the shape of leadership

Influencing Adult Children

Jim Burns offers principles for building life-giving relationships

James D Hernando on August 21, 2019

Jim Burns, director of HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University, is a recognized expert and writer in the field of marriage and family. His publications are prolific in number and available in 20 languages. His credentials, while impressive, are not the main reason I recommend his latest work, Doing Life With Your Adult Children. Simply put, it is an immensely practical book for all those with adult children seeking to be the most helpful and enduring influence in their lives.


From the subtitle forward (“Keep Your Mouth Shut & the Welcome Mat Out”) readers will find a mountain of common-sense wisdom that will often have them nodding their heads in agreement and uttering under their breath, “Yeah, that’s true,” or, “That makes sense.”


The book’s appeal arises from its readability. Burns loaded it with enjoyable testimony and real-life reflection. A quick look at the topics on the contents page reveals Burns is addressing areas of concern for parents of adult children. Who hasn’t asked, “Should I tell my adult child what I think about this or that matter in their lives?” Or, “Why is it taking my kid so long to grow up?”


The author is acquainted with difficult and sometimes gut-wrenching situations in which children seem to grow out of their faith and begin living lifestyles that contradict their parents’ values, whether practical or moral.

The author provides hope, encouragement and advice for moving forward, restoring, mending fences and making needed adjustments.


Of course, readers will not always agree with the advice the author provides. Burns anticipates this as he points out that life is complex and one piece of advice does not fit all like situations. Reflection questions for each chapter provide opportunities for readers to discuss their experiences and raise exceptions to general rules or cases.


The strength of this book is in its practical principles. Burns begins each chapter by discussing common problems in relationships with adult children, their spouses and even their in-laws. He explores the causes and points out minefields to avoid. Readers may find Burns’ insights at times affirming (“Yes, we did that!”) and convicting (“I blew that one!”). Whatever the case, Burns provides hope, encouragement and advice for moving forward, restoring, mending fences and making needed adjustments.


This book will help parents continue to influence their adult children — and grandchildren — in a way that enriches their lives and helps them succeed in their own households.


I enjoyed the author’s refreshing transparency and honesty with regard to his own victories and failures. He candidly shares his personal experience without setting himself up as the supreme example to follow.


I found the last two chapters extremely helpful and enjoyable to read. Chapter 8 deals with how to be a parent of influence when in-laws, stepfamilies and children in a blended family are in the picture. Burns includes ample illustrations from his life and ministry.


The final chapter (“It’s Party Time With the Grandkids”) left me chuckling, as Burns’ experiences often mirrored my own. Burns underscores the positive influence and fun that grandparents can experience with their grandkids. Despite the levity of the title, however, his concern is to promote the best opportunity for grandparents to leave a godly legacy of faith and love for their grandchildren. I found his emphasis on the stewardship of the limited time we have with grandchildren deeply sobering. He conveys how important it is to guard against filling up our latter years with activity that rob us of the one investment — time — that can produce unforgettable memories and yield eternal dividends.


I recommend this book to pastors and laypeople involved in leading small groups or teaching adult Sunday School. While you probably won’t agree with all the advice Burns offers, Doing Life with Your Adult Children will engage you in a fruitful study that will reveal much about yourself and a season of life we must all seek God’s help with if we are to finish strong in the faith and leave a godly legacy for our children and grandchildren.


Book Reviewed

Jim Burns, Doing Life with Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019).

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