How to Parent Grown Children Living in Sin

🌺  Written by Brittany Ann

As a Christian parent, do you have an adult child living a sinful lifestyle? Here’s some practical advice on how to parent grown children living in sin.

 How to Parent Grown Children Living in Sin

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a reader who was very upset.

Her adult child has chosen to follow a sinful lifestyle and she wanted to know how to parent grown children Biblically.

She didn’t want to alienate her daughter, but she didn’t want to just sit by either. So she emailed me for advice.

As sad as it is, I’m sure this reader is far from alone in her frustration. Dealing with adult children can be very difficult for many of us.

No matter how wonderful or terrible we all are as Christian parents, when our children reach the adult stage and go out on their own, their choices are theirs to make, and they don’t always make the right ones.

When your grown child makes bad decisions… as a Christian, you definitely want to make the right ones!

To help you make the right choices, I thought I’d share the advice I gave this worried mama, just in case any of you are going through something similar. Hopefully it helps.

 

 

How to Parent Grown Children Living in Sin

 

1. Consider their Spiritual Standing

 

First of all, when understanding how to parent grown children living in sin, I think it’s important to make a distinction between a Christian caught in sin and a non-Christian caught in sin. This was the first question I asked, and it’s the first question you should ask as well.

(And I don’t just mean, did you raise them in the church or are they baptized. I mean, are they a true, practicing Christian?)

If your child isn’t a Christian and they aren’t honoring God with their choices–well, that’s kind of to be expected, isn’t it? How can you/why would you make God your #1 priority if you aren’t even sure He exists in the first place? After all, even Christians mess up quite frequently, and we have the Holy Spirit.

Yes, Christians should judge, but don’t you think it’s just a little unfair to expect non-Christians to get things right all the time if we can’t even manage to do it as Christians?

If your child doesn’t even know God, then knowing God needs to be the first concern, not the sin. Either way, the steps are the same.

 

2. Pray

 

I put this as step #2, but honestly, it’s not a step you can’t just do once and check it off the list. If you’ve been praying for your child since before he or she was born, you aren’t going to stop now that they are adults–or anytime soon.

Whenever we recognize that we have made a bad choice in life, we pray about it. When your grown child makes bad decisions, they may or may not recognize it, so praying for them is one of the best things you can do.

There are prayers that every Christian momma should pray over her kids. Pray that you will have the wisdom to approach the subject at the right time and in the right way. Pray that your heart will be humbled and your motives pure. Pray that your child’s heart will be open to listen to wise counsel and that your child will see the sin for what it truly is. Pray that the situation would work itself out quickly and that God would be honored through all of it.

Pray what you will, but pray!

 

*By the way – if you have a child who really needs your prayer, this printable prayer book will help.

 

 

Related Video: Should You Confront Friends/Family Making Poor Choices?

 

 

3. Discuss

 

You may wonder if it’s your place to say something about your child’s sinful lifestyle. It absolutely is! Not only is judging the sin the loving thing to do sometimes, but as your child’s mother, you are in a unique place of influence.

In figuring out how to parent grown children living in sin, it is your JOB to notice and care. Your child expects (or should expect) you to notice and care.

Please notice, however, that I said “discuss,” not “lecture,” “forbid,” “scold” or “threaten.” Your job is only to have a mature, grown-up conversation. Find out what is going on (as much as you are able). Find out your child’s thoughts on the matter and share yours when appropriate and in a loving way.

 

*See Also: 7 Common Parenting Mistakes You Need to Stop Making Now

 

When parenting adult children, it’s okay to be concerned and to share your beliefs and frustrations. It is not okay to lay down the law. Do way more listening than talking (if you can), and ask honest questions rather than simply stating your views. Learn more and find out what’s really going on before you start in with the consequences. (Plus, there is always a chance that you are the one in the wrong, as painful as that may be to hear…)

 

p.s. Do you have a sense something is going on but you aren’t sure what and your child won’t tell you? If they still live at home, you may want to try an internet accountability software tool like Covenant Eyes. This is a great way to hold each other accountable and get real information–not just what your child wants you to believe. 

 

4. Speak to a Pastor or Trusted Friend

 

What does the Bible say about parenting adults? Even though your child is now an adult, you are still the parent. The Bible gives us insight on how to parent grown children in reminding us that we are still to be honored. Time has no limits on this command.

 

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

–Exodus 20:12

But when your grown child makes bad decisions, and you can’t seem to get through to them, what then?

 

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

–Matthew 18:15-17

 

While the above verses outline what we should do when a fellow Christian is caught up in sin, I believe they also apply to adult children, Christian or not. If your child refuses to listen to you, you may need to ask a trusted third party to help intervene.

Of course, you should never share personal information with the wrong motives. But if you have a pastor or trusted friend whose opinion your child values, it may be wise to ask for their help.

 

5. Let it Go

 

Once you’ve shared your opinion on the situation (in a loving way), there really is nothing else to say. Your child is an adult now and free to make his or her own decisions, even if you don’t agree. There are some things only the Holy Spirit can do and you aren’t the Holy Spirit.

When faced with how to parent adult children, letting go is not an easy step. But you can pray, you can love, you can be concerned. You just can’t make the decision for them. (And if you try, it will likely backfire.)

 

6. Set Boundaries

 

In learning how to parent grown children living in sin, setting boundaries may be needed. Just because you can’t change your child’s behavior doesn’t mean you have to allow or enable it, however.

For example, you can set the rule that your child is not allowed to have their boyfriend or girlfriend stay the night at your house when they come to visit. You may set the rule that you won’t help out financially as long as they are using their money irresponsibly. You may even make the rule that your child is not allowed to visit as long as he or she continues to make poor choices (though I wouldn’t recommend it!).

Even my six year old knows that actions have consequences. You’ll need to decide what they are in your family. (I don’t mean this to be used in a manipulative way at all, so please don’t do that.)

 

Side note — The BEST resource I’ve found for figuring out where your boundaries should be once your children are grown, and how to set boundaries, is the book “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

In this very popular New York Times bestseller, Drs. Cloud and Townsend offer a TON of great Biblical insight on what behaviors are appropriate and not, how to set boundaries, and how to stick up for yourself without being a jerk OR a pushover in the process.

If you ever wonder, “How do I set limits and still be a loving person?” “Where should those limits be?” or “How can I learn to say no without feeling so guilty,” this book will absolutely help.

I’ve recommended it to quite a few people now, and I know you’ll really enjoy it and benefit from it too.

 

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*This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps cover the many costs of running this site and allows me to help provide for my growing family. Thank you!

 

7. Love

 

If you are confused about how to parent grown children, one thing that shouldn’t be too confusing is to simply love them.

Just like tip #2, this tip is one that can’t be confined to an ordered list. Every interaction when parenting adult children should be driven by and characterized by love. The point of these steps isn’t to manipulate your child into doing things your way, but to love your child by helping them make the right decisions.

 

*Related: Are Your Christian Children Prepared for the Real World?

 

Insist on your own way and your child is likely to tune you out. Approach your child with love, humility and gentleness, however, and your child just may be won over, either now or in the future.

No matter how wonderful of a job we do raising our children, figuring out how to parent grown children who aren’t making the best decisions is not easy.

Our children are bound to make mistakes both big and small and some will inevitably walk away. Instead of beating yourself up with guilt or beating your child up with shame, use these seven tips to approach your child in a loving, Christ-like manner. Hopefully they will help, but if not, just remember: God isn’t done with them yet. 

 

Have you ever had to deal with parenting adult children living in sin? Do you have any advice to offer readers on how to parent grown children living in sin?

  1. I sadly find myself currently in this situation. Your advice was on point! You can’t alienate them, because it doesn’t accomplish anything except adding more grief. So I lift my daughter up in lots of fervent prayer. And as you said, I am not her Holy Spirit. Just like when they are young, as a mother, I continue to plant seeds and try to model a life pleasing to God.

  2. Brittney,
    Thank you so much for your article. As a mom of a young adult son who has chosen to live contrary to Christ, I can tell you there is not a lot out there for moms desperate for help! your advice is great. We have been dealing with our prodigal son for 2 years now and I made the classic mistakes of chasing after him. I begged. I got mad. But then I read where the Father WAITED for His son and LOVED. I wished I could say my son was serving Christ today, but I can say my son has started coming home. He calls. He ask us to pray for him regularly. I see the loving hand of my Heavenly Father molding and working on my first born. My God is faithful and I can say my son will turn his heart over to Christ.

  3. These are wise, wise words. I haven’t seen this topic addressed so sensitively before. As the mom of young women ready to venture out into the world, I am hoping they stay to the principles we’ve tried to teach. But our counsel is challenged daily by the world around us. This is helpful advice that I’ll remember as they work out their own adulthood

  4. I admired your advice, particularly the sensitive and thoughtful way it was expressed, but I can’t help being a little uncomfortable with the fact that no one seems to have acknowledged that we are ALL living ‘in sin’. None of us is without sin, we are just in the position of choosing to continue to act sinfully or to stop and seek forgiveness. Please don’t judge your children, readers, love them faults and all, as Christ does.

      1. You are right, we are to judge! But we are not to judge to condemn but we are to judge to identify. That’s where people get it confused. If we don’t judge to identify sin we start compromising what the Bible actually says is sinful. So few people stand for truth anymore because they don’t want to be accused of “judging”

      2. exactly. But we can’t just “throw the baby out with the bathwater” so to speak. Some type of judgement IS right–and we need to make sure we do the right kind and not the wrong.

  5. As an adult child “living in sin” I would like to leave some advise for the parents as they enter into these conversations with their kids. Have an open mind and an open heart. My fiancee and I started “living in sin” 7 years ago and will be getting married this year. We never considered it living in sin. Our generation never had the opportunities of the generations before us. Saddled with student debt, and unable to find and hold jobs, many of us have found our life partners only to look at the wedding industry and say “there is no way we can afford to get married”. As a result we consider ourselves married, and wait the years together (in our eyes married in the eyes of god, if not in the eyes of the church), until we can save enough money to get married in the church. It could be that your adult children are in the same situation. In the end, it is God who will determine if we were married and faithful, not a piece of paper issued by the state or dioceses. Part of being christian is forgiveness and giving things over to God, so be open, and maybe you will be surprised.

  6. Hey Brittany,
    I understand that you wanted a scowling person to illustrate your topic, but , as i am a christian parent with tattoos and piercings, there must be other pictures of people scowling that are more generic. speaking for myself, just based on the picture, i was ready to disregard what you had to say. I’m glad i didn’t and actually read your post. I found what you wrote to be insightful, i just wish you had a different picture.

  7. Thank you for your words of wisdom. I have a grown Daughter who for a while lost her way. She became addicted to perscription pain meds. This was one of the most difficult things she and my family have ever had to go through. But, me and my Husband and her two brothers prayed really hard for her many times. She went through a program called Drug Court. She graduated from it 4 years ago. She has been clean every since then. I know that God knows us he knows our sorrows. He knew how much my heart was aching for my Daughter during her active addiction. We were blessed with a beautiful Granddaughter 4 months ago by my Daughter. And my daughter and I have a relationship that is the best its ever been.

    1. That sounds really rough. I would say I’m sorry you had to go through that, but if God used it for good–then it’s ultimately worth it, I suppose? Anyways, I’m very glad all is well now!

  8. Hi. I am the Christian mother of FOUR adult children, only one of whom knows the Lord. I realize this post was arisen last year, but it is still compelling and much needed today. My children have been through heroin addiction, premarital sexual encounters, even jail time. First let me say they were raised in what we said was a “Christian home”. But I was a false Chrostian, using the title, but I had never had a true conversion experience, and I definitely did not exhibit any fruit of the Holy Spirit. I came to total surrender when my kids were already teens or older.
    But I can tell you from experience- stern rules, lectures, and ‘standing up to the sin’ do not always work well. Our battle is not with out adult children or even their choices, our battle is woth the enemy who is deceiving them. You don’t blame a child when a pedophile attacks them, nor should we hold our children totally culpable for their sinful choices. Yes, the have some responsibility. Yes, there needs to be consequences. I am a firm believer in allowing the full extent of negative consequence for wrong choices!
    The best course of action for a Chrostian parent is not to concentrate on the consequences of the child’s choice, but to concentrate on the enemy that is deceiving our children! We have two main weapons to battle what is happening to our children, God’s Word and fervent prayer! Our other weapons are truth, peace, and love. Love must be central.
    Only God can reach a heart and change it. Like she said, we are not the Holy Spirit!! We do not have the power to bring our children to repentance and surrender!! Our role is a supporting role. Christian parents need to stand firm, set the boundaries and be consistent with them. Allow the consequence for the wrong choices, but do it with right motivation, NEVER out of anger at the child! And above all we need to be in God’s Word, setting an example of righteous redemption. I have found you catch more flies with hiney than with vinegar!

  9. Great article. My situation is my daughter left her husband and two children (and the church) for another man. She was bored with her marriage and claims she never loved him. She is now now pregnant by this man, who is unable to keep a job, no license due to dui’s, lives with his mother (30+ yrs old). She chastise us for “not supporting her, or being there for her”.

    1. Rebecca,
      We are in a similar situation. If you don’t mind sharing, how have you handled this with your grandchildren and son-in-law? How do you handle family holidays with the man she is involved with? Do you have a relationship with her new boyfriend? My adult child was in a difficult marriage and finally had enough. She left the wrong way, but becoming involved with someone else while still married. She is in a new relationship and the aftermath for the children and her ex has been very very difficult. We have met the new BF at her home and at other family gatherings, but are struggling with inviting this new person into our home as the holidays approach. Any advice?

  10. Brittany
    Thank you for the helpful insights. I am encouraged by them. I just hope we do not lose sight of good counsel by an attempt of the enemy to take our eyes off of what really matters.

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