restoring relationships between parents and their adult children

The Parable of the Trumpet Vine


For many years I had wanted a trumpet vine like the one at the house where I grew up. Lush and green, it spilled over an old iron gate that stood between my parent’s yard and the sheep pasture beyond.  There was just something about that vine, the bright sunshine-orange blossoms of summer, and its curly arms visible in the winter, winding round and round, strong and sure, beautiful even in its barrenness. Neither my mom or dad had planted it; some random bird had dropped the seed and brought the loveliness to us.

It was that particular vine I had in mind as I perused the lawn and garden section at our local grocery store one early spring. Hoping to bring back a bit of my childhood, I approached the counter and smiled at the clerk, sharing my vine aspirations, describing to her my plan.

“You know, don’t you, you need to plant this some place where you want it forever!” she pronounced.

“What do you mean?” I questioned her.

“Well, these things are nearly impossible to pull out and get rid of once they take root; you would need a bull dozer! I hope you know what you are doing!” she said, shaking her head.

Nodding, I took my vine home and planted it next to my own garden gate, wondering if I had made a wise choice!

Perhaps the writer of Hebrews understood the nature of trumpet vines and thought of them as he wrote:

 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:  looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up to cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” (12:14-15)

Bitterness, once it takes root, is nearly impossible to remove and almost always causes us to fall short of God’s grace in one way or another!

Over the years I have heard the lament of many parents who are struggling with broken relationships with their adult children.  I have also witnessed the grief of children who long for the grown-up, peer interaction with their parents they are meant to enjoy. I believe this passage in Hebrews gives us the warnings and admonitions we need to heed if there is to be healing within these relationships, if we are to prevent bitterness from taking root and destroying our lives:

We are told to “pursue peace with all people.” The word used for “peace” in this passage comes from the root word which literally means “the wholeness that you experience when all the essential parts are tied together!” It conveys the completeness of a relationship, the joining together of separate parts. We are to actively work toward bringing about this type of harmony.

However, this pursuit must go hand in hand with holiness. In other words, while this is to be our goal, peace is not to be practiced at all costs; declaring that there are no problems for the sake of a worldly type of unity is really no peace at all. Psalm 85:8-10 tells us that in God’s restoration process, “mercy and truth have met together….righteousness and peace will kiss.” Holiness and righteousness require truthfulness in discerning the problems that caused the broken relationship in the first place. It means we must agree with God as to what sin actually is.

I once knew a young man who had been raised in a Christian home but chose to move in with his girlfriend. Though hurt and greatly disappointed, his parents determined to not allow their relationship with him to break down and at the same time knew they needed to stand firm in their convictions that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Rather than refuse to go to the son’s home and share a meal, they always accepted any invitations they received. But every time, at some point during the evening, that dad would take the young man aside and firmly say “You know your mom and I love you, so I must remind you that living with this woman in this way is sin in God’s eyes and we expect you two to get married.”

These parents wisely recognized that cutting off the relationship would have prevented them from sharing the truth in love and from being able to remind their son of both God’s law and His grace. As they purposed to not burn bridges with him, they were able to demonstrate their hope that he would do the right thing. Thankfully, they did marry and now these parents are able to have fellowship and influence not only with the son and his wife, but also with their grandchildren!

On the other hand, I often hear of parents breaking off all communication with their grown children who have chosen sinful lifestyles. Others will even take this stand because their children have gone down paths that are not necessarily sinful but ones with which they don’t agree: some of these children have decided to date rather than court, others have chosen professions their parents don’t like, and some are skeptics who are trying to sort through their own beliefs and convictions.

A while back I met two young ladies who wanted to get jobs and attend college. Because the parents’ paradigm taught that girls were to be trained solely to be wives and daughters, when they left home while in their early twenties, they were not only shunned by family but excommunicated from their church that held to the same teachings.

In which of these situations do you see mercy and truth meeting while peace and righteousness kiss?

Because adversarial parenting methods have been the standard for so long, pride often makes it impossible for moms and dads to place themselves in the position of repenting to their children but I believe it is the single most important “first thing” we can do.  I don’t think we can underestimate how powerful it is for our children to hear us say “I was wrong and sinned against you when I_____.”

A few months ago I spoke at a conference on the topic of practicing the one anothers of Scripture in our homes and was amazed at the response. Around the room, tears flowed as I heard moms and dads talk about how they had failed to apply these commands to their children and one young man shared how his own parents’ willingness to seek his forgiveness had been the catalyst for the restoration they were now experiencing! Pride can also make it difficult for young adult children to repent but by maintaining a clear conscience toward one another, children and parents can not only open the door to healing but can also avoid “making shipwreck of their (own) faith.” (1Timothy 1:1)

Holiness and righteousness also require genuine, godly forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 assures us that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” and Ephesians 4:32 admonishes us to “forgive one another just as God, in Christ has forgiven you.” Forgiveness must be complete and requires that we do not hold any confessed sin against someone. We are to put his sin away “as far as the east is from the west!” (Psalm 103:12)

Forgiveness also is not limited to one time. When Jesus was asked if we are supposed to forgive even seven times, his response was staggering: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” ( Matthew 18:21-22) And unwillingness to forgive is, in itself, a sin that has dire consequences: “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:15)

Finally, the writer of Hebrews also tells us that the root of bitterness, will result in many being defiled!  It paints the picture of dirtiness and pollution, of stains that are nearly impossible to remove.  Bitterness can lead to choices in life that determine not only how we live but also how those we know and love respond.

In the 1941 Academy Award winning film Citizen Kane, the story is told of the rise and fall of a millionaire newspaper magnate named Charles Foster Kane whose last word on his death bed was “rosebud.” The whole plot of the story unfolds through a series of flashbacks as the audience tries to determine the meaning of the word. In the process, we discover that, though Kane appeared to have everything life could offer, true happiness remained elusive to him because bitterness had taken root and had affected every relationship he had ever had. Brokenness and regret, sorrow and discouragement, suffering and longing, all of these are the fruits produced by such a root.

So what do we do when we have confessed our sins but there has been no genuine forgiveness? How do we deal with bitterness that has already taken root? Two things: 1) Remember that we may not be able to make things better but we could make them worse. Pray for wisdom and discernment. 2) Remember God’s grace is sufficient, it is the “merciful kindness by which God, exerting His holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.” (Strongs Concordance)


Citizen Kane


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  1. kh says

    Amen and Amen!!..Sounds a little crazy to say that but I’m telling you..this was So very True! The Lord taught our family a powerful lesson after going through something really hard with one of our children.

    She was in her early 20’s and had gone through some really tough things with people from a church we left.I told my husband that if I had gone through these things at her age that I really think I would have walked away from my Christianity! That’s how bad and hypocritical it all was.

    Anyway..I guess you could say she rebelled against God.She still lived with us.We had good solid friends advise us to kick her out.She never did drugs,alcohol or moved in with someone. It was tough because we were dealing with In Your Face attitude issues.We have younger kids in the home.It was the Hardest thing our family has Ever gone through.I will spare more details..but it got ugly.

    I really wanted her to know that WE LOVED HER more then these other people.But..I was so angry!! That folks is a Big Mistake. I let her know it too! Finally..God showed me to not be angry with her.We loved her hard..It took time..about three years to be exact. She didn’t believe them anymore..and in the midst of the whole thing she screamed out at me “Don’t you know the reason I’m still here is because I love you all so much”!!

    Don’t shun your kids.No matter who tells you to! I loved the story of the parents who would have dinner with the son who was living with the girlfriend!They still have to know you love them.Sometimes you just have to ask for forgiveness even when your grown kid doesn’t.

  2. Kris says

    I know someone who has continued to love her lesbian daughter through illness and even though she is in sin. I am amazed at her and her husband’s continued love in hopes she will come back to the Lord.

    There have been issues in my family with siblings and their issues with sin. One sibling will probably never come back to our family because of her alcoholism and I wish the prodigal could be welcomed home. I have tried to contact her, but with no response. I wish my sister could know the forgiveness of my parents and other family members and I wish I could be in touch with her, but know it will need to be the Spirit of God who can only work through this situation. There are other issues with a couple other siblings as well, and I pray for the Lord’s healing from the bitterness that is there. It has separated parents and siblings, so we are not as close a family as we should be.

  3. says

    This is kind of a bunny trail but when I was enmeshed in a patriocentric worldview I struggled with bitterness toward my parents for their *lack* of legalism in my upbringing! I felt that many of the struggles in my marriage were rooted in the fact that I’d “given my heart away” by dating, holding hands, and kissing other guys before my husband. I felt that my marriage could’ve been so much better if my parents, especially my dad, had been more strict with me. I struggled with submission and in my heart blamed my mom for “teaching” me these patterns of behavior while I was growing up because she wasn’t a quiet doormat in her marriage. Looking back, I can’t believe some of the things I thought about and said to my sweet, sweet parents. They were very grace-ful to me through my patrio years. Now, looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing about how they parented me and it is so wonderful to be free of all that bitterness!

  4. Bev says

    My husband and I have given much to our son and his wife. We have driven 900 plus miles to their home repeatedly to help them move twice. We’ve stayed for extended period of times in their homes so that they could work without paying for a sitter. We have supported them financially each and every time they have asked. We have bought appliances, furniture, a car, lawn mowers, the list goes on and on. We finished paying off my son’s student loans (and we were scolded by them for that because they felt they could use the money better than that). We have given them hundreds of thousands of dollars in money and gifts. Now this Christmas with the birth of their second child, my daughter in law decides that my other son and his two children would not be welcomed to come the week after Christmas. She felt it was too early for a 3 or 4 week old baby to have school age children in her house. I was very upset because it was okay for her to have all of her family for Christmas which included 4 school age children and her brother’s girlfriend who is a school teacher. Probably about 20 people staying for most of the day at Christmas. All of her family live in the area and could be there any time. Needless to say I was very hurt. My grandchildren wanted to see their cousins because they never get to see them. They were out of school until the New Year and it was the only time they could come. How could I accept that my other grand children and son were not allowed to come to their home? I told my son that if his brother and niece and nephew were not allowed to come, then my husband and I could not accept the offer to be there to help with the new baby. How could I allow my children and my family to be slighted. I just didn’t understand. This is not the first confrontation. It has been an on going battle with my daughter in law. I have tried to reach out to her and she has rejected all my attempts at friendship. She believes that we should provide for them because our finances allow it. Now we are estranged from them. We have tried to call and to reach out but they are turning us away. We see no pictures or receive no information about our grand children unless they post them on facebook. I am so tired of being taken advantage of and used. I honestly do not know what to do. They are always asking for money but never honoring us with respect or consideration. I have forgiven many insults from my daughter in law, but it is not easy when my other grandchildren and son have been treated like “unwanted guests”. Sure, they say that they are welcomed but not now. The reality is that school age children can’t just come anytime. Sorry for the long post. Just really hurting right now. My son has verbally attacked me and called me all sorts of names from vindictive to manipulating. I’m just sick of it.

  5. Granddad says

    Becky, when I read your comment I started to tear up (getting worse as I write this) because my wife and I are experiencing much of what you describe. My daughter has said the same kind of things to us. Although not deep into a patriocentric family life there is enough to cause a great rift between us. I have no idea when I will be able to see my grandkids (except on my daughter’s blog). According to her I am a phoney who has deceived those in my church; my wife is probably not a believer; and I should be ashamed of myself for not falling on my knees everyday because, in her view, her brother and his wife are unsaved! (Thank heavens I still have contact with my son so, although they live several thousand miles away I do get to talk to them regularly.)

    My prayer is that my daughter comes to her senses before my wife or I die and it’s too late to do anything. The burden she would carry for the rest of her life will be terrible.

  6. says

    Becky and Granddad,

    Praying for you this morning.

    just want to encourage you both to extend grace to your grown children. I am more convinced all the time that God uses this approach in our lives and it is what is most powerful in the lives of those around us. So, so hard and yet liberating. I hope to write more about this in light of having watched Les Miserables this past weekend.

  7. Jessica says

    Reading this as a 30-something mother of a 7-year-old girl makes me want to forgive my own parents for things they didn’t do exactly right as I was growing up. On the side of the adult child, you have to realize that your parents are not perfect just as you are not perfect but through forgiveness you can have the best relationship with them that is possible.

    My relationship as a child with my mom and then as a teen was very bad. I becamse a Christian at age 22, and while my relationship with her (also a Christian) has improved since then, she still hurts my feelings as I’m sure I hurt hers. But we also can have a wonderful fellowship through Christ and so the key is for me to forgive her and to try not to take things really personally.

    Our relationship is volatile but I still feel open to her and that I love her and have a responsibility to honor her and my dad (who is not yet a Christian, please pray for his salvation). This article is a great reminder and convicting.

  8. Sandy says

    I am 59 and a mother of two girls grown 39 and 40 years old. One married at 20 and had no kids and now a year ago divorced n just remarried. The other at 18 n in college lived with and had abortions then kept my first grandson n married. Split on the run party with baby got together with bartender n came home pregnant. Second grandson she lived with us and we fell in love with the boys she was doing well n we helped how ever and boys were in Christian school and all seemed good. She got with a old school friend n they got married. The twin girls came along n then they moved 1400 miles away. They split after three years n so the long trips back n forth n then the internet guy from another state east coast came to live with her n the kids all the while we helped with finances and lawyer bill from the other X’s. They got married a long story short just went to grandsons graduation 18 yrs. other 15 n girls 12. This last Dec. he left her as she was seeing other men. The girls emailed they are losing their home and have to move. Over time I don’t say much and the graduation was hard she has shut us out as she’s fine and living it up. My heart aches but quit blaming my self but have this aching void their dad my husband feels the same. Both the girls have turned there back on God and were not wacked out Christians, just a couple staying together through thick n thin married 43 yrs trying to do life on the good side of life.

  9. Granddad says

    Sandy, my daughter & family live about an hour from me. We have not seen them or our 4 grandchildren for just over a year. My circumstances are nothing at all like yours…my daughter has just gotten way too involved in Voddie Baucham and moderate patriarchy. The restrictions they have placed upon my wife and me make it impossible to have a relationship.

    I can empathize with you… I do understand the aching in your heart.

  10. Denise L. says

    After reading my morning meditation that stated, “I will be attentive to all the signs God will use today. Our answers to the many prayers do come, in God’s timing. As long as we are attuned to His messages being brought in so many interesting ways. ” That is what brought me here to all of you whom I have prayed earnestly. Tomorrow morning I will pick up my 25yr. old son from the Greyhound station, returning from a six month stay at his Fathers in Texas. Twelve years or so ago I walked out the door and failed to return to five children for almost five years. God met me in my deepest, darkest moment and held my hand through the years to follow. The restoration process has been very gradual. I currently have seven years in recovery, I also stay closely involved with my therapy. I am a member of a wonderful church were I was saved. It is no longer about me anymore; at least not to the degree that was necessary in those earlier years. God whispered in my ear, “One child at a time!!” Today we are returning to Richie as God is bringing our son home. I’ve been in Al-Anon, therapy, spoke of tough love, and came to realize that Richie’s process of healing is different than anyone else. Richie is like a wounded vet dragging his feet from the devestation of war. One hospitalization gave him PTSD. He lives with a video game controller in his hand, never really goes anywhere, and is not working. He has a warrant for failure to pay support while in Texas. He stated he wants to come back and resolve his issues. I am excited inside my soul as I strongly believe this is his time to stretch his withered hand out to meet God. My sponsor reminded me to put aside any indifference and WELCOME him back. This site came to me as a gift today. I know I have a place to come and be fed love and healing words of truth. Thank you for this warm place in a dark world.

  11. Corin Deleon says

    This morning I am so angry at the devil. Since my divorce(husband abandoned us) without a motive up to today has rippped my ralationship with my two older children. They were and are so damaged by the loss of A dad/mom. I had to work full time to have roof, food, clothes for Us. I backslid angry at GOD for not keeping my family together. I returned back to GOD due Gods mercy after backsliding for 10years. The worst years of my life. Since 1994 walking with GOD I have tried to make peace with MY son/daughter to no avail. They are disrespectful, harsh, judgemental with me and my husband the only father, grand to their children. After being treated this way for so long I finally said something to them both and of course they blame it all on me. I am DONE WITH THEM UNLESS THEY RECOGNIZE OUR RELATIONSHIP IS WORTH PURSUING.
    Pray for restoration of these relationships and for my husband & I be prayerfully resting in gods timing for answer to our prayers.
    Thank u

  12. Patti says

    I come from a large family. We were always close, or at least I thought we were until I reached my adult years. We all chose homes, some far away and some still in the same home town we grew up in with my parents. It wasn’t until my parents died a few years ago that I realized how NOT close we are. Oh, I have a close relationship with a few of my siblings, but some of them, I only speak to a few times a year and there have been years that it was not at all. Do I like this, NO! but I feel powerless to change it. But what troubles me more than our family loosing contact with each other, is my two sisters… who were very opposite personalities, have now bitterly separated, even though they live in the same town, they no longer speak or see each other. An incident occurred where both parts made mistakes and hurt each other. But for whatever reason, they remain at odds. I breaks my heart but again, I am powerless to change it. In reading this my heart aches for the two of them as they are missing out on God’s blessings that can be experienced with forgiving themselves, and forgiving each other. Oh I know they will never be in the same type of relationship that existed before… probably a good thing since this is partly what lead to them having a fallout. Neither of them were honest during the relationship to express when the other hurt them. Dynamics of their place in the family. Years of hurt on both parts, came to a head when they attempted to deal with a problem that occurred. It blew up and they never forgave each other, and admitted their own part in the problem. Both dug their heals in and now several years later, they are still a million miles apart, but living less than 10 from each other. Why do I care? I am in a good relationships with both of them? I love them both and had hoped as we got older that we could meet for sister trips, support each other, our families stay involved in each others lives… I can do this, just not with the two of them together. I would have loved to see our family get together for a reunion again, but without all the stress and strife that occurred in previous events. I may send this them. Maybe, just maybe if they read it, God will speak to their hearts and something beautiful will grow. Forgiving, as Christ forgives us is the sweetest smell! But if not, I will be in prayer for them both.

  13. says

    I am not sure if I entered the right website

    I am asking for big God specific prayers. My second son and I had a great relationship for many years, he and his father, my husband have become very close and his dad fills his head with lies and hate about me. I have walked in on conversations where the ugly lies or anger they were saying about me took my breath away. I want peace. My son will walk into me rather than go around me. He’s almost 30 and I still pay his cell phone, but that is coming to a stop. I am not going to pay for a cell phone for someone who only responds or reaches out so I will watch the kids. I adore my grandchildren and will move heaven and earth to be with them. We have had years of dysfunctionalism. years of yelling, being beat by my husband, I worked 2 jobs to put his through college while my husband decided to become an addict. now in recovery – sobriety- but clearly doesn’t work a program because he manipulates the family -specifically this son to no end. I need prayer, or healing for me and my attitude – that God gives me direction on what I need to do to make this situation better. I firmly believe that God is in control, the savior of the world and I am asking for a miraculous healing of our entire family. May God Bless each of you. Amen

  14. says


    My heart really goes out to you. I would encourage you to find a Christian counselor that can help you think through your own responses to this dreadful situation. I also want to encourage you to not tolerate any of this abuse, especially the physical abuse from your husband. I am praying for you this morning and would love to exchange email with you.

  15. lisa says

    I just need prayer. I have failed as a mom. Let my children down as I have been in contact with someone they don’t approve of. These children are in their 20’s with children of their own. I don’t feel like I owe them explanations as I am an adult. I only pray for the peace of the Lord for them. I know how it is to hold onto resentment. It’s not a good thing and eats you alive. So I am asking for prayer for peace for my sons. Thank you


  1. […] restoring relationships between parents and their adult children from thatmom. On apologies…and more… Over the years I have heard the lament of many parents who are struggling with broken relationships with their adult children. I have also witnessed the grief of children who long for the grown-up, peer interaction with their parents they are meant to enjoy. I believe this passage in Hebrews gives us the warnings and admonitions we need to heed if there is to be healing within these relationships, if we are to prevent bitterness from taking root and destroying our lives: […]

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