To the Parent Who Doesn’t Have a Relationship with Your Grown Child

There is a thought stirring in me that I must give air too. I’m hoping it won’t be as scary if I can give air to it. Keeping it inside my head is scary.

I wonder if one of our sons will ever be in relationship with us again.

He doesn’t have to. We have no legal tie to him. We just started raising him when he was around 12. We have given him a safe home and unconditional love for over 25 years now. His story is my story. Photos of him are everywhere.

We have also had seasons of when we don’t hear from him. Years. But he always returns. Then he wanders away again. Then he returns. We are in one of those times when we don’t hear from him. But I’m wondering (is fear speaking?) that at age 37 he will make the final decision to separate from us.

Will he want a fresh start away from us? I hope that also means away from his birth family but that is complicated. Too complicated for me to give sound advice on.

Is he tired of disappointing us? Of making me so sad?

Is this the time he is too exhausted to even try to stay connected to a normal life?

Or is this the time he puts in the hard work to heal—and thus has to separate from us for a time to heal?

Will I be okay if he decides to permanently disconnect from us?

The “what ifs” could haunt me. We have consistently pushed him to find healing for the tragedies that have happened in his life. Maybe he is just tired of trying to “get better.” Maybe he thinks he can never get better so he will avoid us to spare us that pain. Maybe he is tired of my pushing. I can’t push if he doesn’t talk to us.

Will I be okay if I have a son in pictures and memories only while he has a life away from us?

My bravery to put some air to this comes from this great book I read, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst. This nugget specifically:

When you are living in your “I don’t know,” the Holy Spirit will make known to you the things the Father knows will help you. –Lysa TerKeurst, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, p. 191

Then she gives us this scripture, John 16:12-15:

“There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’”

There is that lovely “I don’t know” time period. While we are in it the Spirit of truth comes to guide us into the truth.

I can overwhelm myself with the “what ifs” and even worse “what I should have done” but it is highly likely that a lot of that is based on a lie(s). I truly don’t know what the truth of the matter is right now. My fears—as well as my son’s repeated behavior (this is a truth and is a part of the equation)—have me whirling on a future possible permanent separation. This is almost more comfortable than just living in this “I don’t know” time. It’s like I’m setting myself up for the coming hurt now so it won’t hurt as much when it does it happen. But that is not a when. This is only an if. It is the lie I’m telling myself so I won’t hurt as much if this does come to be.

How can I protect my heart from such a devastating outcome while trusting that the Holy Spirit is telling me just what the Father wants me to hear at this time? By staying in this holy tension. By not jumping to a conclusion to protect my heart before it becomes reality. Holy tension defined here is the discomfort of being stuck in between but knowing that if you can make a brave vulnerable decision something holy is going to happen. Holy tension is very much a part of a brave life.

The truth is I love a son who struggles. I know I will love him no matter what the outcome of his life is. This is parent’s heart stuff that is part of the core of who we are as parents. This means my heart will be smashed again. This also means that I truly put the skin on this life quote of mine:

“The brokenhearted are indeed the bravest among us—they dared to love, and they dared to forgive.” –Dr. Brene Brown

So my son is not talking with us right now. This doesn’t mean that I’m not a parent to him. It certainly means I’m not out pursuing him, bantering him, begging him, guilting him to stay in relationship with us. It means I trust God for the outcome and every minute I have loved this beautiful boy has made me a better person. This better person is learning to lean into listening to the Holy Spirit who is revealing to me all that I can know from the Father at this very time, this “I don’t know time.” This leaning in requires me to be still, to pray, to stop my frantic brain, to study God’s word deeper, to ask others to pray for me (because there are times I cannot pray). In other words, to do behaviors that will make me a better person. A better person of faith.

Which makes my identity not as my son’s mom but as God’s delight. One of those identities is not possible right now. The other is where my brave life starts from.

To you who has a grown child not in relationship right now, you are God’s delight. Lean in and find that out for yourself. Vulnerability is required. Holy tension is uncomfortable. But this is the better choice for the hurt that is real.

p.s. Surprise, surprise. Just before I posted this, after all of the tweaking to express my scared and broken heart, I received a Mother’s Day card from him. He closed his letter with “Your son’s becoming a man! Sounds funny at 37 but better late than never. Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day!”

This doesn’t really explain all of the silence and missing months of his life. But I do believe something holy is happening. More importantly, it is happening in me too.

(photo credit:


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