11 Reasons Not to Blame Parents for Prodigal Children

Carrie Lowrance

Crosswalk Contributor
Published May 14, 2024
11 Reasons Not to Blame Parents for Prodigal Children

Having and raising children is not for the faint of heart; it can be an adventure from that sweet little baby to the teenage years and into adulthood. Many Christian parents do their best to raise their children right, but sometimes, children choose to go their own way and abandon the faith that their parents have instilled in them. It’s easy for other Christians to judge and think that their child would never do that. However, no one truly knows what their children will do as adults. God gave us freedom of choice, and just because your child has gone astray does not mean you should blame yourself, nor should other people blame you.

What Is a Prodigal Child?

Let’s start with defining a prodigal child. You can find the story of the prodigal child in Luke 15:11-32. The base definition of a prodigal child is a person who leaves their parents to do things they disapprove of but later returns with remorse.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that not all children who choose to live some distance from their parents are prodigals. This can be due to many things, including family dynamics, finding better opportunities elsewhere, or a lower cost of living.

If you are the parent of a prodigal child, here are some reasons you shouldn’t blame yourself and some ways to help you walk through this difficult time.

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1. Avoid Self-Blame

Don’t blame yourself for your adult child’s actions. It’s important not to label yourself as a “failure” because of your child’s choices or actions.

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Angry couple arguing in the kitchen.

2. Don’t Assign Blame

Keep your pride in check. It’s easy to forget your child and only think of yourself or what others think, becoming selfish in your situation. Keep blame out of it, and don’t assign it to anyone or anything, including yourself, your spouse, your church, or God.

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3. Remember God’s Compassion

First, remember that you aren’t responsible for your child’s faith or lack thereof. They are adults and make their own choices. God does not want you to get caught up in guilt or shame but would rather heal your guilt with his forgiveness. Instead, show yourself grace and mercy.

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young man walking through desert alone, affirmations for parents of prodigal child

4. Lift the Burden of Shame

It’s easy to bear the burden of shame over your child’s unbelief. However, our belief pardons us from sinful disgrace. Instead, remember that believing in Jesus Christ will prevent you from being shamed.

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5. Talk to God

Talk to God about how you feel. He understands your distress. He has personal experience with it because Adam and Eve, his first children, walked away from him. You can find accounts of God’s mourning over his children turning from him in the books of Hosea (Chapter 11), Luke (19:42), Matthew (23:37), and Psalms (62:8).

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6. Find Your Strength, Security, and Identity in God, Not as a Parent

6. Find Your Strength, Security, and Identity in God, Not as a Parent

Do your best to rest in God’s wisdom and goodness. Even though your son or daughter is forsaking you, God still receives you, and that trumps your child rejecting you. Knowing your son or daughter has rejected Christ can shake you to the core, so ask for God’s power to help you handle it.

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7. Distinguish Your Responsibilities from Your Child’s Responsibilities

7. Distinguish Your Responsibilities from Your Child’s Responsibilities

Don’t assume you have failed as a parent because your children have chosen not to follow Jesus. This does not correlate with Scripture. You are not responsible for your child’s walk with God. Although you handle parental activity like instruction and discipline, your child’s decisions are their own.

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8. Seek to Humbly Communicate with Your Child or Children

You can practice humility without agreeing with your child’s choices. Strive to listen to your children without dismissing or criticizing them. Ask them about their behavior and what their worldview is. This also means humbly expressing your beliefs about God. Ask the Lord to help you find the balance between preserving your relationship with God without compromising your convictions.

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9. Work with Your Spouse to Maintain Godly Marital Unity

Your spouse may respond differently to your prodigal, which can stifle your marriage. You may disapprove, while your spouse may approve of your son or daughter’s choice. This kind of conflict can either bring marital growth or marital discord. Regardless of your situation, ask God to please walk you through it.

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10. Connect with Your Church

Meet your pastor or two or three people in your church that you trust and spill out your heart. You will discover you aren’t the only one in your church with a prodigal. Don’t wait for them to reach out to you. It’s your responsibility to seek help in hard times. Make sure your church reinforces what the Bible teaches so you don’t give in to pressure from your child to change your theology or accept their nonbiblical lifestyle. You will face tough decisions and need your church family for guidance and support.

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11. Give Your Child Over to God, Submit Your Legitimate Desires, and Pray

When you give your prodigal over to God, it means that you submit your desire to know your child’s salvation with certainty. As much as you have a good desire, it can quickly turn into an idol or obsession. Sadly, there is no guarantee they will return to the Lord. Instead, pray for him to reveal himself to them in a way that is unique to them. Ask him to open their minds, hearts, and eyes and to bring godly people into their lives to influence them. You must learn contentment, even if your son or daughter doesn’t return.

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How to Help Parents of Prodigals

It can be so easy for Christian parents to judge other parents when their kids stray from the faith. They don’t consider the pain and confusion that the parents are going through. If you are a friend or family member of a person who is struggling with a prodigal child, here are some ways to encourage them.

Let Them Know You Are Praying

Offer to meet with the parent or parents of the prodigal once or twice a week and pray with them. Knowing that other people are sharing the burden of prayer can be a relief to parents of prodigals. Assure them you will continue to pray each time the prodigal crosses your mind.

Let Them Know They Are Not Alone

Get together with your prodigal parent and listen to them. Let them talk it out, cry, scream, or do whatever they need to feel better.

That Their Child Coming to God Will Be a Process

Like the story of the prodigal son in the Bible, a child returning to God will take time. It’s a rarity for someone to wake up one day and decide to repent and return to the Lord in an instant. Most often, it can be a very gradual process. Let your prodigal parent know you understand this and are not expecting a grand display of repentance.

Let Them Know You Will Do Your Part

Sometimes, children have to hear things from someone other than their parents. Pray and ask God if it’s his will for you to reach out to the prodigal and connect. If so, ask God what the best way to connect is. This could be by taking them to lunch or calling them.

Let Them Know There Are Other Prodigals in the Church

When pastors teach about the prodigal son, they should bring it home and be honest about prodigals in their church. This doesn’t mean calling people out or naming names. However, parents of prodigals in the congregation will find comfort in knowing they are not alone and other church members are going through the same thing. Another idea would be to set up a group for prodigal parents to connect, share stories, and support each other.

The Parent’s Battle Plan: Warfare Strategies to Win Back Your Prodigals by Laine Lawson Craft

This book may be a good read for parents of prodigals. The author has three wayward children and offers hope and personal insight for broken-hearted parents. There is also a tried-and-true battle plan to help navigate this season.

Parents will learn how to handle the emotional difficulties of trusting, how to deal with a child’s self-destructive choices, how to pray boldly by God’s promises, etc. Although there is no guarantee a child will return, this book may be a helpful guide for parents to navigate this part of their lives.

Being a parent of a prodigal can be isolating, lonely, and heartbreaking, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember that you are not responsible for your child’s walk with God; their choices are not your fault. Instead, talk to God, pray, and reach out to others for the love and support you need. You are not alone. God sees you and hears you. Trust him with your child and for his will to be done.

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Originally published Thursday, 16 May 2024.