As a thirty-one year old, I’ve often wondered how my parents made the transition from parenting a child in their home to now parenting a child who is grown. Fortunately, I am married to a wonderful woman, am a father to two with a third on the way, and have a job that pays the bills. By God’s grace I don’t fall into the “twixter” category: still living at home and postponing adulthood until well into my thirties. But the challenges of an adult relationship with my parents remain. Whether you are the parent or the grown child, we have all asked the questions: What authority do parents have over their grown children? What should parents do if their adult children make choices with which they disagree? How does a parent relate to adult children still living at home? Should they be charged rent? Expected to do chores? Made to go to church?
You Never Stop Being a Parent by Jim Newheiser and Elyse Fitzpatrick is a welcomed and wise book that deals with this unique relationship. Newheiser and Fitzpatrick draw on their experience as veteran biblical counselors as well as the great wisdom that can only be gained from a solid grasp of Scripture and its intersection with personal experience to help families transition into godly adult relationships. Over ten chapters the authors cover every question that can be imagined on the subject of parenting adult children, considering each biblically and theologically, yet also providing real-life scenarios that don’t shy away from the complexities of real family relationships. The book deals masterfully with the big issues that parents face––preparing for an empty nest, what it means to leave a spiritual inheritance, relating to adult children who live at home, not honoring children above God––as well as those sticky day-to-day issues of micromanagement, conflict, finances, marriage, and in-laws.
As good as every page is, there are two strengths above all others that distinguish this book. First, the authors are honest with parents. They avoid the trap of pinning all relational problems on the younger and less mature children, and instead deal truthfully with the sins, mistakes, inconsistencies, and failures of parents. They do not avoid the selfishness, fear, demandingness, vicarious living, and plain old idolatry that can sometimes mark the lives of parents. For example, the authors are honest that “nagging will always damage a relationship because it is not the fruit of humble respect. It is the fruit of pride and impatience.” Ouch. Yet the authors always give such necessary corrections with encouragement and the hopeful goal of godly and peaceful relationships between parents and children. They continue, “We’ll never be the understanding parent who draws out the deep plans in our child’s heart until the humility of Christ permeates our own hearts.” This honesty results in a book that is valuable not only for parents but for their children, as children will gain insight into the heart-level struggles that occur in parents who must see their children grow into adults who are now responsible for themselves.
Second, this book is about the gospel. Newheiser and Fitzpatrick lay it out early, “This book is unique… Rather than relying on a list of formulaic steps, it will point you to the cross and to the one Man who had a perfect Father, and who was a perfect Son.” They kept their word. On every page, and at every chapter’s conclusion, the example, motivation, and goal is the grace of God in the gospel. As they say so well, parents cannot and will not accomplish anything discussed in the book “if we don’t see ourselves as being both sinful and flawed as well as loved and welcomed.” Like the best books on biblical living, this one is not so much a book on parenting adult children as it is a book on the gospel and its applications to parenting. There is a profound difference between the two.