How Do I Parent Adult Children?
A little over 15 years ago, my father went to be with the Lord. He was the last of Judy’s and my parents to pass away, and the final year or so with him provided a lot of opportunity for reflection, as we knew his lung condition was terminal. He was a fighter, and because of that, I took more than one trip to his hometown of Lafayette, Indiana to say “goodbye” to him.
Our final goodbye was so memorable. Growing up, my dad was a very stoic man. He was a child of the Great Depression, and he had been made rougher by the difficulties of his own youth. In his goodbye, he remarked to me, with great emotion, “I did my best.”
That phrase, “I did my best,” has rung in my ears as one of the most powerful things he ever said to me in my life.
“I did my best” spoke volumes about his intentions and his heart toward me. For all of his failings, he spent a lifetime going all-out to try to love his three boys well. He was a self-made man, and, in many ways, his parenting was self-made, too. He did not have fine examples or great parenting books; he simply did his best and worked at it with his whole heart. I knew he loved me, whether or not his love was delivered well all the time.
“I did my best” also spoke to me about the transition I was going through at that time. Our youngest was graduating college, and our nest was officially “empty.” We were struggling with seeing how we had sometimes failed to totally prepare all of our children for adulthood. It’s so much harder to watch an adult child struggle than to watch a young child struggle. When they are grown, you know that the formative years are well behind you and that they will have to take the raw materials you gave them and begin to form them into a life of responsibility, grace, and independence. Knowing my dad did his best (and that he wasn’t perfect) gave me more freedom to embrace that I had done my best with my children when they were young, and that had to be enough. None of us is perfect. We just do our best.
“I did my best” deeply spoke to me about my own children. They are all parents themselves, now. Each one of them is a loving and intentional parent. They are all doing their best. As they fail or as their children go through hard times, my responsibility is to be an encouragement to them to continue to do their best. Conversely, my responsibility is not to point out to them where their best just isn’t good enough.
Finally, “I did my best” raised a question for me. What is my best for them now? After thinking through that very loaded question, I came to the conclusion that the best thing I can do for my children is to pray for them. They are each in a battle. They each fight hard for the sake of their children and their marriages each day. Some battles are harder than others, and sometimes they might even lose a battle here and there. My job, as the “patriarch” of the family, is to pray for them with all of my heart.
I love the verse in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” It reminds me that I can come to my Heavenly Father (whose best is always more than enough) and study His Word. I can trust that His Word in me will bear much fruit, and I can rest in knowing that my only Judge is in Heaven. What grace and what abundance!