Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Giving and Receiving in Relationships With Adult Children

There are truths I wish would be overtly taught during those famous premarital counseling classes that are a rite of passage when Christian couples marry:
  In marriage a new entity is formed as the two become one in God's sight. Your individual heartaches and joys now belong to one another. Your prior commitments are now shared. Your ongoing commitment to honor your parents is not displaced by your marriage, and your spouse does not replace your parents.  Ideally you will not feel jealous of your spouse's strong love and commitment to his/her parents, because you will share it and form with them a relationship of your own.  
Parents, too, need instruction. We should be taught that gaining a son or daughter-in-law is akin to adoption.  We have the template put forth by our God, who has adopted us as His own children through Christ. We are to love as we have been loved, forgive as we have been forgiven.  This template is needed on both sides during the sometimes tumultuous stresses of a wedding and the ensuing struggles of adapting to  a new status quo in our relationships.  We need to be steadfast and faithful for one another, forgiving, loving, and keeping the doors of our hearts open.

When our adult children marry and form new family units of their own, parents sometimes hold fast to a conviction that they must not cause additional burdens for their children during their difficult years of raising a family. Parents are often the ones who have a hard time receiving and are only comfortable when they are seen as the generous providers, and thus we set up a one way street of giving that becomes the accepted status quo on both sides. We pray for our kids, help them any way we can, and try our best not to add one iota of additional stress to their already stressful lives. 

Ephesians 6:2-3 refers to the commandment to honor our fathers and mothers as the first command with a blessing attached-- "that it may go well with you, and you may live long in the land." It was an enlightening thought for me that I may rob my children of blessing when I fail to allow them to honor me through their offers of needed support or even, heaven forbid, ask for help if I need it. My tendency has been to power through my challenges  without mentioning my needs to my kids simply because my motherly heart worries for them and, truthfully, because I don't want to be seen as needy or weak. But I am off-base if  I encourage my children to turn a blind eye to my suffering simply because it is mine and not someone else's. 

I am not advocating the use of one's children as emotional supports; as parents we ought to be spiritually mature enough to find our hearts' needs met in our Lord and Savior.  I'm speaking of a habitual "not wanting to cause trouble" mindset that, if they accept this status quo, could hinder the development of maturity in our children; robbing them of opportunities for growth that would enable them to someday transition into a caregiving role for an elderly parent without quite so much trauma for all concerned.

The Lord makes no allowance for how much work we have already done when he asks us to do something more; He requests our obedience, and that request is God's to make because He provides enabling strength for the tasks he assigns. God may judge us--and our children--more strictly than we judge ourselves; and he might not make allowances for the difficulties we've faced. Disobedience to the Lord's nudge to reach out, even with the validating excuse that the one who needs our aid doesn't appear to want our ministrations, is sin akin to laziness. We give up too easily because we have already done so much, but we mustn't dismiss or excuse sin because of all we have been through. We have experienced nothing that God has not allowed, and the solace and strength we have enjoyed have arrived through the Lord's faithful provision.  

I need to recognize that God grants my kids enabling strength for the life-challenges they face.  Parents of adult children who establish the status quo that they must always be the ones who are generous while simultaneously refusing any reciprocity may hinder God's work in their children's  lives.


  1. Thank you so much for writing and sharing your wisdom!

    1. And thank you for navigating your way through this long post. I appreciate your comment.