It seems to me that one of the more challenging tasks of parenting is understanding how to love and support adult children. How do we deal with the daughter or son who must go through divorce and fight custody battles? How do we encourage the adult child who can’t seem to find his or her place in the world, who goes from job to job or relationship to relationship, always disappointed or angry or depressed? What do we do when our adult child must endure the death of a life partner or child or has to refashion life after a catastrophic illness or career reversal?
Most of us know the parent who has spent decades bailing out a problem child. We can see that this hasn’t really helped the young adult grow up and become responsible. We also know the parent who has offered shockingly little in terms of support or real help. Perhaps that parent has trouble connecting well with anyone, or perhaps he or she has withdrawn support to demonstrate disapproval of a lifestyle or some major choice the child has made. We see these sad stories—maybe one of these is a version of our own story—and we think, There’s got to be a middle way here.
At the risk of sounding as if I’m over-spiritualizing, I suggest that we look to Jesus’ example. He encountered people at all different stages of maturity and moral development. Some people heard him, and some people didn’t. Some repented and others did not. Jesus did not change his message—always he urged people to accept the good news that God loved them, that the kingdom of God was near, even there among them.
Jesus accepted people right where they were. The only people he judged overtly were those self-righteous folks who made life miserable for everyone else. Jesus never said, “No, you haven’t really sinned.” He acted out of love and acceptance and then, if a person expressed repentance and desire for change, he told them, essentially, “You’re already forgiven. Now, go and live that new life.”
Jesus issued the invitation to follow him into the living out of God’s kingdom. But he never, ever coerced anyone; ultimately, the choice was theirs. Whatever their choice, Jesus’ steps remained firmly on his path. He welcomed all but followed his own calling.
I’m not sure how all of this works itself out when it comes to a middle-aged parent relating to an adult child; every situation is different, and so is every personality. Still, I believe that Jesus’ example gives us a fine place to start.
Please, share your wisdom—a lot of us want to hear it!