Subaru has captured the quintessential where did the time go moment. In a recent commercial entitled Moving Out, a blonde-haired little boy packs up his belongings and puts them into the back of the family Impreza. His faithful puppy tags behind. Although way too young to venture out on his own, he remains undaunted in his task. He returns to his room for another box.
Something feels strange here.
His dad, looking out into the hall from a bedroom, raises an eyebrow when he sees an oversized box making its way down the stairs. His little boy, barely visible under the box, struggles to keep it upright. “Son, you want some help?”
“Nah. I’m good.” A family photo catches the boy’s eye. He stops, adds it to the box, and then heads for the car. As you watch, the knot in your gut tightens.
In the garage, Mom clutches a stuffed animal she found in an old box of toys. She rummages through the other treasures. “Hey, do you want these?”
“Nah. Why don’t you keep those, Mom.”
He drags a blanket to the car, but his dog pulls it back toward the house. Evidently, the dog is the only one seeing the gravity of this situation.
The boy tugs the blanket back. “Come on, Mo. I have to go.”
Where on earth is this little fella going and why don’t his parents stop him?
His folks join him at the car, and as Dad shuts the trunk, we realize Dad suddenly looks older. He turns to hug his son, who has transformed into a young adult.
The young man hugs his mother and then stoops to pet his beloved old dog. “See ya later, Mo.”
The announcer with a lump in his throat says, “We always trusted our Subaru would be there for him some day. We just didn’t think someday would come so fast.”
We reach for the tissues as Mikal Cronin’s song lyrics gently play in the background before the Impreza pulls away from the drive.
Don’t let me down
Don’t leave just yet
I’ve got more to learn
You’ve got so much more to get
The word LOVE closes out the one-minute spot. We’re all a mess.
There’s no guilt quite like parental guilt. It grabs us often as we raise our children but more so as they embark on the great adventure called adulthood. We roll back the video of our kid’s childhood, smile at the happy times, and if we’re honest, wince at some things we regret. Many of us even weep.
Perhaps your relationship with an adult child is strained. Maybe he’s a prodigal, or for reasons that baffle you, he’s cold and distant. A growing number of adult children have cut off all communications with their parents. If your empty nest carries with it an aching heart, then the gospel is good news for you. Jesus died for aching hearts. Here are a few things to keep in mind concerning adult children.
Recognize what you are unable to do: maintain control.
I listened to a young mom vent about her folks. “She told me when I was in my own home, paying my bills, I could make the rules. Well, guess what? That day has long since arrived, and she’s still trying to be in charge of my life.”
The same behaviors that made us great parents to young children won’t always serve us well when they are adults. From the moment our children take their first steps, they walk away from us. Anyone who has parented a toddler knows this. We shut doors, put up safety gates and cover outlets. We teach our children to respond to our “No!” Parenting by control tends to be habit-forming, but it’s a habit we must break as our children grow older.
Paul Tripp in The Age of Opportunity writes, “Successful parenting is the rightful, God-ordained loss of control. The goal of parenting is to work ourselves out of a job. The goal of parenting is to raise children who were once totally dependent on us to be independent, mature people who, with reliance on God and proper connectedness to the Christian community, are able to stand on their own two feet.”
You cannot compel your adult child’s behavior. While this may seem obvious, many a parent has tried to purchase, punish or plot their way into changing their children. A better place to start? Prayerfully admit before the Lord that you cannot control your adult child and repent of trying to do so. Ask the Lord to give you a heart that trusts fully in Him.
We don’t always see our children’s pain clearly.
I’ve learned from my adult children, and I don’t always lament the same things. Moments, where I anguished over my behavior, weren’t always the same things my children found offensive. Still some habits that went unnoticed by me had my kids seeing red. My daughter, Anna, once told me, “I don’t like it when you make fun of me.” She was kind enough to include examples. Initially, I didn’t see those moments as teasing, but looking back at them from my daughter’s point of view, she had a point.
What Anna found hurtful lay carefully hidden in my blind spot. As sinners, we often do not see our offenses as clearly as we do others. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3). Our relationship with our children is no exception. We ought to carry into each encounter with our kids a healthy suspicion of our own heart and motives because “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9).
“I did the best I could” is not a Biblical apology.
When confronted with parental offenses a common phrase leaks out of many parents: “I did the best I could.” It sounds like a reasonable answer to us. It may even ring true in some cases. But our kids need something deeper than our explanations. They need to hear us acknowledge our sin without an explanation that can sound more like an excuse.
In time, perhaps our kids might recognize we did indeed do our best. But even if they never do, Jesus died for all our shortcomings and all our sin. In newness and grace that He alone grants us, we can prayerfully move forward.
Ask your children for their forgiveness early and often.
We need the humility to confess our sins not just to the Lord, but also to our children. True, children can and do sin against their parents. They can be more at fault in some cases than parents. But maturity is modeled when parents acknowledge their wrongdoing first. No parent gives mercy better than one who is convinced they desperately need it themselves.
My children heard me apologize for specific things, such as impatience or scrolling through messages on my smartphone when they were trying to talk with me. They saw I didn’t always have it together and needed Jesus as much as they. Sometimes my confessions led to difficult conversations, but over time, the Lord used them to make my children into adults who were also quick to confess their own wrongdoing.
But we must not admit wrongdoing only to gain a return confession from our kids. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Paul recognizes that it may not be possible to live peaceably with everyone, adult children included. Our peace with God through Christ enables us to entrust our adult children to a sovereign God.
Parenting is important, but not ultimate.
In Things I Would Do Differently If I Were Raising My Children Again, Mark Altrogge writes, “I would try to encourage them more. Although I did try to encourage them, I believe that proportionally I corrected them more. Now I would seek to reverse that . . . I would try to draw them out more as teenagers. There were times when our kids were going through really painful experiences as young adults and I was too quick to dole out spiritual advice rather than empathize and try to understand what they were going through.”
If you have unbelieving children, remember that it is never too late to pound heaven’s doors with your prayers. Never lose hope in the gospel. If you have made mistakes, go to your adult children, confess your errors, love them unconditionally, pray, and watch God work.
Gaye Clark works as a cardiac nurse in Augusta, Georgia, and as part time correspondent for WORLD magazine. She also volunteers with iCare, a local faith-based organization that provides assistance to trafficked victims. She is also the widow of Jim Clark. She writes in her free time about sex trafficking, Christian living, and lay-ministry. She has two adult children, Anna and Nathan.