How to Love Our Adult Children With Purpose…. Because living with their choices isn’t always easy

Danny Silk

In December 2009, I released the book Loving Our Kids On Purpose. It continues to be a bestseller for my publisher. I’ve done countless conferences, trainings, and counseling sessions around its content.

In the last few years, more and more people have asked, “When are you going to write a book about how to deal with our adult children?” It’s a great question, and as soon as I have it figured out, I’ll let you know!

In the meantime, I’d like to have a heart-to-heart talk with parents of adult children.

There is a brief moment in the lives of our children—somewhere around age 6 to about 12—in which we think we know how our investment in parenting is going to turn out. We have a shining vision of how we and our children will move along together into our future, and feel comforted and confident in knowing how it’s all going to go.

And then . . . it doesn’t go that way at all. After doing our best to pour out our lives for them, our kids grow up and do what they want to do. Quite often, what they end up doing looks nothing like what we had planned for their lives! They make choices that disappoint us or scare us to death. Sometimes they break our hearts.

Few relationships require us to reformat our expectations of how things will work out than being the parents of adult children. Our children have always had the power to make decisions that have tremendous impact on us. Now that they are adults, however, it seems that we have the least amount of influence over these decisions than ever before.

The pain of an adult child’s bad decision is a special kind of powerless feeling and maybe the greatest challenge I’ve ever experienced. I’ve watched as my Australian son-in-love, my daughter, and my first grandchild were nearly deported for failing to file immigration paperwork on time. I’ve watched another child end up homeless, and listened to numerous conversations about faith and God that I never could have fathomed would be part of our relationship.

When our children make baffling choices, questions naturally arise:

“Where do I put all of this fear and pain?”

“Where is God in this chaotic swirl?”

“Is there a point where I’m supposed to let go of my child?”

I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I do know this: In the midst of the fear, pain, and confusion, we must choose to focus on the prize—the connection to our adult child’s heart.

My wife, Sheri, has always said that her goal in raising our children is to get them to fall madly in love with her. We both know that getting someone to fall in love with you is not something you can make happen. More than ever, we are in a friendship-style relationship with our kids, which requires the choices of two powerful people. If both parties don’t do the work to preserve the friendship, there isn’t one. (This can be a harsh reality for parents who are still trying to maintain control over relationship with their kids in order to protect themselves.) However, whether or not our children choose to hold up their end of a friendship with us, we still get to choose to hold up our end. Pursuing a heart-to-heart connection unceasingly and at all costs is how we express unconditional covenant love toward our children.

Covenant is a binding agreement that requires death. That sounds morbid, yes, but the deeper significance of covenant lies in the power of forming connection with people for whom we would be willing to die. Soldiers, missionaries, and emergency service workers build these bonds as they work together in life-and-death conditions every day. These men and women know that our strongest relationships are developed in times that require us to rise up in our greatest vulnerability and face our wildest fears.

As parents, we know that nothing exposes us to vulnerability and fear more than when a beloved child introduces disagreement, conflict, or poor choices into our relationship. In these moments, we have the powerful opportunity to make the sacrifices of covenant and hold on to our relationship with them. We can only strengthen covenant by practicing covenant.

I met a carpenter the other day. We shook hands and I had to hold back a yelp. The guy squeezed my hand with the force of a hydraulic press. Dang! I was not expecting that grab. Then it dawned on me that this guy picks up heavy stuff all day. His grip has developed from years of holding on to resistant objects—boards, hammers, and pneumatic tools.

In the same way, the practice of holding on to one another when our lives are under pressure or loaded with resistance (the opposite of easy) is what builds the strength of our connection. Some of our most demanding and difficult relationships translate into our strongest connections. If we will understand the benefit of these struggles, we will not as easily lose heart when they are challenging. Our sacrifice is not without reward. As Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone. But, if it dies, it multiplies” (John 12:24).

All three of my adult children are bringing the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced into my life. Navigating issues of faith, political perspectives, and extended family dynamics are all things I didn’t anticipate when they were playing in the yard every day. But all this push and pull has built a new trust and tenacity in our relationships. Through it all, we have worked through our disconnections and strengthened our heart-to-heart connections. We are building a legacy that is saturated with inheritance.

I can honestly say that these are the greatest days of my role as a parent. My kids are teaching me to grow up and not get locked in a comfortable mindset that stops maturing. I’ve grown more that any Master’s degree ever stretched me. This is what I call a finale! I imagine I will smell like smoke when I arrive in heaven after such a wild ride here on earth.

Oh, and did I mention the grandchildren . . .



PS) These thoughts are also published in a recently released free eBook, Parenting With Purpose.  I contribute parenting advice along side Bill Johnson, Wm. Paul Young, Kris Vallotton, Kirk Elliott & Shawn Bolz. If interested, you can download it here!

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  1. Thanks Danny …….your teaching…..wisdom …….insight and life experience is just astounding so thankful you share these nuggets of wisdom… have changed my life.

  2. Thanks! I am now looking at the relationship I have with my parents differently. It is true that we need to purse heart to heart connection. With my teenage boys, we convene around food. I hope that keeps up for their lifetime!

  3. I raised my children under an abusive man for 27 years and 3 of 5 are not in any contact and 2 are polite but distant when I contact. This has been my question: what does it look like to pursue when it feels like abuse?

  4. Danny I love the vulnerability. I find it really difficult when my kids don’t want to connect with me when I reach out to them. They really scares me when weeks turn into months and I know we are not connected . You encourage me because I know that you are struggling to find answers to but you continue to keep your love on. That reality inspires me to be a better father.

  5. We raised four boys and as the youngest was a junior in high school, we adopted a sibling group of 3 sisters. It has been a hard road for 7 1/2 years, pursuing connection and fighting for their hearts. The wounds from their childhood birthed unique coping behaviors in each of them. The oldest graduated and is finding her way living on her own, she has welcomed her biological family into her life and allows greater connection with them than with us. The middle daughter has been manipulative and rebellious yet seemed to allow the greatest connection until recently when she decided she did not want to live with us anymore. She moved in with another family and then shortly after that, on her 18th birthday she walked away from them, she will be a senior this year. The youngest had been ruled by fear but we see her beginning to bloom and find her confidence. These are our daughters, and I desire to live them, to show them love and to have connection. The older two don’t seem to allow it, with the middle one relating in very unhealthy ways. My husband and I feel exhausted and are struggling with how connection to these beautiful adult children is made. How we handle the unhealthy relating (lying, deceiving, manipulation, shutting down, outright rudeness). We recognize we are not their savior, Jesus is, but we do want to represent Him to these broken girls who He has blessed our lives with!

  6. Thanks for sharing this insight Danny! My husband and I and our two little girls live on the same property as my parents, so I needed to hear this to help see "their angle". I can say I honestly have always had a good relationship with my parents, but recently I was able to "share the truth on the inside" with my mom, and it was definitely a big step in the right direction for me 🙂 I know your teachings will help our family and future generations "keep our love on" and live more and more connected lives. I really also loved Shawn Bolz’ story in the ebook. It made me realize I want to live better connected to my girls and make more "space and place" for that with my whole family 🙂

  7. And I’m still waiting for a book on how to change from powerless life to a powerful life, or how to became powerful, how to overcome a victim mindset after a divorce or the lost of a loved one or something like that! How to be a powerful person and have a high quality of life.

  8. My oldest son met and married a woman over 7 years ago who refused to love us from the beginning. We tried everything to win her heart and stay positive. We spoiled them with meals, money, babysitting…and nothing worked! She has gotten more and more negative over the years running us down and twisting all our kindness. Our son now believes everything she says and has reframed his entire childhood into some horrible negative experience. It just isn’t true. We are and always have been incredible, loving and supportive parents with a rich and stable loving home. Over the years my son has become increasingly bitter, angry and mean. He says mean things to me, his mom, all the time. I haven’t seen my grandson in almost 2 years now…because we aren’t trusted enough to be around him. I tried connection now for 2 years. I have apologized for every infraction brought to my attention which is met with more and more fault finding. I am tired of this abuse and feel it is time for me to love and respect myself enough to walk away. It seems that is what that really want.

  9. What does "covenant love" look like when drawing healthy boundaries like not allowing them to smoke marijuana if they want to live with you (in their 20’s) and all you get back is disrespect and lying?

  10. I am a 36 year old adult child daughter with 3 children ages 6 and under, 2 of them have special needs. My mom has been coming over almost daily for several years to help out. We have been learning a new normal – it’s been so hard yet so rewarding! She has learned to step back and let me be the mom of my children even when she disagrees with my parenting. (Hubby and I are KYLO, parenting on purpose, Danny disciples haha – she is do it for them, control them, old school). And I am learning to let go of pride and offense when she over steps her bounds. Did I mention that my husband works from home as well? It’s an 1800 sq ft house! God either has a lot more confidence in all of us than we’ve had in ourselves or he’s got a great sense of humor! Or both. 😉 This is a great topic to explore, Danny. Thanks. Loved hearing your own vulnerability, journey and experiences, as usual.

  11. Danny Silk, Family & Team…
    Your teachings and insight over the years have drastically impacted me personally (mother of 6, grandma of 9) and my husband (married to me!!! deserves credit!) of 42 years with a God-perspective on parenting and living that has been life-changing. We have experienced so many challenges as our children grew from "missionary kids" into "global "free" thinkers" and it has been a roller coaster (not the old-school ones but the heart-attack category) but thus far we are all still "attached" to the rails (His Spirit!)….nearly ‘gone over" a few time…. but still attached – a large part of that credit goes to your books and teaching… God Bless you and Thank you!

  12. "My kids are teaching me to grow up and not get locked in a comfortable mindset that stops maturing. I’ve grown more that any Master’s degree ever stretched me. This is what I call a finale! I imagine I will smell like smoke when I arrive in heaven after such a wild ride here on earth."
    This says it all… Thank you, for speaking into my fear. I so love my four sons and want connection like we had when they were young. Their choices to live so differently, from all my husband and I taught them was best, has been the heart break of my life. Despite it all, I adore them. Their "choices and voices" have caused me to grow in respect for them and really "test" the things I believe. I’ve become so much stronger in my own faith and assured that I can say as the disciples, "where else can I go? For Jesus has the words of truth and life."

  13. I am sorry to hear of what you have been going through Danny, but it is also very encouraging to us who are also going through it with adult children. Your advice is right on – Jesus clearly told me, do not preach,teach or evangelize your children. Just be the most loving, free mom and keep connected. Your book "KYLO" has been my well worn handbook through this process. It’s hard work to stop being a controlling and fearful mom and be a free mom who just moves towards connection. But oh so worth it. My relationship with my children is so much better and getting better every day. I so appreciate and I am very thankful for your ministry.

  14. Hi, I’m a 46 year old mother of three daughters. My oldest is 25 and married to a wonderful christian man. My other two are 16 and 15 and starting to date. I’ve raised my children to have their own relationship with God and to trust Him fully with their lives. (Trusting God casts out fear) My children live by what they see me do not what I say so I make sure I am pursuing holiness and walking it out the best I can. They watch "everything"!! They will make mistakes too, just like I still do but that is how we learn. (I think the embarrassment of this is what makes it difficult but this can serve as something to humble us and keep us from judging others). Keep praying for your children when they go astray – God’s children went astray too, many times right! Jacquie

  15. I always love what you have to say, Danny. A boundary the Lord gave me as we released our fourth into the great unknown was this: "you are finished with being a geyser over your children…now you get to be a well." I keeps me knowing when to say and when to pray when it comes to the issues they face as adults. I have been grateful for the line many times over…they have too. If I step over, I get teased about not practicing my ‘wellness program’. 😊

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