Last week I reviewed the latest book from Jim Newheiser & Elyse Fitzpatrick, You Never Stop Being a Parent: Thriving in Relationship With Your Adult Children. These two also co-authored When Good Kids Make Bad Choices.
I’m grateful that Pastor Jim was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about their most recent book.
Pastor Jim, thank you very much for being available. There’s a lot of discussion in the secular media about “helicopter parents“. Among Christians, is there a real trend to “over-parenting” in our day?
I want to preface my responses by stating our conviction that the Word of God is our sole authority which we believe to be fully sufficient to teach us how to live in a way that pleases God in all areas of life – including how to relate to our adult kids. These answers are brief. These topics are much more fully developed, with Scriptural exposition, in the book.
One of the most significant problems I have seen among Christian parents is the unwillingness to let go of their kids as they become adults. There is no more sure way to provoke a young adult to anger than to treat him as a child. In the book we seek to establish that the Bible teaches that a young person comes of age at which time he or she is primarily responsible for his or her own life decisions (even if the parents don’t like the decisions being made). On the other hand, if the child is still living under the parents’ roof or dependent upon parental finances, then the parents have the right to have reasonable expectations as a condition for the child continuing to receive support.
Many young adults want full adult privileges and freedoms, while still expecting their parents to provide for their material needs. Once a child is an adult the relationship is by mutual agreement. The child living at home can always choose to leave if he doesn’t like his parents’ rules. The parents likewise are free to force the child to move out if he or she refuses to live according to expectations. On the other hand, if the child who is living in the home is meeting basic expectations, the parent should offer encouragement and avoid micromanaging the child.
What are “reasonable goals” for a parent to seek for their kids?
Parents seek to prepare their children to live as responsible godly adults. Our greatest desire is to see them converted and serving the Lord. Beyond that we long to see them grow in wisdom in the various areas addressed by the book of Proverbs — wisdom in friendship, in speech, in acquiring a skill and working hard, in financial matters, in moral purity, etc. When adult children are living at home they should be there with a clearly defined purpose, rather than aimlessly wasting their time (as many young adults are prone to do). Valid reasons for remaining home could include completing one’s education, establishing a trade or a business, working and saving money for a future marriage or home, etc.
Parents may be forced to distinguish between their ideals for their kids and the minimum expectations they must meet if they are to remain in the home. Adult children living in the home should be working hard (as many hours a week as the parents have to work to provide the house) at either a job and/or their education.
When (by what age) should a parent aim to “launch” their kids into adulthood (to use the metaphor of arrows, Ps. 127:4)? 18? 22? Does it depend?
In Numbers 32:11 the Lord stated that none of the men twenty and above, who followed the unbelieving ten spies rather than Joshua and Caleb, would enter the promised land. This implies that by the age of twenty they were considered adults who were responsible for their own choices and that they should have chosen differently than their parents. So twenty seems like a good starting place. The legal age of adulthood in our culture is eighteen which is probably close enough. There may be cases in which a child is living as an independent adult at a younger age while others are not ready until later. Once a child is “of age” (a legal adult in our culture) the continuation of parental oversight is by mutual consent. The child can choose to leave, even if he is not ready. The parent also is free to send the child out of the home if he is not willing to live according to family rules and expectations.
Is a college student a child or an adult (assuming the typical age, 18-22)? Should a Christian student honor his parents’ wishes in the selection of a major? And what if his parents are non-Christians with ungodly motivations?
I have seen parents who have been over-controlling in their childrens’ education. Sometimes these parents are seeking to live out their frustrated ambitions through their kids. Some parents may place too much pressure on their children to choose a major which leads to worldly wealth, while the child may believe a different field of study would better equip him to serve the Lord. Because the child is going to live with the consequences of his educational decisions for the rest of his life, I think the decision should be primarily his. On the other hand, a wise child will seek and seriously consider the counsel of his parents. Also, the parents aren’t obligated to finance a choice with which they strongly disagree. My advice to them, however, would be to respect their child’s budding adulthood.
How should parents and children handle disagreements in the selection of spouse?
While I believe that the ideal courtship situation will include much wise input from parents on both sides, I am convinced that the final choice of whether to marry and whom to marry rests with the child. I Cor. 7:39 says that a widow may marry whom she will — not whom her father or brother wills. A father may give his daughter a promise ring when she is twelve and have her commit to not ever date or court a young man without her father’s permission, but when she is twenty one she may not believe that she is bound by that commitment. If parents have a wonderful and loving relationship with their young adult they will have a lot of influence on his or her choice of a spouse. If the relationship is bad, they will have little or no influence, no matter what amount of control they believe they should have. We have written an entire chapter on this subject in the book.
What’s your view of parents leaving an inheritance for their kids? What are the dangers? The benefits? What kind of circumstantial factors should be considered? Should inheritance (if any) always be (on principle) equally divided among the children?
Proverbs commends giving an inheritance to our kids (Prov. 13:22), but also warns that inheritances can be squandered (Prov. 20:21). Often the best way we can help our adult kids is to give them some of their inheritance while we are still alive (and when they most need our help). For example, helping them with their education which will lead to a well paying job could be a great inheritance. Some parents help their kids buy their first home. I do not believe that money needs to be doled out with absolute equality. One child may be very well off financially, while another may be suffering from severe health problems or disabilities, and another may be working as a foreign missionary. Or one child may be a substance abusing gambler who would quickly squander any inheritance. We also warn that financial matters are dangerous. If you do choose to treat your children differently, it is important to explain what you are doing and why to the children who receive less.
Thanks again, Pastor Jim.