The goal of parenting should be to equip children with the knowledge and skills necessary to become successful and productive adults. (Ep 6:4) It’s an educational mandate we ought not delegate; we may entrust others with formal academic training, but we’re required to teach our children how to live (De 6:6-7), and enable them in every way possible. (Pr 22:6) In order to do this effectively, parents are given authority in the home and children are required to obey their parents. (Ep 6:1-3)
But this state doesn’t last forever; children grow up. When and how are they supposed to transition into adulthood? When, if ever, are children free from the duty to obey their parents?
God does not instruct adults to obey their parents (1Co 11:3); He instructs children to do so. (Co 2:20) So, the duty of children to obey their parents ends as they mature into adulthood, yet this process of becoming an adult is not formally defined in scripture. How should we navigate this?
Well, we might take a cue from Nature (1Co 11:14a); God has designed the human body to mature in the second decade of life; we reach a given height and stop growing. It’s a reasonable, tangible measure of adulthood.
Another consideration is mental maturity, reasoning ability, discipline and self-control; when one is capable of taking care of themselves with minimal assistance from others, able to navigate the basic complexities and challenges of life, equipped to live independently and provide for themselves, they’re an adult.
If parents are wise, caring and respectful toward their children (1Pe 2:17a), this transition into adulthood should be natural, healthy and gradual; there’s not a specific day in which a child turns into an adult, yet if they’re being prepared for adulthood by their parents, they’re becoming more and more adultlike as they mature physically.
Parents should be preparing and equipping their children for this transition from early childhood, teaching them responsibility and letting them learn from their mistakes (within reason), guiding them with wise counsel, and explaining life to them. Parents who are neglectful here, as well as those who are overly protective, domineering and/or controlling, do immense harm to their children, violating their dignity and stunting their personal growth and development, which may provoke children to anger, frustrating and discouraging them. (Co 2:21)
As children mature, parents must respect the basic dignity and humanity of their children as God’s image bearers, not lording authority over them or demanding they agree with all their personal beliefs or perspectives. Children are free moral agents, responsible before God for what they believe as they are capable of understanding. A wise parent will respect each child’s unique gifts and orientation, leading by example, reasoning with them as unique individuals and honoring their choices within reason, even if they disagree.
Further, young adults should never have to struggle to free themselves of their parental home, nor should they be forced to leave ill-equipped and unprepared, if they’ve been willing to learn and bear responsibility within their capability. (De 15:13-14) When either tragedy occurs there’s been a terrible breakdown in the family unit, and there’s no pleasant way to resolve it.
When parents perceive their son (Ge 2:24) or daughter (1Co 7:34a) is prepared to live on their own, they should encourage and enable them to do so and mark the occasion with a special ceremony, celebrating their childhood and commemorating their transition into adulthood. This is a wonderful opportunity for both parents, especially fathers, to bless their children, formally acknowledge their adulthood and give them the confidence they need to begin directly facing the challenges of life, receiving them as equals before God, just as God Himself has designed and honored them to be. (Ga 6:4-5)
In this complex journey of shaping lives, parents ought to be constantly asking God to help them and work through them to equip each of their children to fulfill His perfect design and calling in their lives. Parents should be looking to God to bestow a sense of completeness and adulthood in their children through them.
One might even say our Heavenly Father sovereignly works through the strivings of our earthly parents, even in the man-made rituals and ceremonies, to convey the ultimate sense of adulthood in each of us, helping us understand, accept and celebrate our own maturity and adulthood in Him.