Retrospective parenting feels easier to me as I parent nearly-adult children. Set the boundaries. Enact discipline when they swerve outside the lines. Coach them through grades, choices, friend disasters. I knew my responsibility then, how I’d been entrusted with my children’s hearts, their lives, their future.
But when the future arrives, it seldom embraces like a welcomed summer breeze. It’s more like a smack upside the head. Because those babies morph to toddlers in a blink, the terrible threes eventually end up in kindergarten, the kids learning to read become the kids writing book reports, and next thing you know, they’re driving your car off to God-knows-where, your heartstrings firmly attached and stretched beyond measure.
Truth: children become adults.
I’ve watched others hold on for far too long, breeding resentment in their kids and an unhealthy attachment. (“I can only be joyful if they are making all the choices I want them to.”) I’ve watched others parent like crazy only to abruptly cut off their children the moment Pomp and Circumstance plays. There has to be a happy medium.
That happy medium is the kind of love God asks of us. Because parenting is a constant letting go. It’s learning to train your children to no longer need you. It’s moving from parent to coach to eventual wise mentor and friend.
Think of parenting young adults with the Apostle Paul’s lenses in 1 Corinthians 13: 4–7 (NLT):
Love is patient and kind.
To love children through their adult decisions means letting them figure out for themselves what kind of people they want to be. Patience means holding back from lecturing, trying to make them “get” a lesson through your words rather than experiencing the lesson through natural consequences. To be kind simply means loving your children despite their mistakes. They need our cheerleading, not an over-critical eye.
Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
Preparing children to leave the nest means we don’t force them to fulfill our dreams. We don’t begrudge their own dreams but encourage them with enthusiasm. We don’t compare their worst day with our best day. To be a proud parent means becoming an unapproachable parent who never admits fault, doesn’t apologize to their children for messing up, or elevates their perfection. And rude? Parenting in the in-between years means holding your tongue and not saying the first thing that springs to mind.
It does not demand its own way.
Our children are not copies of us. They may have some of our same traits (positive or negative), but God has gifted them to fill a uniquely-them spot in the world. To demand that our children do things our way or the highway simply alienates and does not demonstrate the love of God. After all, God gives us free will. And since He does that, we should allow our children the same privilege.
It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
When children become adults, it brings an entirely new dynamic into a relationship where opinionated people clash. Think of parenting as your sanctification journey, where you’ll get to practice not reacting with irritation, where you’ll forgive your children and choose not to hold their negative choices over them forever.
It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
One beautiful prayer parents of maturing children can pray is simply, “Bring the truth out, Jesus.” We want our children to be truth-tellers and truth-abiders, but they will not learn this tangibly unless we actually live out the truth, refusing to hide behind a façade, willingly sharing our foibles, and speaking the truth in love not only to them but also to ourselves.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Your children will grow up. And your relationship with them will change. But as parents, we have the unique opportunity to be a constant force of love in their lives. As they welcome us back as they build careers and find spouses, we will experience the joy of a sweetened relationship—one without burned bridges or mountains of resentment, love as the remainder.
Parenting starts and ends with love. I’m grateful for that.