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Communicating Love to Your Adult Child

Seven ways to start loving your adult children better.

Third in a series on “Right Sizing Relationships with Our Adult Children.”

By Dennis Rainey

First of all, thanks for your comments about my previous blog posts on how to “right size” your relationship with your adult children. And thanks for passing them on to others. VERY encouraging. Please help get the word out that we are not retired and still kickin’! So let’s get started on part three …

First, may I share a reminder from 1 John 4:7-8:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Love, true “grit” love, is found in human relationships of all kinds, but for most of us, it’s found in the lifelong relationships at home in a marriage and family.

Of course we love our adult children, but do we show that love to them in the way that communicates love to them?

So I’m going to put the action point of this blog at the beginning:

When was the last time you asked your adult children,

“What are two or three things that we can do to

communicate love to you?”

I asked our six children and their spouses, what communicates love to them as an adult child and their ideas begin this list of ways to communicate love to your adult children:

1. Spend time with them.

Not surprisingly, all our kids mentioned this. With all of our children living in other cities (five in other states), this has been a real challenge. As we’ve mentioned earlier, at times we’ve felt like losers because we weren’t able to visit as often as they’d like.

I once had a very busy executive, as in the Governor of Arkansas, tell me, “Dennis, to say you don’t have time is not a statement of fact, but a statement of values.”


But we also had some hard lessons to learn about how time with our kids is measure in more than hours or days. It also means presence … which means being all there when you’re with them. Repeat after me, “When I go visit, I must seek to be all there!”

For me the basic problem was working too much when we visited our kids. Over the past two decades we’ve had more than a few stimulating (as in hard) conversations with our kids about their expectations when we came to visit. I admit being frustrated because there were times when I really did have work that had to be done.

But there’s something about having the same conversation with several of your children that finally got through to me, and I finally repented! After a lot of discussion we curtailed 90-95 percent of the work.

These dialogues about their expectations and our needs worked. It meant leaving my phone in my pocket, not making calls, and not sneaking peeks at emails and texts.

And when I do need to work, I usually try to do it either early in the morning or late at night. Sometimes it helps to be honest and just say, “I have a crisis that only I can address. I’m sorry, but I need to spend some time today on this.”

And one more application: Time with your children may mean no time with your friends who may live nearby.

2. Create a “SAFE” relationship.

Inscribed in Barbara’s wedding ring is I John 4:18, which says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” It’s a fundamental of our marriage and a non-negotiable for relationships with our adult children.

Let’s be honest…you and I can shame our children…we can “guilt trip” our grafted in children (spouses of our children), but none of that helps a relationship to grow.

Your kids and their spouses can be intimidated by you, your accomplishments, your family’s reputation, your perfect Christmas cards, and your status in the community…the bottom line…they CAN PERCEIVE that they do NOT match up and will NEVER match up.

Welcome them! Let them know…REPEATEDLY…that your family isn’t perfect. Share your “mess” with them…LET THEM IN ON THE TRUTH OF GOD’S REDEMPTION OF YOU, YOUR MARRIAGE AND YOUR FAMILY.

Your family and ours is a MESS…it’s broken, so stop pretending that it’s perfect…and welcome them to your family. Divine love welcomes broken people to the family and to “safe” relationships. Say to them, “You can be REAL here and not be rejected!”

3. Spend time with their children.

Our adult children and their families almost universally endorsed this one. Focusing on their children … playing with them on the floor in the living room, taking them on a walk in the neighborhood, ice cream dates at “Sweet Cow” in Boulder, and reading to their children … all score relational points!

Our kids beam when Barbara is curled up on the couch with two grandchildren in her lap reading a great book to them: C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Tolkien, The Hiding Place, etc. Or when I tell a bedtime “Speck People” story to their children. These stories (made up out of thin air, contrasting wise choices with foolish ones) are about incredibly tiny heroes and heroines who are the size of a period (.), engaged in great adventures and cliff-hanging crisis after crisis. They always end with, “and you’ll have to wait until tomorrow night to hear the rest of the story!” Moans from the grandkids follow … and then I’m on the hook for a story the next night.

Relationships are spelled T – I – M – E. Our children are watching where we invest our time.

4. Make plans to make memories with their children.

One of the best things we’ve done is taking the grandchildren to the Creation Museum near Cincinnati for a three-day “worldview adventure.” These trips have been a great time for deepening relationships.

The first time we took six kids ages 8-15 … no parental units allowed! It was a blast traveling to Cincy in a van with the kids and giving them all kinds of assignments to prepare them for understanding how our origins are absolutely essential for developing a biblical worldview. We even had dinner with Dr. Ken Ham, the founder of the museum, at his favorite Asian restaurant.