Grandma was on babysitting duty. She noticed that her grandson dawdled and played with the meal she’d fixed him, so she reached over and began to spoon-feed him.
That might have been okay—except that he was five years old and perfectly capable of feeding himself.
When our kids grow to adulthood, it can be hard for us to let them make their own decisions.
After all, we’ve spent a couple of decades training them. We have more life experience. We would love for them to learn from our mistakes.
As a result, we can be tempted to spoon-feed our adult children—not with veggies, but with our advice.
How do we best transition from the role of authority to the role of offering wise counsel?
- First, resist the urge to give unsolicited advice.
If your adult child is compliant (and/or you are controlling), he or she may capitulate to your way of doing things, but this doesn’t necessarily help their maturing process. You may inadvertently stunt their growth by prescribing how they should handle things.
On the other hand, if your daughter or son is independent or strong-willed, she or he may become defensive and resentful of your intrusion. If you give advice that isn’t asked for, they may never come to you voluntarily.
While not every lesson needs to be learned the hard way, we’re not responsible to shield our adult children from the consequences of their decisions.
2. Second, avoid giving directives.
When you do have conversations about your adult children’s decisions, don’t tell them what they should do or not do. Instead, try asking open-ended questions.
Let’s say your kids are making a hasty decision to buy a home. You could ask questions like:
“What are some reasons you feel you should buy this home right now?”
“What did you like about the other options you’ve looked at?”
“In what ways may waiting a year or two before you purchase a home benefit you?”
You’re not telling them what they should do; you’re simply helping them reflect on their process.
When your adult son or daughter does come to you for advice, recognize this for the privilege that it is. He or she placing trust in your judgment.
That’s an honor, and you should treat it as such.
Thank him or her for coming to you for advice. Weigh your words carefully and prayerfully. Ask God to help you offer the best possible counsel. He may bring Scriptures to mind, or examples from your own experience.
As an older teen, my son came to me one day and asked, “From your perspective, what are some ways that I tend to waste time?”
In that moment, I stood on holy ground. My son had put himself in a vulnerable position, trusting me by admitting a flaw and asking for help with it.
I affirmed him for his courage and humility, thought about his question, then gently (I hope) offered some ideas.
To this day, I’m amazed at the maturity of that question—and I’ll never forget how honored I felt with my son’s trust. I’ve worked at maintaining that trust with all my sons and daughters-in-law.
- Finally, pray more than you advise.
It’s easy to roll out all kinds of suggestions. It’s not as easy to stop and pray for God’s wisdom first—but if you do, your words will be far more powerful and helpful.
Don’t assume that just because you’re the parent, you should offer your opinion.
Listen more than you talk, use questions instead of directives and ask God for His wisdom (James 1:5).
That’s what good counsel looks like.