Finding your place as a parent of adult children

Kim Sullivan

August 20, 2023

You’ve bathed them, changed their diapers, stayed up sleepless nights, and taken care of their every need. Then one day, you’re expected to let go. They declare, even demand, total independence. Even if a parent has gradually prepared their child to live independent and successful lives, often we feel abandoned, depressed, and disoriented when our nest empties. Here are a few tips to help you navigate this difficult journey.

It’s not the end, just a shift of season

Parenting adult children is only a new season, just like the toddler season, the “why” season, and the rebellious teen years. Some of your most exciting days are ahead! You have the possibility of walking a daughter down the aisle, enjoying your children’s success in their chosen field, and maybe even grandchildren! With each of these new chapters in their lives, there will be opportunities for great joy.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”
-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Allow them to make decisions and even mistakes

It is our job to leave the door open for an invitation to give our opinion. This isn’t to say that it’s never right to offer our advice unsolicited. However, that should be reserved for the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The less often you offer unsolicited advice, the more seriously your child will take it when given.

Getting someone to agree with my opinion is not the objective. Rather, humbly warning someone of a possible mistake looming and their glad acceptance of wisdom is the end I have in mind. I usually know that the Holy Spirit is directing me to instruct when I am nervous about confronting. If something blurts out of my mouth, I’m probably just annoyed and voicing my way of thinking.

A great scripture to meditate on in these cases is found in Galatians 6:1. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” I cannot tell you how many times that any wisdom that I am trying to convey was overshadowed by my pride and determination to voice my opinion.

Don’t forget that you made mistakes while navigating life as well. Some of those mistakes were the greatest learning tools you’ve ever had. Allow your children to make mistakes so that they can learn from them as well.

Your identity is more than your role as parent

You are much more than a parent, spouse, child, and co-worker. There is life after full-time parenting! Sometimes this includes new goals and dreams and visions that you had unselfishly put aside. I remember feeling like my life was over once I finished homeschooling my last child. I had immersed myself in my role for many years, and it took some time for me to realize I still had much to offer in the Lord's service. Your Father still has big things for you to do!

Your path has returned you to an intersection of opportunities, and crossroads are often where the greatest things happen! Your role in life cannot define you, only God says who you are. He says that you belong to him and are called for his purpose, 

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

You are called to be a child for his purpose. You are called to be a student for his purpose. You are called to be a spouse for his purpose. You are called to be a parent for his purpose. Whatever stage or role in life that you find yourself in, you are called to his purpose. He still has great purpose for you apart from parenthood, but also in this new season of parenting adults. Rely on him to know when to speak, when to stay silent. When to help, when to allow consequences to teach lessons louder than our words. After all, he cares about your kids even more than you do!

About the author — Kim Sullivan

Kim Sullivan is a writer with a background in everything from homeschooling to nonprofit management. She has raised three children each of whom are successful in their own unique way. Recently, Kim has done the most radical and risky thing she has ever done…she moved 700 miles from her suburban Chicago home and everything familiar to her and relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is working on a brand-new website and blogs at Journey to Epiphany. She is also writing a book about her adventures in following Jesus.

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