FamilyLife Blended® Podcast

126: Strained Relationships with Adult Kids

with Dr. Charlotte Melcher Smith | December 4, 2023
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When relationships with our adult kids and stepkids become strained or estranged, our hearts hurt. How did we get here? How do we fix it? Ron Deal talks with Dr. Charlotte Melcher Smith about common themes that contribute to strained relationships and what parents can do to help.

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When relationships with our adult kids & stepkids become strained or estranged, our hearts hurt. How did we get here? Can we fix it? Ron Deal talks with Dr. Charlotte Melcher Smith about common themes contributing to the problem and how parents can help.

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126: Strained Relationships with Adult Kids

With Dr. Charlotte Melcher Smith
December 04, 2023
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Charlotte: Many parents feel like, “My kid not only doesn't love me; he doesn't, or she doesn't, even like me,” and that's an awful feeling. Many of them describe it to me as, “This is the worst thing that's ever happened to me. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with.” But mostly, we deal with this pain like any other pain that enters our life, whether it's physical, you know, we break a leg, or relational. We go to the Lord, and we try to get a new perspective.

Ron: Welcome to the FamilyLife Blended podcast. I'm Ron Deal. We help blended families, and those who love them, pursue the relationships that matter most. And on this edition of FamilyLife Blended, we're exploring how to pursue the reconciliation of strained parent-child relationships within blended families.

Did you know that, mostly due to stress, children leave stepfamily homes at younger ages than children in biological parent homes? Have you lost connection, perhaps, with any of your children? If so, I know your heart is hurting. I know you're feeling the stress as Christmas approaches. Stay with me.

When I wrote my first book, The Smart Stepfamily—I can't believe it's been over 20 years now—Christian stepfamily resources were really hard to find. But now, the blended family ministry movement is gaining speed, and many resources exist and FamilyLife Blended is the leading organization in that movement. But without you, we can't get those resources to the people who need the most.

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You know, one of the stories we hear in our ministry is from parents who have lost connection with a child, often an adult child, as a matter of fact. Whatever the reason, there's been a falling out, parents feel a lot of pain and loss, and they struggle to know what to do and how to reconnect. I mean, really, what do you do? Well, that's the topic of this edition of FamilyLife Blended. Even if you don't have a strained relationship today, let me just invite you to stay with us. I think the principles you learn just might help you avoid some mistakes with children of any age in the future.

Dr. Charlotte Melcher Smith has been a clinical director and a therapist for over 30 years. Among other things, she's actively counseled both alienated parents and their estranged adult children. She and her first husband also worked on the staff of Cru for 19 years, working with college students. Dr. Smith was widowed after 49 years of marriage and eventually married again, forming a blended family with five adult children. Her book, Life's Third Tri, as in trimester, offers a unique Christian perspective about the empty nest.

Charlotte, thanks for joining me today.

Charlotte: I'm honored to have the opportunity.

Ron: Okay, let's start with what sometimes goes wrong. What are some of the factors that contribute? You know I think about, my children are all young adults at this point, and when they were younger, there were seasons of just utter bliss when our kids were young. We love them; they love us. It's hard to imagine a time when you can sort of not like your kid, or you worry so much, or they don't want to have a relationship with you for whatever reason. Can we just talk around that for a minute? What are some of the things that you've seen over the years, or factors that lead to difficult parent-child relationships?

Charlotte: Well, if there's been trouble in the home before they become adults, the chance that there will be trouble after they leave home is even greater. However, there are so many families that were very close and enjoyed all the wonderful adventures that families have together and then at some period, sometimes as soon as college age, there seems to be a repudiation of all that came in that home.

Right now, a lot of repudiation of the values that they associate with the home, the Christian morality that was expressed in that home, the worldviews, and at this point, many young people are surrounded by those who do not have any kind of a Christian perspective, may never even have been exposed to the Bible. And so, they are going through their own period of trying to figure out what they think and what they believe. It's very uncomfortable for them because they know what mom and dad would like and they aren't sure they can be that person with the new questions they have.

Ron: I had a conversation with a dear friend recently, who has worked in a, within a Christian organization, her entire professional career. She and her husband both did. We were talking about our adult kids, and she said, “You know, we don't know hardly anybody our age who has now adult children who doesn't have at least one of their kids who has been in a situation,” like you were just describing, where they are stepping away from active faith or active community within the Christian community, and it's just agonizing to them.

Charlotte: All the Barna polls are showing that we are losing these kids to a different set of values, a different worldview than they were raised with. We talk about the pain that parents feel, but it begins with shock. It's hard to believe that this person who you loved and nurtured and put your whole life into now sees you—one of my friends this week said, “Well, he called me a bigot and a dinosaur,” [Laughter] and maybe that is a little bit of what we look like to these young people.

Ron: Wow. And that is so, so difficult to deal with. I was thinking of some other reasons. I'd love your thoughts on this. I mentioned earlier in the episode that kids in blended families just leave home at a younger age. There seems to be this cumulative level of stress and you know, again, not every child, so I don't want people to panic, but on the whole, it happens at younger ages for children in blended families than it does for children growing up in a biological first family situation. They just feel like they're ready to move away from the stress.

One of the things that connects to that is stress between homes, maybe stress in a stepparent-stepchild relationship and, you know, leaving home at 18 or getting, going away and not coming back, or finding other ways of moving out of the home is a way to avoid that stress. Now, that doesn't help resolve anything. We all know that, but it just tends to be a motivation to get kids out of the home. Have you seen that?

Charlotte: There's so much anxiety in young people these days and so anything that they feel might reduce that, they'll try it. They're in that stage when they are wanting to be independent, and they want it a little sooner if they aren't feeling very safe in their blended family.

Ron: Something that's a little bit different than that is when the children were adults, maybe when the couple came together. We've seen this quite a bit where a child who was connected with their formerly single parent, now there's a whole lot of more emotional work to be done when you're coming back home but you have a stepparent, you have maybe adult stepsiblings now. And like, what's that all about? And now I have, you know, my parent has stepgrandchildren and that seems to occupy their time and energy.

And so, you know, there's just again, a number of reasons why they're not as motivated to hang around the house or to be with those people in person as much as they were. And that can create that hurt in a parent's heart who just feels like they've lost connection with their kid.

Charlotte: Well, many parents feel like, “My kid not only doesn't love me; he doesn't, or she doesn't, even like me,” and that's an awful feeling.

Ron: Yes, wow. And then there's that situation where kids have a more passive home that they can go to, and they can do whatever they want and so moving out is more about going to the easy house, as I like to call it.

Charlotte: [Laughter] Yes.

Ron: And that's, I mean, that's just part of the game, isn't it, for kids. I mean, they have those options. I hate to call it a game because it's not a game for us. It hurts a parent's heart who's trying to teach and instill integrity in their child, but the child has those options and therefore they have some power and leverage that they wouldn't have had otherwise and sometimes they use it.

Charlotte: Yes, for sure.

Ron: The other thing that I saw you write a little bit about is when a parent, they're the one who closed the door on the child, where they say, “I'm done. I don't want anything more to do with this child. I don't, you know, I don't even want to reach out to them.” What would lead a parent to say something like that?

Charlotte: Well, that's much rarer if you're talking about estrangement, total estrangement, or even off and on estrangement. Ninety percent of the time the children initiate that. But sometimes the parents do, and it often comes from a place of, “I have to protect my heart. What my child is saying is so disrespectful and cruel.”

Kids are just confused as to, “Is this a safe place?” And the parents are confused as, “Can I live my life with this amount of criticism and conflict?” Many of them describe it to me as “This is the worst thing that's ever happened to me. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with; changing diapers and all that was a piece of cake. It's these grownup years that have had me on my face.”

Ron: Right, right; and especially with the child is saying things that are critical and negative, or acting in rebellious ways, and it's so painful to watch with your son or daughter in terms of the choices that they're making. I can see how that would lead to somebody to go into self-protection mode and want to pull back. Let's come back to that; I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me just press in with what you just said for a minute. I'm not talking about extreme circumstances of abuse where an adult child is physically hurting a parent.

Charlotte: Right.

Ron: We're not talking about that right now. But when a parent has criticism coming their way, and they are feeling the weight of that, how do they discern when that's a legitimate thing to say, “Look, I need some physical space between us,” or when they should not be looking to make that decision?

Charlotte: Well, as a whole, we tend to be very self-centered humans on the whole and when it becomes about what's good for me, a parent may decide that it's good for me to not have this person around anymore. It might feel better. It might relieve a lot of tension. However, long-term, we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We are losing the chance to develop a friendship with these children if we can get through this stage where they are acting out.

Ron: I so appreciate you saying that. But let's press in because this is where the rubber meets the road and it's hard to see—let's just take an instance where your child is acting in some ways that are, you know, it's harmful for them, spiritually speaking, okay. They're doing things that you just know brings angst to your heart on their behalf. Well, I just don't want to see it anymore, then I won't feel the pain so I'm just not going to call them or spend time with them, or you know, but then you remove yourself from the equation and that—

Charlotte: —no influence then. [Laughter]

Ron: Exactly, you lose your influence. The only way you gain influence—we've said this so many times on this podcast; here's a principle I want our listeners to catch. If you want to gain influence, you don't gain it by stepping back, by removing yourself. This is true in politics. This is true in parenting. This is true in management of life and relationships. You move toward people to gain influence. Now, that means you are going to have to, what? How are you going to handle the pain that you're feeling from your child or seeing in your child that's bringing hurt to your heart? How are you going to manage that in order to keep your influence?

Charlotte: I do think that sometimes there have to be some limits set around how your children are allowed to talk to you. Mostly, we deal with this pain like any other pain that enters our life, whether it's physical—you know, we break a leg—or relational. We go to the Lord, and we try to get a new perspective, and we look for, “What would God say about this situation?” and “Is this even about me or is this about something that's going on in my child's life? Can I remove myself from this situation emotionally to the degree that I”—of course in Al-Anon, they call it detaching, but you detach from being the brunt of anger that they may be experiencing and realize they are just angry because they are not happy.

Ron: So, give us a little more. How would you set boundaries? What would that sound like for a parent to potentially talk to a child about how the child is talking to the parent?

Charlotte: Well, I think we want to state it in a sense of, I, not you must do something. A boundary is something for me so I would state it in terms of, “I can't be around you when you talk to me like that. I'm going to go in my bedroom, or I'm going to go to my study, and let's have this conversation later when you can speak respectfully.”

Ron: Be in charge of yourself and communicate that and then take action for yourself.

Charlotte: And follow through, yes.

Ron: So, you can't try to get them to change their behavior. If you had that much power, you might not be having a problem. [Laughter] So obviously that's not a strategy you can implement, but—

Charlotte: Yes, and if we're talking about adults, we can't discipline in the ways that we would have at a younger age and withdraw privileges and so forth. We have to be able to take care of ourself and explain to them why we need to do that.

Ron: Okay, so I think I'm hearing a balance between, in a situation where you're receiving some behavior or criticism or something that's really hurtful, you can take charge of yourself and remove yourself from that situation, but you're not taking a complete cutoff posture with the child. You've got to overall still be staying in relationship with them as best you can in order to have any influence, any opportunity to speak into their life; not control their life. Control might have been what got you in trouble in the first place.

Charlotte: In their minds, yes.

Ron: Exactly, exactly. And say a little more about that; that in their mind, sometimes it comes down to how the child feels like they've been parented.

Charlotte: Yes. And many of us come from a background where rules were important to us, and we wanted to be obedient to God's rules, and we probably emphasized them. And, you know, I had to go to my adult children and say, “I've been more like a Pharisee than I recognized or than I want to be, and the rules aren't the thing for me anymore.”

Ron: And how did that moment go? How'd they respond?

Charlotte: I'm still waiting for some of that response, but I think it was welcomed and they're watching, “Does she mean it? Is she going to bring up some rule breaking?” That maybe would have been the way I would have defined it when they were younger. And instead, are they getting validated for the good things that they are doing? You know it's very hard for a parent when you're getting blasted with criticism or even contempt to stay exactly where you need to be.

Ron: Yes, that's a good word. And let me just say, I was about to ask, what do we do when we're kind of just feeling ashamed of our own parenting, and we know we've made mistakes, and we have regrets, what do we do with that? And I think you just demonstrated exactly what we do. And that is, we apologize.

Charlotte: Yes.

Ron: We own it. And then we have to wait.

Charlotte: We have to wait, and we have to live it. You know those kids need validation whenever you can give it. I know a few parents that have wonderful families, and I'm always surprised when I see the level to which they go to validate their children. They're always looking for what they can praise or notice that's positive. That's good when you have little kids, and it's good when you got big ones.

Ron: I don't think any of us ever get tired of encouragement.

Charlotte: No.

Ron: We do get tired of criticism. [Laughter]

Charlotte: Yes. That's why it's the first of Gottman sources that are rushing through the home and stomping everything in its path.

Ron: Yes. If I could just break that down a little bit for our listeners. John Gottman is a researcher who has looked into a lot of what predicts divorce among married couples and criticism and contempt. I often say contempt is criticism on steroids. It's just intentionally hurtful and really negative and name calling. And when that is present, that's one of four things that really predicts a demise of the relationship. It's headed in the wrong direction.

Now, I'm always humbled because he also said all couples do all four of those things, right. And that's true. I can be as critical as the next person. It's how much I do it, how often, and am I willing to change or work towards changing that and repent when I have been contemptuous towards my wife, or same thing I think would apply towards children.

Charlotte: Yes. I think there's even a ratio, not sure what Gottman's is. I've heard several different people speak on this. I think it's around one out of seven could possibly be change your behavior kind of a comment, but the next six need to be positive because otherwise you are viewed as that kind of a person.

Ron: I've read some research recently, Charlotte, that shows that the brain, all of our brains, is far more attuned to negative than it is to positive, and it holds on to negative far more than it holds on to positives, and that just speaks to that point that you just made. If overall, we're experienced as being negative and critical, that really goes a long way towards creating a lack of safety in that relationship, and our children will run from us. They will run from our influence, and they will not want our values.

Charlotte: Yes.

Ron: Well, you've already given us a couple of principles straight out of God's Word. Apologize, own who we are and be humble about that, and try to repent and repair the relationship. But you have some other tips out of God's Word for parents who have a strained relationship with their, especially adult children. Let's just walk through some of those for a few minutes. Ezekiel 18 kind of speaks to the guilt and shame that parents sometimes carry; talk to us about that.

Charlotte: Yes. I mean, it's a story where in the Old Testament, during the time of the divided kingdom, there was a proverb that “parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children's mouths pucker at the taste.” In other words, people were looking at everything that was going wrong in the younger generation as obviously the fault of the fathers or the mothers. God forbade the people to continue to use that proverb that they'd created. His response in the 18th chapter was, “For all people are mine to judge—both parents and children alike. And this is my rule: The person who sins is the one who will die.”

He describes families where you have a good father who does everything possible to be a person of integrity and he has a child who chooses the opposite and he says that child is the one who is responsible for their choice, not the parent. But that disrespectful son may also have children and he had his son, let's say, turns to God and lives an exemplary life; and this happens. You see in homes where there wasn't much background and wasn't much teaching where a child will choose to be different than his parents in a good way.

He says “’What?’ you ask, ‘Doesn't the child pay for the parent’s sins?’” Because they couldn't understand this and they were making judgments probably not only about their own children when they rebelled, but about other people's children. And I think this is a burden that we carry when our children don't toe the line exactly like we had expected and prayed that they would.

I know I was a counselor at the time that I first realized that maybe my children weren't going to turn out exactly in a cookie cutter fashion. I thought maybe I need to take my sign down. I probably don't have any right to counsel anybody if my own children, let's say, are struggling with their faith. It's important, I think, for people to deal with this idea that good parents automatically produce children that will follow the path, and only if you have been a bad parent in some way, even a bad Christian parent, that's when you see them not wanting to stay in the church or do the things that we think of as Christian behaviors. You know they might choose totally alternative lifestyles.

I appreciate the fact that I was humbled because I think I held a little bit of that when people would tell me about their child going off this way or that way, and I’d think, “I wonder what you did wrong.” The Bible doesn't support that judgment that we make about other people, and it doesn't support it when we make it about ourself. So many women are strangling on this question, “Why did this happen? What did I do wrong?” And they agonize and they obsess and withdraw from life because they feel “It had to have been me.”

Ron: Shame will do that, right? I so appreciate you sharing your struggle with shame and self-blame over what was happening. And I do think this is human nature. I think we as Christian parents, we are so mindful, we try so hard to pour into our kids. We want good things for them. We want to see them walk with the Lord. Of course, we take some responsibility and there's got to be a little balance in this, right? I mean, we're responsible for some of the things we did and our influence, and in particular, if we made mistakes, we certainly have responsibility. But ultimately, what God's saying in Ezekiel 18 is that the ultimate responsibility for a child's behavior is on the child, and it's not on us.

Charlotte: And, you know, that is supported when you look at the first father, who was God, His children, Adam and Eve, when the apple got bitten, He didn't say, “What did I do wrong?” He placed the responsibility on Adam and Eve, and they had consequences for that. And even in the story in Luke of the prodigal child, that father, we have no indication that he had done anything but being a wonderful dad to his prodigal. But sometimes it happens and so understanding this whole free will condition that people are born with can relieve a bunch of the pain that people are carrying and that is immobilizing them, just paralyzing them.

Ron: Nan and I have often talked; we know we own our choices, our behaviors. We are responsible for those and how they have influenced who our kids are. At the same time, we have to remove ourselves from ultimate responsibility of their behavior. I think this is really important. I don't think anybody should ever say, “Oh, so it's not on me. Well, then fine, I don't have any responsibility. I can do whatever.” No. I mean, clearly, we want to bring good things to our kids.

And if you're listening or watching right now and you're thinking, “And I haven't been. I've been MIA,” or “I've been harsh. I've exasperated my kids,” to use the language of Ephesians chapter six. Okay, it's time to own that, repent and change, but our kids are responsible for themselves. And to your point, we should also not be too harsh and judgmental about other parents when we hear about what's happening with their kids, lest that become our own situation.

Okay, let's move to another one that you like to talk about. And that is, looking at the ten commandments and turning our kids into idols. Do we sometimes do that?

Charlotte: Well, when you think about the definition of an idol, it's anything or anyone who takes God's place in our life. And so, we are living our life in response to this person or thing. I have joined a few Facebook forums: Christian Mothers of Estranged Children, Hurting Moms with Adult Kids, and there are thousands of people on these various Facebook sites because this is such a common problem. When I read the comments from these parents, many of them are not the ones strangling on false guilt.
They are—you can tell by the words they use and their attitude—they are totally oblivious to how they're coming across and what kind of an impact that must have on their kids. There's a balance. You can't go too far either direction.

Ron: Yes. And do we sometimes idolize our kids and their behavior and what they'll become or how good and right and proper they will be? And if they're not that, then it's just so easy to be completely consumed with guilt or anger or harshness that that's eroding the relationship, because we've idolized too much of what we want them to be.

Charlotte: Well, I had an awakening when I was monitoring my own thoughts one time And I realized I've been thinking I'm not sure about heaven, if I really want to go there if my kids aren't going to be there, and it's okay. I'm more eager to be there with them than I am to see Jesus and be there with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And there are ways that we can kind of see that we have turned them to idols. If our whole joy in life is dependent on how they are treating us or how they are shunning us, then that's a sign that we've put them in a place they don't need to be.

Ron: Wow. And when you realized that what was the next step?

Charlotte: Confess it. Continue to love my kids like crazy, but to be more aware that rather than all my thoughts going to improve that relationship to give more additional attention beyond what I was already doing to building my relationship with the one who totally does accept me and who I do want to serve.

Ron: Let's go to another one. You make the observation that dishonoring our own parents sometimes complicates the relationship we have with our children.

Charlotte: Absolutely. This is something not many people think about, but when I was writing my book, I became very aware that one of the first things we can do—hopefully, we would do this before our own kids would be rebelling in any way, but if they've already started that, then look back at your own family and ask yourself, “How well did I honor my father and mother?”

Because of the times that we lived in—fifties, sixties, for me—we weren't overtly dishonoring. But in our hearts, I held some resentments that I carried for a long time; and finally had the wherewithal to write a tribute letter to my mother and present it to her, in which I thanked her for the many good things that she had done in my life. And she treasured that. She had it on her wall. Even when she went to the nursing home, she took it with her. She hardly had anything there. But the feeling that I had finally let go of whatever wrongs I had happened upon—and in my case, it wasn't very big wrongs, so it helps me understand that a parent doesn't have to have done a whole lot for a child to hold bitterness against them.

I don't know if you read in my book, some apologies, but I know my husband wrote one. Did you get a chance to read that one at all?

Ron: I did not read that one.

Charlotte: Okay. Well, let me see if I can find it here for you. I won't read all of this, but my new husband—we've been married six years now—was a pastor in his 40s and it was Mother's Day. That's a hard day for mothers ordinarily, especially if you have anybody estranged from you. You assume everyone else is enjoying a wonderful day, except you. Before his congregation that day, in lieu of a sermon, he read a letter he'd written to his mom, and I’ll just read a few, a little bit out of that.

Ron: Okay.


“Dear Mom, I'm in my 40s now. You are bedridden and no longer able to recognize me. Only a few people on this planet have ever seen you. Your picture has never been in a newspaper or magazine. Now your world is limited to only dad's constant care and the few others who help him. One day your body will die like your mind has already done, but mom, you will live forever.

As I pondered what to talk about this Mother's Day Sunday, I felt compelled to write to you. I know you can't understand, and yet I sense you understood for many years, but I now have the spirit to confess to you and to God and before the congregation, I am impressed with my blindness and stupidity and your wisdom and love.

When I was growing up on our sharecropper's farm, I saw you as fat, uneducated, poor, and old. You were ignorant of most of this world and its concepts. You spoke broken English. You could read a little and write essentially nothing; hardly equipped to raise six children. It didn't matter those conditions were essentially beyond your control. You'd been born into that environment and equipped the way God provided. And you'd risen steps above your 13 brothers and sisters.

I thought I was tough because I played football. But toughness is being true to the challenge of continuously performing as a Christian mother in today's world. Toughness is saying no when no needs to be said. Mom, you spent countless hours in prayer to be so strong, so much like Jesus. I know you prayed because I spied you on your knees at the end of every exhausting day of serving your family, often falling asleep with your head resting on the edge of the bed.

Now, Mom, I see how beautiful you really were during all those years. I remember no profanity came from your lips. You never cursed at me, dad, or any human, animal, or occurrence. You never called a person a fool.” And it goes on and on. “You never verbally degraded you. You always were an example of winning by being a tough, loving, Christian mom.”

You know, not everyone can preach a whole sermon full of our sadness that we didn't treat them the way we wish we would have. But in our hearts, some kind of a tribute heals something. And interestingly, our children can witness that, where before they might have seen you criticizing grandpa and grandma.

Ron: Yes, right.

Charlotte: They might wonder why you seem to have changed your tune and it might open a chance for you to say, “I regret that I carried resentment so long in my life.” You know, as I look back at raising my children, the one thing I wish would have been the prime thing I taught them, it would be to forgive quickly and completely. If you have that skill, life's going to be pretty good.

Ron: That's really good. It's very moving. The story that he told, and I can totally see how taking a posture of humility in front of your kids as it relates to your own parents, you know, softly invites your children to maybe do the same with you. Who knows how that might spin off into some influence in their lives.

Well, you know, I'm mindful of some other things that you talk about—getting rid of bitterness and just managing your tongue, controlling that. We read in Ephesians 4 talks about that a lot. And then in Galatians chapter 5, there's that great passage about taking off certain parts of us that are unbecoming and putting on things like, you know, the fruit of the Spirit that always have a much better outcome to life. Do you have any insights into how people can just begin to implement some of those powerful scriptural passages in terms of those relationships with their kids?

Charlotte: Yes, as far as the bitterness is concerned. It's very plain, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” [Ephesians 4:31,32] So the antidote to bitterness is forgiveness.

The two main verbs that I like to zero in on as a mother of adult children are love and forgiveness. If we can get those two things right, and the fruit of the Spirit is essential to be able to do that. In other words, we as humans are so fallible and you mentioned the sinful nature and what it produces on that list is idolatry, hostility, quarreling, outburst of anger, dissension and division. I mean, that's how my kids acting, but there's a plenty of parents exhibiting those qualities as well.

But the Holy Spirit is empowering, produces this kind of fruit and you know them love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. It says there's no law against these things. That tells me there's no defense in our kids when that's what they see in us. There's nothing they can complain about, nothing they can be critical of, but we can't do it on our own strength. And so, the how to is to learn to walk in step with the Holy Spirit and let Him be in control of our lives.

Ron: And of course, sometimes I hear people say, “Well, I would do that if my child would just, you know, back up, be nice,” whatever it is that you want them to do differently. But that brings us back to the golden rule, doesn't it? [Laughter] We got to go first.

Charlotte: That's a good way to put it. You know, the golden rule is applicable in so many areas of our life, but certainly in rearing adult children. If you want them to be kind to you, love you, be thoughtful, appreciate and be grateful for generosity, then we need to do the same. And the more we prime the pump with those types of behaviors that we wish were coming our way, the more likely they are to flow. Instead, the natural tendency and what is pushed in our society is give them a dose of their own medicine.

Ron: Right. Or as I used to say when I was a kid, do it to others before they do it to you. [Laughter]

Charlotte: Even worse, yes.

Ron: Even worse, but of course, do unto others as you would have them to do unto you. You know, you go first and let that be something that sets the tone.

Well, listen, I have appreciated our conversation. I want to end our dialogue with a quote that you included in your book, Life's Third Tri, and then I'd love for you to comment on it. In that book, you share that Mother Teresa once said, “You will teach them to fly, but they will not fly your flight. You will teach them to dream, but they will not dream your dream. You will teach them to live, but they will not live your life. Nevertheless, she said, in every flight, in every life, in every dream, the print of the way you taught them will remain.

Charlotte: Yes, and I'm touched even when you read it again because she is right. We need to have a long view of parenting adult children. You've talked about not using wrong methods of blending a family and pressure cooker and things, trying to do things quickly. Restoring relationships with adult children and making them better, giving them a chance to know the new you that is hopefully maturing over the years, that's what we want to do. And to know that children deep down do love their moms have that confidence and that they are hearing your voice in their minds a lot. Sometimes they're fighting against it, but all that you've put into them is still there just waiting for the day that more of it will be expressed.

Ron: Charlotte, thank you very much for being with me today.

Charlotte: Thank you, Ron. It was a pleasure.

Ron: To you, the listener, I just want to say, check the show notes to learn more about Charlotte and her work and ministry and her resources. Or if you have a question you want to leave us or a suggestion for a future episode, let us know.

Let me just remind all of you that our year end matching gift challenge is right now. FamilyLife Blended is a donor-supported ministry and we've got every dollar this month is going to match, up to $40,000; a gift that has been offered to us so anything you can do would really be appreciated right now. Yes, we're tax-deductible nonprofit so feel free to make that year end gift. Again, check the show notes for directions about how to do that.

Well, next time we're going to be talking with Jim and Shirley Mozena about preparing for and navigating a later life blended family marriage. That's next time on FamilyLife Blended.

I'm Ron Deal. Thanks for listening. And thank you to our production team and donors who make this podcast possible.

FamilyLife Blended is part of the FamilyLife Podcast Network. Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.


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