When I first found out I was going to be a father I was excited and anxious. I did not feel adequately prepared for such an enormous responsibility.
Thankfully, our church offered several resources to help parents. Before our first son was born we took the Preparation for Parenting class. This was not only a practical class on how to deal with infant’s eating and sleep schedules but also helped establish a biblical parenting philosophy.
As our children grew, we continued to avail ourselves of opportunities at church and elsewhere (homeschool conferences, books and cassette tapes, yes, somehow we survived parenting our young children without the Internet) to soak in teaching related to parenting our children from infancy to adulthood.
Once my children reached adulthood I imagined my responsibility as a parent would be finished. There were no classes offered for parenting our adult children nor were we looking for any. It is not that I wanted to sever my relationship with my children, but I thought the hard work was over. What I have learned through experience (and am still learning) and observed in God’s Word is that parenting is a lifelong commitment with many challenges and blessings.
Is it really necessary to think about parenting adult children?
Maybe you are a parent of young children who require your constant attention. You can’t wait for the days when they can consume a meal, get dressed, and go to the bathroom without assistance. Even if dealing with adult children is not even on your radar there are still good reasons to consider preparing to parent your adult children.
First, it will likely be the longest phase of parenting you will have.
Most phases of parenting are relatively brief. A few years at most. Parenting adult children is likely to be the longest phase in our parenting. The average life expectancy for a male in the United States is 73.5 years1. So, if you reach the average life span, you will have north of 50 years of interaction with your children after they become adults. Of course, the nature of our role as parents is vastly different from when they are living at home. Regardless, 50 years is a significant period of time which will likely provide many opportunities for involvement with your children.
Second, your life is bound up with your child no matter their age. How they conduct themselves in adulthood can bring great delight or disappointment to you.
The one who keeps the law is a son with understanding, but a companion of gluttons shames his father (Proverbs 28:7).
He who loves wisdom makes his father glad, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth (Proverbs 29:3).
These passages are not dealing with young children. They are old enough to be accountable for obedience to the law and choosing with whom they spend their time and money.
Note: See also (Proverbs 10:1, 15:20, 23:15, 23:24, 24:21).
Proverbs 22:6 teaches us that how we train a child has lifelong implications. Proverbs 3:1-2 indicates that remembering a father’s teaching will generally yield long life and peace and Proverbs 23:26 exhorts fathers to mold their child’s heart and set an example to follow. If you want to enjoy your children when they are out of the home, make sure you are parenting effectively while they are in the home.
Perhaps you are struggling with a difficult teenager and instead of longing for the days when they will eat, get dressed and use the bathroom on their own, you can’t wait for the days when they will do everything on their own and spend their own money doing it. You may be tempted to check out and just endure the next couple of years until they move out. That is likely to have severe consequences for you and your child. The best path forward, even if you have difficult children at home, is to put in the work and invest the time now.
Another reason you should plan for parenting your adult children is that it is probably more difficult than you think. In Middle/High School a crisis may be a facial blemish, not being included in a particular peer group, failing a class or not getting accepted to the college of their choice. Those are not insignificant to your child and should be dealt with appropriately.
However, adult children may face job loss, marital struggles or divorce, miscarriages, addiction and so forth. What makes it even more difficult is that our opportunity to help in those situations is limited. Unlike when they are living at home, we have little control if any over the choices our adult children make and the circumstances they face.
What is my responsibility to my adult child?
The first result of searching “Parenting Adult Children” in Books on Amazon returns the title Doing Life with Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out by Jim Burns
I have not read the book. The author is apparently a Christian and the book received over 4 stars out of 5 on Amazon and Goodreads. I expect the title is intended to be hyperbolic and is more likely a call to use discretion when speaking to our adult children rather than an edict to withhold all our comments. If that is the intention I completely agree. However, keeping our mouths shut is not wise nor is it biblical.
It is true we should expect our relationship to change significantly. According to Genesis 2:24, A man is expected to leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife. Leaving does not require a geographical change, nor does it mean there is no longer a close relationship between parents and children. The emphasis is on priority. The son is to make his wife his primary relationship.
During Israel’s history, it appears to be the norm for multiple generations of families to remain together and those who were called to leave were the exception (Abraham). In the story of the prodigal son, the son dishonors his father by leaving in order to follow his own sinful desires.
In 1 Samuel 3:13 Eli is punished because he did not restrain his adult sons who were blaspheming God. This situation is unique since Eli’s sons were priests, but the principle remains, Eli bore some responsibility for their behavior.
Deuteronomy 4:9 instructs parents to teach their children and their children’s children the works of the Lord. You must be close enough, relationally (although geographically is good too) to share with your grandchildren what God has done in your life.
David suffered drastic consequences for his failure to address issues in the lives of Amnon and Absalom.
In the examples above fathers are expected to be a part of the lives of their grown children.
If your child is a Christian, it is also your responsibility as a fellow believer to rebuke and exhort other believers. (Hebrews 3:13) God has given you the unique privilege of pointing them lovingly to His truth, which will be the best help they can receive.
How can I parent my adult child?
The most important and effective way to help your adult children is to pray for them. I expect all Christians would agree prayer is important. However, it is easy to diminish the power and need for prayer when our children are under our immediate care. We are likely to overestimate how much influence we have on them and think it mostly depends on us. Once they are out of the house we come it becomes more apparent that God is the one who must change their hearts (Phil 2:13, Hebrews 13:20-21).
The truth is even when they are in the home, the power to influence them is God’s grace at work in us (Colossians 1:28-29). We must not think of prayer as our last option when we have exhausted our resources. Prayer should be our primary means to see our children flourish.
Offer Support and Encouragement
Although it may be necessary to occasionally confront the sin of your adult child. If you confront sin, make sure it is really sin and not just your preference. Avoid unnecessarily provoking them. Seek opportunities to be involved in their lives when things are going well. You don’t have to wait for a crisis. Some will welcome your involvement, some may see it as meddling.
Every family dynamic is unique. For some, your adult children may be nearby and a regular part of your life. Maybe you work or go to church together. For others, you may have to be a little more creative. One way I was able to effectively connect with my sons and son-in-law was through a book study. I honestly was not sure how they would respond when I asked but they were all eager to participate. Two were local, two had to join via video conference. They each took it seriously and opened up about how God was working in their lives. They also shared things about their childhood I never knew.
Set Healthy Boundaries and Reasonable Expectations
College years can also be particularly challenging. Your child is an adult in many respects. They can vote, join the military, likely have their own car, a job and are now at least partly paying their own way. Yet, they may still live at home and are expected to follow household rules. They may struggle to submit to your authority in the home. It would be wise to consider in advance what your expectations are for an adult child living at home. What, if anything, should you charge for rent, what is their curfew, what are the guidelines for dating, for what household chores should they be responsible?
Consider how you will handle holidays and other family events. Don’t assume they will be home for Thanksgiving like they have always been. Communicate with your children about their plans for these events. Invite, don’t demand their participation.
Parenting is a lifelong commitment which undoubtedly has its share of ups and downs. When I was a young father I thought each stage of parenting would get progressively easier. What I think now is that each stage has its own joys and challenges, and for each one we desperately need God’s grace.
Brandon Potvin is an IT Consultant who has served the local church in a variety of capacities including several years working with youth. He resides in Taylors, SC with his wife of 28 years. He is the father of four and grandfather of two.View all posts by Brandon