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10 Ways to "Let Go and Don't Control" Your Adult Children

In 1999 we were half a dozen years into our transition of having relationships with our adult children.

As parents, part of our assignment is to push our children out of the nest and let them “fly” on their own. Part two of a series on “Right-Sizing Relationships with our Adult Children.”

By Dennis and Barbara Rainey

Llano, Texas, is known for its fields of blue bonnets and its mesquite smoked, mouth-watering barbeque (get there before noon or all you’ll get is the aroma). For many years it also offered a unique tourist attraction that was worth the trip to Texas Hill Country.

About 15 years ago, Barbara and I saw a family of them from a huge, well-worn turnout on Hwy 29. High in a pecan tree an enormous nest securely rested where eagles and eaglets could easily be seen about 100 yards off the road. But alas, in 2015 the eagle pair that had made their home there came back and found out they were homeless. The pecan tree that held the massive nest had died and was no more.

Majestic eagles are stunning to watch as they soar in search of food, but when the time comes for the eaglets to take flight for the first time, that’s when the real drama emerges. One year an eaglet fell out of the nest prematurely … a major loss for mom and dad and the locals.

Another year the eaglets refused to leave the nest for a full month longer than they should have … they chose the comforts of home and a free lunch to the fearful first flight. The mother eagle even stopped feeding them in an effort to encourage them to fly. They all eventually “flew the coup.”

Usually mom helps push them out of the nest after 12-13 weeks … I think she gets tired of providing all the groceries and is ready for them to begin the process of taking flight and moving toward adulthood, which usually takes 4-5 years.

As adult years approach, it’s time to think about letting go

Letting go is hard for parents of the human species. And for some children, it’s even more difficult to decide to leave.

Psalm 127:3-5 reveals a sliver of God’s heart and our assignment as parents: receive, raise, and release. God declares:

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.

God could have chosen any metaphor to describe parents. He could have said, A parent is like a gardener with a rake and hoe, sowing the seeds, cultivating them, protecting them and encouraging them to grow to fruitfulness.

But instead God compares a parent to a “warrior”with a quiver full of blessed rewards, cleverly disguised by the Almighty as children. Each one was designed by God to be pulled out of the quiver, aimed and let go for a divine mission—for battles and for impact.

There are two key applications from these verses:

  • If you are a parent, do you see yourself as a warrior, as God calls you, battling evil for not just this generation but for at least three more generations that will follow? (See Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Psalm 78:5-8). Are you in the battle? Are you fulfilling your mission in the spiritual war between good and evil?

  • Are you training them to be warriors, emissaries, and ambassadors? In order for them to be effective in their mission, as a future warrior, you must equip them for spiritual battle and aim them toward the right target. Then, just like the eagles you must learn how to intentionally begin to let go and gently but firmly pushing them out of the nest.

So how do we as parents wisely let go of our arrows? Here are ten tips.

1. Letting go starts literally with baby steps and continues throughout their lives. We let go of our children as toddlers learning to walk, through school years as they make friends, take tests and grow their own interests. In high school the big release is driving but there are lots of other release points until they are ready to fly … to college … to service … to a full-time job … and get married and start a family.

I’ll never forget the day my mom and dad let go of their arrow … me! I had all of my belongings in the back seat of my white four-door, six-cylinder (dad didn’t trust me with a V-8) Chevy Belair sedan. I had hugged them and said goodbye.

They didn’t formalize the event and tell me that they were letting go, but intuitively I realized even in my immaturity that they were launching me. I remember thinking, It’s game day … all the lessons they taught me were on the line.

As I backed out of our driveway, there they stood. Dad standing next to my mom, his arm around her, both waving good-bye. They didn’t see my tears as I drove away.

2. Letting go means we maximize the time we have with them.God gave us our children for a “season” to prepare and train them for the battles they will face.

Realize as you train your children and prepare them for “flight” that at times your proactive wisdom and teaching may be unwanted and unheeded.

I’ve just finished a great biography by E.A. Johnston about a Scottish pastor, author and writer, J. Sidlow Baxter. Baxter authored 26 books and wrote hundreds of poems, one for his eight-year-old daughter, Miriam, when she was at home with the mumps. His poem reminds us of the push back all parents receive from children.

Thus generations, as they go,

Perpetuate the tale of woe.

They will not learn from yesterday,

But choose to learn the harder way—

“Experience” shall be the teacher, please;

And well he teaches—but what fees!

What fees he charges those he schools,

Before he makes wise men of fools!

How oft flogged scholars have confessed,

“Ah yes, poor Dad and Mum knew best!”

How many in that same hard school

Have learned relentless Nature’s rule!

And praised the parent once they blamed,

And deeply humbled have exclaimed,

“If only I had understood,

How truly they advised for good!

And now my own short youth is fled,

And both my parents now are dead;

Oh, why will not MY children heed,

When now with wise mind I plead?”

3. Realize it’s your divine assignment to let go. Author Stephen Covey said it simply: “Begin with the end in mind.” Arrows weren’t designed to stick around and enjoy the comforts of a well-stocked, air-conditioned quiver. Children weren’t made for permanent residence in your house. Aim and let go. If you don’t let go, will your children ever grow up and become the people God created them to be?

4. Letting go means you establish one or two very strategic relationships with those who are ahead of you in the parenting journey and ask them to mentor you in letting go. One mentor in Barbara’s life was a good friend, Jane Ann Smith, who also had six children. Her advice to us was this: Your children need you to get smaller in their lives, not bigger. Gradually pull away and let them make their own decisions.

5. Letting go means you retire as the “teaching mommy” and as a “street preachin daddy.” They’ve heard your sermons. Your lessons. They know what’s right. Stop leaving the radio in the car tuned to Christian radio stations hoping they’ll listen, or constantly sending them links on the internet to sermons, books, and suggestions about where to go to church. Letting go means you replace your rehab programs with your prayers on behalf of your child.

I know we are somewhat unique because we hosted a nationally syndicated radio program on marriage and family for over twenty years, but I never expected that it would be a liability, but it was. One day one of our children said, “We’ve heard your stuff and listened to your lessons. It’s time for the teaching daddy to retire … we just want a relationship with you and Mom.”

This was unnatural for us. For so long we’d been giving advice, direction and wisdom it was hard to stop. We all make mistakes letting go.

If they ask for help, give it, but do not overdo it! Better to have them wanting more of you, not less.

6. Letting go means giving up control and manipulation of your child. Instead, take up the cheerleading and fan mode. (More on that next week in part three.) Whether they are single, or married with a brood of children, when in doubt, button your lips. Don’t make that “judgment” or observation…don’t give your child what you consider really “helpful hints.”

You are an original and so are each of your children … let go and let them hammer out their own values … and make their own mistakes.

Repeat after me: LET GO AND DON’T CONTROL.

7. Letting go doesn’t mean you abandon your relationship with your child and “go dark.” It doesn’t mean you give up on the relationship and absolve yourself of all responsibility for developing a relationship. Yes, call your children from time to time, but not every day.

After one of our children married, she came to me and expressed the need for a “Daddy-Daughter Date.” She told me she’d talked with her hubby about it. They knew we didn’t want to interfere in their marriage and family, but I’d gone a little too far in letting go, so she came with a gentle invitation for more time.

Our date was a blast!

8. Letting go means you do not rush to rescue your child every time they fall and fail. A parent’s heart, especially a mom’s, is wired to protect from ouchies, road-rash, and wrecks. Know this as a parent. You are hard wired to be an enabler.

For example, rehab programs have their place in helping a child get free from addictions, but they can also prey on a parent’s sense of responsibility for their sheep. I know of one woman who went through rehab programs that cost $30,000-$50,000 per stay … eight times! It was clear her parents were trying to protect her, but they weren’t letting her hit bottom and grow up. You may not like this, but it may be best to let your adult child hit the wall and feel the consequences.

9. Letting go means that if both parents are involved, they should sing off the same song sheet. Even if you are divorced, your child needs parents who stand together, provide love, and are in agreement.

10. Letting go may mean you “gently” coach and/or correct other parents you know when they are overstep in their child’s life.

Help one another in areas of weakness. Keep your teachability quotient high…it’s the best route to growth with God and relationships.

Homework Application: One thought driven home is better than three left on base. So here’s your assignment should you choose to accept it:

1. If you still have teens at home, ask them:

  • “Do you think I am a high-control parent? Or ask it this way, “Am I too involved in your world?” If so, explain please.”

2. Ask your adult children:

  • “As a child out of the home, have you ever felt like I was trying to control you? If so, how?”

  • “What is one thing that I as your mom or dad need to understand about you or do that will help me/us have a better relationship with you?”

3. If they are married:

  • “Have I (or we) ever interfered in your marriage by giving advice?”

  • “Have we said too much?”

4. If they have children ask:

  • “Have I/we as grandparents ever overstepped your boundaries with your children? If so, in what ways? What can we do differently?”

The bottom line is this: Letting go empowers your child to assume responsibility for his life, learning how to be independently dependent upon Jesus, and experience the sense satisfaction that comes from making wise decisions.

This is the ultimate goal of Christian parenting. May you pray as never before believing always that God loves your child far more than you even could.

- Dennis

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