Live carefree ...

If I start to become a safe person for my young adult kids to talk to about faith ...

we may end up having some really great conversations, especially if I do more listening than talking.

Especially if I ask curious, friendly, open-ended questions and then shut my mouth and open my ears.

But what if they say things that frighten me? Make me angry? Make me worried for them?

Then what do I do with my anxiety?

Can't I just tell them they are wrong?

Can't I just threaten them with God's anger if they don't believe what I believe?

Can't I try to just manipulate them into going to church? Force them to attend with me on the holidays?

Well ... of course you can do those things.

But the question is why?

Will they be helpful? Will they be encouraging to your adult child's faith? Will these things create a safe place for further conversation? Will doing them make you feel better?

Nope. Nope. Nope. And Maybe ... but only for a bit.

Here's another radical idea about what you can do with your anxiety when it comes to your adult kids' faith:

You can pray.

You can take all that anxiety, worry, frustration, anger, fear ...

wrap it all up into a tangled little bundle of emotion

and you can,

with great confidence,

hand it all to God,

and you can leave it there.

God is not full of anxiety about your kids. He just isn't. So he is far better equipped to handle all your pent-up worry than you are.

Release the lives and faith of your adult kids into God's hands ... and then live a joyful, grace-filled, friendly life with them.

"Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you [and your kids]." (1 Peter 5:7 - The Message - with a little touch from Alice)

How to be safe ...

How can parents create a safe place for adult kids to talk about faith?

First of all, I have learned anything I think I know the hard way. :)

Second of all, we all need to relax!

God loves our children and understands that faith development is a journey often filled with winding roads, dangerous curves, cul de sacs and dead ends.

If our maturing kiddos decide to push back on the faith of their childhood, we should practice seeing this as a good thing rather than something to freak out about.

We too often have the idea that if any of us make one wrong move, God is ready and anxious to give us the ax; to cut us off, toss us out.

What a sad and wrong view of God the Good Shepherd.

When our kids start to question things, tell us they don't believe this or that, or profess interest in another religion, rather than panicking, getting mad, defensive or anxious, what if we remained curious, open and calm?

What if we asked questions rather than preaching?

What if we learned what they were learning rather than trying to shut their minds down?

What if we believed God is much, much, much bigger and smarter and wiser than we've ever imagined?

What if we practiced being safe, honest and kind no matter what?

What then?

Be safe about faith ...

Ok, here's a doozy ...

In my Top 10 List for Parents of Adult Children, point #4 is ...

Be safe about faith.

In Christian homes, for some reason, this topic is especially prickly.

Many of us love having little kiddos, who skip happily to church, sing little ditties of the faith, love learning about Jesus, carry their bibles around in cute little book covers and thus give their parents tangible "proof" that the faith is being passed along in good form.

Alas, those little ones grow up. And develop questions. Doubts. Their own opinions, darn them! They become oppositional at times. They no longer ask us what to believe. They start to sing their own songs. Church attendance becomes a battle zone. Jesus an argument.

This can be a scary time for parents for a whole host of reasons.

One of the most toxic sources of fear for Christian parents is the fear that our kids will walk away from our faith.

This fear can make us unsafe when our growing-up kids -- and grown up adult kids -- start to question core truths of the faith. Or when they decide to walk away for a season. Or when they read books or take college courses that push them to challenge views we have simply taken for granted as "true."

When this kind of fear meets normal, young adult faith development, a toxic kind of relationship-killing stew can start to bubble.

I want to spend a few posts here pondering what we can do to become safer people for our young adult kids to talk to about faith. Any part of faith: from doubts to fears to anger to new ideas to old ideas to wrong ideas to atheism to changing denominations to church attendance to ... you name it.

How can you and I become safe? 

How can we keep our fear at bay?

How can we trust our kids' faith development more than our own manipulation of outcomes?

How can we trust the goodness of God to play itself out in the lives of our young adults, rather than allow our anxiety to sit in the driver's seat?

FYI - I don't have the answers to any of these questions ... all I have is the guts to ask them.

More soon ...


Don't take it personally ...

Point #5 in my Top 10 List for Parenting Young Adults is: Don't take it personally ...

These were the exact words of my daughter during our conversation about what young adults wish their parents knew:

"Parents should not react to our decisions about how we choose to live as if they are a personal affront to them and to their choices. Just because we choose to do something differently than our parents did does NOT mean that we are judging them or looking down on their choices.

We are forming our own lives; forging our own paths and choosing our own journeys.

It is very stressful when we make decisions to then feel like our parents are stressed or put off because our decisions do not look like theirs did.

Parents need to not take things so personally."

This felt like both a gentle, but firm, slap in the face and a breath of fresh air at the same time.

Like a slap because I think I had been doing exactly this - looking at my young adult kids' decisions as if they were a direct assessment of my own - which they weren't.

I needed to stop taking their choices personally.

It felt like a breath of fresh air because ... I get to stop taking their choices personally!

What a relief!

I could just enjoy their choices and cheer them on without feeling diminished in any way.

Sounds dumb, like I should have known this ...

But I have never been a parent of young adults before.

I am flying blind.

Thank goodness my kids are kind enough to sit down with me and open my eyes a bit.

Don't take your kids' choices personally.

This will free them up ... and you, too.

What boundaries are ...

Back to point #6 in my Top 10 List for Parents of Adult Children -

Have healthy boundaries!

As parents and kids navigate the turbulent waters of kiddos becoming adults and parents of kiddos becoming parents of adults, the concept of developing healthy boundaries is right at the top of my "what keeps relationships healthy" list.

So, my last post was a teensy-tiny little rant about what boundaries AREN'T. They aren't an excuse to chop people out of your lives with no explanation, no warning, no conversation. That is something else ...

Boundaries, from the reading I did, ARE defined like this:

Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. They allow us to separate who we are, and what we think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others.

Boundaries, for grown up folks, are about the establishment of acceptable behavior that we allow into our lives. Boundaries allow us to be ourselves separate from other people. Boundaries are especially important for young people, as they start to establish a life apart from their parents.

For young adults, this means, you start to get to decide, as you grow up, when and how and where you will engage with your family of origin. Hopefully, if all goes well, you will work hard to find fun and healthy ways to engage with your parents. But it is, in the end, your choice. Parents, it will go well with us if we realize this and accept it with grace and a touch of humor.

For parents, this also means, we get to decide, as our kids become young, self-sustaining (God, please!) young people, when and how and where we will engage with our kids. Hopefully, if all goes well, we will work hard to find fun and healthy ways to engage with our adult kids. In the end, it is our choice. Adult kids, it will go well with you if you realize this and accept it with grace and a touch of humor.

Young adults, you can decide how often you want to engage with your parents by phone, text, Skype or e-mail. They may try to break your boundaries, but ultimately, you get to decide. Stick to your guns! Your parents will - eventually - learn.

You can decide how much of your life you want to share with your parents. Be wise here. If you don't want advice on certain issues, you may want to, as my grandpa used to say, "breast your cards."

Young adults, you can decide how you want to engage family vacations, holidays, meals, gatherings, etc. If these gatherings are really hard, toxic, abusive or flat out awful, think of creative and loving ways to limit your exposure.

Parents, you can decide how often you want to engage your adult kids in all the various forms of communication. A good idea, however? Ask them what works for them. They have busy, full, hopefully productive lives and they can't always chat with us at our convenience.

We get to decide how much of our lives we want to share with our adult kids. A hint? They are probably way less interested than we think ...

Parents, we can decide how we want to do vacations, holidays, meals, gatherings, etc. But we can't always expect our adult kids to show up like they used to when they lived at home with us. Be flexible! Be festive! Be fun! If plans fall through, do something on your own. Don't make your kids feel like they are your only recourse for a good time. Too. Much. Pressure.

And parents - if your adult kids create a toxic environment, it is fully within your parental rights to creatively and lovingly think of ways to limit exposure.

Boundaries are hard.

Boundaries demand gentle, firm, truthful conversation.

Boundaries call for grace.

But boundaries make for strong families, like fences make for great neighbors.

Healthy Boundaries ...

Moving on to point #6 in my Top 10 List for Parents of Adult Kids ...

Have healthy boundaries.

Let me first say a word about what boundaries are NOT.

Boundaries are NOT an excuse for choosing never to see your kids again; for cutting them out of your life.

Boundaries are NOT an excuse for cutting your parents out of your life forever without breathing a word to them about why.

These kinds of stories - of parents doing this to kids, and kids doing this to parents - are passive-aggressive forms of emotional abuse.

In coming posts, I will talk about what healthy boundaries are and what they might look like in families.

But I want to first say, unequivocally, that this kind of familial "ghosting" (google it) that some children and parents do to each other is - in almost every case - the height of childishness.

I've seen way too many devastated parents, and a few too many heartbroken children, to not get this off my chest.

Next post: What do I mean by "healthy boundaries?"

Until then, call your mom. :)



A brief interlude ...

Before I move on to point #6 in my Top 10 List for Parents of Young Adults, I want to take a brief interlude to talk about an  issue that parents of young adults often deal with: Caring for aging parents.

No wonder when we are in our 40's, 50's and 60's we are often referred to as "the sandwich generation."

This will come up again when I talk about the sort of general kindness parents should show toward their becoming-adult children, and that newly adult children should show toward their parents ...

because very often,

just as parents are launching their own kids out of the nest,

their parents are experiencing the beginning of age-related health issues that often cause them to need the attention and care of their own aging kids.

This can be a beautiful time in a family's life, where those of us who have leaned hard on our own parents can, in effect, pay them back for all the ways they have supported us by supporting them in new ways.

This can also be an exhausting time for those of us who are working hard to support our young adult kids, working hard to find time and energy for our own lives and marriage, all while caring for aging parents more and more and more and more.

In the past couple weeks, I have been to the emergency room twice, spent about 6 days in the hospital with one of my parents, and have sat by my father-in-law's bedside singing hymns and reading the Psalms to him.

It has been a deep, deep honor to do these things.

This time has been filled with holy moments.

It has also been exhausting.

I have been my best self, and my very worst self.

I have cried. I have laughed. I have felt crazy. I have felt sane. I have felt numb.

I have wondered why I am so tired.

I have berated myself for not sticking to my workout routine. (Idiot)

I have had insomnia.

I have slept for 12 hours straight.

The only little piece of advice I have for my friends who are walking through this stage, or will, is to be kind to yourself, be kind to your parents, be kind to your kids, be kind to your spouse. Be especially kind to your dog.

Show up as often as you can.

And get some rest. Workouts will wait.


No guilt over holidays ...

I was talking with my parents the other day about this idea of not using guilt in our relationships, especially the relationships between parents and grown children.

My mom, who happened to be in a hospital bed at the moment with wicked bronchitis, perked up when the topic of parents using guilt arose.

She gathered what little breath she had and said:

"Tell parents to especially not use guilt around the holidays! Make sure that they know to let go of traditions when necessary and to not demand that their grown kids show up when they always have shown up in the past. Let your grown kids know that you would LOVE to have them for Christmas (or Easter, or Thanksgiving, or Groundhog Day) but that if they can't make it this year, or if they can only come for a few hours, or part of a day ... that is JUST FINE!"

She said she had watched many parents her age use guilt especially around holiday gatherings and she thought it was so destructive.

I can testify to the fact that my parents have never used guilt or manipulation to try to get us to spend time with them.

Even around the holidays.

One Thanksgiving when all the rest of our family traveled to Chicago for our annual big turkey day celebration, my folks had to stay home because my mom had just had a hip replacement. They happily bid us farewell, ordered a full Thanksgiving meal from Hy-Vee and settled in for a great weekend of feasting and watching old movies. They couldn't have been happier and more content.


Don't use guilt around the holidays ...

It will always backfire ...

Give your grown children the freedom to decide when, where and how to celebrate as they become adults.

My bet is, if you offer them grace-filled freedom, they will very often find their way home!



If not guilt, what?

Point #7 in my Top Ten List for Parenting Young Adults is No Guilt.

Do not try to make your kids feel guilty about the amount of time they spend or don't spend with you.

It doesn't work.

"Ok," you might say ... "If I can't use guilt, what do I do instead? What if my adult child never calls or never visits and I wish they did? Then what?"

Well, call me crazy, but what about simply expressing your heartfelt desire to see or hear from them more often?

Radical, I know.

But so hard for so many of us! 


I think it is because we are scared of being hurt. We are frightened we might open our hearts up, be vulnerable and have our newly formed adult stomp right on our tender emotions.

And that very well may happen. It really might.

But, isn't being honest with them in a friendly, non-demanding, non-manipulative way worth the risk?

Who wouldn't want to hear, "I like you. I wish I could see you a little more. I hope we can talk just a little bit more. I want to know a little bit more about your life. It is interesting to me?" 

Here's the thing though: If our child says, "No," to our request, we must be open to asking them what we might be doing that causes them to deny our request for more time.

Are we willing to hear the truth? Even if it hurts?

Mom, you give too much advice ...

Dad, you never really listen to me. All you do is talk about fishing, or your own job ...

You aren't kind to my boyfriend ...

You complain about my apartment and how dirty it is. That makes me feel bad ...

You call at all the wrong times ...

Parents, this is hard stuff. And I know nothing is cut and dry. No two situations are alike.

I also know guilt is a terrible motivator. Being honest is hard. Truth often hurts.

But isn't the potential for an honest, open relationship with our adult kids worth the risk?

No guilt ...

Moving on the #7 of my Top 10 List for Parents of Adult Kids ...

#7 - No Guilt!

Parents, do not make your adult children feel guilty about how much time they spend with you.

Guilt never works.

It almost always creates the opposite of the desired outcome.

Trying to induce guilt is a passive-aggressive way of communicating. It is childish. It is cynical.

It pushes your children away from you.

Don't do it. Ever.

That's all I have for now.