I watch my friend’s hands tremble slightly as she grips the heavy mug of her Starbucks low-fat mocha latte. Her wedding ring still shines after more than 30 years of marriage, although I’m sure the years have tarnished it some. I am humbled by her trust in sharing her pain with me as we talk together, heads close in the noisy coffee shop.
She tells me about her troubled relationship with her adult son. They haven’t spoken a word to each other in over a year. In fact, she doesn’t know exactly where he is living. The type of situation he has chosen is nothing like what she had envisioned for him when she was raising him, and their relationship is horribly strained at best. Every day she prays he will make changes in his life.
I listen. I nod. I touch her hand and my heart grieves with hers. I know she did her best as a mom and I tell her so. It’s what I have to offer during our time of coffee together.
Several years ago, I sat with a therapist in a tiny community mental health office discussing the future of one of my children. This child’s behavior episodes were escalating to the point I was questioning what very real, scary possibilities our family could face. Despite every treatment we had tried, life was not getting better. I was terrified. Through tears I asked this family therapist, “What if someday I have to call the police for this child?” Her reply shocked me. She said, “You might have to.” I stuttered for a bit, then I asked, “But…what if this child ends up in jail or making decisions that lead to drugs…or worse? What if this child ends up dead, or hurting someone else?” She said, “That could happen too. How will you handle it if it does?”
These are fears no parent wants to think of, let alone say out loud in case we might somehow make them more likely to come true. I was waiting for the typical platitudes from this therapist and it will be okay and this child is going to get better if you only love enough and blah, blah, blah. Not — face reality that this might get bad.
By that time I was crying too much to answer her questions with my voice. My lips were numb and the Kleenex was shredded in my hands. I understood her, though. Right here, right now on this ugly old couch, we were going to face up to my worst fears as a parent.
Will you have the courage to face it, look fear in the eye and say, “I hate the thought of you, Fear! I am going to wipe my tears, then leave these fears in this room today, and pray God give me the strength to love this child ferociously. I will not allow my expectations for who I think this child should be, blind me from loving who this child is.”
I stood up determined. And free.
Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Where God’s love is, there is freedom.
I will not allow my expectations for who I think this child should be, blind me from loving who this child is. God give me the strength to love this child with Your love.
Is it possible part of what is hurting your relationship with your adult child is the expectations you are placing on him or her? How would you fill in these blanks?
I wish my adult child would ____________ (get a job, pay his bills, parent my grandkids this way, call me on my birthday), because then his/her life would be so much better.
If only my adult child would _________________, we would have a better relationship.
I’m not saying your child doesn’t need to do these things. Your adult child might very well need to get off drugs, get a job, get a haircut, or get better at parenting. The thing is, that is between her and God. Your job is to love your child. That’s it.
If you are adding expectations onto that love, it’s possible you are doing so to meet a need for yourself. Would you feel relieved if your child is successful so therefore you must have done the parenting thing “right”? Are you worried about what other people think of you when your grown kid is — in your view — messing up his or her life?
I see you out there, moms with tears and dads who are trying to look tough but are hurting inside. I know this is so painful. The more honest you can be with yourself, the better on this one. Don’t run away from this. I know you might have been raised in a generation that didn’t talk about feelings, so this is an extra hard pill to swallow. I’m proud of you for hanging in here.
You may or may not rebuild a healthy relationship with your child. Regardless, you can find peace.
How to Find Peace for Your Relationship with Your Grown Child
1. Lay your fears and expectations for your child at the cross immediately. Stop reading these words, close your eyes, and do it right now. Give to God every single expectation you have for your child’s life. Admit your pride. Ask God to forgive you and take your burden from you. Thank God for the gift of your child in your life, and ask for appreciation for every day you have been given, just as it was and as it is.
In the coming minutes, hours, and days, when you find yourself worrying about, getting angry at, or fretting over your adult child, remember this time when you placed these burdens at the cross. Come back to this place.
2. Your job is to love. Love unconditionally and without specific expectation. Loving is not fixing, and fixing someone else’s stuff for them is not loving.
3. Pray selflessly. Instead of “Dear God, help my daughter parent better.” or “Jesus, help my son get a job.” Turn these around. Pray for God to help you love your child without expectation. Pray for appreciation for your child just as he or she is right now. Pray that God would open your eyes to how He is working in your child’s life.
God is a worker of miracles and the fixer of all that is broken. Perhaps the miracle He is working today is in you.
How do you pray for your children? Do you find it difficult to let go of expectations for your child?