For the Burdened Parent of College- Aged and Young Adult Children 

I see you. You’re worried and hurting. You feel judged, embarrassed, and alone. You thought at this stage in life you would be footloose and fancy free. No one ever said this phase in parenting may be the hardest yet, and you wonder if that’s because it’s not that hard for anyone but you. After all, it seems as if everyone else’s children are following the script, doing what they are supposed to do and doing it well. Not that you’re not happy for them, but why can’t this be your story too? You fear you failed as a parent and no one else can relate.

I don’t know the specifics of your story, but I’ve heard the heartache, confusion, regret, fear, and shame from enough parents of young adult children to know you aren’t alone. As a mom in this stage of parenting myself, I also know full well that the worrying doesn’t stop at graduation, when our kids leave the nest, become financially independent, or get married. Rather, the stakes of our What-if worries become a whole lot greater, intensified by the knowledge now that we really don’t have any control.

For all who are burdened—whether your child is a prodigal living in outright rebellion against God, struggling to find his way, making poor decisions, caught up in the world or something else—know that while we may not have any control, as believers we have these three things:

A God who unconditionally loves and delights in us.

For those who are in Christ, you have God’s perpetual smile. Nothing you did earned his favor, and nothing you failed to do can take it away. His smile rests upon you because Christ did everything right on your behalf. He lived the perfect life, measured up to all God’s righteous law, and died a sacrificial life in our place so that we could have God’s favor. It’s his work and worth that make us worthy, not our own doing.

So when you are tempted to beat yourself up for parenting failures (real or perceived), look up to see God’s smile upon you. When you fear the judgment of others, rest knowing God’s mind about you is made up and he is well-pleased. When you fill with shame and your inner critic is loud, trust the truth of God’s word. Because of his love for you, he sent his son to die and then “raised us up and seated us with him in the heavenly realms…” (Eph. 2:6). Your status is secure because of his might alone.

A God who understands us.

Not only did Jesus come so we could be accepted by God, he came in the flesh to enter into our humanity so we could be understood by God. As a man Jesus experienced every emotion that we do. He knows our pain, our suffering, and our sorrows. He knows what it is like to be disappointed, angry, and lonely. Because he does, we can go to him for help and find comfort knowing he identifies with us and has compassion on us.

There is nothing we have to hide, nothing too big, too embarrassing, or too shameful to keep us from going to him as our Great High Priest. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses… Let us then draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16). He gets you even when it feels like no one else does, and he welcomes the muck and the mess that others don’t know what do with it because he took all the mess of the world upon himself so that we would never be alone.

A God who is ruling and reigning on his throne right now.

Despite all the brokenness and suffering of this world, the final verdict has already been declared: It is finished. Christ has won. Sin, suffering and Satan will not prevail. The day will come when there are no more tears (Rev. 21:4), and our faith will be replaced by sight.

In the meantime, our trials can feel insurmountable. We fear our child’s circumstances will never change—that he or she will never come to know Jesus, flee immorality, break free of addiction or depression, overcome an eating disorder or crippling anxiety, learn responsibility, or simply find a spouse and raise a family.  Our minds are flooded with worry. We struggle to sleep. You may even feel stuck in a repeat pattern of coming to their rescue and feeling a glimmer of hope, only for things to go right back to what they were. Why won’t God wake them up to their sin, change the way they feel about themselves, or alter the trajectory of their current life all together? “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Ps. 13:1)

And yet God’s word us tells he has not left his throne (Ps. 47:8). He is ruling and reigning, working good for all who love him (Rom. 8:28). Therefore, we are never without hope. Nothing outsizes his grace.

So my hope for you, dear struggling parent, is that you would feel known, understood, and loved by God in Christ Jesus. That his grace would overwhelm you to the point that even on your hardest, most worrisome days, you would know he holds you tight. That you would bring to Jesus all your emotions and deepest worries, the ones you keep hidden from others out of fear of being too much, misunderstood, or judged. Your child’s problems are not too big for him to handle; he wants to carry them for you. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

Your burden is not too much for him. May the rest he offers and the peace that passes understanding be a reality for you.

Kristen Hatton holds a master’s in counseling and works primarily with teen girls, parents and families. She is the author of Parenting Ahead (2023 release), The Gospel-Centered Life in Exodus for StudentsFace Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World, and Get Your Story Straight. Kristen and her pastor husband reside in Dallas, Texas and are the parents of three young adults and a son-in-law. Learn more by visiting her website at www.kristenhatton.com.

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