What Do I Do When My Kids Aren’t Living Like I Raised Them?

During my years as a pastor who has served several churches I am often approached by weeping parents.  Sparked by a message or a deep encounter with God’s Spirit, they come to tell me stories of heartbreak and disappointment; their teenage daughter is pregnant, an adult son is an addict, a daughter refuses to take the kids to church, a son is devastated and abusive because he can’t find a job and support his family.  As I look into the eyes of the parent telling me these stories I not only see the depth of pain but I can see  their question – “Why?  This isn’t the way we raised them.”

So what can a parent do when their adult children are living a different kind of life than the way they were raised?

I wonder if King David had some similar questions.  His son Absalom was causing David a great deal of pain and heartbreak.  Absalom was a vengeful person.  In 2Samuel he appears to be a person full of hatred and pain.  I’m not sure of the root of his pain.  Maybe it had something to do with David’s sin.  Nonetheless, Absalom plots to take over David’s throne and rule the kingdom.

David ends up fleeing for safety.  He orders his armies to put down the rebellion while making it very clear that Absalom’s life should be spared.  In the end, that’s not what happens.  Absalom is killed.  David is broken, again.  He weeps and wishes it had all ended differently.

My guess is that there are some parents who can resonate with this.  Your adult children are not living like you had hoped.  Their life is broken and all you can do is stand by and helplessly watch.  Your advice is ignored.  You want to help yet you can’t prolong their dysfunction.  What can you do?

One writer has suggested that parents can rightly grieve the losses these changes symbolize.  Whether they are moral issues, a change in faith, complex problems, or lifestyle choices, parents must give themselves permission to feel the pain.   These are the moments to get real with God.  Tell Him how you are really feeling.  God grieves with you and wants more for your children than you.

Once grief and disappointment has been acknowledged, you can move to the next phase which is embracing hope.  This isn’t about trying to change them but the hope is about loving them in the middle of your pain.

Loving your adult children even when they have walked away from the values with which they were raised reveals to them the depth of your love.  It shows just how unconditional love is.  It reminds them that you will be there no matter what.  This doesn’t mean you’ll rescue them from the consequences of their decisions.  But it does mean you can be respectful, listen and be there through everything.

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