How to Really Love Your Adult Child

How to Really Love Your Adult Child
Having four grown children of my own, I was particularly interested to meet with Dr Gary Chapman at the International Christian Retail Show and to talk to him about his new book, ‘How To Really Love Your Adult Child’. I questioned him about some of the things that have always concerned me – like, why some kids from dysfunctional families turn out great and grow into mature and practising Christ-followers. And, at the same time, others who grow up in seemingly Godly homes rebel against their Christian heritage and drift off into a purpose-less life?

A product of family dynamics
His answer was that often kids from a dysfunctional family see the chaos and misery that ensues and determine that their lives and their families will be different. They learn from the mistakes of their parents and follow a different direction with the help of God. Some seemingly Godly homes may not be all that they appear to be and kids from these may decide that what their parents professed, was not the genuine article.

There is also the question of why children from the same family and upbringing turn out differently. In addition to differences in temperament, there is the fact that the dynamics of the family change over time. The first-born child might be smothered with care and attention. But by the time baby #4 or #5 comes along the competition has really heated up.

Parenting alters, but never stops
Dr Chapman went on to explain that much has changed in the relationship between parents and their adult children. Economic upheavals, challenges to traditional values and beliefs, the phenomenon of over involved ‘helicopter parenting’ – all make relating to grown children more difficult than ever. Yet at the same time, being a parent of an adult child can bring great rewards.

At every stage of a child’s development, parents tend to think, “after this, it will get easier.” The truth is, with each new stage, the task of parenting differs. Out of your house doesn’t mean out of your life – and out of school doesn’t always mean out of the house! The challenges of parenting don’t end at 18, but the immense supply of parenting advice and resources do…

We all crave our parents’ love
That’s why Drs Ross Campbell and Gary Chapman, best-selling authors and counsellors, have teamed up to bring you a new and invaluable resource for handling the responsibilities that come with parenting your adult child. Our children might make choices we disagree with or face trials we aren’t prepared for. In ‘How to Really Love Your Adult Child’, we’ve found excellent advice that will help you give them the love, understanding and guidance they still desperately need and crave from you.

Tips for dealing with young adults who don’t move out
You may have seen the t-shirt: “It’s not an empty nest until they get their stuff out of the garage.” Maybe for you, that may not be remotely funny. Dr Chapman quoted the interesting statistic that in America, 75% of college graduates will return home to live with their parents (the statistics are very similar in affluent households in South Africa). Often they have emotional scars and are discouraged, depressed and frustrated. With all their education, they can’t get a job, or, the only job they can find is a low paying one. It is then that parents have an important role in loving them.

At the same time the parent has a responsibility to live by their own morals and values. There needs to be a clear set of rules – such as, no alcohol or drugs. The parent can’t control their offspring’s behaviour outside the house and the freedom they enjoy outside the house. But whilst living under the same roof, the child must abide by the parents’ rules. Four other helpful tips include:

1. Maintain open communication
Each family member should feel free to share their ideas and feelings, and together, a family, should come to a consensus when there’s an issue. Parents should listen to the thoughts, feelings and desires of their adult children. This does not mean that children have the final word, but parents should indicate that they take their children’s opinions seriously.

2. Free yet accountable
Those living at home must assume responsibility in specific areas of the house, be it finance, chores or common courtesies. Some responsibility for the welfare and peace of the family must go to the adult child living at home.

3. Consider your own sanity
Some parents are able to disconnect and let a young adult come and go as he or she pleases, while others are not. Most parents want to know when their adult child will return; otherwise they worry for his or her safety. You need to know your limitations and if need be, set an appropriate rule that everyone lets others know when they will be back at night.

You cannot help or influence others if you don’t first take care of your own needs. This may even touch on the state of a child’s room – sometimes closing the door is better than looking at a mess.

4. Set time limits and goals
Setting a goal regarding when the adult child will move out can give him/her motivation. Boundaries may vary as situations differ, and goals and time limits may need to be renegotiated along the way, but it is important to have them in place from the beginning.

When lifestyle choices cause pain
Whether you believe in moral absolutes or simply prefer that your children not engage in behaviour that makes you uncomfortable, you probably are disturbed when you watch them follow the morally ambiguous road. As a parent you may feel intense emotional pain, disrespect, or even rejection when the choices of your adult children violate Christian standards of behaviour and thought. Two common lifestyle choices that adults make, which Christian parents often battle with, includes choosing to live together/engage in pre-marital sex, and homosexuality/lesbianism.

Loving a child beyond behaviour
There continues to be much controversy, even among experts, on the treatment of homosexuality. But regardless of how parents categorise homosexuality – as unnatural, abnormal, and sinful – it is a struggle with certain people and needs to be dealt with in a redemptive manner. As a parent, be aware that in most cases if one has a strong homosexual desire, the attraction to other members of the same sex may continue for a long time. The Christian message is that we all are sinners equally fallen before a holy God, who reached out to us by sending Christ to deliver us from our sins. Thus, we are to love all who stray, including our children, just as God loves us. Jesus was criticised by the religious people of His day because He associated with sinners, but He knew that He could not influence people without being with them. We too will have our greatest influence if we accept our children, spend time with them, communicate with them, and demonstrate our love for them, even though we do not approve of their lifestyle.

Dealing with sin under your roof
Many young people believe living together without the benefit of marriage is a totally justified way of forming life’s most intimate relationship. Permissive influences in society and fear of commitment are the main reasons they give for cohabiting. They also find their choice glorified in the media. While many do this openly, some may maintain separate dwellings for the sake of appearances. Thus your adult child may live with you but spend nights at the ‘friend’s house’ (or invite the ‘friend’ to spend nights at your house).

Your rules, your home…?
If your adult child lives at home, be sure to have house rules concerning overnight guests. His/her relationship doesn’t mean that you must tolerate inappropriate sexual behaviour in your home. Remaining pleasant and firm, you may require that your adult child and the friend sleep in separate bedrooms if they choose to spend the night in your home. Our attitudes as parents are important. If we are upset, belligerent, or scold our children who have live-in arrangements, they will likely display an even more tenacious defiance.

Rely on God’s grace
It can be difficult for parents caught in this situation to be civil, but it is usually better to treat your child’s live-in mate as a likeable person and show common courtesies to him or her. With God’s grace you can behave with love and kindness, even though you do not approve of their behaviour.

Your tone of voice, handshake and occasional hugs can help maintain an amicable relationship, though at the same time you may give caution and ask questions of your child about the relationship to show your concern and dissatisfaction with the live-in situation.

Give your children freedom
You should remind yourself that your child loves you and needs you, and that he/she knows exactly how you are affected by their behaviour. Your child knows that your continuing to be a loving parent does not mean that you approve of their behaviour or that you are violating your own values.

Give your children the freedom to make their own decisions. If they begin to reap negative consequences of what you believe to be poor decisions, you should not limit, or actively remove these. Of course, you can give emotional support and walk with them, that’s part of being redemptive. There is always room to build a good relationship and communication with your adult child. You can begin by acknowledging your own failures and asking forgiveness. This often stimulates a more positive relationship. You can then go on to become your child’s cheerleader and sounding board.

Remember that you were young once too and that you need to have humility and grace when parenting your adult child.

The power of prayer
One of the most powerful vehicles for influencing your adult child is prayer. The heart of the legacy you want to leave your children is spiritual – that is to know the Lord and to serve Him. The praying parent is a wise parent. Often you may not know how to deal with a situation or what advice to offer your adult child – but God does. Remember that whilst your children are on their own, you can influence them for good. Through your character and integrity, you may influence them to adopt your pattern. Parenting your adult child may at times be challenging, even difficult, but it is a blessing too as you are able to influence future generations.

—compiled by Nico Bougas