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Parenting Wayward Adult Children: Insights from Mary DeMuth

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
July 25, 2023 5:15 am

Parenting Wayward Adult Children: Insights from Mary DeMuth

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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July 25, 2023 5:15 am

Parenting wayward adult children: It can feel awkward, embarrassing, delicate. Author Mary DeMuth tackles the pain, shame, and questions faced by parents whose children have left the faith, and helps you know when to speak or listen, without meddling. She'll pull you toward joy and a resilient relationship with God as you navigate painful realities.

Show Notes and Resources

Connect with Mary DeMuth and catch more of her thoughts at, or on her podcast, Pray Every Day.

And grab Mary's book, Love, Pray, Listen: Parenting Your Wayward Adult Kids with Joy in our shop.

Intrigued by today's episode? Think deeper about parenting adult kids in the FamilyLife Today episode “Parents and Their Adult Children,” and the article, “How Not to Be a Toxic Parent to Your Adult Child.”

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Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

Think about your adult child that your next-door neighbor that just moved in. I'm not going to hammer them about which political views to have. I'm not going to hammer them about which ideologies are right or wrong.

And we're not going to have like all these arguments if my desire is to win them to Christ. Welcome to Family Life Today where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at Family Life Today on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. This stage of our life, the number one question we get from parents, because we're empty nesters and we've raised three sons and daughter-in-laws and grandkids, is what do I do about my adult sons or daughters who have deconstructed or deconverted, have walked away from church? We hear that everywhere we go to speak, and whenever we bring up the parenting topic, they'll line up. There's so much pain in the eyes of the parent. There's shame involved with the parent.

I feel like they have a brain and they're so sad. And we don't always know what to tell them, so we got Mary DeMuth in the studio to tell us, to tell the parents what do we say to them. No, I'm not saying that because you've walked away, but Mary, welcome back to Family Life. So great to be here. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it. You've written a book that we're going to talk about today, Love, Pray, Listen, Parenting Your Wayward Adult Kids with Joy.

Why did you even add that in the subtitle? Think about my kids are wayward, they've walked away, and like we said, you've had parents ask you, we haven't asked us. There's no joy. You know, we're concerned, we're upset, we're, like Ann said, we feel shame. Is it possible to parent a child's way with joy?

Help us. It is, because we know that the joy of the Lord is our strength, not the joy of my kids doing all the right decisions is my strength. Wait, wait, wait, you gotta say that again.

Isn't that true? Like, you read that, and you're like, okay, the joy of the Lord is my strength. But when you really ask yourself, is the joy of the Lord my strength?

Exactly. And I think what I learned through this process is that I was idolizing my family. I was making them happy. Whenever you say, I will be happy if, or when, whatever follows after that, what Tim Keller would say, is definitely an idol. I was definitely saying, I will be happy if my kids make all the choices I want them to make.

I will be happy if. I have had to learn that you can have hard circumstances in your life, you can have kids that are wayward, and you can still go to the Lord and get the joy from Him. It's complicated, but I would say that joy is beautifully in my life, and that even joy is more joy-y because of the grief. And so I think we have to remember to go back to Jesus with our pain, and to remember that we're not guaranteed someone else's story. We're only guaranteed our own story, and we can only really—I think a lot of parents want to meddle in another story to try to fix it, and that will be a formula for a lack of joy. And a lot of what you've done in your book is you've gone through Scripture on how you've done that, and you've gone through 1 Corinthians 13.

Why there? Every time I am writing a trade book, I pray that the Lord would give me some sort of skeleton to hang it on, or some sort of metaphor to wrap around it, and He just dropped in 1 Corinthians 13. You know, Paul, when he wrote that letter, he wasn't like, hmm, I think this Scripture is going to be used for all the marriages that people are, you know, marriage sermons.

Because what it really was about is that Paul was writing to a broken church with a bunch of broken relationships. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not envy.

All those things does not boast. He was speaking to humans with broken relationships. And so what better Scripture to use this marriage Scripture, which really is not a marriage Scripture, it's just a life for dealing with and unpacking our relationship with our adult kids. Because it has undergone a complete transformation from 17 years old in 364 days to 18, everything changes.

And we have to do something brand new that we've never done before. Well, you mentioned, it's in your title about prayer, too. I want to dive into 1 Corinthians 13, but I think it's hard as a parent of a wayward child, a prodigal, to pray. And I know even your podcast is every day you're praying. Wait, what do you mean it's hard to pray? Well, you don't realize it, but you're finding your joy in your children, living the life you sort of felt like God guaranteed they would live if you did the right things as a Christian parent, and now they're not doing that.

And so, I don't know, maybe this isn't true for women. Dads, for me, it's like, I gotta pray. Didn't work before I did all the right things. We did devotions. We got them to church.

You know, all the stuff you're supposed to do, and now it didn't work. And so, there's a part it's like, okay, you didn't come through for me before. Why would I pray?

Yet you, I mean, from what I've heard and watched, and, you know, we study your books and we watch it in podcasts, you are a praying woman. And a lot of us as parents need to understand what that looks like. So, help us in that area. Temptation to become fatalistic.

You know, like, what's the point? And I have to remind myself that prayer is not about a Christmas list to Santa. It is a relationship, and the Lord wants us to pray so that we have relationships. We need to have a long view of prayer. We need to tarry in prayer. We need to have different forms of prayer. One of my prayers from last year that I remember very keenly is a song came on, and it reminded me of one of my children, and it just laid on the kitchen floor.

I couldn't get any lower. And I lay down on the kitchen floor, forehead to the floor, and wept for like 20 minutes. And that was prayer. Well, wait, what did the song, what was it about? It was a song that one of my children just loved, and there was actually, of course, there was a kernel of the Lord in that song, and it was just this longing to see the Lord transform my child. But the grief of it all just overtook me. And so, again, I just want to affirm that anyone that's walking this path, I affirm to you that it is painful.

And I affirm to you that there are times where you're like, what's the point? I did everything right, and obviously it didn't work, so I'm going to have this pragmatic view instead of trying to have that supernatural view of God is the God of the impossible. He can do things that you wouldn't even imagine. And I think that's part of the prayer that I love is that a lot of times we assign to the Lord the way to answer the prayer and the timeline in which we want him to answer it. And when he doesn't, we get mad at him or disappointed. But we have this Creator God.

He's wildly creative. And so I've learned to pray, Lord, I don't know how you're going to bring that child back to you, to your creativity. And it may not be in my timeline, but I'm going to instead be this spectator who watches you unfold something beautiful. That's a whole different perspective than, you didn't do it this Tuesday, Lord. And I'm mad.

I'm going to watch you be creative. And some of that is, you didn't do it this Tuesday, is a lament. Yes. You know, even you on the kitchen floor is somewhat of a lament. You're crying out in a powerful way. It was a prayer, right?

I mean, I can see it. It's like, wow, when it hits you. Is that part of love is patient for 1 Corinthians? I think that's a good point. Patience has this, you know, back part of it is long suffering. So yes, it is about the power of lament and long suffering and that you can't get beyond what you don't grieve. So I give parents a tool to walk through their grief. And whenever I walk audiences through this and physically make them right, you hear, you know, crying and you hear, I've seen revival happen on the heels of lament of just, and maybe it's just that we're in this culture, this Christian culture is like, everything has to be happy, clappy, and fine to shove it down.

People's spaces say it's not okay. It's hurting. And this is, I'm going to lament this in front of the Lord. I think that's really important.

And we don't often do it of that lament of just pouring out our heart, our sadness, our sickness. And I like that in the book, you have some laments from parents. I was reading that last night. I'm like, ah, she's talking about her 30 year old son. Is she a friend of yours?

Yeah. I know all these people, I've changed all their names to protect the innocent, but yes. And so are there some that you feel like, oh, this is beyond God's help?

Never, because I know my own story. I mean, I would have thought I was beyond God's help, but I think a lot of parents are in a place of feeling that way. So I want to dignify that feeling shift that we can talk about if you want to, but I think it's the elephant in the room is I'm seeing a lot of parents in their grief, change their theology to accommodate their, and they feel like, you know, we're talking about 1 Corinthians 13.

They feel like that is the most loving thing to do. And we have found as parents that is really a lonely path to adhere to the historical Christian faith. Not change our views, but sometimes you feel really alone.

It's hard to find other parents that haven't, I don't want to say capitulated because I understand it. It would be a lot easier to say I'm going to change my views on sexual ethic so that I can embrace my child. But I think Jesus talks about a narrow way. He is love and truth, grace and truth.

And so the world says, if you love me, not only will you approve of what I do, but Jesus says, I'm going to love you enough to tell you the truth. But there's always grace involved as well. Let's talk about that specifically if you have a same-sex relationship. And you're right, we've had the same thing where the theology has changed for the parents. How would you advise a parent to walk through that with truth and love? One of the families that I highlight in the book really struggled to do this well, but I think they did. And they had a child who is same-sex attracted and, you know, did the disclosure coming out of their mouth. And they didn't perfectly handle it. And the part of their story is they started looking for other people and they couldn't find other parents that hadn't changed their theology. And so what was interesting about the story, and again, it's always evolving, these stories are always evolving, but they stuck to it. And the adult child eventually came back around, not necessarily in their sexual ethic, but came back around to relationship. And they were weirdly thankful that their parents hadn't changed their theology. Really?

Oddly. Because that's what their parents said they believed their whole lives. There's a stability there. And they are back in relationship. And so we've believed the lie that if you tell the truth, you won't be in relationship anymore. And that can happen. There are kids canceling parents. There are parents canceling kids.

There is ghosting happening. I'm not saying that that's not happening, but there is a way through and there is an integrous way through of truth and love. And the other thing I'll say is say it once and then never say it again.

What do you mean by that? So if you have a same-sex attracted kid or someone with gender issues and gender identity or problems, say what you believe once, even though you've said it like, you know, maybe 10 years ago or whatever. This is what I believe the Bible says. And then be quiet. Never say it again. They know what you feel. They know what you feel is necessary and kind of abusive in a way to keep hammering it. And then you pray. These are things you can do. And if you're still in a relationship with them, ask great, curious questions and listen to them.

So I like your advice. Say it once and you don't need to bring it up again, but really? Never bring it up again when you're seeing things? Because they may not have heard it the first time.

I'm convinced they didn't hear it because I'm seeing things. I would say, to be fair, that's a general principle. How your adult child may bring it up again. And as they do, then of course you would answer the questions again and tell the truth. That's where I feel like the Holy Spirit is so important for parents is that there will be times where God prompts you to be in a difficult situation and say something true. There will be times when the Holy Spirit says, shut your mouth.

There will be times you are just called to cry alongside. And that's the beauty of the Christian life is that I trust the Holy Spirit in the parents listening today. He will give them the words to say when they need to say them. The general principle is say it once, where the Spirit says, bring this up again.

Maybe it's changed and maybe you can have a conversation again. So yes, general principle, but trust the Holy Spirit. I would add one more thing that would be helpful is when we've stated to our kids, this is where we stand on this issue. I think it'd be a great question to ask our kids, tell me what you heard me say. Because a lot of times our kids will add things that we never wanted them to say. They might say, you said that you don't love me. Something on those lines where that way you can reiterate, this is where I stand, but this is what I feel about you.

I think that would be really important just to know what they're hearing. You always have the choice to love. I think part of that too is also parents being willing to say, I'm sorry. And say, hey, you know, when you were 15 and I said these things or I did that, I look back on that now and I hope you can forgive me. That wasn't the right thing to say. Or I was really, I had a really big temper when you were a teenager and I'm really sorry.

I'm done. Everyone can do that. It's not easy, but I think that's another opening of relationship for your kids. Have you done that Mary specifically with any of your kids? Oh yes, lots of times, yes. And how did that go? It went well. Most of the kids, most of them said, thank you. And a lot of them just offered me grace. Oh, I didn't even remember that mom. But thanks for saying that. And so, you know, that's true when you're parenting little kids too.

Like they tend to be pretty graceful. Like, oh, I'm sorry. I yelled at you forever and ever.

Then it becomes a broken record. But you're genuinely sorry. I did that last month where I called one of our sons and I just said, I just want to apologize. I've been thinking about your high school years. And I was more concerned with whether you were walking the walk, whether you were obeying the rules.

And more about our reputation. Yeah. And I just said, I'm really sorry. I'm imagining that you could have felt really lonely in high school. And he was quiet.

And he said, I did. I felt so lonely. I wish I could have done that different.

I wish I would have just sat with you in it and put my arm around you and just said, that must be really hard. Instead of saying, well, if you would just think, think, think, you know, things would be great. But one of your quotes in your book, which I thought is, is you said, your job is to create a haven relationship where your adult kids long to be near you because of how they feel when they're in your presence. To create relational shelter like that, find specific ways that your children catch them doing right. Praise their positive traits. And here's the question, you've already addressed it, but if they're living a life that's different and you said it's such great wisdom. Tell them what you think one time.

Yes. Because if you keep bringing it up, your home is not a haven. And it's not like there's like, mom, thank you for seeing it for the millions of times.

Now I'm going to do it. But how do you create that kind of environment where you have stated what you think, you're not theologically, they know that. And so it's out there and they're still going to live their life the way they're living it. And they walk in your house.

Can you create a safe haven for them? You're saying yes. With a caveat of the next the next generation tends to be triggered a lot. And so, so any little thing that we do could be what they perceive. And so there is this little dance that we're doing. But I will answer with a story. So one of our kids is working on a testimony.

And I like that phrase. And I have caught that child a lot. And one of the things is that child particularly loves gifts. And so I will pay attention to their life. And if I see something that they might like, I'll send it to them. Sometimes I'll even send flowers, you know, just something that recognizes I see your need, I see what you love.

I'm going to, you know, recognize that. And so when this child had a huge problem, just a life changing problem that was just so difficult, I found that I was the first phone call. And it was right when Love Pray Listen was coming out. And it just like blew up our family. It was a very hard thing. But they navigated it well. And they came to us and it was it was very beautiful. But my fear was here I'm writing this.

Yeah. And I'm protective of my kids because it's their story to tell, not mine. But it was a sweet thing from the Lord to see that all of the stuff that we've been practicing to be that first phone call was so affirming to me that we were creating a haven of opinions that completely differ. I believe we can love people whose opinions differ from ours.

Believe it or not, I think I can. I do believe that's true. So it's the gospel. Jesus continues. God continues to pursue us. Even when we're walking away, he's pursuing us. It's loving.

And that's hard. But there's a like when our boys walk in the door, I'm so excited to see them and to express that, like, I'm so happy you're here. Now, I may not agree with all the things they're doing. That relationship, like you're our son, we are so happy to see you and we love you no matter what. It's so compelling because it's the gospel message that no matter what you've done, I'm for you and I died for you to have a relationship with you.

Yeah. And on the other side of that, there's the truth side that in some ways you feel like I'm just going to put that away. It's like I'm going to live in love and grace, which obviously we should. But it's like I spoke the truth once. And some people are just leaning and they're wired toward truth. So it's like, how do I love them? Yes.

And make my home feel like they want to run there. And you're saying you. I think Jesus did that.

Oh, yeah. Sinners were he was like a magnet. They wanted to be around. And the religious people are like, what are you doing hanging out with, you know, and I don't think they want to be around us because we're judges. And if we feel if our kids feel the same way.

One thing I'd challenge listeners to think about, and this is just maybe this is hard. When we were in those kinds of situations where maybe we didn't approve of the person our child was dating or maybe didn't like or saw all the flaws or saw all that, I reframed it and said, Lord, thank you for giving me someone new to love. And if you look at that person, that broken person, as an opportunity to love them, then it becomes a different kind of adventure than this is a wrong person for my child.

Once they're out of your house, you don't get to unless they you're typically not going to be sharing those things. And so it's better to err on the side of love. Another thing that might help parents practically is to remember yourself in your 20s. And I don't even agree with my theology back then. I don't agree with my politics back then.

I've evolved through the years. So if I can have grace for Mary back in her 20s, why can't we as parents have grace for our kids in their 20s? They don't have it all figured out, even in their 30s. And then another way to think about it too that might be helpful is think about your adult child that you're struggling with as a next door neighbor that just moved in. You wouldn't go into that next door neighbor's house. You'd think, I want to share the love of Jesus with this next door neighbor.

I'm about which political views to have. I'm not going to hammer them about which ideologies are right or wrong. And we're not going to have like all these arguments if my desire is to win them to Christ. And so treat them like a neighbor.

I know we have kids with our kids, it's very hard to dismiss all of line changed her diaper, you know that. But you would never say that to a neighbor. So think of them as either, you know, who you were in your 20s or as a neighbor, it might be helpful.

I like that. And I think that as we do that, we respect our neighbors. And our kids want to know that we respect them.

And we're listening to them over to my neighbor's house. I'd ask them all kinds of questions. And I would listen to every single answer. And with our kids, I think we need to do especially our adult kids, we need to do a lot more listening and asking questions.

And make sure you don't make that answer. Blank face, blank face. I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Mary DeMuth on family. This is really good. I loved what they were talking about a perspective shift on how to communicate with our grown kids can really help us see huge strides and not only communicating the gospel with them, but simultaneously make them in ways we never would have imagined. Moving toward our kids in love through something as simple as listening can really start to make a difference.

You know, Mary's written a book called Love, Pray, Listen, Paired Adult Kids with Joy. This book answers some really important questions like how do I keep communication lines open with my grown children? And when do I speak?

And when do I listen? I think we can all learn. This book is something that we really want to bless you with. And it's going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially here at Family Life. You can go online to or give us a call with your donation at 800-588-6329. Again, the number is 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. Or you can grab a piece of paper, a stamp, and an envelope, and drop us a note or through our snail mail.

You can mail us something at Family Life 100 Lakehart Drive, Orlando, Florida 32832. You know, I have a question for you. How have you seen loneliness around you right there in your community? Here's another question. What if there's something that you could do about it?

Yes, you. Well, we make it easy to connect deeper with God, your community, and your own spouse through Family Life's Convex Out Loud Vertical Marriage from Dave and Ann Wilson. Because yes, you might be just the person God wants to lead a small group this fall. You'll find transformative discussion questions, actionable vertical moments for intimacy, plus a video-based study with zero leader prep. That's a good thing.

And just the right amount of easy application homework. You can preview all of Family Life's Small Group Studies in today's show notes and grab 20 for a limited time. It's a smaller price to pay for a closer marriage and community. Now coming up tomorrow, Mary DeMuth is back with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about the difficulty and hope on how to love someone who's that you know will break their life. That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-25 07:22:59 / 2023-07-25 07:33:43 / 11

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