Releasing Your Child to Adulthood
About the Guest
You'll have a relationship with your children throughout their lives, but the rules will change as they reach adulthood. Dennis and Barbara Rainey talk about relating to your children once they leave the nest.
Dennis and Barbara RaineyDennis and Barbara Rainey cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry of Cru®. Their 43+ years of leadership enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry in more than 109 countries. Together they have spoken at over 150 Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways and authored or co-authored more than 35 books, including best-selling Moments Together for Couples, Staying Close, A Symphony in the Dark, and Barbara’s most recent, Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife...more
You’ll have a relationship with your children throughout their lives, but the rules will change as they reach adulthood. Dennis and Barbara Rainey talk about relating to your children once they leave the nest.
Releasing Your Child to Adulthood
Bob: There is a time when our children need to be released to assume full adult responsibilities. Here is Barbara Rainey.
Barbara: It was interesting to watch as our kids neared that senior year in college, as they began to ponder, because they knew it was coming—they knew they were going to have to start paying for their own car insurance and their own place to live, and they began to get real serious about life. It was good for them, though, because the easy thing for them would have been to have come back home and just hung out as long as we'd let them; and that wouldn't have been healthy.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, February 27th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey. I'm Bob Lepine. Our children will always be our children; but as they grow, our relationship with them had better change.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.
The topic we're going to be talking about this week brings to mind a conversation that both of us were involved in recently. In fact, I think you were there, as well, Barbara—Barbara Rainey joining us.
Barbara: Thank you, Bob.
Dennis: Back by popular demand and by the request of many of our listeners, I might add. [Laughter]
Bob: That's right. In fact—I haven't seen this—but you get the feeling that some of the listeners are wishing we'd just kind of fade away and turn the whole thing over to her.
Dennis: Yes; I think you're right, Bob. She, of course, is smiling and loving every minute of it. [Laughter]
Bob: We were in a conversation recently with some friends—and I don't remember who said this—but I think, Barbara, you were talking about back when you were a mom. Somebody said, "You're still a mom!"
Barbara: Yes; that was the comment.
Bob: Do you remember that?
Barbara: I do.
Bob: Now, you are still a mom, but it's not like it used to be; right?
Barbara: That's right; it's very different.
Bob: And that's really what we want to spend some time with this week. There does come a point in our parenting when things change, significantly.
That's the way it's supposed to be; right?
Dennis: It is. And I go back to my own days when I was a single young man, 18 years old. I had pretty much most of my worldly belongings in the back set of my four-door Chevrolet Bel Air sedan. My dad would never trust me with a hardtop. Do we have hardtops today? I guess that is really—
Barbara: Nobody calls them hardtop.
Dennis: They don't call them hardtops anymore—
Barbara: They do have them.
Dennis: —but my six-cylinder Bel Air, white, Chevrolet, to head off to junior college. I remember my mom and dad standing there, in that gravel driveway, as I pulled out to leave. It was an incredibly emotional moment, and there was a reason. That really was as close to any transition that I made toward manhood until I got married later on; but that transition of leaving home, to go away to college, really was a major transition in my quest for adulthood.
Bob: And we've talked about life transitions in parenting. When a child goes off to elementary school, that's a transitional moment; isn't it?
Barbara: Yes; it is.
Bob: There's a time when puberty arrives—that's a transitional time. When you hand the car keys over for the first time and say, “You’re on your own.”
Dennis: That's a dangerous time. [Laughter]
Barbara: —a scary time!
Bob: And then, there is the end of high school—and whether it' is college that's next, or military, or a job that is next—that's a transition point. Then, the next one is where it gets kind of muddy—you know?— because it may be that the next transition point is marriage.
Dennis: What do you call it?
Bob: Yes; what do you call it?!
Dennis: It's a major transition phase. I think we, as parents, need to be purposeful as we release our children. Over in Psalm 1:27, verse 3 and 4, the Psalmist writes, "Behold, children are a gift of the Lord.
“The fruit of the womb is a reward." Now, Barbara and I have experienced the reward of God in our six children—what a privilege. And sometimes, Bob, you have to be finished with a task to appreciate what a glorious task it was to begin with. But the privilege of being parents, for us, is one of the highest and holiest privileges we've ever had.
But the children weren't given to us to keep as a reward. They were given to us, according to verse 4 that follows: "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate." The Psalmist declares that children are like an arrow. An arrow wasn't designed to stay in the quiver. The arrow was designed to be placed against the bow, to allow it to be slid into that little nock where the archer pulls it back, aims in a direction that it is intended to go and lets go.
Well, at that moment, two things happen. The arrow whips off of the bow, and the string slaps the forearm of the archer—that's known as string slap, and it hurts. Anybody who has ever launched an arrow and has experienced string slap knows that when the string is released—bingo!—I mean, it socks you on the forearm. Well, releasing children—for parents, releasing them to adulthood hurts the heart; and it's not an easy process. But we, as parents—I think, today, more than ever because of the dangers of the culture—we need to know how to purposefully let go and give our children a sense of mission but release them, under the care of God and the Holy Spirit, to become the young men and women that He wants them to be.
Bob: Throughout the rest of their lives, we're going to continue to have a relationship with our children. Even after the release has taken place, there will be relationship, and we will still be Mom and Dad; but the rules for being Mom and Dad change after they've been released and after they've become adults.
Barbara, does that release point happen at the end of high school, or is it sometime after that that a real release takes place and there is a full emancipation of that child / recognition that that child is now really an adult? College still feels kind of like semi-adulthood; you know what I mean?
Barbara: Oh, I know exactly what you mean. I think, for us, the decision that we made was that college would be sort of a transition time. They are on their own much more than they ever have been—they have control over their time, they have control over a certain amount of money, what classes they take, what major / all of those kinds of things—
—but they're not fully on their own, financially. It is a transition.
Dennis: Yes; and I want to just say, there, that we have never given our children enough money to go to college to live off of. That's been intentional; because I don't want them, in this transition period, to become more dependent upon us to be living like an adult while dependent upon Mom and Dad to provide that standard of living for them. If they want to live like an adult, then, they're going to have to go to work to provide the money for their adult tastes.
Bob: But it is still a time of semi-adulthood— I'm even thinking of a child who is beginning a vocation / starting a job—maybe, they graduate from high school, and they go to work at a bank or they go to work in some career area—maybe, even the transition into the military.
There is still this phase that it feels like a child goes through.
Well, I know how it worked for me. When I came home from college, I brought my laundry—Mom still did my laundry. Now, if I'm an adult, I don't take my laundry home to Mom; and yet, I was making adult decisions about all kinds of things.
So, I guess the question is: “Are children aware, when they're in the midst of this phase, that it is a transition phase—that it's leading to a full-release point—and are we doing things, consciously, to get ready to finally release that bowstring officially and let the arrow fly completely on its own?”
Barbara: I think the answer is that parents need to think that through and communicate that to their children; because I think the ambiguity is what produces tension in relationships, because kids want to be independent / they want to be free—they want to make those adult decisions. Unless there is a clear communication as to what decisions are theirs to make and which ones are still the parents' to make, then, you’re setting yourself up for conflict.
Dennis: Picture yourself in a big building, and let's say you're in a hall. There was no light in the hall to know which way was out—there were no exit signs. How would you feel? Well, you might feel a little panicky, like: “Where am I supposed to go?! How do I get out of here?!” I think young men and women, in this transition period of life, need exit signs. They need the parents to highlight when that exit is going to occur, the terms under which that exit will occur, and even some of the timing of that exit.
Bob: TIME®magazine defined a whole group of young people as what they called “Twixters”—people who are between college but they are not really fully embracing adulthood yet—
—they’re kind of in between. And you said that there are words in other cultures that you’ve come across that define the same phenomenon; right?
Dennis: Yes; that same TIME magazine article said that they’re called Boomerang Kids in Canada. They’re called Kippers in England—kippers because they’re—
Bob: “The little kippers!” [Laughter]
Dennis: —going home to Mom and Dad, spending all of Mum and Dad’s retirement. They are Nesthockers—I kind of like that word! [Laughter] It has a little bit of disdain to it—Nesthockers—
Bob: “You little Nesthocker, you!” [Laughter]
Dennis: —in Germany. And Mammone—now, that’s Italy—
Dennis: —Mamma’s cooking—although that had a Southern accent / that couldn’t have been Italy. [Laughter] And then, in Japan, they are called Freeders.
Bob: Yes; and you can tell why they are called Freeders.
Dennis: Freeders in Japan—because they hop jobs all the time; and they still live at home, allowing Mom and Dad to support their standard of living.
Bob: You’re talking about young people who don’t see an exit sign or aren’t sure which one they want to take—maybe, there are a bunch of them out there, and they are just not sure which one to take—so all they do is—they just go back the direction in which they came and say, “I’ll just camp out here until I decide”; right?
Dennis: That’s right, Bob. That is why they call them a Boomerang Kid.
I believe God made a husband and a wife to give birth to children, to raise them, to rear them toward adulthood and maturity; and I think—as the Book of Proverbs spells out—I think, a husband and a wife were kind of meant to relish in the product of all those years of labor and to say: “Look at this child. We’ve raised this child to adulthood. They’re on their own. They are doing well.”
At this point, I want to define what I think true biblical adulthood is. It's raising a child who will be independently dependent upon Jesus Christ—independent of you—
—but dependent on Christ on their own. I think if you've raised someone who has achieved that point, whether they are 19 or 21—the age is not the issue—it is the behavior and the responsibility to commitments that make a person an adult.
In this transition period, between 18 and full, mature adulthood, parents need to have an exit strategy for their young person so that the young person knows there is an end to the subsidy, whether the subsidy be great or whether it be little.
Barbara: I agree.
Bob: Okay; where does that end come? If we say that 18 begins the transition, where do we say, "Transition complete"? Can you set a date or a time for that, Barbara?
Barbara: I think it depends on each child, personally. I think if your children go to college, then, that’s a very logical endpoint.
It was interesting to watch as our kids neared that senior year, as they began to ponder, because they knew it was coming—they began to get real serious about life in that senior year: “What am I going to do? Where am I going to live?” It was good for them, though, because the easy thing for them would have been to have come back home, and just hung out as long as we'd let them, and kind of have this ambiguous relationship; and that wouldn't have been healthy.
Bob: Okay; if they don't go to college, does that release point happen sooner?
Barbara: I think it can happen sooner. I think, again, it depends on their choice. If they're going to get a full-time job somewhere outside of high school—and either delay college for a couple of years or choose not to go to college / go to some kind of vocational school or go into the military—then, I think the transition to adulthood and sort of that official release point that parents would designate would come sooner—
—it could come at the end of a year. It could come at six months, sort of depending on what direction they need to go and what the parents feel like is best for that child.
Bob: So, they go down—they get a job, and they go, “Could I live at home for a year, and store some money, and then get launched on my own?” Are we okay with that?
Barbara: Yes; I think that would be alright if the attitude is right, and we've come to that agreement together—parents and child—we've discussed it, and we feel like that's a good option; because this child has certain goals in mind and they need to save money to accomplish that. I am more than happy, as a parent, to help my child, who is 19 or 20. But it just needs to be pre-determined by the parents and agreed upon so that the child knows exactly what the parameters are—what the guidelines are / and what's expected of him.
Dennis: I would agree with my wife on that as long as there is a clear exit sign—
Dennis: —at the end of the hall that is lit up in red—
Barbara: And I'm saying the same thing—yes; ditto.
Dennis: —because I don't think it's healthy for the child to continue on at home indefinitely, as 20, 21, 22, 23, 24—
Dennis: —still living off Mom and Dad, rat-holing the money, and living some kind of lifestyle that is—it's not a real lifestyle. They have to begin to assume responsibility for their own tastes / their own lifestyle habits. I think here is where parents have to be careful not to think with their hearts.
Barbara: I agree.
Dennis: They need to think biblically, with the end in mind. Otherwise, they're going to create an emotional cripple, a child who is going to be dependent upon his parents in unhealthy ways into the future. The ultimate objective is to release the arrow and let it head toward the objective.
Bob: In the middle of this transition, one of the other things that is changing is your relationship with them.
I mean, they're still your kids / you're still their parents; but it feels different now that they're 19 and at college or in a job. You're not parenting the way you were when they were juniors in high school; right?
Dennis: We tend to look at this transition period as just the child who is transitioning, but that's not the case. Yes; the child is transitioning from childhood—emerging out of adolescence toward adulthood—but we, as parents, have a huge transition that we're working on and we're working through as we relate to this transitioning young adult as they move toward adulthood. We're evaluating our own role: “What's our assignment as we relate to them / how we relate to them?” It's so easy to keep falling back into the pattern and habit of relating to them like they're children.
Bob: Yes; in fact, let me give you a very specific question, Barbara:
“When your children came home from college, and they were home for Christmas break or for spring break, did they have a curfew?”
Barbara: No; they didn't have a curfew. What we did with our kids is—we came to the conclusion that, because they were on their own in college and they could make their own decisions about coming in, that to revert back to the old ways of high school would be demeaning. It was just unnecessary; but while they were home, however, I wanted to know where they were. It wasn't a parental kind of a thing, where I said, "You have to tell me where you're going and what you're doing," and all that kind of thing. We just said, “When you're home, the kind thing to do is to let us know when you're leaving the house so we know you're gone when you're gone and to let us know when you think you might be back.”
Sometimes, I would have the girls knock on the bedroom door when they got in so I knew they were in / sometimes, I didn't.
We didn’t go back to those old rules of having to report in—that kind of thing—but we treated it as a common courtesy kind of a situation, where—I mean, for instance, when Dennis and I leave—I mean, when he goes off in the morning to work—and we're both wandering around the house, he says, "I'm leaving now." It's a common courtesy to inform the person that you love and care about that you're leaving the house, and getting in your car, and driving away—so we expect that of our children.
Bob: And then, when they came in at three in the morning, there was a parent side of you, going, “I wish they'd get home!"
Dennis: Well, you'd complain the next morning a little bit, saying, "What in the world were you doing?" You know, they're just being young people.
Barbara: Well, we just learned to relax with it and just go: “They're doing this at college all the time, anyway; we don't know about it. So, why get up-tight when I do know about it?”
Bob: So, I guess the big ideas that we've talked about already are: “Have an exit strategy in mind”—a point in time—point your kids in that direction / let them know it's coming—get ready for it yourself, and don’t waffle when you get there; right?
Dennis: —“Know what adulthood is.” You're raising your children to become independently dependent upon Jesus Christ. If we're not passing on a faith to our children, where they learn to depend upon Him for the issues of life that they're going to face, then, they're going to miss life. If you miss life, spiritually, you may end up gaining material success; but you know what? If you miss Jesus Christ, then, you've missed life. You have to train your children, I think, to know how to relate to Him on their own when you're not watching.
Bob: And in the midst of the transition phase, you've got to be making adjustments to your relationship. You've got to become less parental. They need to become more mature, and that's part of getting them ready for that final release.
Dennis: And what you can't underestimate—we'll talk more about this later on in the week—but do not underestimate your role—
—not in your child's life—but in your spouse's life in helping him or her make some of these transition points.
I'm looking at Barbara, and I'm smiling; because there have been some moments—when she's turned to me and she's said some things to me—and I've had to put my arm around her and say: "Back off. You need to back off with that daughter / with that son because you're being a mama. You're being a mama.
Barbara: [Laughter} That’s right.
Dennis: “They don't need a mama right now. They need to become a young lady or a young man.”
Bob: Of course, the scary thing for us, as parents, is—we’d like some guarantee that, as young men and young women, they are not going to make any mistakes from here on out. They are going to make mistakes, just like we made mistakes; but that’s hard for us. That’s a challenge for us to do the releasing we need to do when we know they are going to stumble.
I hope our listeners are going to be able to be with us throughout this week as we discuss this. If for some reason they can’t, on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, you can listen to this entire series. Go to the website. There are transcripts available of our conversation. You can stream the audio online. You can download any of these conversations. And all of that, of course, is free of charge.
And let me just say here—the reason it is free of charge is because we’ve got some listeners who have seen to it that what we’re talking about here could be disseminated widely—these are Legacy Partners, who invest in this ministry on a monthly basis, and some of you who will, from time to time, make a contribution to FamilyLife Today. What you are investing in is tens of thousands of marriages and families, who are being influenced by what we’re talking about this week and every week on FamilyLife Today. We’re grateful for those of you who partner with us and have sustained this program through the years.
If you can make a donation today, whether it’s a first-time donation as a new Legacy Partner or it’s a one-time contribution in support of this ministry, we’d love to say, “Thank you,” by sending you Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s devotional book for couples called Moments with You. It’s our thank-you gift when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and make a donation or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation; or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223. We, again, appreciate you being a part of the FamilyLife Today team and helping this program to be heard every day by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
One other heads-up—this coming weekend, we have Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways happening in five or six cities across the country.
—in Cleveland, Ohio; in Chicago, Illinois; and in Nashville, Tennessee—all three cities hosting Weekend to Remember getaways this weekend. We have a team from FamilyLife that is going to be heading out to those three cities—three days, three states, three events—all in one weekend. They are coming around to hear stories from people, like you, who have attended a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
If you’d like to follow the progress of this team and find out about their weekend adventure—and get a glimpse, at the same time, at what happens at a Weekend to Remember getaway—maybe, you’ve never been and wondered what it’s like—you can follow us on Facebook®. So, go to Facebook and look for FamilyLife. Just sign up to follow the feeds this weekend and get the updates from the road trip crew as they are going from city to city this weekend, meeting couples who are experiencing one of the Weekend to Remember marriage getaways.
And I hope you can be back with us tomorrow when we’re going to talk more about the time in parenting when we need to step back, let go, and let our kids grow up. We’ll talk more about that with Dennis and Barbara Rainey tomorrow. I hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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