Apr 22, 2024

How Should I Engage My Rebellious Child?

4 Min Read

The experience of broken relationships with teens or young adults casts a shadow over all of life. Family events that should be full of joy become reminders of loss. Heartbroken, bewildered, and confused parents don’t know where to turn.

There are many explanations for broken relationships between parents and children. But the common element in all broken relationships is simply this: we sin, and we’re sinned against. No one escapes, not even the most diligent parent. How can parents get beyond this brokenness to reconciliation? The Bible answers this often-painful question.

The Scriptures are full of the qualities and content of reconciliation. It is a spiritual journey—a process, not an event. Let us consider some biblical counsel for dealing with broken relationships with older children that have been caused by sin and rebellion.

1. Remember God’s purposes.

Rather than concluding that all your efforts with your teen or adult child have failed, remember God’s promises and exercise patience. Remember God’s agenda for us as parents. He is making us like Christ. He is always at work to refine us through our trials, whether they are trials of our own making or foisted on us by others or the circumstances of life. You are never at a place where your work has been in vain. You are on a journey, and God is a faithful heavenly Father. “Giving up” is a sign that you are hoping in your efforts rather than the work of God’s Spirit. I am not denying the heartache and loss that attends broken relationships with children, but despair can reflect unbelief. Remember that God’s Spirit brings change—not our efforts.

Biblical reconciliation must start in our own hearts. Focus on how God’s Spirit brings insight and transformation to your own soul. We need insight into ways we may have contributed to the breakdown. I think of this as disarming rebellion. We want to remove any sense of justification our teen or adult child may feel against us as we initiate reconciliation. Humility is the heart of reconciliation. Reconciliation must be about the spiritual well-being of your child. Don’t think, “How can I fix my rebellious kid?” Think, rather, “How is God using people and circumstances to make me like Christ?” Reconciliation cannot be about feeling better, getting it off your chest, getting on with life, justifying yourself, or clearing your conscience. Embrace the trial, for it takes you to God. His purpose is that you focus on Christ. The refiner’s fire is transforming; it produces pure gold.

2. Prayer is a primary ingredient of reconciliation.

Pray for humility. Pray for God’s forgiveness for ways you may have been complicit in the breakdown. Pray for (and with) your spouse and your child. Pray for a peacemaker’s heart and the will to listen. Pray that you will not give way to fear. Pray that you will love as you have been loved. You want to enter your child’s world with the life-giving message of the gospel. Humility and prayer prepare you for disarming conversations with your teenage or adult child.

Consider the opportunities that lie ahead. You may have some difficult hurdles. But if your child sees and hears godly resolve in your voice and attitude, it will promote healing. Determine to leave your child with your desire to love them as Christ has loved you.

It is good for children to live with loyalty and love for their parents. It is lovely to have the family serve together in Christ’s kingdom. It is precious to see generation follow generation in God’s ways. But we are in danger when we must have these blessings, or when we are disconsolate and despairing such that we find no comfort or hope in God.

God created us for relationships. Our relationship with God and our relationships with others were patterned after the relationship of love, communication, and purpose eternally present in the Trinity. Naturally, our hearts ache when we experience broken relationships in God’s central human relationship circle, the family. But, praise God, He has created the means of reconciliation. Reconciliation is most powerfully modeled in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ to reconcile us to our heavenly Father.

3. Love with humility.

We continue to live genuine and humble Christian faith. Love as God loved you. Surround your relationship expectations with the beauty, grace, compassion, and understanding that Christ extended to you. Christ is making intercession for you before the Father. Your rebellious child should see and hear in you the same welcome that Christ extends to all in peril.

If tempted to despair, don’t lose heart. Remember Christ’s call to the weary and heavy laden in Matthew 11:28–30. It not only welcomes sinners but promises shelter for believers.

It is hard to humble ourselves to acknowledge our complicity in broken relationships. It is hard to repent without defending our just and honorable sacrifice, our good intentions, and our sincere efforts as parents. It is hard to confront rebellion with Christlike attitudes. How can we seek to accomplish this disarming ministry? Peter provides a timely reminder for our guidance and encouragement:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3–4)