Written by Dr. Joannie DeBrito, Family Support Specialist
In my first blog on the topic of prodigal children and grandchildren, I talked about the reasons children and grandchildren may stray from the family and shared a suggestion for reconciliation.
In this blog, I will discuss a prodigal’s complete disengagement from the family and how to find hope in this situation.
In the case of an adult child or grandchild who completely disengages from parents and grandparents, I am not so optimistic about a quick, positive outcome.
Typically, this is because parents and grandparents have no way to talk with their son, daughter, or grandchild about resolving the situation.
Parents and grandparents often are left with lots of questions and no answers, which makes this especially painful. There is simply no opportunity to repair the relationship.
Their emotions fluctuate between worry and fear for their child or grandchild and anger and sadness related to the loss and confusion.
When teens or young adults stray from home and disengage entirely, the road back to a mature relationship with parents and grandparents may be long and hard.
Remember, God can reach them when we cannot.
As grandparents, we can uphold them before the throne of mercy continually. Mrs. Charles E. Cowman has said, “Do not consider their boundaries (problems) but rediscover the boundlessness of God.” Nothing is impossible with God.
Let’s look at some reasons why your son, daughter, or grandchild may have disengaged entirely:
1. Coping With Trauma
Sometimes, the home has been a painful place to be. That may have something to do with situations that have occurred within the family.
Or, it may simply be that several traumatic things happened within the community where the family lived. Being home, therefore, has become painful, and parents are the leaders of that home.
Teens and emerging adults may decide that the only way to escape that pain is to leave home and sever ties with any reminders of the home, including their parents and grandparents.
Even if these prodigals want to return home, their parents and grandparents may not welcome them because these elders don’t want to enable their behavior.
Or, they may have legitimate concerns about the negative effects they could have on other members of the family.
This position is challenging for parents and grandparents because the prodigal’s current behavior or mental health disorder could contribute to irreversible harm or death.
The prodigal needs help but parents and grandparents must also consider the welfare of their entire family.
In this case, tough love is warranted. It’s best to work with a licensed mental health professional to develop a plan that describes appropriate types of family support and a path for recovery that is the full responsibility of the son, daughter, or grandchild.
This plan allows parents to provide some support for the prodigal while requiring the prodigal’s accountability and protecting other family members’ welfare.
2. Entitlement and Narcissism
Still, others have decided that they are entitled to a better life. They intend to meet their needs, with no consideration of how doing so may hurt their parents or other family members.
They see their parents and grandparents as having kept them from fulfilling their desires, so they remove what they see as barriers in their lives. These are the so-called “rebellious” teens and young adults.
They intentionally reject much of what they’ve learned from their parents and grandparents because it is more important to them to seek self-satisfaction.
Parents and grandparents have to let these prodigal children go, make mistakes, grieve the loss, and pray for their relationship’s future healing.
Doing this is incredibly difficult. No parent or grandparent wants to watch their child or grandchild launch out on a path of self-imposed self-destruction.
However, any attempts to control the prodigal are likely to have far worse and longer-term consequences. These adult prodigals will often fail and come back to their family, looking for rescue from their mistakes.
While parents and grandparents should welcome the prodigal with grace and forgiveness, they would also be wise to stop short of solving their problems for them.
The prodigal may express remorse, but true repentance requires a desire to change.
If parents or grandparents jump in quickly to rescue their prodigal, they will likely interfere with their son, daughter, or grandchild fully acknowledging the failures that motivate them to implement significant changes.
3. Other Influences
Finally, some young people become convinced by others that their parents and grandparents are toxic. They then believe they need to stay as far away from them as possible.
This mindset is common when a possessive or jealous spouse wants to control a son or daughter. This possessiveness is a self-serving kind of love that isn’t healthy in a marriage.
Still, it can take time for a prodigal child to recognize this pattern. They must then find the strength to be willing to lose an unhealthy relationship to recover a healthy one.
If grandparents (in this case, the parents of the prodigal) resist the urge to interfere with this relationship, it will often run its course. The prodigal will begin to resent being controlled by his or her spouse.
At that point, he or she may seek out his or her parents and other family members to reconcile the lost relationship.
While this is also a time for parents to show grace and forgiveness, personal healing should be the responsibility of the prodigal.
Turn Helplessness Into Hopefulness
Grandparents in all of these situations can only concentrate on helping themselves and their other family members cope with the loss.
Seeking support from trusted friends, pastors, and counselors is recommended. It is a time to grieve and be honest about conflicting emotions.
It may be a great time to pour into other members of the family as well. At the same time, it is a time to wait, remain hopeful, and pray.
Lean Into God’s Word
Isaiah 40:31 says, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
As Christians, our hope is not in some good thing that may come to be. We cling to hope with certainty that God is sovereign over all, that He loves and cares for our children.
Sometimes, the time that grandparents spend away from a prodigal son, daughter, or grandchild is an opportunity for grandparents to cast their worries on God and depend on Him more fully.
God also hears our prayers and tells us to appeal to Him.
Philippians 4:6 says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
This verse does not mean that God will always answer our prayers in the way or time that we desire. God is telling us to release our worries and anxieties to Him and, with faith, learn to trust His response to those prayers.
I’ve watched as friends of mine have embraced hope and prayer to reconcile with their absent son for over five years. During this time, they have had no relationship with their two grandchildren.
While their pain continues, they have commented that they’ve felt the healing power of God in their lives.
The time and space have allowed them to focus more on their other children and to prepare their hearts to be gracious and forgiving if their son returns at some point.
If not, they acknowledge the pain will always be there, but they now have an inner peace about leaving him in the hands of God.
I’m confident that they could only have come to this humility through the support of many loved ones in their lives and their prayers with and for them.
If you’re experiencing the loss of a prodigal child or grandchild who isn’t currently in touch with you, you probably feel helpless.
But our God is a God of compassion and hope who loves our children and grandchildren more than we do.
Give yourself permission to grieve and challenge yourself to practice love for your prodigal child or grandchild according to I Corinthians 13:5-7:
“It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (NIV)
Find hope in the fact that when we aren’t able to be with our children or grandchildren, God is always with them.
Editor’s Note: If in need of a counselor, click here for more information about counselors in your area. You’ll find a link for Christian Counselors Network there.