Christian parenting of adult children, and step-parenting grown adult children in Christian families, has lead to several questions from readers on the matter of helping vs. enabling adult children. The questions came from numerous parenting articles here, where I discuss the problems many parents and step-parents are having with grown children, especially in regards to the adult children asking for money or needing some kind of monetary “help” on a regular basis.
Mothers, fathers, step-mothers and step-fathers, have emailed me asking for tips and advice on how to handle their parenting problems with their adult children, from a Christian perspective. Some parents even asked for Bible scripture quotes and biblical principles for them to share with their grown kids, to help explain why the parents should not, could not and will not give the grown children money and/or pay their bills. Trust me, if there were ever public speaking opportunities for me to discuss parents enabling adult children, I would not have to be asked twice.
The answers to the questions involve many aspects of parenting adult children and married life, not only for Christians, but for any parent who may be enabling their grown children without realizing the harm done by this behavior. The Christian responsibility of fathers and mothers; the husband’s role in marriage and the wife’s role; the subject of leaving and cleaving; what “giving away the bride” means in Christian wedding ceremonies; traditional wedding vows brides and grooms make to each other, are all involved in these problems. Christian parents of adult children, are you helping or enabling your grown kids?
It came as no surprise that the subject of step-parenting adult children, children who are full-grown married adults with or without kids of their own, challenged parenting skills to the max and were creating marriage problems between the enabling parent and his/her spouse. To me, parenting is parenting, regardless of whether the parents or family are Christian or church-going families or not. There are, of course, scriptures and Bible principles for Christian parents of adult children that offer assistance in these difficult, often emotionally-charged, sensitive matters.
Christian Parenting – Parenting Adult Children
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6
From infancy to adulthood, Solomon instructs Christian parents of the importance and God-appointed parental responsibility of teaching, training and disciplining children to love and fear God; to obey their parents; to learn how to be a responsible adult in society; and to live a clean, righteous and moral life, to name a few. Parents, Christian believers or not, have an enormous challenge training children in today’s society, with the prevalent attitude of “it’s all about me” often shown in young children, teenagers and grown adult children.
We live in a generation of entitlement, where kids of all ages are growing up as selfish, arrogant, ignorant, rebellious, lazy, immature, disrespectful, profane, foolish, wasteful children, believing the world and parents owe them everything they want. Financially irresponsible adult children and adult step-children continue to drain their parents bank accounts and retirement accounts due to their own poor judgment, poor money-management skills, and an ever-growing want list because the kids refuse to grow up and won’t tell themselves No.
“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” – 1 Timothy 5:8
Husband Role in Christian Marriage
One Christian father emailed me saying his son-in-law would not work, preferring to play video games all day, while the father’s daughter struggled to provide for and feed her family with two young children, which included regularly asking the father for money to pay bills and cover their basic needs. Apparently, no one taught or explained to this young man the husband’s role in the Bible, or about Christian marriage roles and responsibilities for husbands and wives.
Men, when you get married, you immediately become duty-bound in God’s eyes to fulfill the roles and responsibilities of providing for and caring for the needs of your wife and children, something that your wife’s father and/or mother is no longer responsible for. Whether brides and grooms recite the traditional Christian wedding vows or not, before God and witnesses the man and woman getting married promise to “have and to hold from this day forward for better or for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish as long as we both shall live.”
Giving Away the Bride
For Christians, marriage is a covenant relationship, not a simple contract. Some Christian wedding traditions and customs, like the father giving away the bride, cause some people to cringe or wince at the mere mention of this custom. Modern brides and grooms may not like nor allow the traditional words “who gives this woman in marriage to this man?” to be included in their wedding ceremony, because of the historical origin those words came from.
The words “Who gives this bride away?“ or some alternative wording are considered to be so controversial, if not abhorrent, that anyone attending a wedding officiated by a justice of the peace may find those words excluded from the ceremony altogether. For Christian wedding ceremonies, the act of the father walking his daughter down the aisle and “giving the bride away” to the groom, is a very important part of a wedding ceremony for many parents.
The father, as head of the house, is not just presenting his daughter in marriage to a man he approves of. By giving away his daughter in marriage, and placing her hand into the groom’s hand during the ceremony, the bride’s parents are thereby demonstrating their blessing on the marital union AND are symbolizing the transferal of responsibility and care onto the husband. Saying the words “I Do”, right before repeating wedding vows to each other, the bride and the groom thus express their willing acceptance of all responsibilities marriage brings and are duty-bound before God to fulfill them to the best of their ability.
Cutting the Apron Strings
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24
The scripture quote found above, located at Genesis 2:24, is repeated at Ephesians 5:31, showing God’s pattern for marriage to include a “leaving” of one’s parents and a “cleaving” to one’s spouse. Leaving and cleaving is a shifting of allegiance from the parents before marriage, to a marriage allegiance between husband and wife alone. Psychologists call this “cutting the psychological apron strings”, which requires a letting go of responsibilities, financial support and control that parents previously had with their children.
Single or married adult children living with parents, in-laws or grandparents, cannot develop full independence and adult responsibility that being an adult requires while living with their parents. Dependence on parents or others to give support financially stops when couples marry or move out to live on their own as full grown adults, and parents should help encourage and promote such independence and responsibility.
Mental, emotional and spiritual support, guidance and encouragement for married children need not stop, and occasional financial help when truly needed. God requires parents to “let go” of their adult children, to allow their grown kids the room and space needed to live their lives as adults, to make their mistakes and to find ways to fix their own self-made problems, rather than running to rescue their children from each and every poor decision made. How else will grown kids learn how to be an adult, independent and responsible, except by their own diligent efforts?
How to Be a Good Christian Husband
In the Bible, the Christian husband’s role in marriage to his wife begins with the announcement by the minister or church Pastor that the couple is now pronounced “husband and wife“, during the Christian wedding ceremony. Christian husbands not only assume the primary leadership role in their marriage as “head of the house”, but Ephesians 5: 28-29 tells husbands to love their wives in the same way that they love their own bodies, including feeding and caring for their wives, as good Christian husbands do.
“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church.” – NIV
Good husbands, especially Christian believers, happily comply with biblical principles to work and make enough money to sufficiently provide for all of life’s basic necessities for his wife and children. A fundamental failure as a husband in marriage is when Christian husbands neglect their God-given responsibility as provider of their family’s needs, leaving their wives to take on the husband role as head of the household, rather than her wifely role as helper or helpmate.
Unfortunately, some Christian ministers fail to discuss in detail the husband’s role and wife’s role in marriage prior to the hectic wedding ceremony, leaving those fine Scriptural principals about marital roles and responsibilities to go unheard. Dating and engaged couples who are considering marriage, or couples already planning their wedding, should carefully ask themselves and each other if they are really ready to be married, before getting married. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your Christian parents who want you to be happy in your marriage, and your mom and dad’s bank account to be left intact.