The Role of Parents

Regardless of the court’s decision, the message she sent through that letter was grossly inappropriate and wrong. We cannot uphold our children – or one another – in wrongdoing. Period.

The love of a parent is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, but it is not a “blank check” to do wrong.

“I just want you to remember I will always love you, and I know you will always love me. You are my boy. Nothing can make me stop loving you, nothing will or could ever divide us no matter what we do, or where we go or what we say — we will always love each other.”

Those were the fateful words that Roberta Laundrie penned in a letter to her son, Brian Laundrie. Brian and his fiancée, Gabby Petito dominated the headlines in the summer of 2021 after vanishing on a cross-country trip. Sadly, Petito’s body was found in the fall of 2021 and the cause of her death was later ruled a homicide as a result of manual strangulation.

Laundrie left behind writings claiming responsibility for Petito’s death, according to the FBI. And then his body, as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, was found a month later in a nature preserve close to his parents’ home in Florida.

Mrs. Laundrie’s letter was recently released to Gabby Petito’s parents after a Florida judge denied a request from Laundrie’s parents to withhold it, as the two families head to a civil trial next year. In March 2022, Petito's family sued Laundrie's parents and the Laundries' former attorney for emotional distress in connection with her untimely and sad death.

Those earlier quotes in Mrs. Laundrie’s letter weren’t the only thing she said. Here is the “rest of the story.”

“If you’re in jail, I will bake a cake with a file in it. If you need to dispose of a body, I will show up with a shovel and garbage bags. If you fly to the moon, I will be watching the skies for your re-entry. If you say you hate my guts, I’ll get new guts,” Mrs. Laundrie wrote.

After that, she actually ended the letter with a paraphrase from the books of Romans, Chapter 8, verse 38: "Nothing can separate us: not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not threats, not even sin, not the thinkable or unthinkable can get between us." ~ Not time. Not miles and miles and miles.

She had addressed the letter to her son with the instructions to burn it after reading it. The Laundries maintain that the letter had nothing to do with Gabby Petito and that the mother was trying to reconnect with her son after their relationship had fallen on hard times.

The story made me ask myself, “What is the role of parents in the lives of their offspring?”

All of us who are parents know that parenting never stops, although our role in their lives changes and should change as life goes on, especially after they are adults and marry. When they are small children, we are their rescuers, their protectors, their providers, their coaches, their counselors, their ATMs, their supporters…

But there comes a time when the cocoon must be shed for their own good. Otherwise, we become enablers and we can stunt their growth and development as God would have it be. Letting go can be hard, but it is very necessary.

When my mother became pregnant with my youngest brother Craig in 1971, I was 10 years old. I literally thought that God had allowed her to get pregnant because she and her boyfriend at the time loved each other. That’s all – I did not know of a physical act that had to happen and I didn’t know that fornication was a sin. I saw it from the innocent eyes of a child. Sometimes, I wish it were that way – today, far too many pregnancies are terminated out of what ultimately settles down to “convenience.”

That being said, when the Lord blesses parents with a child, He entrusts them with a responsibility to bring that child up in ways that are pleasing to Him and to point that child toward the kingdom, power, and glory of Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 6:1, 2, 7).

We are called upon to pray for our children constantly, something Vanessa and I still do to this day, and always will. Thankfully, each of our sons has long committed His life to the Lord but that doesn’t mean the prayers have stopped. On the contrary, we know that God’s anointed and chosen are all called to walk through burdens, so we pray all the more. We're thankful they pray for us as well.

Parents are also called to teach their children the ways of the Lord through thought, word, and deed. We are called to help our children see life through the penetrating lens of Scripture. The choices they make: moral, ethical, financial, relational, and more – should all be filtered through the reasoning and righteous rationale of the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 6:4 and Proverbs 22:6 admonish us to bring our children up in the ways of the Lord. If we help them walk this way while they are young, we have no guarantees but the lessons from their youth can take them far in life and play such a huge role in the development of godly character.

More than anything, they need to see us setting a godly example by the way we live our lives. Not only when the going is good, but especially when we encounter hardship and challenges. We must strive to be authentic, and to be an example for our children, even as we look to Jesus as our example.

We cannot neglect discipline either. Discipline and correction are essential for any human being, just as God disciplines us.

The motivation for discipline should be right though – not out of anger or revenge or frustration, but to show that there are repercussions for wrongdoing and to incentivize one to do better for themselves and not repeat the same mistakes and patterns.

Mrs. Laundrie’s “blank check” for her son was wrong – in effect she was telling him that her love for him was stronger than any wrongdoing he could perpetrate. Well – that’s not love. There are consequences to doing wrong. She said that her letter was written months before the ill-fated trip her son and Ms. Petito took, and a court will sort it out and decide if it thinks she was telling the truth.

Regardless of the court’s decision, the message she sent through that letter was grossly inappropriate and wrong. We cannot uphold our children – or one another – in wrongdoing. Period.

Being parents is one of the greatest honors of mine and Vanessa’s lives – and it also among our greatest challenges. We love our sons and we have seen them through sickness and so many life challenges. But we will never uphold them in wrongdoing – never, ever, ever.

To all the parents – keep the faith, pray for them, challenge them in godly ways, and know yourself that God is in control, no matter how it may look.

Love them, but always remember that love is not a blank check to do wrong.

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