I spend most of my time around single young adults, most of whom don’t have kids. However, for two of the past three weeks I’ve been at family camps, talking with parents from around the country. And I’ve realized there’s a clear connection between the two: young adults, having been on their own for only a few years, are the recent products of parenting. The type of parenting they received is the biggest influence on what they do and the choices they make.
So much of ministry involves identifying cause and effect, or pattern recognition. I’ve noticed some definite patterns over the past 7 years of young adult ministry, and seen the effects of different parenting styles. So, if you are a parent or hope to be one someday, here are 10 things I’ve observed from working with young adults:
1. Over-involved parenting can be just as harmful as neglect.
You might disagree with that statement, but based on my observations, some of the most “wounded” young adults I’ve ministered to have had really involved parents—potentially too involved.
By “over-involved,” I don’t mean caring about whom they date or where they go. I mean never allowing them to fail, and rescuing them every opportunity you have. Parents who try to solve their twenty-something’s relational problems, absorb their breakup pain, enable their addictions, or cover their financial mismanagement are often hindrances to maturity. Sometimes you need to sit back and watch your kids fail and let them learn. Especially when they’re 30.
2. Abuse and abandonment leave lasting scars.
This might seem obvious, but there seems to be an attitude these days that children are resilient, while adults are fragile. That a parent’s desire for “freedom” outweighs a child’s need for a parent. If a spouse (or parent) has abandoned a child, it is very important to talk with the child and parent them through that.
Abuse is worse, and often happens in seemingly healthy homes in the least suspecting of ways. You don’t need to live in fear of it, but you should talk to your children about boundaries and where they can or should not be touched. Be specific, and give them courage to reach out for help regardless of potential threats. This looks like: “Presley, if someone touches you somewhere private, and they tell you if you tell anyone they are going to hurt your family, what should you do?”
3. Divorce impacts everyone.
Don’t think that you, the divorcee, are the only victim of your divorce. I’ve seen first-hand how it impacts everyone involved. Kids have to deal with abandonment and trust issues, for instance. And divorce can impact our view of God, who promises to love His bride (believers in the church) through all of our shortcomings.
Please reach out to the church for help if you’ve been divorced, or if you are considering it. If divorce is a part of your story, process it carefully with your children. Have your community help you, and together carefully consider the implications for your kids. There’s tons of grace available, but be wise and invite others into how you process it.
4. Both male and female parenting influences are important.
Now, I understand that statement discourages single parents. Take heart; single parents are my heroes! You can still get these male and female influences through the church, extended relatives, and formal discipleship.
If you are a young adult who only had one parent, don’t lose hope either. Just consider how that has impacted your worldview and your understanding of God. Some of the most influential pastors I know came from broken homes; they’ve just worked to heal from that and understand how it has impacted them.
Having both a mommy and a daddy is God’s design for childhood. As we move away from God’s design, we need to be mindful of the ramifications of that.
5. Discipline is important.
If I hang with a group of young adults for very long, I bet I can tell you with some accuracy which ones lacked discipline in the home.
Consistency is the name of the game in discipline and parenting. Sometimes I talk with young adults and they reference a change in parenting based on a divorce or other event. It’s clear they not only noticed this change, but they realize they were impacted by it.
In our home we discipline for deliberate disobedience or disrespect. We don’t “count to three” or give warnings. If you are disrespectful or deliberately disobedient you know that results in discipline, every time. With one exception: sometimes we will intentionally give “grace”(getting something good you don’t deserve) or “mercy” (not getting the discipline you deserve) to help teach those virtues.
6. Discipleship is important.
Extraordinary kids usually come from extraordinary parents. There is no surprise when one of our rock star young adult leaders talks about seeing their parents up early and in the Word.
A key to discipleship in the home is being intentional. Being intentional often requires a plan. I am much better at impromptu teachable moments than I am at planning. Both, however, are necessary. If you’re not a planner, I’d talk to others who are and learn what they do.
7. Meal times matter.
Do you think that’s weird? Well, it’s true. No wonder why Jesus ate with people He cared about and wanted to minister to. We do this in our families, and key teaching moments or observations often happen around the table.
Make sure you are not constantly running different directions at meal times. If you are, you are missing key “intentional” times.
8. Church is crucial.
Don’t go to church “for your kids.” They won’t want to be there and they’ll end up hating church. But it’s important that you, as a parent, belong to a healthy, bible-teaching church and are clearly involved there. This helps teach your children that the most important thing in life is to know God and belong to His body, which is the church.
9. Parent in community.
Some of the healthiest adults I know reference back to the healthy relationships their parents had with other believers. There’s something to this community thing.
Everyone has parenting “misses.” Other parents can help you see the blind spots in your parenting, as long as you’re open to them pointing the blind spots out.
In pointing out blind spots, make sure you separate questions about morals (right vs. wrong) from values (preferences). You do not need to hold others accountable to what you value (like bedtimes, types of food, comfort levels, etc.) but do hold them accountable to what the Scriptures speak into.
10. God is bigger than bad parenting.
Do everything you can to become a great parent, but a key part to parenting is letting God be God and watching Him work it all out. His grace covers a multitude of parenting mistakes. Some of the most incredible young adults are exceptions to all the rules. They came from broken, abusive homes and God has mended their hearts and unleashed them to do His work.
So no matter what you’ve done or what your situation may be, you’re not doomed. Pray a lot and do the best you can moving forward.
What things did your parents do that you’re thankful for?