Q: We raised our daughter to love God. She grew up in a Christian home, made a commitment of salvation and was very involved in her youth group. When she left home for college, everything changed. She rebelled against every moral principle taught and has made poor choices that grieve our hearts. What can we do?
Dr Linda: My heart goes out to you. No parent enjoys watching a once strong godly teenager make poor choices that negatively affect her life. But the reality is that once young adults leave home, they are in charge of their choices. Some are better than others at resisting temptation and standing firm on their convictions.
The biblical directive in Proverbs 22:6 is, “Train up a child in the way he should go. And when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This verse warns us that children must be brought under parental and spiritual control. In some cases, that discipline is lacking in God-loving homes. Parents take their children to church, teach them about God but fail to break their will and properly discipline. That is not the case in your situation.
Other times, parents have been consistent disciplinarians, raise their child with a biblical view, and their child chooses a different way. In those cases, you pray that the godly foundation will eventually win out and the child will come back to his/her senses. Unfortunately that process can mean heartache for a time.
In other cases, family problems that were never addressed may be influencing your daughter. Families that don’t deal well with conflict and don’t get help when family conflict is out of control, produce adult kids unprepared to deal with conflict in their now adult lives. Unresolved family problems carry over to other relationships. For example, one young woman was sexually assaulted as a child. The family never dealt with the trauma and covered it up. Later, that daughter had major boyfriend problems that could be traced back to her childhood sexual assault.
Also, remember every person has a free will and is ultimately responsible before God. Our role as parents is to insure we have done everything possible to shape our children for independent adult life. Take a quick inventory of your parenting: Were you consistent? Did you set godly examples? Did you break your child’s will at a young age? Did you give in too often? Did you address family dysfunction?
Finally, keep in mind that many emerging adults struggle with making their faith their own. They need a personal encounter with the Lord even when they have been raised in a Christian home. Pray to that end–if Christ can show up to Muslims who don’t know Him, He can encounter your daughter in a life changing way. Hold on to that hope and pray to that end.
Obviously parents can’t go back and redo inconsistent parenting, but they can admit failure, talk to their adult children and ask for forgiveness if necessary. You can also talk about foundational principles that bring a happy life. Be honest when reacting to your daughter’s poor choices. Point out the negative consequences that will result from ungodly living. Deal with family problems now. Love her unconditionally but not her sinful behavior or lifestyle.
Above all, pray. Prayer is powerful. The Holy Spirit can remind her of her childhood learning and bring others into her life who will positively influence her. Get support from other parents who will agree to pray with you. She may go through difficulty, but don’t give up on God’s best for her life. Continue to pray and intercede.