How To Best Help Your Adult Child In Difficult Times

Protection – A Parental Priority

As parents, we are wired to protect our children from the start — especially us moms. We take vitamins and eat healthily during our pregnancies. We eliminate anything that may harm the development of the baby growing inside of us; no alcohol, smoking, or caffeine. We cease risky or dangerous activities.

Once our child has entered the world, our protection continues. Babies are strapped snuggly into car seats before riding in a car. We’re careful not to expose them to too many people while their immunities are still developing. We ensure their immunizations are up to date and their surroundings are hazard-free.

As they grow, we do our best to protect them from harm whether an activity, a person, or a thing. Their well-being is our utmost concern.

I remember when my children were toddlers, I was afraid they might be attacked by a dog. I’m sure it was from walks in the neighborhood when we may have walked too close to a fence and were startled by a barking dog. As much as I love dogs, I believed I would be able to take a dog down if it bothered one of my babies — with my bare hands if necessary.

As our children age, we protect them physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  We help them navigate squabbles with friends and the unfair occurrences of life. We may have to help them through a loss of a beloved pet or a grandparent.

Empty Nest Parenting

But, there comes a time when our children leave the nest, and our role as protectors shifts. They may marry and their spouses become like our own children. Instead of physically protecting them, our role switches to praying over them without ceasing.

It is excruciatingly painful to watch your children experience tragedy. It is such a helpless feeling. Your heart aches for them in their sadness.

That is what I experienced recently. 

When Tragedy Strikes

My son-in-law’s father died suddenly and unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago. We had just returned from spending a week in Nashville with our little family of seven when our daughter called to share the devastating news. We were in shock. How? Why? Is there anything we can do?

My husband and I flew back to Nashville to attend this kind man’s memorial service. Our hearts broke for our son-in-law, his brother, and their mom. Both sons gave beautiful eulogies of their father and allowed us a deeper glimpse into his life causing us to deeply regret that we didn’t take the opportunity to spend more time with our daughter’s in-laws. Life is too short for talking about the things you are going to do “one of these days.”

When we reunited with our daughter and son-in-law, we held them, told them we loved them and expressed how sorry we were for their loss. We didn’t try to make sense of it, offer shallow words of wisdom, or trite attempts to comfort. I learned that day that the best thing we can do when our grown children experience heartache is to simply be there for them. 

On the evening of the memorial service, we went to dinner with my son-in-law’s family.  We sat at the table with him and his father’s siblings. It warmed my heart to hear them sharing stories about Steve. With the laughter and the sharing, you could sense that the healing was already beginning.

What Can We Do?

This process of mourning, grieving, and healing will be long and possibly difficult but our kids know that we are there for them, not necessarily to fix anything or make things better but to walk alongside them not only during this season of loss but for all of the seasons in their future.

Sadly, we experienced a similar loss early in our marriage. My husband lost his father at about the same age, although under different circumstances. It was not unexpected. My husband was in his thirties, I was in my late twenties and we had been married less than five years. It wasn’t an easy thing. The recent events with our son-in-law’s father have sparked painful memories.

If you are an empty nester, you have possibly experienced similar or far worse situations with grown children. How did you help your grown children with difficult things? Is simply being there for them good advice? I would love to hear.

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