As parents of young adults, our parental roles change when children mature. The primary responsibility of teaching children how to love and make responsible choices remains. However, the methods we use must be different. We no longer establish and enforce the rules, nor discipline our adult children. We don’t prescribe directions or make their decisions. In order to have a viable and mutually rewarding relationship, we must adapt to become an effective encourager.
In the next two blogs, I would like to focus on delineating ways to be a positive encourager to our adult children. There are ways we communicate that result in tension and alienation. However, we can learn to encourage wisely which produces mutual respect and effective problem solving. The Biblical text written in Exodus 18 provides a useful paradigm for encouragement. The chapter describes the interaction between Moses and Jethro his father-in-law. Upon careful reading, one can identify nine components of effective encouragement and observe the outcomes of their dialogue. In this blog, we will discuss the first four components.
The setting for Exodus 18 is the wilderness while Moses is leading and governing the people. Leadership of this group was a burdensome and overwhelming task. Moses’ wife and children had been staying with Jethro. Jethro reached out to Moses to encourage him. Note in verse five that Jethro initiates the contact and went to Moses. This is always the first step to assisting your young adult child. Do not wait for the adult-child to come to you. Do not expect that he or she will approach you nor ask for your help. That is unlikely, since they are developing autonomy from you seeking their own path and identity. Jethro started the conversation by going to Moses. The parent initiates the dialogue. Observe that Jethro brought a gift to Moses (verse 6). Jethro anticipated something that would be meaningful for Moses. He brought Moses’ wife and children. How cool was that!! It was just the refreshment Moses needed. We don’t need to bring such an elaborate gift, but it helps to offer something good without strings attached. Consider your child’s interests or hobbies. Maybe just bring a simple gift such as a cup of coffee or a meal at a favorite restaurant. You could verbalize how much you value your child or compliment certain achievements. The idea is to communicate care and understanding by giving a meaningful gift relevant to the adult child’s perspectives.
The third component of encouragement maybe be the most difficult but also very potent. In verses eight-nine, Moses tells his story, shares what has been happening in his life. Jethro listens. Jethro does not advise nor critique. He makes no suggestions and certainly does not reprimand. He listens empathically to the good and the bad. When your child discloses personal experiences, listen in love. Parents usually are too quick to advise or try to influence their children. We would be much wiser to listen carefully and be slow to speak. Then Jethro affirms Moses and rejoices with him about the good event. Jethro does not point out weakness nor strategize for change. I can imagine Jethro laughing and crying as Moses shares. Jethro is “delighted” to hear about Moses and said, “Praise be to God” regarding positive experiences. We can be on the alert for positive attitudes or actions in our children and clearly affirm their efforts.
Next month, we will continue to analyze the passage for other components of encouragement. I truly believe the sequence of these encouraging steps are significant.