Note: This blog is drawn from a Sunday School series I teach titled “Parenting Your Parent, Your Boomerang Child or Grandparenting Your Grandchild.” It occurred to me that there may be some readers who would find this material useful.
This lesson is a transitional lesson from parenting parents to parenting adult children. I’ve chosen to create this lesson because I want you see the similarities of the process. Human relationships follow patterns. There is a principle in statistics that says extremes regress to the mean. The mean in human relationships is that we regress to the old man. We tend towards selfishness, anger, resentment, laziness, dependency, anxiety, insecurity, etc. We can see this in parenting parents and we can see this in parenting adult children. While we have these responsibilities, we ourselves tend to regress to the mean. Living in these relationships takes intentional Christian living.
Let’s consider three decisions and their biblical foundations that will enhance both assignments—parenting parents and parenting adult children.
I. Decide to not create a guilt complex II Cr 5:10; Gal 6:5; Ezek 18:20; I Cr 13:11
I read a story of a family who built a home to accommodate the care of the wife’s invalid mother. The home was finished and they all moved into it. Within less than a year, the wife went back to work and hired a nurse to care for her mother during the day because she could not handle it 24/7. So, now she only handled it 15/7. This continued for four years. The wife would tell you she was doing this for her mother. In reality she was doing it to avoid the guilt of putting her mother in a nursing home. This was terribly expensive because for four years she had no married life and no grandmother life.
Let’s change the story a bit. Sally suggested to Jim that they should allow Mary Jo to move back home after she left her first job out of college because she had a very difficult boss. “She needs some TLC and a chance to build a nest egg so she can purchase her own place.” Jim agreed. It was not long before Sally was frustrated with Mary Jo’s sloppy ways. She grew weary of washing Mary Jo’s clothing. Mary Jo was always late with her room and board payment of $300.00 a month and even skipped one month (money Jim and Sally agreed they would save and give her towards that down payment). This arrangement went on for three years while Mary Jo changed employment three times. Jim and Sally found themselves arguing over the situation—making rules and not enforcing them. Sally thought she was doing all this to help Mary Jo, in reality, it emanated out of guilt for “failing to train Mary Jo to be a responsible person.” In the process she failed again, had no joy in her relationship with Mary Jo and found her marital relationship disintegrating.
Love is not doing what people want: “Never put me in a nursing home!” “Please, let me come home to live.” But, also, love is not doing what you (as the child or a parent want): “I want to keep my pledge to never put my mother in a nursing home” or, “I want to help my child learning what they missed and become a responsible person.” Love is doing what is best for all concerned which sometimes seems the-not-best in some way for everybody concerned.
I owe my parents or my child love and that means doing what is best for them. To some extent, what is best for me and my spouse [Leave, Cleave and Weave] and the rest of the family is best for my parents or my adult child.
Creating a guilt complex because I judge that I failed as a parent [or actually did] because my child is a prodigal in some way, will not provide the proper motivation for helping my child. Neither will guilt provide a proper motivation to determine how to best parent my aging parent. Love needs to be the motivator. Love for God and his principles applied practically to the realities of life.
II. Decide that tough love is real love Heb 12:5-9
A. Tough love makes the choice to stop being a child to your parent and become the parent of your parent. Tough love makes the choice to stop enabling your child to be irresponsible and take up the role of counselor who holds them accountable with consequences for failing to be responsible.
B. Tough love makes the decision that parenting the parent comes from one source that is the authority—with all due respect to appropriate counsel. If married, from husband/wife. If single, from the child who takes on the responsibility to parent the parent.
Tough love makes the decision that parenting an adult child comes from one source that is the authority. If both parents in the home there must be an agreement and you must stick to it. If a single parent, the same is true, but you may need the assistance of the Pastor or Discipline Committee of the Session to provide authority and accountability for both you and the child.
C. Tough love sets the parameters of the home—you will parent your children and your parent will not interfere.
Tough love sets the parameters of the home—if the adult child does not want to live with the rules, then the adult child does not return home. Beware of “you can come home for one week while you find somewhere else to live.” The one week will become indefinite. Even if you did the one week, tough love sets clear parameters and may cut the week short.
D. Tough love sets the parameters of relationships—determine that your marriage relationship takes precedents over your parental relationship whether parenting you parent or your adult child.
This means planning respite opportunities.
This means your bedroom is off limits.
If at all possible, if living in your home, you parent or adult child has their own space
“Sometimes love must be short-term mean in order to be long-term kind.” (Doug Manning)
III. Decide to reap the benefits of an early retirement, that is a nursing home placement / adult child moving in with friends or finding her/his own place. Gen 45:17-18; 46:1-5; Gen2:24-25
A. Make the placement while the parent still has the capacity to adjust
For the adult child, keep the duration at home specific, short term
B. Make the placement while still mobile so there is opportunity to build a social network
Encourage adult child to create a social network that provides both spiritual encouragement and social comfort zone.
C. Make the placement while still mobile enough for the staff to “force” the development of friends
Limit your home from becoming a singles hang out. When you children were in high school, this was great. When they are adults, this is crippling. They become dependent upon you to be the catalyst of their social network and that further retards their maturity.
D. Make the placement so as to allow you to retain as much normalcy to your life a possible. Regular visits can be built into your schedule so that your visit becomes a time of encourage that your parent anticipates. A parent in declining condition in your home keeps you on call/duty 24/7 and often leaves no energy for pleasant conversation or positive emotional exchange.
For adult children you want to become the encourager of their moving in the direction of creating a normal adult pattern of relationships—you want to move from parent (maker and keeper of the rules and provider) to friend and advisor.