By Janet Pérez Eckles, Crosswalk.com
Anna sat in the front pew and pressed her wrinkled tissue to her eyes. “I can’t help it, he’s still my baby.”
Her handsome son wearing a black tuxedo and a nervous smile waited for his bride. But he had no clue his Mom had no plans to let go.
She was too much--of a loving mother. Is there such a thing? Love cannot be too much, but the wrong expression of it can be destructive.
It all started on the simple decision of who would take the remaining wedding cake home. The newlyweds would be heading on a cruise after their wedding night. And the task to take care of the left-over cake was up to the family.
Anna thought she should take it, after all she lived closer to the newlyweds.
But the bride’s mother disagreed. She thought she should take it and freeze it for the couple. After all, she paid for it.
Each mother dressed in long gowns adorned with a corsage stepped into the boxing ring. A silly argument, flamed with subtle accusations burst. And that tiff became the first gift the couple received.
Parenting young children is hard, but at least for the most part, they’re stuck with you and you have a chance to try again. But adult children can choose not to visit, speak to you, or come for the holidays—at least not nearly as often as you’d like them to.
Sadly, parents and adult children encounter insignificant events that unchecked, explode in animosity and resentment that come in between them. As hard as they might try, they get a “D” in the relationship report card.
But there’s hope. Here are four lessons that will result in an “A” in the parent/adult children relationship arena:
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1. Accept the Change
Accept the change? Never. Those are our kids no matter how old or what marital status they’re in, they’re our babies.
Though we hold on to our nurturing instincts, keeping them as our babies contradicts our efforts to raise them to be mature, sound-minded individuals. When they show those traits, the change has taken place, time to accept it and let go.
But deep down, letting them fly out of the nest is only a figure of speech. Even if they live across the street or across the country, we resist the notion of letting go. We battle the temptation to “keep track of them.” And secretly we must confess, it’s painful to accept that change in their lives and fully release them.
Although that acceptance is as difficult as putting them in the bus for their first day of school, God has a way to ease us into that inevitable change. He says, “Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire” (Proverbs 29:17).
The not-so-pleasant change is to accept our disciplining days are over. They ended when they gave a good-bye kiss and walked out the front door with a bin overflowing with their belongings in one hand and their cell phone in the other.
That’s the day we should be congratulated. Our kiddoes, not kids anymore just began their journey of new horizons riding in the vehicle of independence.
Similarly, parents also take a new role with the expectation of good things to come, realizing “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…” Ecclesiastes 3:1
A time to nurture them. A time to raise them. A time to discipline and a time to let go.
And Mom and Dad, this is your time to begin celebrating a new adult-to-adult relationship with your children. Each change is a whisper from God that repeats, "Your children were mine first. I’ll protect them. I will guide them.”
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2. Avoid Meddling
Ouch! Avoiding input into their lives? There’s a delicate line between offering our opinion and messy meddling.
But well-meaning parents all over can’t resist speaking their opinion. They offer, according to them, much-needed guidance and remind them, “trust us, we know from experience.”
But instead, what adult children experience is the urge to resist. Often this turns to resentment that results in a wedge in their relationship. And it gets bigger because adult children don’t welcome the unwanted input. Parents are crushed with rejection.
There’s hope. Healing begins when parents realize adult children’s mistakes can be opportunities for them to grow. When they stumble, God needs to rescue them. When they fall, God needs to be the one to whom they turn to receive His restoring power.
But for this to happen, parents need to take a big breath and step aside. Doing so may be the best gift to our children—the gift that keeps on teaching.
Blushing a bit, I relate my own sad episode. Turns out that my lovely DIL had a little trouble nursing my granddaughter. So, my 7-pound angel, the first one for me had to have the best. Without delay, I sought help from experts to give my DIL “advice.”
Did she ask for it? No. Did she welcome it? No. And that incident put my son in the middle, caused a bit of friction and the nursing went on even without my input.
Why do we do that? Because we often cannot resist the we-got-to-fix-this calling that emerges, not from God, but from our emotions.
And in the end, us meddling parents come off the field wearing the “I lost again” T-Shirt.
Conversely, if we follow a strict diet of Godly wisdom for all our meals, we nor our children will suffer emotional indigestion.
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3. Ask for Forgiveness
We’re champs at that. How often, in your parenting days have you put on the judge hat and give orders: “Say you’re sorry to your sister. And say it like you mean it.”
Then we look at the other child. “Hug your brother to show you forgive him.”
Some of us would pat ourselves on the back because we mastered the forgiveness routine. But that gesture takes on a different approach when we ourselves happen to be on the culprit seat.
Consider Marie who just slipped her mouth-watering lasagna in the oven. The phone rings. With kitchen towel in one hand, and with the other, she presses the green button to answer. It’s her daughter.
“Mom, John’s parents surprised us, they’re on their way to Texas. They want to spend a few hours with us. Can we have Christmas with you tomorrow instead?”
Marie’s face muscles tense. “What? But dinner is ready. You can’t do this to us.”
Her mood turned cold. And the delicious scent of the lasagna turned to an odor of bitterness. How long did it last? Years.
One glitch, one faux pas, one disappointment can shatter the most loving relationships and erase chances to spend meaningful moments creating memories.
But we can restore the relationship with a gesture. Though not easy, but powerful as it sets everyone involved free. In that freedom of forgiveness comes the rewards called “blessings.” That’s why in the Bible, the Greek word translated "forgiveness" literally means "to let go."
We let go so our arms can be free to receive deeper warmth in our relationship, more freedom to express our love and even more expectations for stronger bonding.
No wonder Jesus taught us to pray like this: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
As parents, should we fail, God will forgive. We inadvertently hurt others; God forgives. We make mistakes, God also forgives. How rewarding it is to let go with the expectations that God will also smile with His grace of forgiveness toward us.
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4. Aim for Unconditional Support
“Life stinks,” Julie said to her Mom on the phone, “I don’t know how long we can keep going on unemployment. The mortgage is due and I’m losing control.”
Julie joins the “unexpected mess” club. She, her husband and kids face the same struggles, the same stress and worry as millions of young couples.
And in the middle of dark times, parents’ task is to do all possible to keep the relationships clear, strong and thriving. The world is dark with reasons to be anxious. But if a parent and adult children relationship is strong, it becomes a comforting light of peace.
Much like when they were young, a band-aid and a kiss on their boo would send them back to running and playing again. Similarly, when adult children hurt, they need their parents’ support, genuine and unconditional.
Consider Tom’s mom when he carves a few minutes from his hectic family and business life to call and check up on his mother. Before he could say, "how are you?” her comments blurt out with pessimism dotted with complaining.
She has problems. But she compounds them by failing to acknowledge Tom’s gesture to call. Instead, she voices all that’s wrong in her life.
Stress visits Tom. The conversation is covered with tension. And what could be a pleasant interaction, becomes an unwanted task for him.
Although parents face some serious situations that merit attention, they can still offer the gift of support even when they’re in a valley themselves. The effort is vital because often what we speak either bring us closer to our adult children or prompts them to find excuses not to call.
But when all aim to think of the other first, peace flows with each interaction. And in the end, they value each moment. And ultimately, the family bond becomes the oasis in the desert of the world’s gloom.
The gifts we offer our adult children are ones that will eventually adorn the legacy we leave. They will shine with examples they can follow, with illustrations they will embrace as their own and with sound convictions that will echo long after we’re gone.
There is so much hope for your relationship with your adult child. Just wait and see.
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