Monday, August 12, 2013

Taking Care of What Has Been Given to You: Parenting Adult Children

I pray for them. I do not pray for the world
but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.
While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name.
Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost
 John 17:9,12

Our Warrior Arrows blog was created to talk about our experience with adoption and parenting our adopted children. But as time has gone by and the boys are assimilating into our family and hearts, we find ourselves speaking more as simply parents.  The past 2 and a half years with our “grafted” sons have been the experience of a lifetime.  On one hand its the most difficult thing we’ve ever done, while on the other, its one of the most meaningful things we’ve ever done in life. But today, we write about our other children.  The ones that are now adults.  We want to share some of our heart as parents of adult children.    

The article begins as an afterthought to a recent conversation I had with a colleague at work about our experience as fathers.  The crux of his comments was something along the lines of when his children were young he felt the responsibility of fatherhood, but now that they are adults, he can relax and be more of a spectator in their lives.  I responded that “to my adult children, I feel more responsibility now than ever to parent them”!  I went on to explain that I felt more responsibility to make good decisions in life in order that my children may have a good path to follow and that someday, they will inherit not only an estate, but a legacy of decision making they observed in every one of mine and Karen’s deeds, enterprises and relationships in life.  I spoke of how some of my older children are currently facing health challenges, financial pressures and career choices, and how, as a parents, we bear every single one of our children’s challenges in life. While my colleague smiled and agreed with me, the look on his face said otherwise.  I’m not sure that he understood what I was saying.  Perhaps I can explain now what its like for Karen & I to parent adult children.

You see, its easy to have faith when everyone has perfect health.  Its easy to preach The Blessing of Deuteronomy 28, i.e., “God will grant you abundant prosperity…” when you have a good, well-paying job.  And its easy to worship when your young children are living safely in your shadows.  But now, as adult children, they have grown up problems.  You know what they are because you’ve been there.  The game has changed.  God is more than a concept or a mystical being conjured up to somehow pacify your fears when the lightning cracks next to the bedroom window in the midst of a fierce thunder storm.  This is real life and we knew how tough it could be at times.  We worked hard at creating a culture at home that sheltered our kids from the harsher parts of life.  But it’s time.  Their time!  Like my friend, we wish it was as easy as “well now they are 18 and on their own and I’ve done my part …” as if this inevitable life maturation somehow absolves us of any further parental responsibilities.  But its not that easy.  Not for us anyway.  We want to fix everything.  That’s what we do in life.  That’s what parents do.  Fix it…Kiss it…there, its all better and life is good again!   However, life is now chiseling out its next champion of faith and we have different roles.  Not less important or free from responsibility, but different. 

The different role contains several desires.  There is a desire to continue to protect our children.  We still don’t want them hanging out with questionable characters and the desire to clean off skinned knees doesn’t subside.  I suspect this desire to protect your children is the root cause of many an adult child and parental conflict, i.e., parents trying to control how their children will live their lives.  It’s a delicate balance between constructive input and destructive denial of their adult responsibility to choose a meaningful path.

Then there is a desire to fix our children’s lives, particularly the parts that are a source of distress or pain for them. It’s a real struggle for a parent when an adult child becomes sick or they are laid off from their job or they can’t find a way to get to their next step in life.  The parental impulse is to jump in and fix it but its more like running a race with your feet tied together!  Make the greasy haired, foul-mouthed, agnostic, mess of a kid stay away from your teenage son or daughter!  But now the rules are different.  Different because the greasy haired agnostic grew up, became an atheist and is your son’s supervisor!  The situation is more complex and requires a different response from you as a parent.  Its not just “go away” or “because I said so” or “hey, I pay the bills around here”.  No.  This requires a more sophisticated form of protection that is firmly based in life principles, core values, and Godly wisdom.  It is the response of a seasoned parent.

Finally, the role of parenting adult children is characterized by friendship.  There I said it.  We want to be our children’s best friends.  We want them to trust our counsel.  We want them to have confidence in our life decisions.  We want them to maintain that “my dad can fix anything” and “mom always knows best” attitude even though such a thought is laughable and irrational.

How the Trinity works is a bit of a mystery to me.  I get the basic idea and Jesus certainly expressed more than once that He and the Father where One.  As such, Jesus knew the heart of a parent.  The words found in John 17 are an example.  The words express what its like to be the parents of an adult child.  Paraphrased, Jesus was saying that He looked after them right up to the end; that those given into His care continued in His care beyond the crib, beyond toddlerhood and adolescence and into full maturation as adult believers.  You can feel both His connection and sense of responsibility that He feels when He says:  those whom You have given me, not one of them is lost!  This, my friends, is the heart of a parent! It doesn’t stop when they stop living under your roof, but rather, when you breath your last.  And at that moment the pride of every parent is to say the same thing that Jesus said:  Father, I’m coming home.  I took care of those that You gave me right up to the very end…and not one of them is lost!

Until we speak again, look after the ones that He has given you and count yourself among the most fortunate to do so…