On Parenting Older Children

My children are all grown and out of the house. Caleb is married and has two children. He is a homeowner and a professional and does quite well. Josh is a welder, married, and lives in Carson City, Nevada, where he grew up. Autumn is not married yet, though I see this for her in the not-quite-so-distant-future, and she rents a room from my mom a few miles from our house. But I have to say, even though they are all grown and out of the house, parenting them takes more time than I ever thought it would.

When they were growing up, we all lived in Carson City, Nevada. It was quite popular there for folks to say: “If your sons make it to 18 and haven’t been to juvi, and your daughter makes it to 18 and isn’t pregnant or a mother, you’ve done a good job.” I always believed this was a somewhat low bar, but probably in some ways true. I, myself, clung more to the old “life will be easy when they’re 18 and out of the house,” B.S. And it is a bunch of B.S.!

You see, I am finding that parenting older, grown, children is often harder than raising growing kids. I am far less confident now than I was when they were younger. It’s harder now to figure out the right advice. Advice was easy when the problems were relatively small. It’s harder now to know the right thing to say. It’s harder, in fact, to know when or if to say anything when I see they’re doing something stupid. Trust me, older grown children do as stupid of shit if not stupider as the young ones do. And the consequences of their stupid decisions are often more life changing than many dumb things kids do when they are young.

This is wrenching for me and I’m sure many others. And I’d say on average my kids do pretty well. By Carson City standards, Joy and I have done a good job. We are a success! And yet, I so often worry that it all is going to fall away at the blink of an eye. That one dumb decision on their part will wipe away all of the good. The fact is, the one being dumb in these instances is me. As if my mother hasn’t felt that way about me, or me and Joy, a thousand times. As if the grown-up me has never made any life altering dumb decisions. Newsflash: I have! As if my kids are so dumb, that they can’t recover from the occasional bad decision. Newsflash: they aren’t!

The truth is, it is my obstinate and arrogant need for control that causes most of my worries. The reality of my situation, and maybe yours is, to learn to say less and listen more. (I hope for myself that I learn that last one someday.) And finally, I need to learn to do what I tried to be good at when they were younger; I need to learn to forgive more.

Yet, these days I find myself needing more forgiveness from them, than they do from me. This is most often because I sometimes still treat them like they are my kids instead of my grown children. Just last week Caleb and I went on a hunting/camping trip. It was great. We had a great time and got 8 pheasant and 2 chucker. (We are proudest of the chucker; in case you were wondering.) But the fact that we had a great trip from beginning to end was surprising to me. The day before we left we had a very intense, if not brief, argument over something going on at work. I stopped the argument with what I’ll call, parental aggression. It worked, but I am not proud of it. I do not consider such moments my best. Here is the thing, he forgave me. Not with words, which came later, but with his actions. He calmly finished what he needed to say. Then he started talking about how great the hunting trip would be. In that moment, he was the man in the room, and it showed. He didn’t hold it against me, which was obvious by how great our trip was. And later, too much later, when I finally had the nerve to say I was sorry, he forgave me with the graciousness of a saint. That’s my kid, and I love him.

If I could sum this up for all of us that are struggling out there, maybe we, the older and wiser ones, all need to learn a little humility. Maybe we need to learn the graciousness which only comes when we remember all the dumb stuff we have done. Maybe we need to learn to forgive more in the name of Jesus. Most importantly, maybe we need to learn to be forgiven, even by our children, in that same name.

So, let me give you a jump start. You are forgiven in the name of Christ Jesus for all the times you are a bad parent, even to your grown children. Please rest in that forgiveness and pray for me that I learn to rest in it as well.