I find the biggest obstacle to parents building relationship with their kids who are making decisions they don’t agree with is the parent. Yes, the parent. I’m not blaming parents for their kids’ poor decisions nor am I putting the responsibility of those decisions on the parents. I am saying the many times when the parent is making a real effort to be in relationship with their child, the child makes an effort too. (I know this is not always the case so keep reading to the end of the blog.)
However, too often many parents I talk to and hear from have the mentality that they are right and their kids are wrong and until their kids admit that and change they can’t be in relationship with them. Yes, I hear that all the time.
Not only is this attitude death to relationships, it is unbiblical. God sent Jesus to be our Savior while we were still far from Him. Why do we think that we are superior to our kids? We came to Jesus as sinners. Jesus made us right with God while we were still in our sin (Romans 5:8) We had no power to do it ourselves. And as long as we are alive we will still sin. Your hardness and unforgiveness towards your child is proof of that.
If we are followers of Christ, we try to live like Christ. In the Gospels, Jesus was hardest on the self-righteous religious leaders. They lived to follow all their rules. They did not care about people or having relationships with them. But Jesus welcomed those people that the religious leaders shunned—those society cast off. He healed the lepers (not allowed in society); He ate with the tax collectors (overtaxed their own people for their personal gain so not invited to many dinner parties); He talked with a woman at a well who society deemed unacceptable because she was a mixed race (part Jew, part Gentile) and because she was divorced five times and living with a man not her husband. He hung out with regular people who had issues that the religious leaders found offensive.
Jesus dove right in to be with regular folks, like us. He didn’t shy away from or reject people because they had issues. He welcomed them. He talked to them, ate with them, loved on them, and eventually gave His life for them.
The story of the prodigal son shows a father whose arms are always open for relationship (Luke 15:11-32). This is the parent I strive to be. I love my kids no matter what they do or don’t do. I am the only mom they have. That means the world to me. And you know what? It means the world to them. Our kids are going to try our patience and our strength and perseverance. But more than anything they want a parent that will not give up on loving them, on being their cheerleader, and doing what they can to help them make better choices.
I’m not talking about a co-dependent relationship where a parent does what the child can and should do for themselves. I’m talking about helping in a way that helps. Sometimes we need a wise counselor to help us figure that out. I’m talking about being like the father of the prodigal son who was always ready and waiting to have a relationship with his son.
The holiday season is a few weeks away. I can’t think of a better time to open your arms to your child. Start with an apology. Own your stuff in the relationship. Tell your child how much you love them and want a relationship with them. Growing your relationship with them will take time. Start this process by imagining you are walking on thin ice. Proceed gently—steer away from issues that will break the ice. Don’t have expectations. Celebrate the length of time they will be with you. Love on your child.
I know many of you are doing these things and your relationship with your child is still tense. To you I say—Stay the course. It’s all you can do. You don’t want to give up on your child. But also know that you can only be responsible for your part of the relationship. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people” (Romans 12:18, NET). This is not an unhealthy-do-whatever-it-takes-to-keep-someone-happy peace. This is you showing patient, persevering love. This is you being like the father of the prodigal son. This is you loving your child the way God loves you. You do our part; your child is responsible for his part. God is over it all.
As you plan for the holidays, ask yourself, “What is more important—to be right or to have a growing relationship with my child?”
For more on growing a relationship with your child making decisions you don’t agree with check out my book, Love No Matter What: When Your Kids Make Decisions You Don’t Agree With.
Brenda Garrison is an author and speaker who empowers women with the confidence to live their calling. Brenda is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science Degree in Ministry Leadership with a Concentration in Women’s Ministry at Moody Bible Institute. She and her husband, Gene, are the parents of three young adult daughters and live near Metamora, IL.