“If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown. “They shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear of it and fear. Deuteronomy 21:18-20 NASU
One situation we have faced in the past is an adult rebellious son [or daughter] living at home and manipulating his mother. The mother often feels guilty about mistakes she has made in childrearing and so feels obligated to compensate for those mistakes to the child. The disobedient son lives at home off the mother’s income and upsets the home. We have seen that with single mothers and with married mothers. How are we to shepherd these folks?
We have a special obligation to the single women to help them overcome their feelings of failure and practice tough love with their sons. The masculine instinct is to protect while the feminine instinct is to nurture. Without masculine input, these women can be swayed to continue giving their unworking, abusive sons too many chances. Maybe they tell themselves that they deserve this treatment because of the terrible job they did parenting. Or unconsciously, they fill the (real) desire for companionship through their sons.
The above passage makes clear that there were times when chastisement did not work. Then the parents were to have him judged before the elders of the city. If found guilty, he was to be put to death. There is no judgment about the quality of their parenting. The judgment is on the heart of the child.
Based on the situations we are facing, I think several suggestions are in order.
1. We need to educate these women on the typical thoughts mentioned above and at the same time indicate that those are not reasons to keep the sons at home. We can let them know that their parenting is done.
I heard an excellent analogy from a man who compared parenting to working with concrete. “The great thing about working with concrete is that 45 minutes after you mix it you are done.” In other words, there is a time limit to working with concrete and you are done whether you did it right or not. We need to help these women realize there is a time limit to parenting. After 18 years, they are done. They can still be the child’s mother but the teaching/discipline/provision stage is over.
2. For the single women, we can keep encouraging them to protect themselves, to find their companionship in other adults and to not let past failures be used for manipulation. If she wants to make amends for sinful parenting then she can devote herself to hours of prayer on his behalf.
3. We can point out the above verse and show the obligation to bring the rebellious child out of the home to be dealt with by God. Practically speaking, these children need to be out and living with the consequences of their sin. If you dont work you dont eat. (2 Thes 3:10) A mother does her child no good by enabling his sin and shielding him from the consequences.
4. We can also point out that disobedience to parents is evidence of sinful hearts (Rom 1:30, 2 Tim 3:2). Modern thinking emphasizes that we can blame our parents for our misbehavior. Thus parents feel overly responsible for their grown child’s misbehavior. Scripture puts the obligation on the child not the parent.
5. For married couples the situation is more complicated. By siding with the child, the woman has made the mother-son relationship stronger than the husband-wife. Perhaps the husband does not see the problem, is too passive or has fought the battle in the past and given up. As a result his home is upset by the child but he cannot or will not protect it.
Perhaps bringing up this verse in Deuteronomy and inquiring about the situation can help spark a discussion and some action. If there is disagreement over what should be done, then one principle from Matt 18 would be to bring the discussion before some elders of the church for advice.
This will be an issue in the future. Let’s help moms parent God’s way and not out of guilt.