Marriage and the Family - 18 - Parents with Priorities (2)

Chapter 18

Parents with Priorities (2)

Letting Go

Perhaps the most difficult task which many of us face, is that of letting our children go, granting them their independence.  There really are many reasons why this letting go process is so difficult.  There is a great stress today placed upon bonding between parents and child.  This is one of the strong arguments that has opened up the delivery room at the hospital to the father.  Bonding occurs very early and is essential.  Yet no one talks about letting go.  Parenting is almost unique in that successful parents actually work themselves out of their job.  The better parents do at their job, the less children will need them when they are adults.  Dependent, clinging children who require their parents for decision making and to rescue them from problems, may gratify their parent’s egos and sense of need, but are not functioning well as mature adults.

What is “letting go?”  What does it mean?  Is it pushing our children out into the world?  The word actually denotes the ultimate purpose of parenting; to raise our children to function in the world, seeking God’s will for their own lives.  It is not a cruelty, but a kindness; it is not a mistake, but a mandate.  It is far-reaching and very practical.  It does not mean refusal to help or give counsel when it is requested.  It does mean, however, not seeking to control by demand, interference, or the use of guilt.  This embraces our children and their families.  It will keep parents and in-laws out of the problems of their children unless invited in.  It will respect the autonomy and maturity of those whom we raised.  A lack of confidence in them only reveals a lack of confidence in how well we prepared them for adulthood.

Consider the Biblical basis for this:  Children are God’s gift to us.  They are “the heritage” of the Lord (Psalm 127:3).  They are loaned to us to raise for God.  Each of us should drink deeply of Hannah’s spirit.  Samuel was not “hers;” he belonged to the Lord.  She returned him for God to use.  Children are not our possessions.  We have a stewardship to raise them.  Ours is the privilege of being able to critically influence the lives of others for God.  With every scriptural stewardship, the emphasis is upon being faithful.  When that stewardship is accomplished, we return them to the will of God, not to our wills for their lives.  None of us will ever be called upon to rival Abraham in his display of “letting go,” yet is there not in his sacrifice of Isaac something of this principle?  The dearest object to his heart was given back to God as being more God’s than his.

In Deuteronomy 32:10, 11 God’s dealings with Israel are chronicled for us.  We are told that God “found himled himinstructed himkept him”  This could well correspond to what has been discussed under earlier headings.  While we might judge God’s ways complete as described, he had one final point to teach them.  “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord”  What is the picture?  That of the eagle preparing her young for independence.  It is not certainly the thought that God desires us to live independent of Himself.  Rather God was preparing His people for living in the land, mature and capable of decisions.

God was, with Israel and also with us, continually leading us to more full-grown stature.  This never dissolves bonds, but replaces the ties of infancy with a relationship that is far more satisfying and honoring to Him.


When nations grant independence to once former territories or colonies, it is not with the idea of dissolving all bonds, but of maintaining and strengthening what was vital and valuable, while doing away with what is no longer needed.

It is the same with parents.  God has given us children for a few short years to raise and then to deliver back to Him that they might live their lives according to His will and for His glory.  This is precisely why “letting go” is so difficult.

Bear with me a minute and see if these truths do not find an echo in your heart.  After raising a child for eighteen years, we have a tremendous investment in him.  We are confronted first of all with the idea of “losing” something.  It is naturally against our instincts.  Granting them independence is also difficult because our identity is so wrapped up in our children.  What they do reflects upon us and we are often afraid.  To relinquish control of their lives means just that.  We can no longer dictate or influence the choices which they make.  Instinctively, some parents begin to tighten the reins that bind them to their children.  This only leads to conflict and, at worst, rebellion.  At the very stage when development suggests granting further freedom, a tightening of control causes tragic confrontation.

Sadly in some instances, the role of the dependent child has been reversed and now parents become dependent on their children and “need” them.  I am not speaking now of physical handicaps or illness, but of an emotional need to control the life of another or to feel “needed” and appreciated.  The Lord did not place children into our homes to satisfy our needs.  That is a reversal of roles.

Though Paul may not have had any natural children, he displayed remarkable wisdom and grace in the manner in which he raised his spiritual sons.  His dealings with Titus and Timothy are cases in point.  He gradually gave increasing responsibility with corresponding expressions of approval and confidence.  He “raised” sons who would be able to function in his absence.

Recall the prodigal’s father in Luke 15 for a most remarkable insight into “letting go.”  A day came when the son had reached his majority and demanded the right of independence.  This act of “letting go” involved a temporary grief with the hope of an eventual greater joy.  The father did not choose to dictate right and wrong to his son.  That had obviously been his occupation for all the past years.  Now that training would be put to the test.  His grant of freedom did not cause the father to lose anything, except possibly a few nights’ sleep.  He gained far more in the end from a much more stable and valuable relationship.

The Scriptures do afford us illustrations of those who sought to interfere with their families.  Zebedee’s wife made her way to the Lord.  To her credit, it must quickly be added that her intentions were good.  It may even be that this was a family plot.  With expressions of worship and supplication upon her lips she approached the Lord.  Her request was simple; she wished for her two sons to have the distinction of sitting beside the Lord in His coming kingdom.  Mary had good intentions, even spiritual desires for her sons.  Yet the Lord’s rebuke made it evident that even spiritual desires have to be subject to the will of God.


Mary, the mother of the Lord, sought to control her son.  In John 2, she tried to direct His activity, thinking perhaps that it was time for Him to display His inherent power or begin to display His credentials to the nation.  At other times, she with her family sought to claim Him and interfere with His service (Mark 3:31-34).  In His childhood He was obedient and submissive to His parents (Luke 2:51).  As an adult, He honored His mother (John 19:25-27), but did not allow her to control Him.  The will of God for Him as a child was to be subject to His parents.  The will of God for Him as an adult was far different than what Mary intended.  His obligation was to the will of God, not the will of Mary.

Laban failed to realize that he had given his daughters to Jacob, still feeling that he had some claim upon them (Genesis 31).  He pursued after them with the intent of retrieving what he felt to be his (Genesis 31:26-29).  Only the word of God restrained him.

It is clear from the Word of God that we must let go of our children.  It is also clear why this must be so.  It is far more difficult to actually do it.  We should look upon it more as a process than an act.  The years which we invest in them are the gradual road toward independence.  As more responsibilities are given and accomplished, as confidence increases, and as maturity in thought develops, we simply recognize what already exists; that a mature, independent individual has developed.  It is not a matter so much of an age being reached as an attitude and character being evidenced.

I recall trying to teach one of our girls to ride a bike.  I held on and ran alongside while she continued to demand that I not let go.  Finally the day came when I did let go, but continued to run alongside.  A bit later I let go and stopped running.  She was on her own.  She had learned to make her own way.  If she fell and hurt her knee, I was still there.  But the bike was in her hands.  I had helped and directed all I could.  Her course, speed and destination were now up to her.

May the Lord enable us all as parents to establish priorities in our lives which will result in our children entering life with a rich spiritual and moral legacy and the preparedness to live for God and Christ, confident that we desire not control, but the will of God for them.