Johnny’s basically a good kid—just trying to get it together.

If only I had a dollar for every parent who has said that to me!

The only trouble is that for Johnny, “getting it together” doesn’t happen until he wakes up, usually well into the day, at which time he eats (leaving the dirty dishes in the sink), then spends time playing video games or surfing My Space on the Internet, or wondering why his mother didn’t get around to washing his clothes yet.

It’s hard for some parents in pain to recognize and admit that who and what our children used to be is not who and what they are now. Many of our adult children are emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, socially, and spiritually stunted. Many are so rebellious our hearts repeatedly break, and still others are dangerously fragile, hanging on by a thread. Some have gone from smoking pot to selling it; from destroying their own lives, to taking others with them. Many of these adult children have cost their parents their marriages, their jobs, their financial health, their sanity…and in some cases even their faith in God.

We must come to grips with reality: our children’s radical “rebellious streak” isn’t just a phase that will go away. However, that doesn’t mean they are lost causes. As long as our adult children are alive, there is still hope for their redemption, salvation, and return. Restoring ruined dreams and reclaiming wasted years is what God does best, as Joel 2:25 so lovingly promises: “For I will restore to you the years the locust has eaten.”

We do not parent as people who have no hope. We have a God who watches after our children—if we’ll just get out of his way and let him do the restoring. But to get to restoration, we must start with the truth of where we are: Those once innocent children grew into the jaded and unmotivated adults they are today under our parental watch.   

For many enabling parents in pain, the decline of character in our adult child did not occur overnight. The progression has been happening for many years, in many instances right under our noses. The view many of us have of our adult child is often of the precious son or daughter we raised—an innocent babe filled with potential, eager to please. This distorted view is not helping him to become the adult God wants him to be. To get past this, we must become objective while retaining an ability to love. Being able to see our situation clearly is critical as we move forward.

The following might be a painful exercise. Carefully read the list of personality traits and ask yourself this question: “Does my adult child possess any of these traits?” Be honest. You are doing no one, least of all your adult child, any favors by sugar-coating the painful reality. Is your adult child really “a good kid?” If you are unable to be objective, ask someone close to the situation to help. However, don’t get angry if that person tells you things you don’t want to hear.

1. Irresponsibility—repeated failure to fulfill or honor obligations and commitments: not paying bills, defaulting on loans, performing sloppy work, being absent or late to work, failing to honor contractual agreements.

2. Failure to accept responsibility for actions—reflected in low conscientiousness, an absence of dutifulness, antagonistic manipulation, denial of responsibility, efforts to manipulate others through denial.

3. Lack of realistic, long-term goals—an inability or persistent failure to develop and execute long-term plans and goals; a nomadic existence, aimless, lacking direction in life.

4. Impulsivity—the occurrence of behaviors that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation, frustrations, and urges; a lack of deliberation or considering consequences; foolhardy, rash, unpredictable, erratic, and reckless.