Accepting Adult Kids, Being Adult Kids

Rev. Deb Koster

June 12, 2019

Everyone desires to be loved unconditionally. We are insecure beings and long to be affirmed and loved. We desire to be embraced, regardless of our shortcomings.

Children especially—even adult children making poor choices—want to know that they are loved and accepted by their parents. How do we as children find that love? And how do we as parents show appropriate affirmation?

Know your identity

It’s important to remember that the only parent that will always give us genuine unconditional love is our Heavenly Father. For while we were still screwed up and sinful, Christ loved us enough to die in our place. No one can love us like that!

Keep expectations realistic

Though we wish for this same holy, unconditional love from our human parents, we need to check our expectations. Truth is, both we and our parents are flawed people. Our expectations may not be realistic, and even if they are, parents will fall short because they’re only human.

Different parents demonstrate love differently, sometimes in ways we want, and sometimes in ways we’re not looking for. Sometimes we may expect more from parents than they are capable of giving. Parents and children alike may be sensitive to criticism and perceive correction as a lack of caring.

For all these reasons, parents and children fail to love each other perfectly. Yet children crave regular affirmation. We all like reminders that we matter to someone, that we’ve not been forgotten. We want acceptance, affirmation, and appreciation in our life’s choices. We want to believe that we have value just for who we are.

Create a loving atmosphere

We feel unloved in a perceived atmosphere of criticism and negativity. If everyone seems working to change us, if our beliefs and behaviors are skeptically received, we feel unaccepted. No one wants to feel like a failure. Ironically, out of our own insecurities, we not only want to be measured but also expect not to quite measure up. We expect others are getting more attention and affirmation, whether they are or not. Again, this may be more about our unrealistic expectations than reality. It may well be more a rehearsal of a self-narrative of not being good enough rather than genuine disapproval.

Recognize the brokenness

It is rare for parents to actually not love their children. It's less rare for parents to struggle to show that love well and consistently. And it is not rare for a child to fear rejection. It is a sign of maturity for a child to see a parent as a person rather than a role. Can you see your parents as people with their own stories, hopes, dreams, flaws, and fears? As people who love you the best they can?

Affirm the positives

As parents of adult children, we can get so focused on correcting the negative that we miss out on opportunities to affirm and reinforce good behavior. Those moments of encouragement are much needed fuel to guide our families in positive directions. So how do we balance affirming our adult children even when we do not agree with their choices?

Recognize your role

When our children are young we exercise significant control over their lives. As our children grow they are given more control over the choices they face. It is important to remember the parental role shifts with adult kids from giving direction to offering advice (when asked). Giving too much direction in fact can become a way that parents exert unhealthy control and restrict the growth of their children.

Allow for failure

You have to allow children to make choices and even fail. Learning comes from trial and error. As we fail we discover our limits and are challenged to get back up and explore new possibilities. It is better to give children increasing freedoms as they grow so they have chances to fail over small things when the stakes are low. Taking on responsibility guides children to gain confidence in their ability and develop useful skills for navigating life.

Demonstrate love

Moreover, we parents must learn how to express love for our children even if we do not like the choices that they are making, and even if poor behavior never changes.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

If we choose to constantly point out their shortcomings and to challenge one another's point of view, we will only find ourselves removed from being in their sphere of influence. Demonstrate love as a way to help your children recognize the unconditional love of our Heavenly Father. Refrain from giving constant advice, but instead work to maintain the relationship by keeping the lines of communication open. We can be affirming to our children personally, even when we cannot affirm the choices that they make.

Parenting is not an easy road, but it is worth the investment. Follow Christ’s example of loving sinners and spending time caring for others and investing in their lives. Do more listening than speaking. Desire what is best for them and pray for God to work in their hearts. God is the one with the power to change hearts, so pray for his intervention and keep on loving them.

About the author — Rev. Deb Koster

Deb Koster is a producer, writer, and speaker for Family Fire. She is also an Innkeeper at The Parsonage Inn in Grand Rapids, MI where she leads marriage retreat on weekends. After over 20 years as a Registered Nurse, she completed a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. Deb and her husband Steven enjoy doing ministry together and they are the parents of three awesome young adults.

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