Adult Children Who Make Unwise Choices


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.

Most young parents think that if they do a good job raising their children they will be rewarded with children who are good citizens, live uprightly, and honor their parents. Most mature parents recognize this thinking as a immature dream that was based on the idea that parents alone determine what their children turn out to be. Parents of adult children have had experiences with their children that have “enlightened” them. Parents of adult children have come to recognize that what a child becomes has more to do with decision the child makes then the parenting skills of the parent.
The decision to be a responsible citizen, to live uprightly, to honor parents is an individual decision that has little to do with parental influence and much to do with choice. In the morality plays of the late Middle Ages, actors played character parts given the names of the seven human vices. The names of the characters were Anger, Gluttony, Pride, Sloth, Envy, Greed, and Lust. Although portrayed vividly in plays of the past, these vices are common in all cultures today. And yet these vices are not vices that any parent past or present actually taught their offspring. These vices are a matter of choice and they can spring up in every culture, every social class, every religious group, and every family. No parent can immunize themselves from the possibility of raising children who chose paths that are self centered, self deceiving, undisciplined, or unappreciative.
The effect that poor decision by children has on loving parents is heart breaking. When parents have given their all to a child only to be perceived as “out-of-touch,” irrelevant, controlling, or insensitive, it is difficult and painful for the parent. When friends, family, and others hear of the “wayward” child, the scorn or judgment felt by parents can be very difficult to understand and to live with. Even if the parents knows inside they have done their best, it is hard to understand how people they have known for years can judge them so severely. Normally friendly and caring friends appear to judge, not on the basis of what the parent is or has become, not on the basis of the relationship that the parent has developed over the years with loved ones, but judgment seems to be based on what the parent’s child or children have chosen to do or become.
How can some children raised in families where it is obvious that the parenting skills are poor turn out so good? How can some children raised in families where parenting skills were so sincere and caring turn out so foolish and unwise? It is a matter of choice on the part of the child.
Now, least some of the parents our there start wringing their hands saying why try, let me delve a little farther into this phenomenon. Decisions children make, or for that matter, decisions anyone makes are made based ones perception of the events not on the events themselves. In other words, when a parent intervenes to correct a child, the child can perceive his or her parent as helping or interfering with them. It really is a matter of what the child sees, not what the parent does.
Given this fact, some kids raise themselves. They see the parents always in a positive light and as a result listen and correct mistakes, learn from counsel and correction, and try to understand their parent’s point of view. Other children look at counsel and correction as mean, controlling, and uncaring. These kids need intensive intervention. These kids need help. Unless these children can change there perception of their parents they will be left to the influences of the seven human vices, their immature friends, or the hard knocks of life. These are the ones that the parents or some significant individual needs to get through to. These are the ones who build a shell around themselves that is difficult to penetrate.
How can these children be helped? Is it ever too late? These children can be helped and it is never too late. Luckily for parents, life has a way of teaching lessons no parent could ever have predicted. Children’s eyes can be opened to the reality of their parent’s love at any age and in a variety of circumstances. When children wake up, when they understand that what Mom and Dad were saying was not just a bunch of bull, then they are teachable. When life opens the eyes of children parents must be ready to help. These are the true teaching moments. This is when parents really parent.
To prepare for these teaching moments parents can do several things that will raise the chances that these teaching moments will be effective. Here are some ideas.

  1. In all your relationships with your child be consistent. When children know that you do not change, then they can trust you.
  2. When you must correct your child do not correct in anger. Be matter of fact and sad. Let your child know that when you must correct it is for their benefit and not for control. Let them know that you wish that this correction was not necessary but that you love them enough to help them even if they need to suffer because of poor decisions.
  3. Let your child know that there is nothing they can do to make you stop loving them. Let them know that they are your major concern. Let them know that they are more important then what the others may think. Let them know that they have no power over your decision to love them. To love is your choice not theirs to determine.
  4. Let your children know that you have faith in them and even if they choose unwisely that they are intelligent and noble individuals that can learn from mistakes.
  5. Love your spouse. Do not let the behavior of your children stop your from letting your children know that you and your spouse are united in your effort to help them. Let your children know that they have no power to divide you.
  6. Enjoy life. Develop a hobby or interest. Let your child know that life can go on without them if necessary. Let them know that you enjoy them and would like to be part of their world but you will not be devastated if the decide to separate from you. You can make it on your own.

If a parent can and will prepare themselves by following the advice given here then, when teaching moments happen, the parent will be ready to parent. But more importantly the parent will be ready to enjoy their children and children will be ready to enjoy their parents even if they have chosen to grow the hard way rather than following the path the parent would have had them tread.