As followers of Jesus, we are called to treat others as we would like to be treated, and this principle holds incredible power in our parenting journey. In an excerpt from her book, “Love, Pray, Listen,” Mary DeMuth shares the concept of applying the Golden Rule in our relationships with our adult children. We’ll explore this timeless principle as we reflect on our own experiences, discover valuable insights, and learn how embracing the Golden Rule can transform our interactions with our adult kids.
Each week I talk with parents who are grieved over their wayward adult children. On a recent episode of Your Hope-Filled Perspective podcast, I had the opportunity to chat with Mary DeMuth about Parenting Adult Children Even When They Choose a Different Path (Episode 214.) If you’re a parent in need of hope and encouragement as you navigate parenting adult children, or you have a friend who is, this conversation on the podcast will encourage you.
Be sure to read to the end for a book giveaway!
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The Golden Rule in Parenting Adult Kids
By Mary DeMuth
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave a simple but profound command to his disciples. “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
Think back on your early adult years and ask yourself:
- How would I have preferred my parents to treat me during that time?
- What didn’t help me in the long run?
- What did they do that really empowered me to move forward?
- What can serve as a cautionary tale for me now as I love my adult kids?
- What have my parents apologized for in their treatment of me as an adult? (Or what have I longed for them to apologize for if they haven’t?)
We often learn best from negative example. When my husband Patrick and I got married, his parents did not treat us with kindness. So upset that I was not Catholic and that we would not have a Catholic wedding, they spent a lot of time undermining us, sometimes yelling, pulling each of us aside to berate us. Their manner was abusive, so much so that we had to separate from them for a period of time for our mental health. (Of course, we made this decision with much fear. We sought a lot of counsel before we separated).
That traumatic time has helped us tremendously as we parent our adult kids. God has so beautifully woven this pain into something beautiful by the way we (hopefully) are choosing to be different. He truly does work everything into good—even pain from the past. He trained us in what not to do.
When our son got engaged, we remembered all the angst we experienced and determined to be supportive, joyful, and helpful. Getting married is hard enough, but to have your parents mitigate against it would not have been constructive. We’ve reminded ourselves that our son is an adult, and this is his decision. (And his new wife is beautiful, smart, and amazing!)
When it comes to verbalizing our anger or confusion or frustration to our adult kids, simply asking ourselves how we prefer to be talked to is instructive. Do we respond better when someone is angry? Or when they’re calm? Do we give into manipulation? Do we push back against passive aggressive behavior? Chances are, we don’t love manipulation, veiled threats, or false accusations. All those behaviors put us on edge, so why would we employ the same tactics with our kids?
The Golden Rule helps us do the following:
- To confront in the way we prefer to be confronted.
- To share openly in the way we prefer to be communicated with.
- To listen in the way we liked to be listened to.
- To deal with difficult subjects in the way we prefer to have them brought up to us (though, to be fair, few of us really like to have these things brought up to us!)
- To empathize in the way we like to be seen and heard by others.
- To stop jumping to conclusions in the same manner that our good friends choose to believe the best about us.
Stopping to consider the profound implications of the Golden Rule not only affects the way we choose to interact with our adult kids, who are now our peers, but it also informs the way we process our pain with others. We can ask ourselves whether we would prefer our kids to talk about us with their friends in the same way we share about them with our friends. We forget that this world is small, and gossip and slander have a way of finding their way to our kids. Will our words cause regret later? Will they prevent reconciliation? While it’s necessary to process our pain with an eye toward closure and healing, we can shift into sin when we indulge in talking negatively about our adult kids, particularly if it becomes our default or our constant way of conversation.
Scripture is replete with verses about how we talk:
- “They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone” (Titus 3:2).
- “So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech” (1 Peter 2:1).
- “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
But perhaps the most poignant passage comes from the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:29-32. “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Not only are we to rid ourselves of bitterness, harsh words and slander, but God calls us to something higher. When you are tempted to lambast your adult child, consider the higher ethic God has called you to.
- Do my words reflect kindness?
- Am I tenderhearted in the way I portray my child? Am I jumping to conclusions without proof?
- Do my words reflect a heart that is actively pursuing forgiveness?
- How am I being like Christ in this situation?
When we are hurt, our fallback tends to be retaliation. We want someone to pay for the damage done. We also tend to want to be the hero in the stories we tell, where our adversaries are all wrong, and we are 100% innocent. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, and the mature believer always searches their heart for possible fault and repents. All stories are riddled with villains, and sometimes we are that villain.
All that to say, be cautious about full-on venting when you’re frustrated with your adult kids. Choose to go to God first with your complaints, letting your heart spill before the One who is best able to handle your story and sift through motivations. I have found that when I’m spending a lot of time slandering someone, I haven’t spent enough time on my knees processing that pain with the Lord, or I haven’t journaled enough about it.
Go to God first about your adult children and their choices. Or write out your pain, penning out all your raw frustrations before you bring it before an audience. So much damage has been wrought in relationships on the altar of venting.
What’s your greatest struggle parenting your adult child? We’d love to hear in the comments below.
Excerpt from Love, Pray, Listen: Parenting Your Wayward Adult Kids with Joy by Mary DeMuth; (© 2022), used with permission from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. (http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com)
About Mary DeMuth
Mary DeMuth is an international speaker, a podcaster, and the author of over forty books, fiction and nonfiction, including The Day I Met Jesus. Through God’s healing, Mary has overcome a difficult past to become an authentic example of what it means to live a brand-new story. She loves to help others “re-story” their lives through the books she writes. Mary lives in Texas with her husband of 30 years and is Mom to three adult children.
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Be sure and visit Monday’s blog post and enter the book giveaway for your chance at winning a copy of Mary’s book: Click here to enter -> Love, Pray, Listen: Finding Joy and Purpose in Parenting Adult Kids