Guiding Children to Adulthood: What Does Success Look Like?

Children and Their Parents

Long nights battling colic. Finagling a sick child to take his medicine—and not throw it up. Crawling out of the store with a screaming toddler because he did not get the toy he demanded. Changing the messy diaper of an eighteen-month-old acrobat who leaves you covered in poop.

Experiencing events like these while the radio played “You’re Gonna Miss This” was laughable, until we realized Trace Adkins told us the truth. We blinked, and it happened. They grew into adults.

What is an adult child? Isn’t the term itself a bit of an oxymoron? A simplistic answer might be an eighteen-year-old, or in some states, a twenty-one-year-old. I think of adult children as biological or adopted children of parents who are twenty-one years old and up, living outside the home, and financially independent from their folks. I acknowledge those who live under a parent’s roof are under a separate set of obligations from those who do not. Yet, the twenty-four-year-old may have more in common with an eighteen-year-old than he might like to admit.

Loving Your Adult Children

Gaye B. Clark

Loving Your Adult Children offers gospel hope to parents who struggle with pain in their relationships with their adult children. It reorients their focus—pointing to Christ as the only source of lasting peace and to his gospel as the only hope for lasting relationships.  

Becoming Adults

Becoming an independent adult is far more nuanced than some may think. A child may legally become an adult at eighteen, however, a certain part of the brain—the prefrontal cortex—isn’t fully developed until he’s closer to twenty-five. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for reasoning, planning, attention, and focus. It helps us control our emotions and facilitates our sense of judgment.1 We also use it to understand and predict the consequences of our actions. When your teenage daughter is pulled over for going seventy miles an hour in a forty-five zone and says, “I don’t know how this happened,” she isn’t completely off her rocker.

But when you give her consequences (and you should), you are helping her prefrontal cortex develop. Knowing this detail about her brain development might also keep you from rolling your eyes, at least a little.

While the twenty-four-year-old who is living on his own and the eighteen-year-old living at home are in different circumstances, they can both benefit from parental involvement. Wisdom on the parent’s side is knowing how much involvement to have and when, especially where the twenty-four-year-old is concerned.

Troubles that remain unresolved in childhood and adolescence can come calling as our children mature into adults. With grown or nearly grown adult children, it can be easy to despair and think it is too late to improve or repair our relationship with our kids, too late to communicate our love for them in a way they can hear and receive. But is anything too difficult for God?

This is an invitation to renew your love for Christ and shows how that love can inform your parenting. Our vertical relationship with God is the single most valuable tool for enhancing our horizontal relationship with our children.

Our vertical relationship with God is the single most valuable tool for enhancing our horizontal relationship with our children.

The Goal for Christian Parents

We are all broken vessels—sinners. We have all failed to live up to God’s perfect standards and need his mercy just as much today as the moment we came to Christ. His grace alone saved us, and we need to keep that in mind as we parent our children: he alone can save them, too.

When it comes to righteousness before God, we are not superior to anyone, including our kids. In the battle for their souls, we should be fighting not against our children but beside them. We fight a common enemy: sin and unbelief.

Christians don’t primarily raise their children to become fully functioning adults, although that is part of their task. Instead, their primary aim is to teach their children to place their hope in God alone through the finished work of Jesus Christ. It would be tragic to bring up a child who was able to obtain an excellent job, marry, and raise a beautiful family—become someone who was considered an upstanding member of his community—but does not have a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ, “for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

The Christian parent of an unsaved adult child has the same mission. He continues to pray and point his adult child to Christ as he is given opportunity. Since none of us know God’s exact plan for our children’s lives, we can pray, press on, and when weary, lean on our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should not feel like a failure, for none of us know God’s timing in salvation, even when it comes to our kids. His plans and purposes extend far beyond our desires.

Overall, God gives sinful moms and dads the difficult task of bearing witness to the salvation that can be found in Christ, trusting him completely with the outcome. This gives parents reason to cry out to God for the grace needed to refine their own hearts first before they seek to reprove their children. Part of evangelizing their kids is modeling what repentance looks like in their own walk with Christ. “First tak[ing] the log out of [their] own eye” (Luke 6:42) would be a great place to start.

In short, use the key components of the gospel (faith, repentance, forgiveness, and grace) as well as the fruit of the Spirit to enhance your relationship with Christ and, as a result, strengthen the bond with your adult child. My hope would be to point both you and your adult child to an everlasting love, an everlasting hope: Jesus Christ.


  1. Mariam Arain, Maliha Haque, Lina Johal, Puja Mathur, Wynand Nel, Afsha Rais, Ranbir Sandhu, and Sushil Sharma, “Maturation of the Adolescent Brain,” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 9(2013): 449–61.

This article is adapted from Loving Your Adult Children: The Heartache of Parenting and the Hope of the Gospel by Gaye B. Clark.

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