It’s not an unusual situation (though I wish it were) that many young people today (mostly when they go to college), motivated by different reasons, abandon their Catholic faith. The causes range from the influence of friends and fashions, to intense rationalism in the curriculum, to incomplete information and/or disappointment in the Church. Whatever the reason, for Catholic mothers and fathers, parenting college kids who’ve fallen away from the faith, the children whom they brought up in the faith, this is a trial of suffering. A suffering that inevitably comes with guilt: what did I do wrong that made my child stop believing in God?
Beyond the good and the bad that we may do as parents, because the only perfection is in the Holy Trinity, the first thing we have to understand is that our children were given to us as a precious responsibility. But, they aren’t ours. Their formation is our first responsibility and duty. However, when they get to adulthood, their decisions are their own. We’ll always be their parents, always their reference point, but they will make their own choices about their lives’ directions.
A good friend used to tell me to remember that love towards our children also constitutes a road to holiness, of trial and unconditional love. Having said this, we give you a series of reflections that can be helpful when answering our children’s doubts and questions when they suddenly claim not to believe in God anymore.
8 Pieces Of Advice For Catholic Parents When Their Child Stops Believing In God
1. Remember, what you’ve formed in childhood is still there
All the effort you’ve put into educating your child on the faith and giving them the best opportunities to grow closer to Christ are still there inside your young adult child. What you’ve taught him or her has deeply shaped the type of person they are today. In adulthood, you’ll see the fruits of this never-ending effort to form them in faith, virtues, good manners, respect, and freedom. The seeds planted in our little children will flourish in adulthood. And if right now it seems that all of your work has been in vain, don’t despair; ask God to give you an abundance of patience and hope.
2. Listen to them, treat them with respect, and show interest in their choices
Instead of falling into anguish and letting yourself be moved only by emotion, breathe. Before speaking, first listen and show genuine interest in your child’s thought process. Don’t be driven by indignation or get caught up in delivering sermons that could drive your child away. Listen to their reasons, engage them, and keep listening. Try to understand their thoughts, longings, and illusions. Then, with this information, ask the Holy Spirit how to proceed and pray for your child to be surrounded by people who will speak truth into their lives.
3. Don’t try to convince them
Don’t start with a constant campaign to convert your child, because you’ll probably cause the opposite effect. It doesn’t mean that you, the parents, abandon your religious practices or stop talking to God in front of your child. On the contrary, continue with these practices as always, and be more and more coherent with your faith and Christian life. Frequently, the disappointment that comes from the actions of some Christians is a key factor for kids to leave the faith. Don’t force your child to pray, but make your attitude towards prayer an example. It’s not being indifferent, you can openly talk about your way of thinking and your faith, let them listen to you the way you’ll listen to them. It’s an appropriate situation to learn how to converse and respect each other.
4. Don’t manipulate them with punishments, and don’t cut them off of your help because of their views
Conditioning your help to their faith won’t lead your relationship anywhere productive. Our faith is not an imposed obligation, our faith is a relationship of love, a gift. Jesus became small like one of us and with patience, tenderness and His life example. He showed us the way. As a Christian, follow the example of Jesus who is compassionate, patient, full of love, and who is generous beyond mearsure.
5. Show them the joy of having a relationship with God
Our faith isn’t simply believing in some thing. The richness of our Catholic faith is that it’s a relationship with Someone. It’s not about a series of rules we comply with blindly, mechanically following along like robots. Our faith is born from an encounter with another person, the person of Jesus Christ. In this kind of situation, it’s the example of a Christian life that matters most: your coherence, your joy, your attitude towards others, your firm and unconditional love will lead the way.
6. Include them in your activities without forcing them
In the same way that you respect their decision and discuss it with peace, you should also share with them your thoughts and talk them through it. Don’t be afraid to show your faith, inviting them to participate when and how they can (even if they says no) in your religious activities, even to external efforts like service opportunities or prayer vigils. Invite them to Mass (at least ask them to accompany you), continue with Easter and Christmas celebrations, always make them a participant. Celebrate by their side with joy. The decision to participate or not will always be theirs, but it’s likely they’ll want to go (at least to some of them). These celebrations have always been a part of their story and are also filled with loving memories.
7. Don’t slip into sadness and hopelessness
It may be that your adult child has decided not to believe in God, but remember that God always believes in them. He’s their Creator, their Father, and He’ll never leave them helpless, even if sometimes it may seem like it. Don’t let yourself be tempted into thinking that your child will be condemned. That’s a matter that ultimately only concerns God. We should only be concerned with loving and giving ourselves to the service of others. So instead of letting yourself be defeated by sadness and hopelessness, trust God all the more strongly.
8. Make Saint Monica your best friend
Saint Monica is our ally for excellence in this mission. She knows the situation of having a child who’s far away from God. Appeal to her so that she intercedes for your son or daughter, and – like St. Monica did – offer God all your sorrows and pains. Pray constantly and without ceasing. The path towards your child’s conversion happens indisputably through your own conversion. By asking God every day for more faith, and by giving ourselves over in a more complete way. And as one bishop told Saint Monica: “Be tranquil, it is impossible that a son of so many tears should perish”.
BONUS: Constantly educate yourself
Sometimes, we have no answers to our children’s questions, not because the question is hard, but because we simply are not well informed ourselves. In faith, practice is important but so is education, to know our history as Catholics and the foundations of our Christian life. Educate yourself, consult reliable sources, cultivate yourself and learn every day how to be a better parent and a better Catholic.
This post originally appeared here for Catholic-Link Spanish. It was translated into English by María Isabel Giraldo.