Parenting After the Diploma

Written by BJ Rathbun
Published on June 13, 2016

Your child’s new diploma has been hung for display or packed. Leftover invitations have said their last words in your recycle bin and are off to be remade into something else. Change is in the air. Your son or daughter has just finished their degree. And as for you? Your primary role in their life is changing from mom or dad to what exactly? Or is it?

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard well-meaning pastors, friends, and parents say: “Just think. You only have 18 years with your kids!” Maybe you’ve thought something similar. The gist of what they’re trying to say is absolutely true. Time is precious. Time is short! It begs to be stewarded well. But what if the statement were true? What if you only had 18 years to raise your kids? Imagine your own diploma hanging on the wall: a certificate stating that your educational career as a parent had been completed. Not outsourced. Not shipped overseas. Not demoted or promoted, but done. Over. Finished.

This exercise in imagination is laughable, but if we’re honest, it’s easy to let our culture dictate how we view parenting after major milestones. It’s certainly true that your role as mom or dad in your son or daughter’s life is changing now that they hold a diploma. Your role will keep changing, in fact, each time a new season of life begins. I’m sure you know that. But if we take a fresh look at Deuteronomy 6:4-9, will we find any “until your children turn x number years old,” or until they “move to such and such a city” clauses? No. Rather, the picture painted for parents in the Shema is characterized by life’s daily patterns and a dedication to share the constancy of one’s love for God throughout all of life! The time that you have with your child at home, before graduation, is irreplaceable. But are you done loving God? Or do you have any walking left to do? Sitting? Rising? Sleeping? Going places? Eating? If not, your life’s witness to your kids is not over just because they have a diploma. So long as you have breath in your lungs—and they have breath in theirs—there is no retirement from the God-given gift of fatherhood and motherhood.

I write this as a childless woman entering her mid-thirties. What do I have to say about these things? I have seen, first hand, the transforming power of the gospel in my own parents’ lives. And as my dad neared retirement, the power of his influence to propel me toward Christ grew exponentially. He faithfully encouraged me to depend solely on and hope completely in Christ in ways more precious to me than ever before.  As I speak with friends my age and older, I find they are ministered to by the way my dad faithfully prays for and encourages me. Every parent-child relationship is different, but I am here to tell you that many of my friends long to have a relationship with their early father and mother that better mirrors the one they have with their heavenly Abba.

Have you been a loving, God-honoring parent through your child’s first eighteen years of life? Then praise God! Don’t stop now!  May I just encourage you to prayerfully, intentionally and appropriately love and teach your kids about God’s faithfulness for the rest of your life?

Or perhaps your parenting legacy seems more like an obstacle course, littered with records of failure and missed opportunities? Whatever your story, can I just encourage you? Your past parenting failures do not have to dictate the future relationship you have with your young adult child.  The beautiful and precious promise of Romans 8:28 applies not only to trials in your present life, but also to every sin and mistake in your past. God’s has promised to work all things to the good of all those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Moreover, His love and faithfulness will powerfully carry His promise through. Let this truth spur you on to be transformed day by day more into the likeness of our Heavenly Father. Don’t let regret rob your son or daughter of the chance to see God triumph in your life. It will increase their hope that He will triumph in theirs, too.

Your greatest asset in parenting your children, at any stage in life, is a humble walk with Your savior. Here are some questions we can all benefit from. They’re questions I hope will cause you to draw nearer to Christ and let His light shine through you for the benefit of your child’s current and future walk with Him.

  • When I talk about what I need or what I want, do my speech and actions reflect my desperate need for Christ’s saving work in my life?
  • When I talk about what I need or what I want, do my speech and actions reflect both God’s faithful provision and His power to satisfy me completely?
  • When I succeed, am I quick to give God glory?
  • When I fail, am I quick to run to God’s grace?
  • Is the fruit of the spirit growing in me?
  • Does my prayer life reflect God’s eternal priorities?
  • Does my life exhibit hope in God and His promises?
  • Am I quick to listen? Am I slow to anger?
  • Am I approachable and responsive when I have wronged or hurt someone?
  • Are my interactions with others about exalting Christ in their life? Or are they really about creating dependence on someone or something else?
  • How am I showing God’s grace and mercy to others?
  • Do I trust God with those I love?

May God help you love your children as He loves them—in every season of your life and theirs.

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BJ Rathbun

BJ is a Midwestern girl E26at heart who married a Missouri farm boy (all grown up, of course), in 2013. Having worked in higher education and the nonprofit sector since 2004, she now works at Dallas Seminary and the Dallas Zoo. With no kiddos of her own, she enjoys pouring into the kids around her. She enjoys the outdoors, making things with paper, reading and writing (but not arithmetic!), and many other things. She has a heart for unreached and unengaged people groups, and longs to see the day when God's Word is translated into the heart language of every tribe, nation, and tongue.

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