Conntecting the Dots

Friendship Friday — Carol Barnier's Advice to Parents of Prodigals

Meet Carol Barnier.

Author Carol Barnier

She’s the author of four books, including Engaging Today’s Prodigal—Clear Thinking, New Approaches and Reasons for Hope, where she provides lessons she learned from her own atheist prodigal years. If you’ve known the pain of parenting a prodigal child, you’ll want to read her book. Here’s a sampling to whet your appetite.

Read on to learn how you can enter to win a copy.


Please Don’t Ask About My Child

You run into an old friend at church you haven’t seen in quite some time. You do a bit of catch-up, the chit chat goes on for a while, and then, here it comes—the question you’ve been dreading—“So, how’s that daughter [or son] of yours doing?”

Paste on that smile. Take in a quick breath, but inside, die . . . just a bit.

Of course, you know precisely which child she’s talking about—the one who surprised you all by turning her back on God, then the family, then doing a 180 from all that you value, finally stepping solidly into the world and away from faith. Yeah. That kid. You are now at a crossroads in this conversation. How will you respond?

Well, you could choose Path A—tell the truth. My kid is in deep spiritual trouble. Her father and I are heartbroken. It’s been incredibly painful to watch her make so many poor choices. It’s even possible that we will not see the face of our child in heaven. And what’s more, we’re worried it might be our fault. Thanks for asking.

Or, you could try Path B and do that little church-speak dance. Well. . .she’s finding herself, trying to determine what it is God wants of her at this point in her life. We’re still hoping she’ll become a surgeon on the mission field, but that may be more our wishes than God’s. [Insert quick laugh.] We’ll just have to wait and see. [Now insert a quick redirect.] So how’s your little Bobby doing? Is he still sending all his money to that orphanage in the Sudan? [Raise eyebrows, indicating eager anticipation. Wait for listener to launch into the Bobby-Praise report.]

I completely understand if the truth model makes your palms sweat. Frankly, hesitation is justified. There’s a good chance that if you open your heart and share your pain transparently with this sister in Christ, you may get whacked for it. While I think she probably means well, there’s a truth she (and perhaps you) haven’t yet owned.

If perfect parenting is a guarantee of perfect children, then Adam and Eve should have been flawless.

Did they not have THE perfect parent? What’s more, they lived pre-fall. There wasn’t even sin in the world. And yet, with all this going for them, these two made perhaps the most severe of mistakes, one for which we’ve all been paying a terrible price ever since. So if God, as the perfect father, can have children who in spite of wonderful parenting, still make sinful, even horrible choices, what makes you think your parenting can do better?

Let go of unnecessary guilt, and put your energy somewhere where it can make a difference.


Readers! What advice would you give to a parent of a prodigal? Or what was the best piece of advice someone gave you if you parented a prodigal? Enter to win this random draw by leaving your comment on my blog.

14 Responses to “Friendship Friday — Carol Barnier's Advice to Parents of Prodigals”

  1. Twylla Sutton

    We have a prodigal – a “good” prodigal!! What I mean is, she actually embraces a lot of our values – but on her own terms – she calls them “Patton rules” (her married name is Patton)!! She’s actually even stricter on a lot of things than we were when she was growing up – and she rebelled against the rules, so that is very interesting to me. But she doesn’t need God, claims to be an atheist, as is her husband and his family. I sometimes wonder what it will take to bring them to God, but I keep praying.

    • Grace

      Yes, keep praying, Twylla. Never give up. God loves her more we can even imagine.

  2. Debbie Hipkiss

    After raising my son in a Christian home, putting him in a Christian and then Catholic school so he could speak Christ’s name and learn more about Him, he throws me for a zinger and nearly brought me to my knees when he said in the heat of a disagreement that he doesn’t even know if God is real. Wow. Where did I go wrong? What should I have done differently? Does he see his cousins who were raised similarly but now young adults who’ve become prodigals being his role models since he looks up to them so much? Still struggling with this one…but keeping him in prayer.

    • Grace

      I hear your pain, Debbie. Keep praying and live out your faith consistently before him. Don’t let the enemy overwhelm you with guilt.

  3. Beth Willis Miller

    Henri Nouwen, the famous author, once gave a postcard print of the painting “Return of the Prodigal” to individuals who had come to hear him speak. He asked them to look at the hands of father–one hand masculine and strong, and the other hand feminine and gentle. What a wonderful way to illustrate the unconditional love God has for all of us prodigals, full of grace and truth. I included this in a blog post …

  4. Joyce

    I too struggle with this in my life, having raised 3 sons who love the Lord but our daughter says she doesn’t believe in God. Honestly, I have no answers, other than continuing to believe the Lord’s promises when He says that they are for my household, for my children and their children (my grands), and that His words shall not depart from the lips of my children.

    • Grace

      Amen. Keep praying. Keep trusting. And keep lovin’ that daughter!

  5. Cyndy Bunn

    Don’t have guilt. Only God can change your child’s heart. We all make mistakes and it’s only God’s grace that saves any of us. As long as they’re alive, keep praying and begging God to display His glory in saving them.

  6. Carol Barnier

    Thanks everyone for your comments to my article. When I listen to your words and the pain, it makes me keenly aware of what it must have been like for my parents during my 13 years of atheism. It took me that long to explore and finally exhaust the philosophy I’d adopted. Do your best to stay connected to the heart of your child, even if that connection doesn’t include a commonality of faith. And also be comforted in knowing that God’s word has feet. It follows your child, whispers in their ears, and speaks to them, even when they deny it’s impact.

    • Grace

      Thank you, Carol, for your wise words. I especially like what you said about staying connected to the heart of your child even if that doesn’t include the commonality of faith, and that God’s word has feet and will follow our kids.

  7. Judy Dippel

    Carol, thank you for writing about the reality that children are not perfect and neither are we as parents. This issue is one of the toughest to face as a mother. I’ve lived it and survived the immense pain of feeling I had done nothing right as my son and daughter made poor choices that affected their lives. It leaves a mother dangling on the edge … when will it end? Where will it end? Most thankfully, God strengthened and stood with me (and my husband), teaching me so much “of him” throughout the several years of late teen, early adult struggles. We grow up right along with our children. My daughter and son are now doing wonderfully, in their thirties, and married with children of their own. They are adults who learned much from their time of “walking on the edge,” and today, I am very proud of both of them. For moms who are currently in this difficult season, my book”Refreshing Hope in God,” tells about the motherhood journey, the joy of it, the pain of it. You can survive those heart-wrenching tough years … and also the immense challenge of raising your children to adulthood. For more encouragement, please visit my website, or purchase Refreshing Hope on I am so passionate about this topic, that it is hard for me to sum it up. However, now I often say this to moms and dads, “Get to know your young child very well, their heart, their passions. Believe in them, and one day if they stretch the boundaries or reject the values, hold on to their heart, hold on in faith to the person you know them to be … even when there is no evidence of that person on the outside, in their actions or reactions. I smile when I think of a mother’s prayers … I believe God holds us up when we feel we are going to lose it, and holds onto our children to keep them safe when we cannot control their choices, and be there to guide them. Free will, it is the way it is meant to be.

    • Grace

      Thank you for sharing encouragement from your personal experience, Judy. So many moms will relate to what you said. Blessings to you this day.


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