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A saint’s advice if your adult children make bad decisions

Hijos adultos

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Mar Dorrio - published on 04/13/24

How should parents deal with bad decisions made by their adult children? Here’s a quote from St. Josemaría Escrivá that will give you some guidance.

There is a saying that goes, “Little children, little problems; big children, big problems.”

Of course, parents of small children often experience busy, difficult days. Once the little ones are put to bed, however, most “kid” problems can be set aside until the next day. As children get older and transition to adulthood, there is an expectation that all problems will eventually disappear. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

When your older children have problems

How should parents face the situation when their older children are having problems?

First of all, as our children get older, we need to change the way we act and the attitude we take toward their problems. With younger kids, we naturally have to be on top of things, watching, teaching, and protecting. This protection includes scolding when needed.

Younger children obviously need to be closely accompanied in life. Just as when they learn to ride a bicycle without wheels, we want to stay close to them as they learn to navigate life. When our children grow towards adolescence, we remain in relatively close proximity to them, still close enough to help in case they fall or stray from the right path.

However, when our children are adults and take responsibility for their lives, our position must be different. Our proper place is farther away, providing support, affection and (discreet) advice, but allowing them to make their own decisions. 

Not interfering in our adult children’s live can be difficult; recognizing our children’s freedom always is. The helplessness of not being able to automatically share the wisdom we have gained through years, allowing them to make their own mistakes, can be terribly frustrating.

But don’t be fooled. Although as parents we will speak little, primarily providing their adult children with affection and a listening ear, our role is still important. Our adult children will still need our approval and appreciation; these will remain important for the rest of their lives.

Cede without conceding

What if our adult children lead a life incompatible with our Catholic faith? Provide them with love, respect, and prayer. As a saint once said: it’s more important to talk to God about our children than to talk to our children about God.

Don’t humiliate them, don’t criticize them, and try not to comment on their life choices all the time. When we occasionally do recommend another path, we should do so privately, with all the affection we can muster in our hearts.

As the saying goes, “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” Be very patient; great cathedrals are not built overnight. The Lord is chiseling your child’s soul, and that can take longer and prove more difficult than sculpting a rock.

St. Josemaría said, “We have to cede without conceding, with the hope of recovering.” This phrase applies well to many families whose adult children are living in irregular situations.

In such cases, having your child come home with his or her partner (in an irregular situation) for a meal is not an intrinsically bad act. To accept them into your home is to cede without conceding, with the hope of recovering.

We can only reach out if we continue to be part of our children’s lives. Our role is to build bridges, and we must continue to do so even as we respect our children’s freedom from an appropriate distance.

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