A Mother’s Guide to Parenting Adult Children

Melissa HeilandBy Melissa Heiland5 Minutes

Who knew the hardest stage of motherhood would be parenting adult children? We knew going in the newborn phase would be demanding. Everyone laments the woes of raising teenagers. Yet nobody tells you that once the kids become adults, the art of parenting requires more finesse than ever.

People always refer to parenting as an 18-year gig. As a parent of five children ages 21 and older, I can tell you, that concept is absurd.

The roles of parent and child seem pretty clear-cut during the first 18 years, at least to the parent. Then, as the child approaches adulthood, things get a little murkier. As I’ve navigated my way through this minefield I’ve come up with a few guidelines.

Love Is the Key

The first and most important principle to keep in my mind is love. We need to always deal with our children in love. That sounds simple, because we do love them. Nevertheless, it isn’t always as easy as it sounds. The Bible tells us how love behaves.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

This means we are patient and kind, even when they are arrogant and rude. It means we are not irritable or resentful, even when they behave in ways that are designed to get under our skin.

True love is unconditional. It means we love them fiercely, even if they have addictions, steal, or go to prison. We love them if they choose lifestyles that fly in the face of all we have taught them. We love them even when they intentionally hurt us.

Forgiveness Is Required

The second undeniable principle in parenting adult children is forgiveness. For sins big and small, we must forgive our kids.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:12,13

When we truly forgive our adult children, we can parent them well. Without forgiveness, the relationship is broken, even if it appears to be unharmed.

Method of Teaching Changes

As good parents, we have spent many years nurturing our children. As they grow into adulthood, our method of teaching at this stage, is modeling Christian living without direct instruction. If we have done our job, our children know what we believe, even when we do not voice our concerns. We don’t need to mention them every time we are together. That will cause estrangement.

Respect Their Boundaries

As parents of adult children, we must respect their boundaries. This is not easy, of course. This is a new role for us. What was once our duty, is no longer required. They, alone, must answer to God for their behavior. We can, and should, continue to guide them. Nonetheless, guidance is not telling them what to do. As we respect their autonomy, we enable them to come to us for advice when necessary.

Ask Good Questions

One of the ways we guide them is by asking questions that encourage them to explore their reasons behind their decisions. We want to help them think through their choices. We must be quiet and sensitive when they are open to talking.

Give the Gift of Prayer

Finally, I believe the most important gift we can give to our adult children, is the gift of prayer. As parents, we love them deeply. We know them well, understand their hurts, and needs sometimes better than they know themselves. Lift them up to the Father. Whether our relationship with them is close, strained, or non-existent we can storm the gates of heaven on their behalf. We can ask Him to change our hearts as well as theirs, and for His will to be done in all our lives.

There is no relationship that cannot be healed or improved through prayer. This parenting responsibility, unlike others, never ceases.