by Mary York

I remember staring into the eyes of my firstborn for hours, days, and then years as he grew to manhood, wondering what he would be like when he was full grown. I have searched the eyes of all my children with the same curiosity. I remember many wiser, older women telling me over the years to cherish each day because the years of raising children are over in the blink of an eye. As the days, weeks, months, and years marched on, life did not seem like it was passing by so quickly. Yet, here I am, getting ready to graduate the youngest of my seven children from high school. Did the time pass by in the blink of an eye? Yes!

My husband and I did not have clearly defined in our minds what our relationship with our adult children would be like, but we prayed that it would be good and God honoring. I guess we just thought we would figure it out when we got to that point with each child. Knowing what we know now about how we raised our children, there are things that we would do the same and things we would do differently.  Below are a few lessons we learned that I hope will help you to have a wonderful, fruitful relationship with your adult children.

Lesson #1 – Adjustments

The thing that surprised me most about my children becoming adults and starting to live their own lives is that my relationship with them changed dramatically. Just as each of them as children in my home developed their own individual identities with different life goals and giftings, so their unique personalities continued to assume increasingly distinctive characteristics as they launched into adulthood. 

But, surprise, surprise! The job of parenting does not stop. However, of necessity, it must change. Our firstborn taught us our first big lesson. The methods we used to train, encourage, and motivate him as he grew up no longer worked. In fact, when we tried to “parent” him as we had while he was growing up, it created a tension and pushback that we were not expecting. Asking him if he had signed up for the correct college classes, purchased the right textbooks, written down all of his assignments, kept up with his daily devotions, maintained a decent sleep schedule, and chose the right friends, did not go over well. Early in his life, he needed hands-on treatment, but we realized that now we would need to be more hands-off, and more “heart-on”.

Lesson #2 – Hands-Off, Heart On

Younger children need and benefit from a lot of hands-on parenting in the early years, from dressing themselves, to learning to read, to becoming responsible for chores around the house. As they move into junior high and high school, they benefit the most from a more hands-off approach. By allowing them the room to fail, they come face to face with real life. Protecting them from failures in life is a sure way to hinder their development. After all, as parents, we fail often, and hopefully, we learn and grow from our failures. The more we let our young adults fail in their endeavors, school activities, and friendships while at home with our support and encouragement, the better prepared they will be when they become responsible for their own decisions.

Lesson #3 – Gentle Voice

Anticipating that your young adults will make mistakes gives you time to be prepared for that day. Pray often for each of your children. Do not act surprised or disappointed when they sin and fail. Use their sinful natures and failures to help you build a stronger relationship with them. They may expect you to be disappointed or angry, but if you consistently approach them with a calm, gentle countenance, you can better help them analyze what brought about the sin/failures in the first place and how to avoid them in the future. They will learn to trust you with their adult issues confidently and with less reluctance. They may even begin to bring their failures and doubts to you knowing that you, just like their heavenly Father, love them unconditionally and that you will advise and direct them in the ways they should go.

Lesson #4 – Be Transparent

We often think of mission’s work in terms of our church’s outreach programs, foreign missions, and the like. In fact, our greatest mission field is right in our own homes with the children God has blessed us with. We need to be careful that we do not get so busy doing the work of the Lord outside our homes that we neglect the work of the Lord inside our homes. Our number one responsibility to our children is to model Christ for them every day, all day. 

Do we fall short? Of course. Modeling Christ to our children means going to them, confessing our sins against them, and asking for their forgiveness. What better biblical foundation can we impress upon our children than fearlessly confronting their sin and seeking biblical forgiveness from their families, friends, and work associates?

Our eldest is 33 years old. He has been an adult for almost as long as he was a child, and Lord willing, we have several more decades to love and encourage him and our other children as well. We once thought that the apex of a rich Christian life centered around things like sitting on the couch reading a book to seven children all piled on you in their pajamas before bedtime. Now we know it is sitting across the table from them over a cup of coffee, listening to them as they struggle with the same issues we once dealt with at their age, and encouraging them by listening and nodding. The sooner you make the switch from a hands-on approach to assuming a mentorship role in your children’s lives, the faster your children will mature spiritually and emotionally, and the deeper your relationship with them will be. Pray for Godly wisdom for you and your children.

About Mary
With the graduation from high school of her youngest child Mary completes 26 years of homeschooling. Over the course of those years she has served in numerous positions of leadership and continues to volunteer her time encouraging new homeschool their calling to homeschool their children. Mary and her husband Scott, also serve on CHEA’s Regional Advisory Board for the South Orange County and San Diego area.