation

The book of Proverbs is filled with many wise teachings, and it speaks to the responsibility of teaching our children from the time they are young. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Part of raising children involves teaching them to consider what choices they should make.

With proper teaching in their background, young adults should be able to think through and consider the responsibilities that come with their age.

If they are wise, they will look to the example of their parents and the wisdom of the Bible. They will grow to become responsible, accountable and mature young adults who won’t take offense when being parented by those who equipped them for young adulthood.

When your grown child breaks your heart

Of course, God gives everyone free choice. Biblical and modern examples make it clear there is no guarantee in parenting. (Our article “Train Up a Child: What Does Proverbs 22:6 Mean?” explores this subject in detail.)

Our children can and likely will make choices we wish they wouldn’t make. Some will make decisions that will hurt themselves—and us. Even the best parenting and the best parents would not be immune, but we all make mistakes and sometimes blame ourselves.

Sadly, many of the faithful fathers and mothers of the Bible could relate. For example, Samuel. David, Hezekiah and Josiah were righteous, but many of their children made terribly wrong choices.

Above all, God understands. In spite of all He has done for His children, we make wrong and painful choices. Many have rejected His way and His love.

In the parable of the prodigal son, God illustrates what He does and what we can do when a grown child breaks our heart.In the parable of the prodigal son, God illustrates what He does and what we can do when a grown child breaks our heart. The father in the story demonstrates love, patience and forgiveness. (You can study this parable in our article “The Prodigal Son: Parable With Overlooked Meaning.”)

Parenting with patience: “one rose at a time”

Carl E. Pickhardt told a poignant story of parental pain and patience in his book The Connected Father. Dr. Pickhardt recounted the story one father had told him about reconciliation “one rose at a time.”

“She was about 23, our daughter, when without explanation, she cut off all communication with us. Stopped coming to see us. Rarely answered our phone calls, and when she did abruptly told us that she’d call us when she felt like talking, and to please not call her.

“At first, we felt really hurt, then really angry. What had we done to deserve such treatment? Then my wife said something really important: ‘Suppose this isn’t something painful she’s doing against us; suppose it’s something painful she needs to be doing for her.’

“So that’s what we decided it was. And to let her know we loved her and were thinking about her, every week I sent her a single red rose with a card that read: ‘We love you.’

“And I did this for about seven months until one day she called, said she wanted to come over and see us, and she did, and we’ve been lovingly back together ever since.

“Of course, I asked her about the roses, curious to know what she did with them. ‘At first,’ she said, ‘I threw them away. Then I gave them away to friends. And finally, I started keeping them, signs that you were keeping me in your heart, one rose at a time’” (pp. 116-117).

Always a parent

It may be difficult for some young parents to fathom, but the years between birth and leaving the nest will fly past! Before you know it, both you and your children will have entered a new stage of life—one in which they leave teenage and move into young adulthood.

Our roles as parents will change; but once a parent, you are always a parent! By considering how we can continue to serve our children as parents even when they reach the threshold of adulthood, we can most effectively help them and build the relationship with them on an entirely new level. Our role changes, but we are forever parents.

If you would like to read further about parenting, this “Parenting” section has many related articles for you to read.

About the Author

Todd Carey

Todd Carey served as a pastor for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, until his death in 2017.

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