It’s a painful thing for a parent. You did your best to raise your kids in the faith. You sent them to a Catholic or Christian school, or you made sure they always went to CCD or Sunday School. But now as young adults they walk away. They’re not interested. They outright disagree and rebel.
Not only are you upset with them, but you may feel abandoned or betrayed by God. Where is he in all of this? What should you do now?
You’re not alone. It’s unfortunately a common story today. We’re up against a powerful culture that is not only in our schools, but invades our homes over the internet and TV. It’s right on the phone in your child’s pocket.
So what should you do…and not do? Here are a few suggestions:
Gird Your Loins For Battle
First, you need to accept this important fact: whether you enlisted or not, you’ve been called to battle.
“The battle is not of flesh and blood, but of powers and principalities.” (Eph 6:12)
There’s a spiritual battle playing out and your family is the battleground. Try hard not to take their comments or attacks personally. They may bring up issues and objections to the faith or morality. Don’t get pulled into skirmishes and red herring arguments you can’t win. Keep your eye on winning the war. The enemy is very cunning. He works in half-truths and sows confusion. His unmistakable calling card is division. Don’t take the bait. Decide to go the distance and fight back.
Understand the Natural Process of Individuation
As kids reach adolescence and young adulthood, they naturally start a process called “individuation.” It’s not uncommon for them to begin to question their values—“Is this what I really believe or are these my parents’ values?” So they test the waters. They are likely learning different values at school. They start to try on different identities and beliefs. It can take you unawares and from out of left field. And as the process unfolds, it may seem that they are starting to conform more and more to the crowd and the culture. The irony is that they feel like they’re being their own person. What’s really happening is they are differentiating from you. Don’t take it as rejection, as much as it may sound and feel like that. By understanding the process and not reacting emotionally to it, you stand a better chance of helping them to navigate through it safely.
Allow them to express themselves. Ask them why they see things the way they do. Affirm their goodness and good intentions. Be careful that you’re not constantly correcting them. Most often they are genuinely searching. Gently share your own views. If it gets too heated, sometimes you just need to agree to disagree…but always let them know that you respect their thoughts and you’re glad they’re thinking about things. Be careful not to paint them into a corner where they feel they have to defend their point of view. The truth can get lost when it becomes a power struggle. Be ready to drop the subject and revisit it if things get too heated.
Clarify What You Believe and Why
Now is a time to clarify exactly what you believe and why you believe it. In short, it’s time to learn some “apologetics.” Find resources that explain the basics of the faith…as well as those complicated moral issues. Simply telling them they should wait for marriage for sex without giving them compelling reasons why may not be enough. Take time to thoughtfully explain your positions. They’re listening to worldly perspectives that seem, in their view, logical and compassionate. But in most cases they only seem that way, but are not. Our job is to listen to what they’re hearing and saying and to counter it with truth. “Because I said so” simply ain’t gonna fly with them. Do your homework.
Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner
Of course you love your kids regardless of what they believe. But it’s important to reassure them of your unconditional love no matter what. And when fielding disagreements culturally or politically, it’s important you don’t yield to hateful rhetoric. A simple thing like praying for those you believe to be mislead can speak volumes to them. Be clear that it’s the sin that you hate and not those caught up in those sins. We’re all sinners. Keep in mind how you may have strayed or questioned things too at their age.
Set Clear Boundaries
If your kids are living lifestyles that you believe to be immoral, then be sure to clarify your love for them and your concerns for their well-being and their souls. It’s important to set boundaries. For instance, if your son visits overnight with a girlfriend, letting him know you expect them in separate rooms is fine. This is particularly important if you have younger children for whom you want a better example set. You can’t stop them from doing what they will do outside your home, but you should ask them to respect your boundaries in your home. By allowing them to do what you believe to be wrong in your home can be interpreted as tacit consent. Be clear with them.
Adjust Your Focus
It’s easy to fall into the trap of constantly focusing on the problem or disagreement. The elephant can take over the room if you’re not careful. There are probably some values you still hold in common. Navigate to those subjects whenever possible.
Do things you all enjoy as a family. Board games are a great way to interact and have some laughs together. (It also helps to keep them off their phones for a little while- an added bonus). Sometimes getting a puppy or kitten that everyone can love and enjoy can also ease tension in a family and bring folks together.
Pray and Offer Up Sacrifices
It’s hard to overemphasize the power of prayer and fasting in bringing about conversions. No matter how hopeless it may seem, no matter how far they stray, never…and I mean never, stop praying or give up hope. It can take a long time sometimes. But God is always in the process. St. Monica prayed for 16 years for the conversion of St. Augustine. And his conversion came about, through the influence of St. Ambrose, when he snuck away against her wishes. Remember, God loves them even more than you do, so pray with confidence and trust unceasingly for as long as it takes.
Ask for help
You’re navigating rough waters here. Join a support group or reach out to a priest or pastor, counselor, or parenting coach. A less emotional perspective can often help you to clarify the situation and come up with better ways to respond to challenges. Just a little help can strengthen you to go the distance and win the prize.