A mother's progression
COVID did a number on my older teenagers. They were caught in some identity-building years that were essentially deleted once the lockdowns started – graduations, sports teams, dating, welcome week at university, finding their people/fit. During this time, they were in an emotional and mental valley beyond my own. Watching your kids suffer more than yourself is difficult, and true to form, I had a hyper-focus on who I was as an influencer on them, since they were forced to be home all the time with just me and my husband.
Not the ideal scenario, but we all grew from this. I progressed in my journey of letting go of these young adults, trusting God to be the bigger influence and to bring them through their trials.
Three elements of God’s character that lifted me along the way were truth, relationship, and humility.
Thought 1: The Deception of Fears and Lies
As a believer and mother of two adult children, there are many pages in my journal dedicated to the
tears that come from places rooted in fear.
fears that come from lies and jeers I believe.
jeers that come from the Enemy himself, whom Jesus called the father of lies.
Reading recently Live No Lies by John Mark Comer, he talks about the lies that come from 3 enemies, our flesh, our world/culture, and the devil. As a parent, I realized that much of the strife between us and many of my parenting flubs, are a result of my reaction not to the behaviours of my children so much as my fears behind it all.
As soon as we commit to following Jesus, we have a target on our back that says ‘make sure you trip this one up’ (a la C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters1). Lies are the number one tactic. We hear lies from our own insecurities and human nature (you’re the parent so you have to win here). We get distracted by lies from our culture saying that our children’s happiness is the ultimate success of a parent. We hear lies from Satan himself saying ‘you’re not doing enough’, ‘they’re going to inherit all your bad stuff’.
When I stopped to seek truth from the Lord, the lies Satan was telling me about my kids or my parenting simply faded. Intentional prayer to help me see the truth in a situation always resulted in me seeing His sovereignty, in His timing. Stepping back always made room for harmony.
With a household of spirited young adults, I find harmony has a better chance when I put emphasis on shalom. I think of shalom as a heart posture of deep peace that is “come what may, my soul is at peace in God”. It is a peaceful connection to Truth and the ease of his yoke, the lightness of his burden (Matt 11:30).
This commitment to shalom guides me through an ongoing shift away from the focus on my kids and their direction and decisions, toward a healthier trust of their choices, a perspective about God’s plans and power, on who they belong to, on what good they have experienced in our home, and on overcoming problems they are encountering in their own time (ideally with Jesus and wisdom from loved ones). Discerning the lies and pulling in shalom reminds me that ‘God has this’. Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)
Thought 2: The Spirit of Inquiry as a Parent
As a professional coach and leadership effectiveness advisor by day, my impact comes from the ability to ask great questions. When I ask powerful, poignant questions that come from a place of genuine curiosity and desire for my client to learn and grow, their answers are clearer, richer. Wise questions help that person get to a place of deeper understanding and eventually their own solution. Most of us have learned that this posture of inquiry is a highly effective approach to having crucial conversations (conversations of high stakes/high emotions), so why is it that when it comes to our children, young or adult, we tend to slide into teacher mode rather than remaining more neutral and coming from a spirit of inquiry?
The definition of inquiry is simply a search for knowledge. This is the first step in any relationship. We ideally seek out information about a person before we offer any kind of judgment or advice. When we’re dating, we ask a lot of questions. When we sign up a new client, we ask a lot of questions before we give counsel or recommendations. However, when we know someone well, like our children, we take on our typical role with that person, make assumptions, cut to the chase, perhaps speak our biases. When we don’t know the whole story, we need to stand down, stay in relationship and stay in ‘inquiry’ mode.
As a body of believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to be different, to be empathetic, to step in and have uncomfortable conversations, to ask the tough questions. We are asked to do this gently, humbly, with wisdom and discernment, as Christ himself did.
The word church itself in Greek means those who are called out. It’s not a community of comfort but of calling.2 With my own children I needed to be the church, called to ask questions, offer wisdom (even if they did not want to hear it at the time) and let them make their own move, loving them no matter what.
Here are two models I love to share when someone needs to do more listening and letting ‘them’ figure it out (think your oldest child, a developing staff member, a confused friend, a distressed colleague, etc)
The first model is from ‘The Coaching Habit’, a popular leadership book.
These 7 questions, literally asked in this order, helps me stay curious, guiding them without solving their problem.
God Himself, the most brilliant of communicators, uses questions in his loving communication with his people throughout the bible. So the second model of questions I discovered recently are five questions God asks in the bible. These I encountered anew from a recent Beth Moore Bible study.
The first two are asked by God the Father in Genesis 3. The last three are asked by Jesus. What a beautiful set of questions to lean into as a parent, to stay engaged in dialogue with your child or loved one who is struggling, gone off track, full of doubt, or is in need of recalibrating. One or more of these questions may be the guidance they need to move forward.
Throughout COVID, I slowly heard God’s question to me more clearly about my kids as I watched them falter – Why are you afraid? This intimate question immediately redirects me and reminds me of His care and sovereignty.
What better place for me to entrust my kids, with the God who made them and loves them more than I ever could.
Thought 3: Humility as a Bedrock of Letting Go
A normal and imperfect human, of course I want only good things for my family. I have a fairly sunny disposition on most things; to the point where it has come to my attention by my young adult children that I am not open to really listening to the things they are struggling with. Ugh, that one stung.
My faith journey if nothing else is a constant reckoning of my nature versus my calling as a Christian. That calling is more clear when I abide in Jesus, spend more time serving people and more time with His word, increasing my knowledge of who He is. That deeper knowledge of God is transformational. It becomes embodied in who I am as I grow in my faith. As I am being shaped into the likeness of Christ, humility and gentleness increase. This has enabled my kids to have a mum who is more present in my role as a parent, in my approaches, in my ability to listen, a mother who is listening, to the good, bad and ugly, who is putting aside her own solutions and letting God do the work. Those good things are far better than any quick fix I could offer, or any advice I offer when I believe the lie that my children need to be happy and thriving, rather than going through easily-avoided pain, or waiting a long time for an answer.
This is the humbling part of ‘letting go’ that I learned these last few years, and continue to learn: praying as the most powerful action in my adult children’s lives; listening, with humility; asking questions, and keeping shalom; remembering that this person has free will to follow; and trusting that God has a beautiful plan to love and redeem them as they learn, fall, and continue their own quest. What a beautiful relief, to let go and let their Creator take the lead.