September 19, 2020

Refelctions on Being the Parent of Adult Children

When you are a 52 year old dad, and you have a 20 year old, college student son, it’s not all that unusual if you don’t have many one-on-one, personal conversations. But my son and I had a good one today, and it left me with an abundance of things to reflect on.

1. I’m incredibly grateful for my children. I love them both. Without a moment’s hesitation, I’m more proud of being their dad than of any other calling in my life.

2. When you have small children, you can simply never realize what it is going to be like to one day face them, as adults, with the realization that YOU have shaped them into the persons they will be for all of their lives. If we realized what it really means to create, nurture and shape another person in the deepest of human ways, we’d be frozen with fear. So much of what they are comes from us in ways that were unintended, or unknown or unplanned. Your children are truly a legacy of the kind of person you really are, and of how you’ve lived, how you’ve loved and what you’ve considered most important.

3. Thankfully, our kids are more than what we make them to be. God and many other influences shape the as well. When you look into the face of your adult child, you are seeing what God is doing with the life that came from you. You are seeing God’s grace beyond your faults and God’s love beyond your failures. It is the most hopeful, wonderful thing in the world to say “I love you, but God loves you so much more than I do. I would do anything for you, but God’s grace toward you is immeasurable.”

4. What we learn about life, love, family and ourselves comes to us so we can be better parents, and so we can be friends and mentors to our adult children. They may be reluctant to hear us or learn from us, but God has given us many ways to help and encourage them, but we must be open and vulnerable in our own life journey to hear and pass on that wisdom. Be sure of this: at the right time, the wisdom in your own life can be a powerful influence on your adult child. Remember how much it means to your child if they always know you are supporting them and that you believe in them.

5. If you are a Christian, you should be acquainted with your own flaws and brokenness. Sometimes young adults cannot see as clearly those things we all should learn about ourselves along the way. It is sometimes very painful to tell your child how you have failed, but if you can see your failures, without pride and if you can speak of God’s gracious faithfulness and compassion to the humble, you can open a door that, in time, your child will go through to learn the way of humility him/herself.

6. It is not easy to grow up, and it is not easy to be a young adult. It’s hard to be a young man or woman. It’s hard to be a godly young person. How much help we all need! And how much we need to help one another, just by speaking about what we’ve learned, by praying for one another, by weeping together and embracing. God wants our community as fathers and children to be a true family shaped by Christian compassion, grace, forgiveness and encouragement.

7. It is so tempting to do nothing but criticize. I’m aware that often our adult children need criticism, but they need much, much more than criticism. I’ve always felt that I have failed to be the person I could have been, and often my dad especially had to point out my carelessness with money and possessions. I was, like so many young people, arrogant and sure I knew everything at 21. But my parents never stopped with criticism. They always went on to tell me that they loved me and to show me their encouragement and support. Now, all these many years later after they have passed on, I still feel the love my parents had for me, and it is a rich encouragement to me. I am determined to give that same gift to my children as the years go by.

8. We all go through times when we feel lost. When things are wrong inside of us. When life loses its colors and becomes gray and empty. These times can seem overwhelming. When those experiences come into the lives of our children, we need to respond to them as human beings; as persons who knwo that there are many places to get lost and feel worthless. We don’t need to criticize them for being human or experiencing human failures. I’ve certainly gotten off track in life and lost in the fog many times. There is nothing more important in a family than the determination to stay with, stick with and persevere with that young person who seems to have lost their way and is looking for a fresh sense of purpose.


  1. Michael,

    Reading your blog is like watching a Master musician play guitar. On one hand I get inspired, wanting to play more, to practice more, to get better at what I do. On the other hand, it can also make me get discouraged at my own limmited abilities to play (write). However I might react, there is much enjoyment in the listening (reading) to/of a skilled craftsman at work.

    Thank you for your blog, you have given me many things to think on over this past year, of which this post was certainly one.

    To bring us back onto topic. I only hope I can be so wise when dealing with my own (3) children.

  2. I could not agree with you more!

    I have three adult children. They are, by far, the best thing that has ever happened to me; the best thing I have ever done. What a blessing they are to our lives! What a precious gift to be their parent. They have surpassed me in every area, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.

    My oldest daughter (27), just purchased a house (2 1/2 miles away). She does not want to live alone and so, she is taking her siblings with her. We have been painting, stripping floors, shopping for new beds and floors, etc. They have been asking for advice all along the way, with every purchase and every decision. We are so grateful we can have this type of relationship with them.

    Our relationship with all of our children is changing. No more conversations at breakfast time. No more, “how was your day” when they come home from work. No more, “good-night, sleep tight” as they go off to bed. I will miss those times but I will look forward to the conversations that occur if and when they need a sounding board. I will be willing to stop anything I am doing because they call and need to process through what is happening in their lives.

    Thanks for the reminder, Michael, to listen and love them no matter what. I will remain their biggest fan.

  3. Hard to imagine IMonk as a granddaddy, but that day may come, too, Lord willing. Just imagine those same qualities you have encouraged in your children then being replicated in your grandkids. I love my three children and have been encouraged by the growth I’ve seen in them (sometimes in spite of me). In many ways, though, the 10 grandchildren have been an even greater delight. I hope the Lord blesses you with that opportunity.

  4. I have noticed that people most happy about their adult children have a bit of physical distance involved in the living situation. My adult children are currently living with me. After they move out i plan to write nice things about them.
    For now I rejoice that they are so much more matured in Christ than I was at that age.
    IMonk, your post has wonderful timing. Frustration can build with closeness, Thank you for a gift to my wife and I.

  5. An excellent word that is never too late to put into practice.
    “Love one another deeply, for love covers a multitude of sins”. I think of this passage with everyone but especially my wife and kids. What does Love call me to say? Where is Love calling me to go? Fenelon’s advice is a favorite of mine: “Do not focus so much on your flaws and defects but rather have unceasing love for Jesus. For he who loves much is forgiven much”. I want this to be true in my relationship with Christ and with those nearby.

  6. Again I’m parroting but that’s OK I guess.
    First, I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Bell of Eclectic Christian. Your writing makes me want to throw up my hands and quit.
    Second, point 3.
    I have 3 adult children, a daughter-in-law (world’s most patient mother), a son-in-law and the most comical and beautiful 4 grandchildren in the world. I call them the 3 Ring Flying Monkey Circus. My other son is unfortunately going through a divorce.
    I suppose you can see the pride I have.
    The point is that in spite of all my efforts to completely mess up the kids they have all turned out to be wonderful people and surprisingly best of friends to me.

  7. Hi iMonk.

    I’m a father of two young children. I really appreciate your wisdom and honesty here. Point 2 filled me with a sense of dread. Point 3 tempered that dread with renewed hope and faith in my Lord.

    On a side note: I know you’ve written on a few parenting issues in the past, so I went to the Archives page to browse the Parenting category. There’s only one previous essay filed under that category — perhaps you could add this one as well.

    More essays on parenting would be much appreciated!

  8. Memphis Aggie says

    Great post Michael. I had the same reactions Jon S. did (I have two littler ones too) and I’ll second his motion for a Parenting category.

  9. “If we realized what it really means to create, nurture and shape another person in the deepest of human ways, we’d be frozen with fear.”

    This is one of those things I consider the grace of God, really. We can’t afford to be frozen with fear, and so it is a mercy that we are limited in our ability to completely grasp the power we hold.

    My oldest just turned 18 a couple of weeks ago and I don’t quite consider her an adult (though I try to remember that in ways she is, and needs to be treated so) so I’m not the “expert” on adult children by any means. But one piece of parenting advice I heard when she was a baby has stuck with me, and I think has really benefited my ever-evolving relationship with my kids.

    “You are your child’s advocate.” I took this to mean that I am to see the good where possible, and limit the fault-finding and correction to those times where it can really be seen to be of benefit. Some Christian parents, even some very good ones I know, have a little too much of “it’s my job to fix the problems” and tend to focus on what needs to be fixed, and (at least verbally) diminish the God-given growth and maturity that their kids are experiencing.

    I also took it in its more literal meaning of not tearing them down before others. So often women’s prayer groups or even Sunday school parenting lessons can become places where my image of other people’s kids takes severe damage, and if I didn’t try to remember that an earnest parent’s perspective tends to be tainted with fears and concerns, I would think that some of these fine children and young people I know are a total mess. I try to limit the negative reflections on my own children to those times when it is a very private setting, and when there is a serious need for prayer or counsel.

    The practical result I see is that my kids, now three teens, a preteen, and one primary-schooler, don’t have an impression that I’m always looking over their shoulder, out to find the next thing wrong with them. Their impression of their parents appears to be that of positive encouragers, who do hold them accountable, but who don’t spend their days figuring out what they’re doing wrong. I have hope that this will bear fruit both in their own lives, and in our ongoing relationship through their adult lives.

  10. Timely post. With the holidays, we just spent 10 snow-bound days with 4 of our 5 adult children (okay the youngest is 16 so semi-adult). Many interested conversations. I thank God for His grace to cover my failures as a parent.

  11. Michael, thank you for once again saying so clearly the vague ideas that float in and out of consciousness. This topic is for me the greatest source of guilt, and the greatest opportunity to learn faith and hope.

    #2 If we realized what it really means to create, nurture and shape another person in the deepest of human ways, we’d be frozen with fear. It was this fear that led me to study and embrace the reformed doctrines, especially the sovereignty of God. Knowing that God has control of their lives has probably saved me from such a paralysis. To think that how they turn out depends on me is overwhelming. Divorce (not my choice), remarriage (definitely my choice:), and overseeing a combined family of seven children has presented a whole series of brokenness and crises. Seeing God heal and restore so many things (but not all) is my greatest testimony to his faithfulness and love.

    #7 It is so tempting to do nothing but criticize. I’m aware that often our adult children need criticism, but they need much, much more than criticism. I have two out the door and another two on their way. It’s such a temptation to try to finish teaching them what should have been done earlier, to continue trying to correct those flaws I know I helped create. I need to remember the relationship is different and the influence I have is different. Once again I have to love them the best I can and leave the finishing to the Lord.

    I just had the neatest experience. One of my ‘grown’ boys brought over a friend from college saying he wanted to take a couple of hours Sunday afternoon to find out what I believed – there’s a broad topic! We rambled through Arminian versus Reformed, theories of eschatology, seeker sensitive churches…I talked with his friend and my son mostly listened. Afterwards he said he hadn’t realized what a resource he had in his dad, and our ramblings confirmed some things he had been thinking about. He asked me to send him things I thought might be helpful. The first one I suggested was

    My other ‘grown’ son regularly asks me out to lunch to talk about life, big things and small. The respect and honor and love they’ve shown, in spite of how little I deserve it, is one of the greatest gifts I can imagine receiving.

    Thank you again Michael for the encouragement and the chance to share the goodness of God.

  12. Michael, one of your best, and that is saying something my friend. Point number two was very sobering to me, but then point three softened the blow.

  13. Peggy in Shenandoah Valley says

    Thanks for another wonderful post. My three adult children have somehow, despite my many faults and mistakes, turned into the kind of people I’d love to hang out with even if we weren’t related. Their teens and twenties were often challenging and exhausting, but now I see the beautiful fruit of efforts and prayers- plus money and sleepless nights. One of the greatest rewards is meeting some of their friends and finding out not only how awesome they think your children are, but that many of them have decided- based on what they’ve heard from my children- that I’m pretty cool too. But the greatest reward of all is seeing them become the right kind of seekers- not hungering for fluff or easy fixes but for truth and righteousness. Thank God for His grace and the many godly people that pitched in with prayer and effort when I was not at my best. Parenting is the hardest, most important job you’ll ever love.

  14. Timely, indeed. We’re taking our adult daughter back to college this weekend. She’s been home for a month, and it’s been truly wonderful. She has developed into an incredibly talented and gifted young lady, who also happens to be my wife’s best friend after me. It’s so hard to have her 400 miles away most of the time, and will be worse when she’s off at medical school and has no free time to speak of. But we’re now confident that she will excel, succeed at it, and keep her principles and relationship with God.

    Our other daughter is graduating high school in the spring, and will be joining sis at New Mexico State. Look out, world, this gal is going to take you by storm! I haven’t seen such a committed Christian in a long time. (Must have gotten that from her mother…)

    As others have said, our children are the joy and the pride of our life, and we feel inexpressibly blessed to have had the privilege of bringing them this far. I finally feel like I did something right in life. After this, old age is gonna be a cakewalk! 😉

  15. Thanks for a great post.
    I’m so grateful for what God’s done in my kids lives.We lived in a deprived area with high unemployment, lots of social problems when they were little. My husband was in fulltime ministry then he became disillusioned and lost his faith. My kids when through a rollercoaster because of it. My oldest son went through a tough adolescence but in the last few years he and his girlfriend, now wife,came to a mature, passionate commitment to Christ. He is a great dad to his 3 year old daughter.
    My youngest daughter, aged 19, was very effected by her dad’s struggles.She has recently , through her brother’s influence and especially God’s wooing, come to a deep commitment to God and is a profoundly changed person.
    My middle daughter is looking on in awe at what God has done with her siblings.
    Thank God that He loves and cares for our kids more than we can begin to appreciate.I am honoured to be their mum and their friend.
    God bless you and yours!

  16. Michael, I read this with tears, because my son and daughter, in their 20s, are the shining proof to me that God’s grace is present and active in my life. I will never know why He entrusted these two precious people to me, what did I know about being a mother? But He did, and over and over again I went back to Him through their growing up years and asked Him to make up to them what was lacking in their parenting. Along the way I have learned not to confuse my journey with their journey, and give them the freedom to make their own mistakes. And if God takes them in very different directions to my desires and assumptions, that’s ok too. my job is to support them and encourage them in every good thing, and be their personal cheer squad whenever they need one. They are adults, and must be treated with the same respect I would treat any other adult, and an extra dose of love, because I’m their mum.

  17. GranpaJohn says

    Well said. And Thanks for the reminders. #8 said “We all go through times when we feel lost. When things are wrong inside of us.”
    We have and ours have too at times. We’re still as close as prayer.
    Also appreciated all of the posters. Giving children room to make their own mistakes while keeping them close enough to be safe was key in our three. So now I just say “Wow, these amazing adults God has allowed us to raise…”
    @ J. Michael
    At least you had one who was of age to realize they already know everything for interesting conversation. Our youngest is 27 and often his most exhilarating comment in “hmmm…”

  18. Thanks for this encouragement. Our youngest son is 18; it’s a bewildering age–for him as he sorts out who he is–and for us as we try to pull back because he wants to be independent, but parent him because he’s still at home and in high school. #8 really spoke to me.