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When An Adult Child Makes Bad Decisions

When An Adult Child Makes Bad DecisionsThe Lord is merciful and gracious; He is slow to get angry and full of unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.” Psalm 103:8-9, NLT

When a child becomes an adult and is living on his own, it is no longer within our power to control much in their life. It is, however, within our power to manage our relationship with that child.

“Well, what do we do about Mother’s Day?” a father wanted to know.  You see, he was dealing with an adult teenager whom he had recently asked to leave their home. The son’s life was overrun by self-damaging things and he had no interest in changing. The parents had struggled and prayed long and hard about it, and rightfully concluded that it was time to ask their prodigal to go live somewhere else.

But they didn’t know what to do next. Asking their son to leave home changed everything about the way they thought things would go within their family. They were not prepared for it. In a tear-filled conversation, this father wondered – “Doesn’t inviting my son home for dinner mean we’re back to supporting his poor choices?”

The dilemma for every parent dealing with a child who exchanges a healthy life for an immoral lifestyle is this: how do we manage the day-to-day interactions with that child?

Let me encourage you if you are in a similar situation.  Hang in there, and remain hopeful. Don’t back down.  A good relationship with your child who has reached adulthood doesn’t mean you will never have conflict or always agree with their decisions. For parents it is important to love their older child, even when they continue to make destructive decisions.  Eventually, the child will come to his senses and he needs to know you’ll be there for him on the other side of the struggle.

When dealing with an older child, as with a younger child as well, it is extremely important to practice unconditional love.  It is love that is given across a bridge of friendship that doesn’t end when the older child lives immorally, or chooses poorly. It is a love that provides a way of return to a closer relationship when the child finally returns to right thinking.

How to Practice Unconditional Love with an Older Child

1. Show a true desire to spend time together.

Even if your son or daughter has been asked to leave the house, still invite them to dinner. Send the message that you desire them to remain a part of your family, you intend to spend time together, and make special efforts to do so. Try to engage with them in something they like to do on a regular basis, and lovingly fight to keep your relationship with your child alive.

2. Love well during tough times.

Use your words and actions to send the message, “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less.” That doesn’t change just because you’ve enforced some new boundaries. Just as God lovingly and wholeheartedly pursues us, gives us grace, and refuses to let us get away from Him, we can love well, and with compassion when a child is choosing wrong things.

3. Ask questions to open a dialogue.

Ask questions as a way of entering discussion, or lead a conversation with a thought-provoking question. This is also an excellent way to leave a discussion when you are finished.  The right kind of questions (non-offensive ones) will stimulate discussion, and hopefully find some common ground. Eliminate “you” statements and replace them with “who, what, when, where, or how” questions that inspire further thought.

4. Be a servant, but not a doormat, even when it doesn’t fit your schedule and liking.

Remember that no kindness will go unnoticed, even if your teenager doesn’t acknowledge your efforts. Keeping an attitude of kindness and consideration that shows you value others more than yourself will help you find the right ways to serve your child when needed.

5. Don’t lecture. Wait to be invited before sharing your opinion.

One of my favorite scriptures says, “A fool delights in airing his own opinion.”  Before you give your opinion, make sure they’ve asked you for it first. Look to their interests and their needs, and not your limited focus or agenda. Don’t attempt to fix their problems. In other words, just keep quiet.

6. Don’t give in to their wrongdoing.

God does not help us do more wrong. We are never to enable another’s sin, including helping our child continue to do wrong or to develop damaging habits.  Allow God time and space to work in your child’s life, and don’t rescue their wrongdoing.

7.  Be patient.

Adjust your expectations away from a swift fix for your child. You may see change happen quickly, or you may not see a change for years.  It is important to remind yourself that it is God’s job to change someone’s heart, not yours.  Let Him do his work on His timetable while you remain prayerful and available to follow where he leads.

8.  Pray for your child daily and let him know you are praying.

Of course, we practice unconditional love by praying daily for our children, even when they become adults.  And be sure to let them know you are praying for them. They may think you are silly, but when bad times come for them, and they will, they will find comfort in knowing that there is a Higher Power that is petitioned daily on their behalf.

SUMMARY:  Loving unconditionally doesn’t mean you ignore your own beliefs and boundaries, or you fail to allow them to suffer the consequences of their own behavior. It does mean that your love for them isn’t affected by their behavior. You love them no matter what they decide to do or not to do. Making poor decisions or turning their backs to God doesn’t mean they lose your love and relationship as a parent.

Back to the question of the father at the beginning of this article.  I advised him to, “Invite him for dinner on Mother’s Day, just as you would any other member of your family. He knows how you feel about what he is involved in, so don’t bring it up. Use it as an opportunity to love your child, and give him a taste of the character of God.”

We’re all invited to the table, aren’t we?  And we’ve all been lost, haven’t we?  It’s only when we bring the lost to the table that they’ll partake in a meal, a good meal, that will satisfy the hunger they seek to remedy.  I want that to be my table.  What about you?

 About the Author

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173.  For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.


Know Pain Know Gain

Know Pain Know GainIf pain were knocking on your door, you wouldn’t welcome him, invite him in, or help him in any way. You would send him to the next neighborhood, reassuring him that he was at the wrong address.

Parents in trouble with their teen call me when they are in pain and need help, but I’ve learned that many are just looking for an affirmation or justification of their own plan or ideas. Sadly, most people only accept advice when they agree with it, when it fits into their own time schedule, and when the outcome is what they predicted.

To illustrate that point, I once worked with a daughter whose father paid for an apartment after she graduated high school. I urged against placing her outside of his home, on her own, for a number of reasons. I did all in my power to convince him against his unwise decision of letting her go before she was ready. Tragically, our worst fear came true, and through a deadly set of circumstances, Kristen lost her life, and the man lost a daughter.

He who trusts himself is a fool…” Proverbs 28:26a

Another father called asking for my help unraveling his teenager’s rotten behavior. His description of the situation was confusing, his plan of action was weird, and his intent was just a little off. After I listened to him ramble on for 30 minutes, I stopped him and said, “Are you asking for my blessing on your plan, or my counsel? Your best thinking has gotten you into the situation that you’re currently in. So let’s stop following the way you’re thinking and come up with some new ways of handling it.” He then broke down saying, “I think I was at first asking for a blessing, but now I’d like for you to tell me what I need to do.” It was a picture of a foolish man becoming wise.

Parenting a struggling teen will bring you face to face with your worst fears. Fear for the safety and well being of your child. Fear for their future. Fear of how others will respond to your having a problem to begin with. You may not realize it, but another description of fear is emotional pain.

Parents never expect pain when raising a child. In fact, they do everything in their power to avoid it in their life and the life of their child. Even so, when a problem is ignored because they don’t know how to deal with it, or they hide it for fear of being exposed, or they fail to listen to wise counsel — pain can come to rule in their lives.

To lessen the pain, the tendency is to look for a “quick fix” for the troubled teenager, when in reality, God may be using this painful situation expressly for the purpose of bringing about a change in the parent. Most of the parents I work with say they had to change before any real progress could be made with their teen. When a parent changes, it creates a wonderful model for a child to also recognize his own foolish thinking.

It’s difficult to learn that we don’t always have all the answers. But it is a good lesson to learn. Parents in the midst of pain are in the worst position to correct their own situation, but in the best position to be changed by it. Openly admitting that problems exist, and finding good counsel to work through those issues on the parenting side of the equation, will go a long way toward solving the teen’s issues as well.

I like what CS Lewis said about pain. He said, “I know God wants the best for us. I just wonder how painful it’s going to be.” It reminds me that God’s intention is not to allow us to be in pain for pain’s sake, but that He uses pain for our ultimate good. I know you would never choose the pain of the troubles you are experiencing with your teenager, but believing God has a higher purpose in allowing you to experience it may help you embrace and learn from it.

About the Author

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173.  For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.


What Makes Boys Different

Teenagers Using DrugsAfter numerous, harrowing experiences babysitting little boys, a friend recalled saying to God, “You know Lord, I don’t think I want kids.  And I especially don’t want boys!”  But as you may know, God has a sense of humor, and this young lady not only had seven kids, but six of them were male!

Being a mother to six boys, my friend became well acquainted with messy rooms, muddy shoes, smelly clothes, wrestling tournaments in the house, stupid pranks, dumber stunts, holes in the drywall, fiery tempers, and stubborn wills.  In the process of raising a pack of wild boys into mature and responsible men, this mom discovered that God had changed her heart considerably.  Where once she could not imagine coping with a house full of adolescent men, she found that she loved being a mother to these boys, despite the challenges.  Watching them develop, she had a front row seat to the unique challenges and obstacles that men face in today’s world.  Over the years, my friend gained a deep appreciation for the work that goes into training a boy to be a man.

Maybe you’ve got your own wild son at home, and you can relate to the trials and tests that come with being a parent for that particular gender.  Obviously, the goal of every mom and dad is to take that wild and willful boy and teach him to be a caring and courageous man.  To get to that point, parents have to understand the qualities and characteristics that make boys special.

Boys Are Different

Boys are different than girls, and I’m not just talking about the physical plumbing.  Each gender learns and grows differently.  The best way to talk with a girl is eyeball-to-eyeball, using words, attitudes and tones to convey information.  But boys learn best shoulder-to-shoulder.  You have to come alongside them in order to instruct them.  Boys process information in the course of living life.  Ever been talking directly to your son, looking him right in the eye, and it’s clear the words are washing right over him?  That’s because boys are wired that way.  Sure, it’s important that our kids pay attention when we speak and learn how to communicate properly with others.  But the best way to reach a boy’s mind is through action.  Spend time engaged in an activity with your son, and you’ll discover you’re training and teaching him as you participate together.  He’ll learn the value of taking care of property when you show him how to replace the oil in his car.  Your son can learn to make his own decisions when you take him shopping for school clothes.  If you feel like you’re banging up against a teen boy who is just not listening, switch your approach and teach him through doing.

Boys Are Independent

Here is the truth.  Boys from an early age want to be independent.  So they often challenge you on what you say, or question your actions and motives.  It’s why dads and sons can engage in some heated discussions.  Having two independent men butting heads in the same house can be difficult.  But if your son is showing signs of independence, it may just be part of the natural growth process.  As teenagers mature they begin to separate themselves from their parents as they test their capabilities in the outside world.  Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Look, it’s not always comfortable when your son starts pushing away from mom and dad.  You might feel some grinding in your relationship with him, and that’s when the sparks start flying.  But in reality, he is sharpening the beliefs, convictions, and attitudes you’ve worked hard to instill in him.  As moms and dads, we want our teenagers to have some independence.  We want them to learn how to think and make decisions for themselves.  So when your son starts questioning or seems to be testing your authority, don’t take it personally.  He’s flexing his muscles of independence.  Don’t allow disrespect, but don’t dampen the healthy independence in your teen.  Instead, give him more responsibility.  Feed your boy’s desire for self-reliance.  It will give him the needed experience to become a responsible adult.

Boys Are Macho

I’ve been around enough teen boys to know that a bravado attitude begins to enter the picture around twelve years old and sometimes doesn’t leave!  When the voice starts to drop, that’s when the swagger starts.  This need to prove their manliness, to display their tough guy attitude, is what leads boys to perform idiotic stunts, grow wispy tufts of hair on their chin, and pursue girls with reckless abandon.

Dealing with an arrogant teen is frustrating.  Parents often feel the urge to take them down a notch or two.  But try and look past your son’s macho behavior and respond to his heart.  Dig deep and find that inner softie in your son.  Once you get past the tough guy act and connect with your son’s heart, you’ll have a devoted friend for life.

Also, give your macho teen a model of strength under control.  Point them to Jesus, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage” (Philippians 2:6).  Jesus could have easily walked around, thumping His chest, and using His power and might to beat people into submission.  But instead, Jesus showed His great strength by being a servant.  And as He did so, people followed Him.  Dads, be an example of humility and quiet courage your sons can follow.  Show your boys that inner confidence and strength of character means more than how much you can bench press, or how many girlfriends you have.  You don’t have to be macho to be manly.

Boys Are Relational

What would make a teenage boy ditch school to hang out with a cute girl?  Hormones would be one answer, for sure.  But really it’s because teen boys are relational creatures.  Adolescence is the time when they are yearning for connections outside the home.  That’s why they spend so much time on Facebook, or texting, or hanging out with friends and girlfriends.  Boys crave relationships where they are valued, respected, and needed.  It’s a natural and important part of becoming a man.  “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife.” (Genesis 2:24)  Boys want to form bonds outside the parental borders.  That’s why they’ll walk backwards in the snow for sixty miles to hang out with their friends, or stand outside a girl’s window with love songs blaring on the stereo.  Boys are on the hunt for relationships.  This means parents need to be careful that a teenage boy is building relationships appropriately and with the right people.  Also, the predilection to pursue these connections also means boys get stuck emotionally very easily.  Teenagers longing for relationships may get frustrated and turn to drugs or pornography and get caught in a damaging cycle that is not easily broken.

If you’re a single mom struggling to play the part of both parents, encourage your son not only to maintain healthy relationships with peers, but more importantly, to build friendships with a group of godly men.  It’s within a group of mature and responsible guys that your son will be initiated into manhood and find mentors that can help him make the transition into adult life.

Boys Are Fighters

Why is every stick in the hands of a boy magically transformed into a sword?  Why do boys crave the competition of sports, the challenges of video games?  It’s because boys are fighters.  It’s why they grow up to be boxers, soldiers, football players, firemen, or policemen.  In his book, Wild at Heart, author John Elridge writes, “Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”  This inner warrior in your son is a good thing.  A healthy, fighting spirit is what gives men perseverance, strength of will, and the ability to tackle life’s obstacles in their path.

But like all good qualities, being a fighter can get a boy in trouble.  And I’m not talking about getting in skirmishes at school or wrestling with siblings.  Many parents are struggling to understand why their sons are addicted to violent video games.  Left to their own devices, some teenage boys will spend hours and hours in front of a screen, lost in a world of adventure.  For them, it might be an outlet for that daring spirit, the need to do battle and feel accomplished.  So rather than ban your son from video games, channel that desire into more worthy hobbies.  Get him a membership to a rock-climbing gym.  Assign a section of the garage for him to paint or make pottery.  Sign him up for karate classes.  Buy a second-hand guitar, and take him out to dinner when he finally plays “Smoke on the Water.”  Boys go to battle to accomplish something.  So fuel that good desire for ambition by giving them opportunities to succeed at projects, quests, and activities that are worthwhile.

Boys are different than girls.  Parents must develop an entirely new skill set to get their teenage boys to the next phase of adulthood.  Though training a boy into a man is challenging, it’s also rewarding.  This world needs more men who are strong and humble, who lead and serve, who stand for what’s right and fight against what’s wrong.  Mom and dad; you have the awesome privilege of training and teaching the next generation of men.  And when you understand how boys are built, you can better raise a godly man.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.