How to Survive as the Parent of a Prodigal Child


Do you judge yourself harshly as a parent? Do you judge others harshly in their parenting? I've been guilty of both. It makes me sad to look back at times when I've judged others so harshly. I still struggle with judging myself too harshly in the parenting area, but baby steps, right? I've always held a measuring stick up to myself that is absolutely impossible to measure up to as a parent. It would be impossible for any parent to measure up to this stick I hold up in my mind. Yet, it's constantly there nagging at me, taunting me.


In just about a week we will be the parents of four adult children. Four. Wow. How'd this happen? Where'd the time go so quickly? It was just yesterday they were walking down the aisle with us. Hashtag a blessed blended family.

Sunday's sermon subject was about the Prodigal Child. This was no doubt a sensitive subject for many parents. Those of us that have walked that road, those of us currently walking that road and those of us that may be walking that road tomorrow.

A couple of questions may be running through your mind depending where you currently fall into this subject. How does one survive as the parent of a prodigal child? How do I help someone who feels like they're drowning as a prodigal child's parent?


Let me first share my simple definition of the prodigal child.

A prodigal child is one who was raised in a Christian home and has walked away from that faith. Whether they're 15 or an "official" adult.

I once had a bit of an aha moment when someone explained to me in simple terms what a prodigal child is and why they are walking away from their faith. It went like this...their feet are up in the air. I have shared about this before. They figuratively have found themselves floating around without any footing trying to figure out where they want to land, what they want to believe and how they’ll live that out for themselves. And, believe me, to decide for themselves where that landing will end up is not necessarily their highest priority. And most definitely it is one they don't want any help with. We must wait. Patiently wait. Waiting doesn't mean to stop everything else in your life. There's things you can be doing while you wait. I've shared before How to Wait for the Prodigal Child. Sunday, I was reminded of the verse that I've prayed back to God thousands of times. Claiming this promise for my family.

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6

The problem with our thinking is that we don't want to admit what the word old means in this verse. We think it means only a stretch of a few years, max. When time and again we so easily forget that God's time table and ours are vastly different.

The ever elusive unreachable goal to be the perfect parent.

Back to the questions that may be running through your mind. Let's start with the question of how do we survive being the parent of a prodigal child? While I'm not planning to repeat Sunday's sermon back to you, I would like to share my thoughts on the very first point of the sermon. Reject false guilt and confess true guilt. This is where I continue to struggle. Guilt. What an ugly paralyzing trap. That's exactly what its purpose is too. To trap you. To paralyze you. The ever elusive unreachable goal to be the perfect parent. 

Let grace be your gavel in parenting

A friend repeated some words to me that she heard from another mutual friend the other day and they apply here so perfectly. Let grace be your gavel. How about laying the gavel down and extending grace to yourself? How about asking God to forgive you for those things you did have control over and then ask Him to help you surrender the guilt over those things you have no control over? Instead of white knuckling that gavel and pounding it repeatedly until your ears are ringing, toss it out. Get completely rid of it, so you’re not tempted to pick it back up again.


Do the same thing for those parents you may be judging who are facing this in their family.

Throw the gavel away. In its place hold grace in your hands. Extend this grace to them. Pray for them. With them. Come alongside these parents who are overwhelmed and encourage them. Remind them (and yourself) that God knows where we’re at. He knew before we even got where we are. In fact, He was there waiting on us when we found ourselves in the place we are.