GIVEAWAY ALERT: You can win the book Love, Pray, Listen by this week’s podcast guest. Keep reading to find out how!
As a parent, our role changes after our kids grow up. But, we’re not always ready for this change. Especially if our kids choose different—even seemingly wrong—paths.
So today, mom and author Mary DeMuth helps us navigate the rocky terrain of parenting adult kids.
And if you’re one of many parents in a painful season of trying to reach your wayward child, Mary shares how you can navigate your heartache, develop new rhythms to reconnect with your adult kid, and place your trust in the Lord for your child’s future.
As we talk about her book, Love, Pray, Listen: Parenting Your Wayward Adult Kids with Joy, Mary’s wisdom will be an encouragement to parents who feel guilty or crushed by their kids’ choices or are questioning what they did wrong.
Sister, you are not alone in this, and today’s conversation will help restore your hope.
We’re even going to talk to the momma who still has kids at home about what she can do to help keep the lines of communication open with her kids as they grow into adults. Plus, Mary shares some best practices to help your kids thrive as they launch.
It’s never too late—and it’s never too soon—for this great conversation, so let’s do it!
Mary DeMuth is an international speaker, podcaster, and the author of over 40 books, fiction and nonfiction, including The Day I Met Jesus. Through God’s healing, Mary has overcome a difficult past to become an authentic example of what it means to live a brand-new story. She loves to help others “re-story” their lives through the books she writes. Mary lives in Texas with her husband of 30 years and is a mom to three adult children.
[Listen to the podcast using the player above, or read the transcript below. Then check out the links below for more helpful resources.]
- You can win a copy of Mary’s book, Love, Pray, Listen. Hurry—we’re picking a random winner on February 2! Enter on Instagram here.
Books & Bible Studies by Jennifer Rothschild
More from Mary DeMuth
- Visit Mary’s website
- Love, Pray, Listen: Parenting Your Wayward Adult Kids with Joy
- A Year of Weekly Prayers for Your Adult Kids – FREE Resource
- Pray Every Day Podcast
- Follow Mary on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
Related Blog Posts
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- Can I Live a Full Life With an Empty Nest? With Jill Savage [Episode 168]
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- A Promise for Moms Watching A Child Suffer
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4:13 Podcast: Can I Navigate the Path of Parenting Adult Kids? with Mary DeMuth [Episode 230]
Mary DeMuth: One of the problems that we've had as parents is we can have that narcissistic problem where we try to place these expectations on our kids to fill something inside of us. You see this where parents are pushing their kids into schools that they went to, or sports that they performed or whatever. But I think underneath that is this -- I don't know if it's a lie -- or this belief that we've had that if we are a Christ follower, we must have a perfect family and that perfect family is a reflection of our discipleship journey or our sanctification journey.
Jennifer Rothschild: As a parent, our role changes after our kids grow up. But we're not always ready for the change, especially if our kids choose different, you know, even seemingly wrong paths. Well, today mom and author Mary DeMuth is going to help you navigate the rocky terrain of parenting your adult kids. And she'll give you the big three: love, pray, and listen. It's never too soon and it is never too late for this great conversation. So buckle up, we're off.
K.C. Wright: Welcome to the 4:13 Podcast, where practical encouragement and biblical wisdom set you and I up to live the "I Can" life, because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
Now, welcome your host, Jennifer Rothschild.
Jennifer Rothschild: Hey, everybody. That was K.C. Wright, my seeing eye guy. It's just two friends here in the studio with one topic and zero stress. And I'm Jennifer. My goal is to help you be and do more than you feel capable of as you live this "I Can" life of Philippians 4:13. And, y'all, we need to know we've got the power of God in us when it comes to parenting. We just do.
K.C. Wright: Oh, let's lean into that for a minute.
Jennifer Rothschild: Right? Because even in our best days when we're on our A game, it's still really hard. But I will tell you this. I know all sorts of us are listening. Some of you have littles. Because we've gotten some reviews from stay-at-home moms -- which are wonderful -- so I know some of you've got littles. Some of you've got teenagers and you think you're not going to survive, or they won't. One of you's not going to make it out of this decade alive. And then there's some of you who are, like, happy little grandmas, and you're like, oh, it was worth it all.
K.C. Wright: My babies.
Jennifer Rothschild: Well, I'll tell you this. I am an empty nester, and I love, with a capital l-o-v-e, parenting adult children.
K.C. Wright: You do?
Jennifer Rothschild: Yes. Because you're not parenting. You're just kind of being a friend, like a wise mentor.
K.C. Wright: Yeah.
Jennifer Rothschild: And I'm so proud of our boys. I really am.
K.C. Wright: I would be too, yes.
Jennifer Rothschild: They're great gentlemen, they're men of character. I'm just proud of them. And I enjoy them. I enjoy just hanging out with them and learning from them and conversations. Anyway...
So I will tell you, those of you who still have kids at home, do not kill your teenagers. Okay? Because someday you're going to like them when they become adults. They don't like themselves right now, for heaven's sake. So give them a chance. You're going to like each other. They're going to give you grandkids.
K.C. Wright: Yeah.
Jennifer Rothschild: I mean, that is the reward for allowing your teenagers to live.
So here's the thing. I've also noticed, because I'm around little kids at church and my grandkids, and those of you have little ones, you do the right thing. Do the hard thing. Okay? Set the boundaries, enforce the discipline.
K.C. Wright: Hold the line.
Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah. Because seriously, if you've got a three-year-old who's impossible, you add ten years to that and you're in trouble --
K.C. Wright: Oh, yeah.
Jennifer Rothschild: -- because they just become more of what they are. They don't grow out of it. They become more of what they are. So we have to love them enough to do the hard things. And that means somedays they might not like you, but they will really rise up and call you blessed. Someday they will.
Because I can remember all the hard days, K.C. And some days were hard. And I watch my daughter-in-law and son with their little people, and I'm like -- I will tell them, "It's worth it. It's worth it. You keep doing it." Because there is the sweet reward of parenting adult kids.
Okay. All that to say this, though. I get it. Some of you are listening and going, wah, wah, wah, like you're listening to Charlie Brown's teacher right now. Because you're like --
K.C. Wright: Wah, wah, wah. Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah.
Jennifer Rothschild: -- well, that's good, Jennifer, because your adult boys, you enjoy them. Mine won't talk to me. Or mine have made choices that we don't agree with and we're not having a good relationship. Right? I get it. It can be tough.
And that is why Mary DeMuth is with us today. Because she's really going to help you with this. We're going to just get really gut honest about just the myriad ways that we can have relationship with our adult kids. And you're going to love it because she bases this on the love chapter. So with no further ado, K.C., let's introduce Mary.
K.C. Wright: I'm so excited about this conversation. Mary DeMuth is an international speaker, a podcaster like us, and the author of over 40 books --
Jennifer Rothschild: Forty.
K.C. Wright: -- fiction and nonfiction, including "The Day I Met Jesus." Through God's healing, Mary has overcome a difficult past to become an authentic example of what it means to live a brand new-story. Mary lives in Texas with her husband of 30 years and is a mom to three adult children.
Now listen in as Mary and Jennifer talk about Mary's new book, "Love, Pray, Listen." Let's do just that.
Jennifer Rothschild: So, Mary, your book, it's a very tender spot for lots of parents, you know, parents who have adult children who -- maybe they've made unexpected choices. So let's dive right into this. Let's get honest with what it looks like and feels like to be a parent of an adult child who has made choices that might be considered wayward. So what is that like? How does that feel?
Mary DeMuth: It feels excruciating. And I think one of the things that I've been kind of examining, both in my life and in other people's lives, is that I think when we are parenting our kids, we have this idea that if we follow the rules, then it's like this great machine. That if we follow all the rules correctly, then at the other end of the machine our kids will come out and they will be all loving Jesus and everything will be beautiful. And when that doesn't happen, or if that doesn't happen, then we can end up getting very discouraged because our expectations don't meet reality.
And so one of the things I've learned is that sometimes we just need to unpack those expectations and see if they're actually godly. And a lot of times those expectations become some sort of idol that prevents us from having joy in the moment because our family isn't exactly what we expected it to be.
Jennifer Rothschild: I have heard some talk about making our children into idols, but I love how you are differentiating making our expectations into idols. Because idols begin with "I." Me. It's what I want, it's what makes me think I've done a good job. And that's a really good place to start, is to examine those expectations.
And I know in your book -- well, let's start with this. Your book is called "Love, Pray, Listen." Okay, I love that because it sounds like such a good to-do list. Like, it sounds so easy in theory. Like, if you do that, it will prevent all the mistakes. So tell me what that looks like in reality. How do we make those three choices of your title turn into, like, a rhythm, a way of parenting our adult kids?
Mary DeMuth: The first two parts of that, the love and pray, are basically out of desperation, because we -- especially the pray part. Those things are things we can control, as well as listening too. But listening connotes the fact that you actually have a relationship with your adult child. And some parents have been ghosted by their adult children. So the first two are things you can actually control. And then if you do walk in relationship with those adult kids, you can absolutely actively listen to them.
Practically it looks a lot like surrendering to Jesus and asking him to please help you to navigate this new stage. Because we've been in all the stages. We walked through the toddler years, the elementary school years, the busy junior high and high school years, and we kind of feel like we got that navigated and then suddenly everything's different. We're now in a coaching role, we're no longer in a parenting role, and what does that look like? And it's hard to shed something you've worn for 18 years.
Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah, yeah. And so the listening stage, you know, that listening part of your title I'm curious about. Because, you know, our kids, and lots of listeners right now, their kids have become adult, those adults are making choices, and sometimes those choices don't match up with our original expectations. And some of those expectations were very realistic. Okay? So give us some real practical ways -- besides obviously surrendering to Jesus, what are some practical ways to parent our adult kids? You mentioned coaching, you know, because -- especially when we don't agree with their choices. Like, how do you deal with that?
Mary DeMuth: Yeah, that model is really helpful, because it's about how to help someone come to their own conclusion rather than just heavy-handedly saying what you think they should think. One of the things that's helped me -- a couple of things actually -- is to view my adult children -- and all mine are in their twenties -- and view them through the lens of me in my twenties and all the crazy mistakes that I made. And if I can learn through the grace of Jesus to have grace for that 20-something Mary, then why can't I have the same grace for my kids who are making their own way?
And another thing that's really helped me is to look at them as if they were my neighbor. And if they were my neighbor, I wouldn't necessarily have all this baggage of the past of all these things I know about my kids, I would just -- if I had it -- let's say I had an unsaved neighbor. What would I do? Would I try to place all my opinions upon them? Would I argue with them at every moment? Would I tell them I'm disappointed in them? None of those things would I do. I would bring them food when they were sick, I would listen to them. I would ask them questions about their political beliefs and try to unpack them, and I wouldn't be combative. And so those frameworks have helped me quite a bit.
Jennifer Rothschild: That is so practical. And it's a paradigm shift. Like you said, though, it's hard to shed something you've worn for 18 years. But those are very practical ways to do so.
Okay, so here's a hard question, though, Mary. Because like I said, a lot of this in theory, we're like, okay, I can do that, I can do that. And then -- okay? -- what about when a child makes choices that a parent doesn't agree with? So let me just be super blunt. So let's say Christian family, solid marriage, and then a child in their twenties decides, you know what, I think I'm gay and I'm going to choose this lifestyle. All right. And that is the antithesis to how they were raised, and probably what the mom and dad still think is biblical and correct or whatever. Okay? So it can be tempting at that point for a parent to change their own theology to match their child's decisions. So how can a mom or a dad stay true to their own convictions while they're still loving and being accepting of their own adult child who's made those choices?
Mary DeMuth: Terrific question. And one of the things that I've learned is one of the lies of our culture is if you really love someone, you will accept everything that they do or believe that everything they do is right.
And so in the book I talk about a family who encountered that exact situation that you're talking about. And this family started going to all the people that they knew that were walking through similar circumstances and just kind of, you know, What do I do? How do I do this? And the majority of their Christian friends changed their theology. And so they had a lot of agony over, you know, what do we do? And they kept searching the Scriptures. And I know this is a divisive issue, but for them they came to the conclusion that that still was not God's highest. And so they had this conundrum, because the culture tells you you have to agree with everything someone does to love them. Well, they walked a different road, a difficult road, where they affirmed their love for their child, but the child still knew what their opinion was and what their theology was. They didn't have to say it over and over and over again, once is fine. But the end result, surprisingly, was that they still have a strong relationship with their adult child and that adult child came to them during difficult circumstances. And so it can happen. You can keep your theology and love your child. Those are not mutually exclusive.
Jennifer Rothschild: That's a good word. It's a really tender word because it's a thing. And even as we talk about it, Mary, I do want to just say we're not being in any way judgmental about if an adult child has made those choices. There are lots of choices that adult children make that don't line up necessarily with our theology. And also, sometimes parents' theology is overly informed by their own opinions rather than the Bible. So there's a lot of grace here.
But I think what I heard you saying -- which I'm just so grateful to hear -- is we can love completely with the grace of Jesus and that doesn't mean we accept every bit of sin. I look at my own life and I'm grateful that my husband and my friends who love me don't accept all my sin as just part of my packaging, that they love me enough to be honest with me when I'm making dumb choices, you know. I'm grateful for that. That's how we love people well. But it's a very tender and difficult subject, so it takes a lot of courage. And I think the Bible supports us with that courage, because you have given a great example in your book because you use the love chapter as a way to parent our adult children. So I love this and I would love for you to explain how this works.
Mary DeMuth: Yeah. So as I was praying about a metaphor for the book as I was writing it, I felt like the Lord said 1 Corinthians 13, and in particular verses 4 through 7, "Love is patient, love is kind," those verses. And so each chapter is an unpacking theologically of each phraseology. So I go right to the Greek, we talk about what does it mean, what is Paul trying to say, and then how do we apply that today in our adult relationships with our kids. And so what does it look like to be kind?
And I think that's one of the ones we have lost. I see a lot of parents making this mistake -- and not saying that I haven't made it too, because I'm in that "a lot of parents." But parents who are so married to their opinions, like, on Facebook or social media, that they're having arguments online with their kids or their kids' friends about what is right and what is wrong in things that don't matter, like, in terms -- I'm not talking about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ or things that we would die for. But political things or, you know, just ideologies that maybe don't really matter.
Jennifer Rothschild: Nonessentials.
Mary DeMuth: Right. Thank you. That's the word I was looking for in my brain.
But to be kind is to listen well. And to find the -- I just don't think we're doing this very much anymore, but to find the common ground. So, for instance, if I have a child who is pro-choice, and if I am pro-life, I think we can both agree as we have the conversation that we're for people in difficult situations. And that's where we can have some common ground and talk about it. Doesn't need to be something to fight over. But I think it's more interesting to try to fight for finding the common ground. I think that's more kind-hearted and more fun than just simply, you know, being megaphones at each other with our correct opinions.
Jennifer Rothschild: Right. Good word.
Well, and wasn't 1 Corinthians 13 -- often we hear it read at weddings and so we think, well, that's just for husbands and wife. But it wasn't. It was written to people in the church who needed to get along. So what a great example for us, because now with adult children, we're all adults, so we need to get along. And I think kindness is a big part of it. Give us another example from that passage.
Mary DeMuth: Of course, one of them is keeping no record of wrongs. And that's a hard thing when you have that long of a history with somebody. But it is important to let go of those and just to remember the story that Jesus told about the guy that was forgiven a million dollars and starts choking his $20 friend who just can't repay.
We need to remember our sin against a Holy God is like a giant mountain and the sin between me and my adult child is like a molehill. And if I am having a hard time forgiving that molehill and letting it go, then I obviously don't understand the mountain that has been forgiven me. And so to keep no record of wrongs is actually to go back to Jesus and to say, Help me understand my own forgiveness so that I can extend it to others.
Jennifer Rothschild: You know, Mary, as I listen to what you're saying and think back just over the last few minutes, some of your answers, one thing I'm hearing is that it's almost impossible to do this well if it's all about us and we're full of pride. You know? Our children's -- their outcome, if we attach our level of identity or success to their outcome, how they choose to live, that's our own pride. So talk to me just a little bit how pride and humility play into parenting an adult child.
Mary DeMuth: Well, that is one of the phrases, "Love is not proud," so it fits in perfectly. And I think one of the problems that we've had as parents is we can have that narcissistic problem where we try to place these expectations on our kids to fill something inside of us. You see this where parents are pushing their kids into schools that they went to, or sports that they performed or whatever. But I think underneath that is this -- I don't know if it's a lie -- or this belief that we've had that if we are a Christ follower, we must have a perfect family and that perfect family is a reflection of our discipleship journey or our sanctification journey. And so if it gets all messed up, then suddenly we have shame because it proves that we're not a disciple or proves that we're not faithful to the Lord, which is just silly.
Because the thing is is that in the Garden of Eden, God had two wayward adult children as well. And he was the absolute perfect parent. They wanted for nothing. Everything was idyllic and they still rebelled. And so for us to take on the shame of that is to not recognize the inherent sinful nature of human beings.
Jennifer Rothschild: Wow. I just heard some chains falling from some listeners' hearts. I know that had to set some people free, especially some moms who carry the shame. That's a good word, Mary. I'm so grateful for that. And so I guess I want to ask you this question for those parents of adult children, and then we're going to end -- so hang on, listener -- we're going to end with a question for you moms and dads who have kids at home still. So how perhaps you could prevent this. But let's ask one more question for the parents of adult kids.
So there's a mom listening right now, and she is hearing everything you're saying and identifying because she's gotten it wrong, because she's doing it wrong, and her adult child, as you said earlier, has ghosted her. What can she do? What is a practical first step she can do to remedy this?
Mary DeMuth: You know there is all -- it's never too late to apologize. And so to go to the Lord Psalm 139 style, "Search me, O God, and know my heart," and have the Lord search you. Sometimes we have overactive consciences and we can't trust our own evaluation of our past sin. But the Lord can search our hearts. And if he convicts you about something -- and he's done this to me many times -- you can still go to your adult child, however you can find them. Maybe it's write a letter and say, When I look back when you were 13 and we had that fight and I just lost my ever-loving mind, I am so, so sorry. That did not represent Jesus. I regret it and I hope you can forgive me someday, but I'm very, very sorry. You can always apologize. And apology opens up a possible avenue for reconciliation.
Now, that doesn't mean it's the panacea for everything. An adult child can be ghosting you for their own selfish reasons. They could be off on a binge. They could be making choices that are destructive and they just don't want you to know about them and so they have gone the other way. But if there's anything -- you know, like in Romans 12 when it talks about as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people. As far as it depends on you, make sure your heart is right toward that person.
Jennifer Rothschild: Good word.
All right then, let's end with some preventative medicine here. Okay? So this will be our last question. So how can a parent of a young child set themselves up for open communication through the years as their kids grow up? Give us some best practices so that our kids -- you know, they'll be able to thrive when they launch.
Mary DeMuth: One would be, of course, learning that your role as a parent changes throughout their lives. You start with high control. You don't want your child to run out into the street, so you grab them. But if they're 18, they should have learned by now they shouldn't run into the street. And so you start with high control, but you're always working your way out of the job. And so gradually releasing that control, giving them more and more autonomy, so that when they leave the house, it's not a shock for them and it's not a shock for you.
Another one is what I mentioned earlier, is apology. If you want to have a good strong relationship with your child, if you have made a mistake, if you have sinned against your child, err on the side of apology. It will open up doors that you never thought were imaginable. I think we grew up in a culture -- you know, as little kids with our parents, I never heard that, and it messed me up. My parents were gods. They never made mistakes.
Jennifer Rothschild: Right.
Mary DeMuth: So then, therefore, I was always ashamed of everything I did wrong because I was the only one making mistakes. So that really helps.
And then, of course, just getting on your knees. I am a pioneer parent, so I didn't have any example growing up. I didn't grow up in a Christian home. I grew up in a very terrible home, and so I didn't know how to parent. So basically my parenting scheme was to get on my knees and cry a lot. And that helped, actually. And that's what's so great about Jesus, he's got these great big shoulders that can shoulder all of our insecurities and pains.
I do have a little thing on my website for free for your listeners. If they go to marydemuth.com/LPL, which stands for "Love, Pray, Listen," I have 52 prayers that have fill-in-the-blanks where you can put your child's name -- and they don't have to be an adult to put their name in there -- so you have a whole year of prayers for your kids.
K.C. Wright: So good. I'm going to listen to this again on repeat. Even though my Ellie is only 12, I was taking some notes. And prayer is where it starts and what holds this whole parenting thing together. I've interviewed so many friends in over 20 years over the radio, and when you ask them, "What got you through? How'd you come to know the Lord?" they always go back to the same testimony. It was the prayers of a praying mama, the prayers of a praying grandma. Right?
Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah.
K.C. Wright: Prayer holds us together. Prayer holds you together too. So remember, like Mary said, it's never too late and it's never too early to love, pray, and listen.
Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah. That's such a good word.
Okay, this whole conversation was really good. And, of course, we're going to have a link to the conversation, plus Mary's book, plus her podcast, plus her 52 prayers for your kids on the show notes at 413podcast.com/230.
K.C. Wright: And you can actually win one of her books right now on Jennifer's Instagram. Jennifer is @jennrothschild. That's on Instagram @jennrothschild. Go there, enter to win. Or, of course, you can get there through the show notes -- we make it so simple for you -- 413podcast.com/230.
Well, our people, we love you, and we mean it.
Jennifer Rothschild: Yep, we sure do.
K.C. Wright: This was good stuff today.
Jennifer Rothschild: It was. It's a wrap.
K.C. Wright: And we hope you have a great week. And remember, whatever you face, however you feel, you can -- here's truth -- you can do all things through Christ's supernatural power at work in you, with his strength to get you through. Yes, you can.
Jennifer Rothschild: Yes, you can. We all can. It is true. Thank you, Lord. That means even the hard things on the hard days.
K.C. Wright: Even the hard things.
Jennifer Rothschild: Yep.
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