My grown son keeps making poor life choices.

Dear Gigi,
I’m the mom of a grown child (a believer) who I would give my life for but who keeps making poor life choices.  He has survived a health crisis that should have been his demise, but GOD spared him (and me — unimaginable grief). Any thoughts on navigating as a Christian parent of a Christian 40-year-old child who has a failure to launch and get their life going problem? Whatever he does turns out wrong.  Whoever he attaches himself to turns out to be more dysfunctional than he.  Because of his health he cannot keep a job and when he did have a decent job and was doing well, Covid hit and he quit because he thought they were going to let him go anyway. He quit to be caregiver to a woman he cares about who had a health crisis and didn’t have anyone else to help her.  In his mind he thinks this event was why GOD spared him and has given him a purpose in life. This woman is more dysfunctional than he is.  His involvement with her is so very toxic.  It’s as if I’m watching him drink poison that he thinks is medicine.  It’s all so confusing to me and exhausting.  I love him so much and just want him to live a life walking with GOD in peace and serenity.  I just want him to be an adult. I don’t want to be the kind of parent that rescues him all the time nor do I want to just abandon him.  I’m so proud of him because he has been sober for a year now and I live in fear at the same time because I don’t know how much more he can stand of his present situation without either falling off the wagon which will kill him or living in this stress which will also kill him.  I’m going to stop now because I could go on and on.  If you have any wisdom to share, I gladly welcome it.

Whoever said parenting ends when kids reach 18 or 21 or 30 (or even 40) was never a parent! I’ve underlined key phrases in your question that I’d like to look at with you as we talk this through. Buckle up!

“poor life choices” – Your son is 40 years old and is responsible for his choices, whether they are wise or not.  They are his choices to make, and his consequences to live with. You’re going to see a theme here, and it starts now.  If you want to survive this, it’s time to detach.  Healthy detachment is not the same thing as abandonment, it is you taking a step back from a situation that you have no ability to control or change or influence. Start to view his choices as opportunities for growth instead of failures, and try to not take them so deeply to heart. He makes a choice you don’t like? Pray for him, and step away.

“40-year-old child” – While your son will always be your child, it’s time to stop thinking of him as such.  He is an adult (even if his actions don’t quite match up), and part of letting him go (healthy detachment) is acknowledging his right to live his life as he chooses. Do you wish things were different? Of course! But whether they ever get better is not up to you. You can’t do it for him – it’s up to him.

“exhausting” – You are carrying a heavy burden.  You’ve been stuffing every disappointment into a gunny sack and lugging it around with you.  Lay it down, give it to Jesus, and find freedom in leaving your son with the one who loves him even more than you do. Hauling around the things you cannot change doesn’t make them better. They just become heavier and harder to bear. It’s time to let them go.

“want him to be an adult” – First of all, he IS an adult, and this point bears repeating. Second, what he decides to do/not do as an adult is up to him.  You have no control over him, you only have control of you. Make the decision to let him be and live his life as he chooses. This means he is responsible for himself, and the consequences of his choices belong to him. He may or may not become the adult you long for him to be, but again, it is up to him.

“I live in fear” – For all the things you can’t control in your son’s life, managing your fear is one you can. I have every confidence that you have gone above and beyond to be there for your son.  I think you are coming to the right conclusion that there is nothing more you can do, and continuing to try to direct his path is driving you crazy.  Do you want to be free from fear? Release your son into God’s hands. For real. Forever. For the good of both of you.  As long as you are his back-up plan, he is not required to figure his life out on his own.  And the longer you are standing in the wings, the harder it is on you.  

I’d suggest you invite him over and formally emancipate him. Lovingly tell him you have come to realize that living in fear of his next decision is unhealthy and you are not going to do it anymore.  Tell him that his choices and consequences belong to him and you are not going to carry the weight of them any longer. Tell him that you will no longer give unsolicited advice, so if he wants to know your opinion, he’ll have to ask for it. Tell him you love him, and for the good of both of you, it’s time to let him live his own life.

I know these words are hard to hear, hard to consider, and hard to implement.  Or maybe not – I believe that if you free your son to live his life you will be freed, too. You know you’ve done all you can, and you know, deep down, that if things go from bad to worse in his life, it’s NOT YOUR FAULT.  He has to figure this out – on his own. Deep breaths. I’m praying for you.


29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” — Matthew 11:29-30 (NIV)


Thank you, thank you. Good godly council that I truly appreciate. I have a lot of self-examining to do on myself because I can see from your council where change is going to have to begin with me.

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