Her son is going through what my husband and I call our son’s “broken boy years.”
For us, those were his years between twelve and twenty-nine, when the cause-and-effect cells were waiting to spring to life in his brain.
When our son was young, he was prone to activities like jumping from high places and breaking bones. Then jumping from the same place again the next day. Or chowing down on electrical cords. Or in his teen years playing “pranks” that tiptoed up to the edge of the law and actually hung his toes over the line.
Get my point?
Our son never want to hurt anyone. He didn’t plan to break the law. But thinking through consequences wasn’t his strong suit. That can get a boy in trouble. Or a girl. Or anyone.
And it did. His choices kept his father and me awake many long, sleepless nights, clutching our phone in our hands. When it rang, the voice on the other end was often an irate parent or the police. Then came the awful night when the call came from a hospital in Virginia. Our son was a freshman in college in Virginia, hours away from our home in Michigan. He’d been injured in a head-on collision and had sustained a closed-head injury.
My husband and I survived those years, by the grace of God. More importantly, so did our son. Today he is happily married, a father of two, active in his local church, and engaged in on-the-job and community evangelism and outreach. But his prodigal years were some of the most challenging of my life and our marriage.
I don’t claim to be an expert on parenting prodigals. But I can offer encouragement to others, based on my experience.
Keep the main thing the main thing.
The main thing is for you to maintain a positive relationship with your child. I know how imperfect I am and how many times I’ve failed. My Heavenly Father has never kicked me out of the family and offers me mercy and grace. I can talk to Him any time, and He’s there when I need Him. This doesn’t mean He gives me everything I want. But His love isn’t based on what I do or don’t do. My goal has always been to try to love my children unconditionally.
Take initiative to keep communication open.
This can be hard because sometimes our kids are angry at us. Our first response is often to defend ourselves rather than to listen, learn, and examine our hearts and behavior. Sometimes our kids need space to work out their anger away from us. They need the opportunity to express their feelings freely. Disagreement, honest questions, and candid observation do not equal disrespect I say this from experience, remembering the day when my young adult child sat me down and told me how hard I was to live with. I had the choice to listen and honestly reflect on those observations or reject them out of defensiveness and hurt. Keeping lines of communication open requires honesty, integrity, unselfishness, wisdom, and maturity.
Build a support team.
Nothing in my life prepared me for the agony of watching my child make damaging and life-threatening choices over the course of too many years. Our bail bondsman’s name was Smitty. I will never forget the day my son and I were escorted by police off the Christian college campus where he had been enrolled. I knew I needed to talk to people who understood my guilt and shame. I sought out other mothers who had prayed for or were still praying for their prodigal children. I enlisted the prayer support of family members who knew our son well. I also confided my heartache in a few close friends.
Remember, God loves your child more than you do.
I expended myself for years trying to figure out what my son should do with his life. Then I took on the task of trying to persuade him to do it. Why? Because I thought God needed me to direct traffic in my young adult child’s life. I was afraid to trust God to pursue my son and love him and ways that exceeded anything I could see or understand. God loves our children far more than we do. saying that is one things; trusting it is another. Believe it or not, God works in ways that are far more effective than parental elbowing and haggling. So take a deep breath, lean back, dedicate yourself to prayer for your son daughter, then focus your thoughts on God’s limitless love for them. It won’t be easy, but it’s the truth.
Don’t let anxiety for your child overshadow your relationship with Jesus.
Our abilities to trust, discern, make wise discisions, and wait without answers all rely on our spiritual strength. Scripture tells us that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5). In other words, the spiritual nourishment that sustains us and gives us life flows from Him. Keep your personal relationship with Christ first. This requires commitment to reading the Bible (how God talks to us), prayer (how we talk back to God), fellowship with people of God who can offer encouragement, wisdom, and perspective. Fight against shame and false guilt that often pull at us to separate from others. Find a few trusted individuals in your faith community to help encourage and support you.
Perhaps you’ve parented a prodigal. What encouragement would you offer to others?