FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Walking Through Crisis With Your Adult Children

with Dennis and Barbara Rainey | March 3, 2017
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What should you do when your adult child is in a crisis? How much advice and help do you give? Dennis and Barbara Rainey tell parents what they need as they relate to their adult children in crisis.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • What should you do when your adult child is in a crisis? How much advice and help do you give? Dennis and Barbara Rainey tell parents what they need as they relate to their adult children in crisis.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

What should you do when your adult child is in a crisis? How much advice and help do you give? Dennis and Barbara Rainey tell parents what they need as they relate to their adult children in crisis.

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Walking Through Crisis With Your Adult Children

With Dennis and Barbara Rainey
March 03, 2017
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Bob: Even after your children have grown up and left the nest, what's happening in their lives can continue to have an impact on your marriage. Here is Dennis Rainey.

Dennis: A crisis with an adult child?—it can threaten the marriage of the parents, because the parents can begin to turn against one another as they process grief and they're not off the same page. One wants to rescue and the other wants to let them hit the wall. I mean, the combinations are endless here; but what has to happen is—I think a couple has to go to their knees before God and then ask, in faith, for wisdom.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 3rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. It still requires a lot of wisdom on the part of a parent to know how to relate to a child when he or she is all grown up. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.



And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. You know the story from the Bible of the Good Samaritan; right?

Dennis: Right.

Bob: The guy is off in the ditch—he's been beaten by robbers, who have taken his money—left him for dead. The people pass by and ignore him until a Samaritan comes by. The Samaritan stops and helps him out. I mention that because we've been talking this week about relating, as parents, to our adult children. You and your wife Barbara, who joins us again today—Barbara, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Barbara: Thank you, Bob.

Bob: You guys have told us that what we need to do, as our children reach adulthood, is to get to a point where they are emancipated—where they are no longer under our authority. But there may be times when we pass by, and they're in the ditch.

Barbara: Yes.

Bob: Then: “Do we ignore them when we find them in that situation?” That's the subject we want to explore today:



“What happens when your adult child finds himself or herself in trouble / in crisis?  When do you step back in; or when do you pull away and say: ‘You know what? You're grown up. You're going to have to work your way out of this one yourself.’” That's a tough issue for parents.

Dennis: It is, Bob; and I think, on this one, instead of beginning with what your adult child needs, I want to pull back. In the midst of a crisis—I want to talk to parents about what the parents need as they relate to their adult children in crisis; alright? First of all, I think we need, as we relate to our children, a healthy perspective of God's grace, His mercy, and His forgiveness. You know, Ephesians, Chapter 4, verse 32 says that "We are to forgive one another just as God, in Christ, has forgiven us."



The problem is, as parents, when our children fail, as adults—and they go through an abusive marriage, or get involved in a relationship that's shameful, or an addiction, or maybe go off the deep end and become a full-blown prodigal / publicly dishonoring us—

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: —well, a part of our fiber, as parents, is—we want to grow old, being honored by our children and fulfilling the fifth commandment. The fifth commandment commands children, “Honor your father and mother, that it may be well with you, and that you may live a long life in the land which God gives you.” Well, it’s a command to the children to honor their parents; but it's also a need of the parents to be honored in their later years by their children.

When our children go through a crisis, whether it's self-inflicted or whether they are a victim of some other person, there is a sense in which their shame becomes our shame.

Bob: Yes.



Dennis: And if we, as parents, do not have a healthy perspective of grace—that we're all sinners / that all have failed and that we all are in need of Jesus Christ to have a right standing with God—then they're going to find it very difficult to relate to their adult children.

Bob: Right.

Barbara, you've heard of those young ladies, in particular, who—in the first few years of marriage, have marital issues come up—and they run back home to Mom and Dad and say: "Oh, he's doing this. He's doing that," and they're crying and all of that. I've heard every response from parents—from taking them back in and comforting them / to leaving the door locked and saying, "You go home and work this out on your own." And you never are sure: “Which is the right decision?” because you don't know all the circumstances that are going on back home. How does an adult parent make a decision in a moment like that?


Barbara: Well, I think you have to have a basic framework to operate from; that is that you are assuming some things about the health of the marriage. Basically, what our approach would be is—their first responsibility is to their spouse. And so, when our daughters have talked to me about issues, I'm always pointing them back to their husband.

I even wrote one of my letters—we talked on another broadcast about some letters that I've written—and one of the letters that I wrote was about being careful about how much you say about what's really going on in your marriage; because it is private—it's between you and your husband. You have to be so wise and cautious about what you say and to whom you say it, because you are going to color someone else's thinking about your spouse.

It's so important that you coach your kids—your married kids—on what to say and what not to say and that you are careful about—it's just sacred ground—



—you have to be careful about where you tread, and coach them on how much to say and not to say.

Dennis: And find some mentors that you can say these things to and perhaps get some encouragement, some help, some training, and some godly counsel.

Barbara: Yes.

Dennis: Psalm 1 talks about “Blessed is he who walks in the counsel of the godly.” For each of our adult children, whether they be single or married, for that matter, you want them to have people in their lives who are supplying them with the right type of advice; because there are a lot of people today who would advise a young married, who has run into trouble in their marriage: "Well, just get a divorce.

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: “You can toss in the towel. You don't have to put up with that!” Well, that's not the kind of advice we want our children to have.

Barbara: We've encouraged all of our children to find mentors, who are godly and who will give them godly advice, so that their only source of encouragement and someone to go to isn’t us. We don't want to be the only people that they go to.



We don't want to be the only ones who hear what's going on and that they call when they've got something going on. We want them to have other people to build into their lives besides us.

Bob: We've talked already this week about how you may see your children headed into a decision that you think, "Boy, that's a mistake," but you bite your tongue, as a parent.

Barbara: Yes.

Bob: You let them make some of those mistakes. Yet, some of those mistakes you may see them headed into may be really big life-altering kinds of mistakes. They haven't come to you for advice, but you're concerned that they're headed in a bad direction. When do you step in? What kind of a decision does it need to be before you would say, "They haven't asked, but I've got to say something"?

Dennis: Well, to begin with, Bob, so much of my answer would depend upon the child—my relationship with the child, the type of influence I've had with the child, the type of influence the child has given me in his or her life, as an adult.



If the child is pushing me out, and has made a number of decisions and now is about to hit the wall for the tenth time, maybe the best thing is for them is to hit the wall the tenth time.

Barbara: Yes


Dennis: I think one of the more difficult things in being the parents of adult children is sitting back and watching your children make choices, where you might know that it is foolish, or that it is going to cost them, or that they really have gotten bad advice; but they've got to—they’ve got to experience that.

Just yesterday, I received an email from a friend that told the story of, really, a decade-long battle with a mother and a father and their daughter. They didn't get along—



—if they took one position, the daughter took another. It didn't last just through the teenage years—it moved on into the adult years. There was alcohol; there were drugs; there was sleeping around with multiple partners. Some of this was in front of them / some of it was behind their back; but for this particular dad, it was really interesting. This dad decided, on a trip to go see his daughter, that he would apologize—that he would humble himself before his daughter and share with her that he was sorry for getting angry with her, even though her behavior was wrong, and to ask for her forgiveness.

And the story is a God story—is a God-sized story—because this man did that. His daughter did forgive him—didn't show a lot of emotion. Their visit with her was rather short on that trip; but they said, “Goodbye.”



Some six weeks later, the mother and the father are alone in their home. They're just sitting there, and the dad is doing some email. All of a sudden, an email comes up from his daughter—it's a two-word email—it simply says, "I believe."

His daughter, through some very interesting circumstances that only God could have orchestrated, had finally begun to deal with her pride. Actually, her father dealing with his pride and his arrogance, as he had been angry with her, ended up being the beginning point / the genesis of her beginning to deal with her pride. She came to faith in Christ.

Three days after receiving the email, the father finally was able to talk to her. She said, "Daddy, would you baptize me?" 



She had come to faith in Christ—she had turned from her way of life, and had left a bunch of bad habits, and had turned to Christ. But it took her father first humbling himself before her before she could hear the voice of God.

I think, for a parent, who is watching their adult child go through a crisis—and I'm not talking about a brief crisis—I'm talking about month after month that turns into year after year—it's very easy to become embittered / it's very easy to get angry, where we're just reflecting those emotions to that child and reflecting rejection. What that child does need is—that child does need a combination of love and truth held in proper tension.



They need to know the truth about themselves / about life, but they also need to know that their parents are there for them—that their parents still love them.

Bob: You know, I remember talking to parents, who have an adult child who was married. She was married to a husband who had begun to abuse alcohol and drugs. Their marriage relationship was rocked by that kind of repeated behavior. In fact, there were points at which she felt physically threatened by her husband. The parents, on the one hand, wanted not to step in and become a rescuer; and yet, they were concerned for the physical safety of their daughter.

If you were talking to parents in a similar situation, would you coach them to engage at that point to provide physical protection? Or should they say to a daughter: “You know what? You need to call the police / get your local church involved; but we're not going to be the party that comes in to protect you”?



Barbara: Well, I think I would counsel her to get her church involved and to get others involved. I would pray for her, and I would support her, and love her, and provide what we could; but I think, for the health of her marriage, she doesn't need mommy and daddy coming to rescue, because it would be so easy for that husband to feel like he was being ganged up on by the family. If they would just preserve their ability to have a healthy relationship with him if he did feel like they were on his wife’s team against him.

I think there would be some real wisdom in her getting advice from her church and her pastor—and even calling the police, if necessary—so that there is an objective third party that's intervening, and it's not putting a wedge in the family.

Dennis: Romans, Chapter 13, talks about how God has placed authority in our lives to allow us to live peaceably with one another.



I wouldn't hesitate to tell my daughter to call the police. I also would not hesitate to encourage her to have a game plan if her husband became violent in the future—know whom to call; know what shelter to go to; to know what the steps were going to be in order to bring reconciliation to that marriage.

I think, as parents, what we have to be careful of doing is—we have to be careful of rushing in and rescuing our children inappropriately.

Barbara: I agree.

Dennis: Now, you can't have a one-size-fits-all in a situation like this—

Bob: Right.

Barbara: Yes.

Dennis: —because there are life-and-death situations that occur daily across America—they're on our news nightly—but I do think parents need to encourage their daughters and their sons to be responsible for their own actions.



If they do need help in a life-threatening situation, to have maybe a couple of people they can call outside of you, as parents; but then to be able to call you as well. You don't always know what God is up to in the lives of our children. I think, Bob, sometimes—now, I can't say this 100 percent of the time, but sometimes—I think we, as parents, get in the way of what God wants to teach our children—

Barbara: Yes.

Dennis: —by rushing in too quickly to mask the pain—rescue them away from hurt/difficulty. Boy, those are tough calls!

Barbara: And I think because we love our children so much—and we want to protect them and help them—it keeps us from being able to be objective. That's why I think parents can help connect our kids to those who can provide help. We can be a part of the process in that way—connecting them with a counselor, or a mentor, or those kinds of other people—



—who can provide skilled/trained help that either we might not have or that they can provide in a way that's objective—because I think our emotions cloud it. We can't think straight, and we need someone else, besides just Mom and Dad, who can come in and provide the right kind of skilled help.

Dennis: I want to go back to what the parents need again; because in the midst of a crisis with an adult child, that crisis—depending upon the scope of that crisis—can redefine your world. It can consume your waking hours. It's at those moments, where a husband and a wife have to pull together and provide some boundaries for one another. It may be, for a certain period of time—that a child calling his or her mom may be off-limits—that may be a boundary you have to build around your wife simply because of the hardwiring of a mother.

Bob: Yes.



Dennis: A mother may need to be protected, by her husband, from an adult child who is in habitual crisis.

Bob: I'm thinking, as a daddy of a daughter, it can cut both ways too.

Barbara: Yes.

Bob: I could see where my daughter could call me, and play on my emotions and my soft side, and so you've got to be careful. That's where wisdom, as a couple, can come to bear and know, “We've got to stand together on this.”

Dennis: You really do need to work together, as a couple, and talk about this; because a crisis with an adult child—now, I know what I'm about to say here is pretty controversial—but it can threaten the marriage of the parents, because what can happen is—the husband and the wife / the parents can begin to turn against one another as they process grief, shame, dishonor, discouragement. Maybe they have different approaches to solving the problem with the adult child, and they're not off the same page—



—one wants to rescue and the other wants to let them hit the wall. I mean, the combinations are endless here.

But what has to happen here is—a pair of parents, I believe, have to go to their knees before God; and I think they have to cry out to God, "Lord God, You promised in James, Chapter 1, verses 2-8, that when we encounter various trials, to count it all joy; and then come to You and ask in faith for wisdom,”—and then to wait for wisdom—don't rush, headlong, into a solution. Wait for God to bring wisdom.

And it may be, for the adult parents, one of the most important things you can do is to gather around yourself a couple of other godly counselors to help you know what you should say and what you shouldn't say—to know how much of a solution you should be a part of and how to keep your distance.

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: You know, there are just a couple more words of counsel I'd like to give parents who have an adult child who is in a crisis:



“Watch your words. Be careful what you say—‘My way or the highway!’” Those words can cut deep, and they can hurt for a long time. Be careful how much of your anger you share with your adult child of what you're feeling. There is a way we can be angry and not sin. I think there is a way to express it to a child, in the midst of this, where, perhaps, it will take your anger for them to hear it.

There's where the gospel comes in, Bob. God is a God of redemption, and we should remember the story of the prodigal son and his father. The father never stopped looking for the son, and he prayed for him. Even though that young lad was down with the pigs and had squandered away his inheritance, the father's love fueled his soul to keep on looking out for him.



It's the love of a parent—how can you say it?—that's the assignment we have as we relate to our adult children—to represent His unconditional love—but, with tongue in cheek, I would say, not necessarily unconditional or unlimited finances.

Bob: Yes; part of our job is to help our children learn to trust God and His provision for their lives. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills; we don't. It’s not good for them to always keep coming to you for some of your cattle. You need to be pointing them to God and His provision. In fact, we’ve talked many times—we’ve been amazed at children, who’ve inherited a whole lot of money from their parents, and it’s ruined them.

Dennis: Yes.

Bob: So we have to be wise, as moms and dads, in this whole process. I think you helped us, this week, think through some of the tough issues we face as we let our children go. I hope our listeners have had a chance to be with us for the whole series.



If not, it is available on our website at This is one of those series for you to download, which you can do, free of charge. You can print out the transcripts if you’d like, and read over the transcripts. Maybe you get together with a small group, and go through this material, and just talk about how you handle this with your adult children. Go to if you want to stream these programs or download them. If you need our mobile app so that you can listen to these programs on your mobile device, we’ve got information on how you can get the FamilyLife app when you go to

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Now, this is a big week for us, here at FamilyLife. We’ve got six Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways happening this weekend: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; Rochester, New York; and then there are three getaways happening in the central part of the United States. In fact, we’ve got a road team that is going to be on-hand this weekend at all three of these events. They are tonight in Cleveland, Ohio; tomorrow in Chicago, Illinois; and then Sunday, they’re going to be in Nashville.

They are there to hear from listeners about their experience of a Weekend to Remember, and to give you—if you’ve never been—a glimpse at what one of these events looks like so that you can decide whether or not you’d like to come join us for a weekend getaway. You can follow us on Facebook®. There will be Facebook Live updates being posted / videos being posted—



—all kinds of pictures with a lot of fun stuff going on this weekend. Again, go to if you need a link to the FamilyLife Facebook page. Just follow the fun this weekend—three states / three events—one team on the road capturing it all. I hope you’re able to follow along with us, online.

And I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this Sunday. I hope you have a great weekend, and then join us back on Monday.

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 Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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