Our Daughter Isn’t on the Right Path

Question:

My husband and I watch your show all the time.

This question is for Susan, I have a question regarding our 30-year-old daughter. She was brought up in a Christian home, attended Christian school, graduated, and went off to college. She is an Occupational Therapist.

She is not living a Christian life at all, she is involved with a 31-year-old man that is not a Christian. How can my husband and I speak into her life about the life she is leading?

I believe we need to search scripture and show her God’s love and reintroduce her to Jesus again. From a woman and mother’s perspective, how would handle this?

I appreciate any insight you have.

Blessing,
Donna

Dear Donna,

My heart is really aching for you. But now I have to adopt plural language because every answer provided to an ‘Ask the Rabbi’ question involves the two of us collaborating. We always answer these questions together.

We can well imagine that you and your husband might be finding fault with yourselves and wondering where you went wrong. But raising children isn’t like baking a cake or building a bridge. If a cake or a bridge doesn’t come out properly, chances are you missed a step or measured something incorrectly; whatever it was, you made a mistake. Children are not projects where we follow the latest recommended list of instructions and expect perfect results.  Our children have their own souls imparted by God and each is unique.  Furthermore, each possesses God’s great gift of free choice. Our job as parents is to raise our children to the best of our abilities. (And, being human, we will make mistakes.) Our children are each unique individuals with their own paths in life to follow. They must choose to have a relationship with God; it can never be an inherited choice.

Your daughter is an adult. While we don’t think that we ever stop being a mother or father, your job is no longer to directly teach her unless she requests that.  We feel that “preaching” Scripture to her would be disastrous.  We urge you to dismiss the idea that you have the power to “show her God’s love.” She knows that she is not living up to the standards of your family but she has made her choice–for the time being! We are sure that deep inside her, all the lessons you inculcated in her as she was growing up are still there even if temporarily covered up.

Donna, your daughter is feeling pain and anxiety at reaching what she undoubtedly feels is the significant age of 30 without marriage and family. Your disapproval of the man she is choosing will likely drive deep wedges into your relationship with her. We are hoping that your years of Christian upbringing has caused her to choose a good man, if not a religious one.  (Given her current lifestyle, a religious man would not have worked.)  But if he is a good man, the door is open for them to grow together. Or, the door is open for this relationship to end. Either one will probably happen more easily within your welcoming embrace. 

We think that you will do best by consciously and diligently putting aside your concerns and warmly welcome her and her man into your home. If you’ve been less than hospitable to her lately, your change in outlook will baffle her but it will still make her happy. We consider it important to have her and her man around your family while you continue modeling a loving marriage and relationship with God. Please avoid all preaching and teaching. You don’t have to express approval of her choices, but don’t let that disapproval get in the way of your relationship. Make yourself express love and obviously keep praying. Keep an open hand, an open door, and an open heart. We know that this strategy will give you the very best chances of a happy outcome.

Feeling a mother’s pain,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


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20 thoughts on “Our Daughter Isn’t on the Right Path”

  1. Dear Susan and Rabbi Daniel, your answer to “our daughter is not on the right path“ was excellent! Spot on. Nowadays people don’t think like that… They want to get their point across to someone because they think their way is better and maybe it is! But you were right to basically say that once we raise our kids and they go off on their own it’s up to them to make their choices and live their lives. We as parents can try to control them or simply accept them for who they are and love them unconditionally. My mom did not accept my honey nine years ago for other reasons than religion but the premise is the same. It did put a huge wedge between us! We’ve worked through it over the years but sometimes that doesn’t happen of course. So my advice to mom and dad above, would have been the same as yours, but yours was VERY well put. I have never written comments online like this. But I felt very strongly moved to support you in this instance. I hope this goes to the right place so that you are able to read my comment.
    Warmly,
    Julie

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Julie–
      Yes, indeed, we received your kind letter and enjoyed reading it. We deliberately did not use the phrase ‘unconditional love’ for two reasons. First, it has become a psychology/psychiatry buzz word, as if love can solve all problems if only it were applied unconditionally.
      Second, love doesn’t always mean acceptance and approval. Unconditional suggests that regardless of what the other person does, I will love them. I don’t think that is either always true or always practicable.
      I know that some time after Sue Klebold’s son murdered thirteen people at Columbine High School 22 years ago, she told National Public Radio that she’d never stop loving Dylan. And I get that. But it doesn’t change my mind about what love really means and what unconditional love might mean.
      I am sorry you went through that kind of turbulence when you got married but it sounds as if all has settled down well. I hope so.
      Thanks for writing,
      Cordially
      RDL

  2. Reading the question, I assumed you Lapin partners would start off wondering why Donna seemed to avoid embracing the Rabbi’s input as well, as if this issue was among 3 females only: Mom, daughter, and Susan. It seems reasonable to suspect some imbalance in Donna’s marriage made her religious life (and her husbands? is he there?) less appealing than it might have been.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear David–
      Donna referred to her husband twice and twice used the plural first person pronoun (our, we) as in her husband and herself, so I don’t see why you question her husband’s presence. We have found that people often address questions and comments to one or the other of us. Only a few people write to us both. After carefully considering your points, we stand with our answer.
      warmly
      RDL

  3. I was that daughter. My parents were devout and taught me Judeo-Christian values. Every Sunday we went to church together as a family, attended Bible studies, etc…
    However, in my late 20’s and into my 30’s I made bad decisions concerning my lifestyle and choice of men. I dated men that deep down I knew were not going to be marriage material.
    I can tell you that through it all my parents continued to love me unconditionally and welcomed the men I was dating. Honestly, I don’t know to this day how they did it– but they did it with the conviction that they had raised me with the right values and prayed that one day I would return to a life that reflected everything they wanted for me. I am a testimony that it worked! I eventually found a wonderful man, married and am living the best life and closer to my parents than I’ve ever been. Looking back, I really do regret those “lost years”, but I’ve had to forgive myself in order to move ahead.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Wow! Some letter, LJ,
      Thank you for finding the emotional strength and searing self awareness to write to us.
      I am so very happy that your story ended the way it did. Lost years always hurt. “And I will make whole for you the years that the locusts ate” said God (Joel 2:25) May He do so for you.
      Cordially
      RDL

      1. Dear Susan and Rabbi Lapin,

        Donna’s heartfelt question along with your answer and the wonderful comments have served to remind me of a principle that I have come to hold about faith.

        For what it’s worth, it is my sincerely held belief that it is God and God alone who can turn the heart of a man or woman toward Him. In His sovereignty, God remains respectful of the free will that he provides to us, the decedents of His first man and woman. With that said, I stand with you both (and LJ too!) in your conviction that we maintain a welcoming, hospitable posture toward those for whom we hope and pray to see repentance. And by my use of the term repentance (which I’ve chosen to use at the risk of sounding overly religious), I simply mean an about-face; a turning away from the shadow and toward the light, as the sunflower to the sun.

        By standing with one another as midwife to the work of God, we can thus rest in the confident expectation that He will hear our prayer for those we love, while relinquishing the ultimate burden to Him.

        In so doing, may we alleviate the heaviness that we might otherwise wear on our faces as an impediment to the desired outcome. A not insignificant benefit of this is that we can remain the Happy Warriors that God needs on our side of the cultural tug-of-war, free to cultivate our friendships, family, faith, finances and physical fitness.

        Here’s thanking God for His providence, His sources of spiritual light among the most brilliant of which I’ve come to regard as the Ancient Jewish Wisdom that especially those of us who are Christians are so privileged to receive through your collective ongoing work.

        May God richly bless you both and all of your collaborative works (right down to your youngest grandchild)!

        With enormous respect and admiration, your friends

        Peter & Marsha

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Dear Peter and Marsha–
          I can hardly describe how much your kind letter uplifts and encourages us. While all is in God’s hands, He does allow each of us the freedom of choice of whether or not to develop and maintain a relationship with Him. During our synagogue service years, we practiced ‘evangelism’ by invitation rather than by intimidation. We took marketing guidance from Rolls Royce motor cars. I am not sure about now, but they never ran commercials. When asked, they explained that nothing sells their cars more than the happy and satisfied looks on the faces of Rolls Royce owners. Similarly, exposing friends and visitors to your God-centric happy circumstances without any lecturing and admonishing does more to open hearts to Him than much else. It was the approach taken by our father, Abraham, who always would invite passing visitors into his home and treat them to a fine meal and good conversation. Only if and when they’d ask him to explain his actions, would he talk of God as his guide.
          Thank you for your blessings and thank you so much for taking the time to write us such a beautiful letter.
          Warmly
          RDL

  4. Very insightful answer. Our children take a different path just like we did with our parents. It is hard to stop being the Mom of unsolicited advice and start being the supportive, I’m here if you need me MOM. We have to let go in stages and this is kinda the final stage which makes it tough.

  5. The Rabbi gives good advice here. I listen to scenarios like this all the time on the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson show. He as well suggests that parents should avoid meddling in their adult children’s affairs. Interestingly, many of the scenarios I encounter come from the children’s point of view. Almost nobody has perfect parents, but they do the best they can. It’s important that children forgive their parents or the trauma is passed down from generation to generation.

  6. Great answer Susan. I concur with most of your answer. My daughter (30-ish), too, has made a bad life decision. Several years ago she informed me that she was living in a lesbian relationship. I was stunned, but my pastor gave me similar wise counsel as yours. She knows I do not approve, but I have been able to keep a good relationship with her… BUT. I cannot bring myself to interact with her partner. I welcome your advice.
    P.S. Her mother and I are divorced 25 years. I have a general sense that she has a good relationship with our daughter as well, but I do not know about the partner.

  7. Remember that St. Monica prayed for her son’s conversion for forty years before St. Augustine came back to the faith. It can happen!

  8. My thought is that it seems like we frequently use the words ‘raise good children’ when I think the words ‘raise good adults’ is better, and could positively impact how we raise children to be adults.

    Other than that minor difference, I believe that you provided a very good answer. She is now an adult, and will live her life, her way. The best you can do is demonstrate what a good loving relationship can look like. That does mean showing love to her, and her choice in man, unless he really is a bad character who demonstrates dangerous tendencies. Then the most you can do is share your concerns and why, but continue to ensure that she knows that you love her.

    Even non-religious people can have most excellent ,long lasting, marriages. Sometimes they even find their way to, or back to, church later in life.

  9. Marcos Guerra

    What a beautiful answer. Full of grace. I feel that when I went through this (I’m 35 now) my parents showed me this grace. My dad is a pastor and I grew up in church. I had a time where I needed some distance to make my faith my own. Rabbi and Susan helped me a lot and my parents grace an unconditional love was always there.

    1. I know that your answer will give Donna hope and strength. We each do have to find our individual relationship with God and some of us take side paths on the way.

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