How long should we view our children as children? After all, they’ve been children their whole lives, right?
As parents, we love our children from infancy and invest years into nurturing them into being independent citizens of God’s Kingdom. The challenge comes in the shift to viewing them as adults and treating them accordingly. How do you parent an adult?
The transition is not a clear one. Even as we struggle to find our new role, our children are wobbling in their roles. They vacillate in what they want. Sometimes it feels as though they desire all of the freedom with none of the responsibility! They may still desire our financial help. They don’t quickly see the steps that they need to take to reach the career and educational aspirations that they have. That variation makes it so very tempting to stay in the role of commander rather than consultant.
As children navigate their entry to adulthood, parents likewise navigate giving up a directive role, no longer telling them what to do but helping them see the options (and consequences) for their own decisions. We want to step up as consultants who have their best interests in mind, while still allowing them to be in charge. We can suggest ideas for them to consider, but the choices that they make need to be their own. When our daughter could not choose between two colleges, she wanted us to make the decision for her. We redirected her to weigh the pros and cons of both choices to evaluate which choice would be best for her. We were happy to inform her decision, but the final decision needed to be hers. Learning to make decisions is an important part of becoming an adult.
Failing to let young adults make their own decisions effectively stunts their growth into adults. They remain dependent on (or resentful of) parental direction. When our children are under our roof we can expect them to obey the rules of the household, but on their own they are free to establish the rules for their own households. Financially supporting a young adult, through college for example, should make you partners in the student’s growth. You might set some conditions for your support (say, decent grades to show good faith and progress), but choices of direction, such as major or career preparation, should be the student’s.
That’s not to say it won’t sometimes be painfully tough to step out of the driver’s seat and be relegated to an advisory role. It’s hard to allow our children to make their own choices, especially if they are not the choices that we would have made. As parents, we are so invested in protecting our children, it breaks our hearts to see them struggle, make mistakes, and even fail. Our protective instincts are tough to turn off. But loving them as adults means allowing them to make their own choices and to deal with the consequences of their actions. We can be a listening ear throughout, but they need to drive their own lives.
God loves are children even more than we ever could. God cared for our children before we knew their name and he will accomplish his purposes in their life. In Philippians 1:6 Paul says, "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Believe that their Heavenly Father is still at work in your children and continue to pray for them to make wise choices.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster