Hands-off Parenting


“If knowing answers to life’s questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget the journey. You will never make it, for this is a journey of unknowables – of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles, and, most of all, things unfair.”

– Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon

I often hear God speak to me through reading fictional stories in books and watching films in a way that methodical Bible study can’t. It’s helpful to have developed the fine art of bone-spitting because sometimes the precious morsel that nourishes me is buried in distraction.

As I lay in bed, too sore after surgery to sleep anymore last night, I watched a British movie, Housewife, 49. The film tells the story of a woman whose role as an attentive mother was no longer required. The problem was that her sons had grown up and she was learning the art of hands-off parenting just as World War II was breaking out over their heads where they lived near the shipyards in England. She suffered from severe anxiety.

Her story is one of gradually rejecting the defining edges of the box others put her in. She discovered, under duress, she was capable of more than she knew. The crisis came when her beloved son, who up until that point served in a relatively safe post close to home, wanted to volunteer for a much riskier assignment.

It’s one thing to learn to trust God to guide your own life through unforeseen twists and turns in the road. It’s another to take your hands off your children and let them take risks when you have first-hand experience of seeing the negative consequences of  decisions made by friends and family over the years. You have read a lot more news stories and bailed out a lot more people from wrecks along the way. It’s so hard not to try to convince your adult children to play it safe.

In the film our heroine (for she was truly that) discovered that much of the frustration in her life had been because of her husband’s need to keep her shut up in the house like Peter the Pumpkin-eater tried to keep his in a pumpkin shell. He finally confessed it was his fear for her safety that motivated his actions. But it was those actions that increased her anxiety and feelings of meaninglessness.

She realized she could not impose her fear on her son, even if the consequence was his death on the battlefield. She let him go.

I’ve had to make those letting go decisions with my own kids. More than anything in the world I wanted to be a mother. I enjoyed being a mother. At one point you could say I was a professional mother, filling in and taking foster children into our home until their mothers could care for them again. But there was always a time to let go – and it was always before the road ahead was smooth and predictable.

My daughter moved to a Caribbean Island to take a teaching position. I still have a photo of her the day she left smiling in anticipation of “awesome year in the sun.”

It was not awesome. She was in two seriously life-threatening-sized hurricanes in the first month. Her job was not as advertised, everything she owned was stolen from a storage facility at home, including tax information and personal diaries. She nearly died of sudden hemorrhage and experienced emergency major surgery in a tiny six-bed hospital that did not provide linens or food or fly swatters. That’s where she was told she had a condition that meant she would be unable to have children. The man she loved told her he was marrying someone else. She became homeless because of greedy developers, and one day, while out jogging, was chased by a pack of wild dogs with evil intent.

I had a lot of questions about why God didn’t give my precious girl an awesome year in the sun. I was reluctant to do any letting go for some time after that.

A few years later she went through a really tough time. Nurses brought her into a room in the ICU to say goodbye to her husband who lay dying from flesh-eating disease. I was with her at the time and was amazed at her faith and ability to praise God in the worst  circumstances.

He didn’t die. He was miraculously healed and now they and their three miraculously conceived children are on another adventure. People asked how she had such faith and she pointed back to her time on the island, particularly the moment when she faced the wild dogs knowing she was defenseless and there was no one around.

She heard a voice that said, “Stop!” She obeyed, stopped running, turned and faced the dogs. Instead of lunging at her throat they dropped their heads, whined, and disappeared into the undergrowth. She met the God who is her keeper on a hot dusty road that day.

Parenting adult children means taking our hands off so God can put his hands on. God has no grandchildren. They need to know for themselves that he is their God, and not merely the God of their parents. They need to know he will take them farther along the road than we have gone.

It’s been a struggle. Hands-off doesn’t mean heart-off. If my kids or grandkids need me I am willing to drop everything and go. I pray constantly, but I am still learning that prayer for family means standing in the gap without standing in the way.

God is God and I am not. He is much more capable of loving them than I am.

When they became parents, our kids all invited us back into their lives. They’ve included us in business and creative partnerships and encourage us to be active influencers in their children’s lives. They are all competent experts in their own fields and we frequently consult them. I love them very much and am proud of all of them – and their spouses. If we were not related it would still be an honour to know them. God is good.

Our daughter and her husband wrote about his miraculous recovery. It includes chapters by one of the attending physicians who verifies the medical aspects of the story and their bishop who gives insight into the spiritual implications of the events. Details, photos and videos here: While He Lay Dying






21 thoughts on “Hands-off Parenting

  1. What a beautiful post! Though my children are still both little, as the oldest of seven I’ve seen what my mom has gone through and have thought often of how parenthood changes with adult children. It’s a new kind of selflessness.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Allan Halton

    “I pray constantly, but I am still learning that prayer for family means standing in the gap without standing in the way.”

    Amen, sister. Choice words. Which I too am still learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this. I think it’s also important to parent “hands-off” frequently (but not always) during their childhood years. If they learn how to make decisions and fix their own mistakes earlier, the adult years will be easier for both child and parent.


    1. It’s not easy knowing when to employ the discipline of natural consequences and when to step in and be protective. I made an awful lot of mistakes in both directions. Still do. I’m convinced the parent’s go-to prayer needs to be, “Oh, God, HELP!!”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. lonnactpsite

    I struggle with this everyday. With two boys under 10 and a 16 year old daughter, it’s difficult not to. I’m not religious, but what does help me is reminding myself that falls and unfortunate events are character building. Without these, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Without adversity, Jesus wouldn’t have been who he was, and you wouldn’t be who you are. Life would be boring.


  5. You write beautifully. When you hear God talking to you, do you actually hear this or is this more of a thought pattern? Have you ever been a member of a church that requires baptism of the Holy Ghost in addition to the traditional washing away of sins? Just asking. My beliefs are existential.


    1. Thank you for your kind comment. Your questions use language that could carry multiple meanings depending on who is using those terms. I will try to answer simply, but this is a discussion that needs a lot of defining of what we mean without assuming we know how the other person uses these words.

      When I talk about hearing God’s voice it is about paying attention to all the ways he communicates. Sometimes it means actually hearing an audible voice, yes, but that is relatively uncommon. God is not limited to spoken or written language. He speaks through his creation, he speaks through other people, through lines from songs that play in our heads repeatedly, through strong impressions that suddenly interrupt one’s own thought patterns. He speaks through dreams and visions and the voices of children. He speaks through scripture verses that stand out like they are written in neon lights. When the same theme keeps appearing in many ways, it’s time to pay attention.

      Learning to hear his voice is about picking up clues like bread scattered on a trail through a forest of noises. The point is following them in order to come closer to him. The point is that he longs for relationship with us and will use whatever means he needs to to get our attention. Sometimes it’s a supernatural voice and sometimes it’s a beam of light through the heart of a flower.

      I loved watching the film Arrival. In the movie a linguist is tasked with trying to communicate with aliens who wish to teach a concept which is out of the earth-bound experience of most people. It wasn’t until she was willing to take a risk and make contact in a way that was out of the box that they could breakthrough the barrier. (It’s also interesting that people in control totally misinterpreted a crucial “word” giving it their own meaning backed by their own fears.)

      As for being in a church that “requires” anything, well, I believe that God is the one who is the determiner of who is the church. I can hang out with people of like mind -or not- and still be part of the ekklesia. Where I sit on a Sunday (or Saturday or Friday) and where I donate my money does not decide if we are one in the spirit, one in the Lord.

      I know that’s not a full answer, but there are about a 1000 other posts on this blog if you feel like digging.

      Blessings on your day.


  6. theimmigrantsjourney

    “Hands-off doesn’t mean heart-off”

    I was totally blessed reading this! Thanks for sharing! A mom to a blessed baby right now, n looking forward to the blessed experiences God has in store for my family! 🙂


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