Parents and their Adult Children
When children become adults, a parent's job gets trickier. Especially when parents and their adult children disagree. Jeff Kemp talks with Michelle HIll about how to navigate this tricky dynamic, and emphasizes the importance of maintaining good relationships between parents and adult kids, on FamilyLife This Week.
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Jeff Kemp is a champion for strengthening relationships and teams. He’s dedicated to building benevolent men, fathering and marriages.
After graduating from Dartmouth College, Jeff joined the National Football League (NFL) as an undrafted free agent. He and his dad, the late Vice-Presidential candidate and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp, became the first of only six sets of NFL father-son quarterbacks. Growing u...more
When children become adults, a parent’s job gets trickier. Jeff Kemp talks with Michelle HIll about thr importance of maintaining good relationships between parents and adult kids.
Parents and their Adult Children
Michelle: I know you understand when I say we live in a divisive culture. I’ve heard from parents that it’s hard to have a conversation with their adult children. I’ve also heard from adult children that they’re having a hard time sharing their feelings with their parents. Jeff Kemp says there’s a reason for this.
Jeff: There is spiritual warfare to divide human beings; that’s Satan’s goal: divide human beings from each other and divide human beings from God. There’re real issues in all this, but the way it’s being handled has spiritual overtones; and the social media world’s making it worse.
Michelle: We’re going to talk about the generational gap that keeps us from seeing each other’s viewpoints. Jeff Kemp/he’s going to give us some great practical advice on having conversations with our adult children and our parents on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Michelle: Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. You know, we live in a land of unrest right now; and it’s not just outside the walls of your house. Somehow, it’s begun to creep in without your knowing it. I’ve heard from parents; they’re saying things like this: “We’ve had a lot of discussions on election, COVID, and BLM. What we’re finding challenging is being between two generations that think differently: parents, who have their thoughts, opinions, beliefs and our adult children, who have their own thoughts, opinions, and beliefs.”
Then I’ve heard from adult children, with their own beliefs and feelings of how to raise children, and they say “Well, my mom and dad/they verbally disagree with me on how I’m raising my kid all the time.” Both sides, whether you’re a parent or an adult child, you’re having a hard time bridging that generational gap.
Jeff Kemp is dad to four adult sons, and he’s had to learn the hard way how to communicate with his sons. If you don’t know Jeff, he is a great guy to know. He was an NFL quarterback. He is an author and a speaker, and he fights hard for the family. Jeff begins our conversation today talking about his relationship with his sons.
Michelle: Okay, Jeff, I want to go back to this place/this identity that you were talking about when you said: “Part of my identity/part of this place that I am is being a dad.” You have four sons/four adult sons. How is your relationship with them?
Jeff: Our relationship with our kids is pretty darn good; I mean, we’re very grateful. I know the realities around us that tons of people, who’ve really loved their kids well, and walked with God, and focused on parenting and stuff are facing a lot of challenges. So it’s not like a formula that I could sit here in any way and say, “Hey, our kids are doing pretty well; we must have done pretty well,” or “We deserve it.” No, I don’t deserve a relationship with God; I have that through grace. I didn’t even deserve to have children; that was a gift of God’s.
But I will say I’m learning that my relationship with them is not as beneficial, and enjoyable, and healthy with them and for them as it should be. Yes, I’m a dad; I’m a husband to Stacy; and I’m a grandpa. My identity is wrapped around relationships, but it’s anchored in the fact that I’m a son of a perfect heavenly Father. That’s one of the most important things we need to get, as parents, and pray for and transfer to our kids.
Michelle: One thing I’ve seen bubbling up over the last year—two years/three years really—but a lot during COVID, was the fact that parents and adult children are having a hard time having a conversation without making one or the other upset.
Michelle: One of the reasons why I talked to you and said, “Can you come on this show?” is because you have decent relationships with your sons, as you just mentioned. I’m wondering, “How did that come about? How did you make the switch from being the disciplinarian, and the mentor, and the teacher—and the: ‘You will do it this way,’—‘No,’/’Yes’; all of that: ‘Yes sir,’/’Yes ma’am,’—whatever to, I don’t know, player/coach?” Is that how you would describe it?
Jeff: Well, yes. I heard from someone the other day that four words, starting with the letter “C,” which shows the transition of parenting from the early stages, where you’re the one protecting them and you’re totally in charge: so you’re the cop; and then you’re the coach—you’re teaching and training—and then you’re the consultant, only on call when they ask for the help.
Jeff: And then finally, if you really want to let them know they are an adult, and you respect them, you step back and just become the cheerleader, or the compadre, or something. You’re a friend, who’s on their side, but you’re not putting yourself above them anymore, even as the consultant, as if I know more. Now, a wise kid realizes: “Man, my mom has so much wisdom; I’m going to ask for some consulting,” and that can happen; but that’s not how the mom views herself anymore—or the dad.
In this answer to this question: “How have we traveled that?” my wife Stacy had the right view that we were raising eaglets that were going to get kicked out of the nest, and they were going to be their own eagles. We need to make that nest a little bit rougher eventually—get all the soft feathers out of there—let them make their mistakes in the home, and then get them out of the home and let them be their own adults, and let go. They belong to God; release them. She was really good on that.
I was never all that tight and clingy to begin with. I was always the fun dad, playing with my kids. Yes, I gave them some inspirational talks and stuff; but I never really changed my style very easily. I kept on inspiring, motivating, wanting to be the mentor: “Hey, did you think about this?” “How ‘bout this?” “How ‘bout that?” “What do you think about this?” “Hey, I saw this…” That wasn’t treating them like men, and that’s what I’m learning.
I’ll say Stacy was a couple of decades ahead of me in this process. [Laughter] I’m, in the last couple of years, really waking up to it. But I don’t mind listening and learning from my kids. That’s what I’ve learned is one of the greatest relationship improvers versus trying to get them to think the right way, vote the right way, take the right biblical position on this, fit into our family schedule/our vacation schedule, our family traditions. You can fight a lot of little battles and lose the war of the heart. If you lose the war of the heart, then you’re losing the relationship/friendship that’s really what you’re dreaming of—a family that gets along in the future, without expectations of each other—but who is magnetized to each other, not obligated to each other.
Michelle: What do you think drives a parent, who says: “I want you to vote this way,” “I want you to think this way,” or trying to prove that they are right to their adult child?
Jeff: Probably good motives from an imperfect, flawed human. The good motive is: “Hey, God gave me these kids; and I’m really responsible to help them become the best version of themselves they can be. We’re a family of faith, and I want them to have strong faith. I want them to know the Word of God; I want them to be able to apply it/enjoy its benefits.” Maybe you’re a citizen, and you really care a whole bunch about America and certain issues, and you feel strongly about that. You want your kids to support that, because it’s going to make a difference for great-great-grandkids and others.
Your motives are pretty good: “I want to leave the world a better place,” and “Influencing my kids is the way to do that”; but it makes you take too much ownership of their life instead of leaving it with God. Then it makes you more pressure-oriented than free and comfortable to let them believe what they believe at the pace at which they’ll believe it, and trust God in prayer. Frankly, work on yourself; because every one of us have things to learn.
Michelle: I was talking with a friend of mine this weekend. I had put a post on social media about having conversations with adult children and parents and what that looks like. I received droves of messages from children and, also, from parents. I had this one lady call me; and she said, “What I have to say I don’t want in a message; I want you to hear it.” She says, “I had to come to the realization that my children’s voice is important and that I need to be listening. I listen to voices all day long. Why can’t I listen to my adult child’s voice?” That’s a really hard realization to come to.
Jeff: Yes, it is. But you can fall into that trap real easily, and it’s been happening for decades; but it’s intensified, aggressively, over this last four years per se.
Michelle: Why is that?
Jeff: The social media world is allowing for a virtual approach to life, where you continually—if you watched the documentary on Netflix called Social Dilemma—all the algorithms continue to feed you the same type of material and messaging that you’ve already shown interest in. You start hearing only one perspective; and the other side’s perspective is presented as really dumb, really wrong, really ignorant. Everyone just gets louder when that’s the case; their style ends up being criticism. Now, it’s even moved to personal character attack; and we don’t mind if we lie and destroy things—the greater cause of our ideology is worth it—social media is a part of it; political division is a part of it.
I hope parents listening—anyone: young people listening, children listening, sons and daughters—there is spiritual warfare to divide human beings, who should be related well and loving each other, even if they’re different. That’s Satan’s goal: divide human beings from each other and divide human beings from God. That’s what this political Black Lives Matter/racial stuff—there’s real issues in all of this—but the way it’s being handled has spiritual overtones, and the social media world’s making it worse.
We’re not just talking about folks, who can’t talk well to their kids or vice versa. I have friends—so do you and some of the listeners out there—literally relationship has been cut off; the kids won’t talk to the parents anymore.
Jeff: They’re attacking them on social media—it’s warfare—some of the situations are that intense.
The real understanding here is that we have let ideology; ideas; positions; and morality; and my version of how I think I need to help my kid figure it out, and do it right, and think the right thing—we’ve let that get in front of loving, validating, listening to them, and as you said, listening to their voice and treating it like it’s an equal voice of an infinitely valuable child of God—same as your voice matters.
Jesus will say, “Don’t look out for your own interest; look out for the interest of others.” If you really want to make things better, invest in the relationship; don’t consume from it. Parents end up consuming from their kids—wanting them to live the life, think the things, vote the way they want, take the biblical positions at the time in life they want them to—rather than giving them time to get there if that’s God’s game plan. That’s a consumer parent—just like the one that wants his kid to get into Harvard so he can brag about it, or take the lead in the Christian play at the Christian school, and be the leader of the discipleship group—you’re consuming what you want from your kid to feel good about you; and that is the opposite of Jesus.
But you’re not alone; I have the same problem. We need to become investors; and the way we can be that is to surrender to Christ, and start having His love make us love our kids to win their heart, not win some argument.
Michelle: Jeff Kemp is so passionate: he’s so passionate about life, and so passionate about God, and so passionate about his kids. I just love sitting across the table and talking with him. We do need to take a break, but we will come back and we will continue our conversation on how to invest in the next generation. Stay tuned. We’ll be back in two minutes.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. We are talking about adult children and parents of adult children and how to bridge that communication gap. We’re talking today with Jeff Kemp.
Jeff, so being an investor means that you’ve got to have a relationship: “How do you have a relationship?” Or let’s talk about rebuilding a relationship—
Jeff: Oh, that’s a good idea.
Michelle: —with a child who does not want to talk to you except bash you on social media. How do you do that?
Jeff: Well, there are parents who have waited many, many years for prodigals to return, and they never quit praying and they never quit sending messages of love. John Piper had a child in this situation, and we heard this on FamilyLife Today®. He just kept sending a short, succinct, loving, and true message: “I’m here for you. I love you. We believe in you, and we’re ready when you want to connect again,”—years/decade.
Number one is prayer. Number two is little messages that: “I’m still here,” but not tweaking messages, like trying to get your point in.
Michelle: It’s almost a manipulative message.
Jeff: And if it isn’t, it’s going to be received that way.
Jeff: Then after that basic prayer—and not giving up on the basic appropriate texts, or note cards, or calls from time to time—as long as they’re just not so mad at you when you call: “Hey, I just want to let you know I love you.” After that, the main strategy is examine yourself: go on a learning lesson—realize anything you can about your personality, your behavior, and your past that hasn’t been ideal towards them—and if God guides you to, with His help, find the right avenue to apologize. Don’t make it about what they’ll apologize to you for or what you’re drumming up energy to forgive them for; make it about you apologizing.
I think the mixture of apologizing for anything specific you’ve done and going on a learning quest: “What can I learn about myself? What am I learning about myself? Is there anything you’d like to share with me that I could learn, not just about you, but about our relationship or even about my character?”—Wow! That’s humble; that’s powerful—people don’t get back in your face and say, “You’re an absolute idiot. I hate you and your generation,” when you say that; because it’s the opposite of what the stereotype is of the elder generation: the moralist/the political stuck-in the-mud conservative.
Michelle: Let’s talk about a parent, who is a moralist. What about an adult child, who’s been taught to think for themselves; and at every chance, it seems like the parent is telling them what to do/how to raise their kids; and really exasperating. In fact, I have a friend, who’s like, “My dad’s exasperating me. For the sake of our relationship, I have to continually bite my tongue; but it’s getting harder, and harder, and harder to do.” How would you challenge that adult child?—or what would you say to them?
Jeff: The adult child—who’s experiencing their parent kind of continuing the parenting your child: “Let me tell you how to do it,” and with it, moralizing and coaching—well, it sounds like that person was choosing grace, and patience, and tolerance, which is a virtue that this new generation has championed. Josh McDowell says we’ve redefined it [tolerance]—to not just let people be who they want to be—but feeling obligated that I’ve got to buy into every idea they have, which that’s just not tenable.
I think that the grace, and patience, and graciousness that that person is extending towards their parent is good; and that earns the right to be heard, at the right time, where you then—whether a letter works best; or intentionally over a cup of coffee; or in a car ride with your parent—where it’s not face to face, and they feel awkward the way when you’re talking with your teenager about sex; you do it in the car, going forward/on a trail or something—in the right moment, you say, “Do I have permission to share something with you? I’d like to share something that would help our relationship.”
Put the motive out there that it’s to their benefit, not just your own; and then dialogue with them about what you’re experiencing: “I don’t know if you intend this, but here’s what I’m experiencing. I feel like you’re saying I don’t think correctly; I’m not Christian enough; I’m not a sound parent, and I need help from someone else like you to tell me how to live. I’d much rather you love and support me; and when I feel comfortable, I’ll come and ask you for help. I’m way less inclined to ask you for help because, frankly, you’re getting on my nerves. You’re bugging me; it’s not coming across well. It’s not working mom,”—that conversation.
Michelle: So what I’m hearing from you—on both sides: on the parent, who is struggling/on the child, who’s struggling—is: “This is the long game. This is looking out over and going, ‘Okay, I need a relationship to work; and it might not happen, instant gratification, right now; but little steps/little steps—humbling, forgiving, asking, “What can we do better? How can we work on this to get us that long game?”’”
Jeff: Yes. Michelle; I totally agree: the long game, the long term, the big picture. Francis Chan, he’s got this amazing YouTube video, where he’s standing on a stage, and he’s trying to make the point to us—I think American Christians in particular—that we’re only seeing the short term of our life on earth and not seeing the whole picture of eternity. He’s got this 100-foot rope—it’s white, and it goes all the way across the stage—he’s standing on one side of the stage, goes all the way across the stage, out the curtains; and he’s holding just the end of it with three inches of red tape on one part of the white rope.
The long white rope represents the next trillion billion infinite years—eternity with God in His kingdom; it doesn’t stop. The red three inches represents our 80-year life. We’re focused on the next two weeks, and our impatience and short-term temporal selfish nature is missing the amazing power of the gospel to bring people into the kingdom and give them time for God to transform them to be kingdom-shapers. That long-term view of getting our eyes off the three inches alone, and onto eternity, would make us more patient; more loving; more self-reflective parents, or grandparents, or young people, or children. I think that’s a really cool word picture. We need a long-term view that God has, and God gives us, and get out of that red three inches.
But what I also say that helps us make change in an area like this is we change through teamwork.
Michelle: Yes; that’s true.
Jeff: We aren’t solo agents; God made us in the body of Christ. It says, in
Ephesians 2:10, we’re a masterpiece/a poiema. We’re God’s creation—plural. Therefore, a dude like me needs to have some other dudes, who he meets with every week. He tells about the issues he’s facing with his kids; or his wife; or his struggle with lust, or his ego, or his pride, or his career.
This one really needs help, and I’ve had help from my small group; I call it my huddle. When I was thinking about doing something—and my friend said, “Do you have really strong credibility in his mind?—or are you lacking a little bit of credibility in this area, and whatever you say isn’t going to come off too well?” I said, “I’m lacking some credibility.” “Do you really want to take that move and have it backfire?” I thought, “No.”
That self-disclosure is where you get real help. I would recommend any grandpa; grandma; mom; or dad; elder person; or the younger generation, trying to figure out: “Why is our relationship so messed up with our parents?” or “…our kids?” get in a team relationship; and process it there. Purify your motives—confess your sin and mistakes to them, which is a better confession than just saying it to God—because we all know we confess things to God; then we go mess up again, and again, and again. If we don’t tell anyone else, we’re not accountable; we don’t change.
Michelle: When we are working in community, we help others with working out their verbal processing. Sometimes, God uses that other person in our life to mirror something that maybe we’re not seeing clearly from Him. He’s using somebody else in our life to change our perspective.
Jeff: Right; I mean, when a friend says “Hey, talk me through what you’re thinking about doing there and what your reasoning is,” they’re helping you process what you really wouldn’t have processed too well. They may say something like, “How do you think that will be received?”; and you might not have even thought about that.
Michelle: That’s true.
Jeff: Now, a good friend isn’t going to say: :”You should do this…” or “You should do this…”—those are the same mistakes you’re making as a parent. They’re just going to ask you really good questions and say, “I’ll pray for you.” But that trust, that openness, that confidentiality, that safe place—to process your real stuff—if you share some embarrassing stupid stuff you’ve done—you’re so afraid of what they’re going to think of you—they end up saying, “Thank you for sharing that; that means so much to me”; then they’re going to come around and share something dumb that they’ve been doing lately, and you’ll be closer friends and more mature for it.
Michelle: Yes; thank you, Jeff, for helping us work through some of these generational gap issues.
Jeff: Oh, you’re welcome. I’m in the journey, learning this stuff. Don’t think that I have it mastered. I hope, if my kids are listening, they’re not thinking that I think I have it mastered. [Laughter] They’re going to say, “Oh my gosh, Dad! You just missed a couple of things.”
Michelle: Such a great conversation with Jeff Kemp; I hope you were encouraged.
You know, one thing that I kept thinking about, while I was talking to him, was the words of 1 Corinthians 13. In verse 4, you hear these words: “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” Going on to verse 5: “It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrong.”
So the next time—parents and your adult children—you all get together, keep those words in mind when maybe things will get a little heated in a conversation: “Love is patient, love is kind.” Just something to think about as you head into this next week.
Hey, next weekend is Valentine’s weekend—so chocolate/roses—all of that kind of stuff. Well we’re going to talk about love next weekend. We’re going to hear from Voddie Baucham; also, Paul David Tripp. Maybe just have some fun with Valentine’s Day. I hope you can join us for that.
Thanks for listening. I want to thank the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Justin Adams. Thank you to our producer, Marques Holt. Justin Adams, pulling double duty, is also our mastering engineer; and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
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