How Should Parents Approach Relationships with Adult Children Who Believe Differently?

Question from a reader:

How should parents approach their relationship with adult children who believe differently or are following a different religion?

Answer from EPM ministry staff member:

One my fellow staff members wrote, “Doing God’s will is simple: Love Him with all your heart, and love others as you love yourself. Others include everyone He brings into your world, especially your children. Sometimes speaking up about your faith and beliefs is the loving thing to do, and sometimes remaining silent, listening carefully and allowing the Holy Spirit to work without your intervention is wisest. If choosing between the two feels like a tightrope walk, picture Jesus carrying you across the wire and trust Him to help you be successful.”

As Christian parents, we did our best with God’s wisdom and guidance to raise our two children to know, love, and serve Jesus. We read to them from the Bible. We taught them about who Jesus is and what He did for us. We modeled serving others. We took them to church. They went to a Christian school. They asked Jesus into their hearts as young children. They were baptized as teenagers. They graduated from private Christian colleges. All the “right” things.

They are now both young adults. One loves Jesus wholeheartedly and makes life decisions based on God’s words in the Bible. The other knows the same Jesus, but is not considering Him as he makes life decisions. He is seeking “spirituality” on his own, and basing decisions on what he thinks and feels will make him happy. But interestingly, he is not truly happy or content with life. We watch him always striving for something more or better, and we know that what he really needs is Jesus.

As a parent, I want so badly to keep reminding him of the sin in his life that is leading him away from Jesus—hoping for change. “If you would just stop trying so hard and let Jesus be in charge of your life, you will find the happiness you are looking for.” But the reality is, he knows this already. We taught him with our words and actions during his formative childhood years about Jesus and the truth of His Word—that Jesus is the ONLY way. But the world keeps reminding him louder of the other ways that seem to lead to happiness, but are really just dead end roads of temporary satisfaction.

I love the analogy of a car with a driver and riders and the Christian life. As a Christian, I should want Jesus to be the driver of my life, not just a passenger in the back seat. But my grown child has Jesus trapped away in the trunk, where he can still say He is “with” him, but just not with any influence at all to direct his daily choices or life decisions. And also no guilt for the choices and decisions he knows are sin.

For many years I felt obligated to remind him “what Jesus would do” when I saw his choices were straying from God’s truth. And not surprisingly, this caused constant conflict between us. Who likes to be told they are sinning or doing something wrong?! Especially by a parent. I felt it pushing him away, which caused more fear and anxiety within me than knowing about the sin itself.

But God is growing me so much in this area. I now feel much more at peace that we taught him God’s truth for the first 18 years of life so he already knows what God says and thinks about things. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict him of sin, not mine. I have come to realize that my relationship with him is the most important thing. If he separates himself from me because my constant reminders of sin in his life make him feel judged, then I will have no influence at all. So instead I choose to focus on talking about things we do agree on, ways to spend quality time with him, reminding him always that I love him, and of course praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) for him to return to relationship with Jesus.

Without a relationship with him, the door is closed to any opportunity for influence, and to see and enjoy the fruit when he does return to Jesus. Then, like the father of the prodigal son in the Bible (Luke 15:11-32), I will rejoice and celebrate that restored relationship, and give God all the glory for working in my child’s life.

One of the other EPM staff added this wise advice: “At the end of the day we have neither control over nor responsibility for the choices our adult children make. We can only model good choices and live in a way that reflects Jesus. We can pray, we can love well, and we can trust our perfect Father for the outcome. (And remember, if you are tempted to feel guilty about your children’s choices, that though God is a perfect Father, not all His children follow in His footsteps.)”

“He will listen to the prayers of the destitute. He will not reject their pleas. Let this be recorded for future generations, so that a people not yet born will praise the LORD” (Psalm 102:17-18, NLT).

Photo by Jonny Hayes on Unsplash