Within the last year, we heard a staggering statistic that 75% of children raised Catholic will leave the faith.
We have 5 born children. If this stat holds true, chances are that 3 of our beloved kids will leave the Catholic faith in young adulthood or later. Soon we will have 6, and then the odds are higher for 4 children leaving the faith. Ouch. How disappointing.
What are faithful mothers and fathers to do in the face of threats to their children’s faith, or even more close to the heart, what to do when one of your children openly admits to doubting the faith?
It happened to me this week. Not even kidding, in the middle of praying the St. Monica novena, my oldest daughter told me that she’s doubting more than believing and understanding. She is not yet 11 years old.
Thank you, St. Monica, for being a faithful friend and praying with me in that moment so that I didn’t lose my cool and immediately respond with shock and “But how could you doubt anything?!” kinds of remarks. Had I done that, I’m sure lasting wounds would be deep and have resulted in my daughter losing trust in me and feeling less comfortable being so honest. Parents are the first and more influential teachers of the faith! Had I ruined the trust and confidence we are building, then to whom would my daughter turn instead? Non-Catholic friends? Other adults who also doubt, or believe only bits and pieces of the faith? Catholic friends who are faithful, but not yet old enough or learned enough to hold their own in a conversation about questions?
I am not worried that my daughter has questions–even doubts–about what we believe. Here’s why and how my husband and I agreed to handle this (and likely subsequent) moment of questioning:
Plenty of saints have been here before. They are ready and willing and already praying for us and our children.
St. Augustine, St. Paul and so many others have struggled with belief. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, a contemporary, wrote about her dark times yet persevered through the “night” and trusted in Jesus’ love. These great saints are great intercessors for our families!
Prayer is not to be underestimated.
Oh, sure, sometimes it seems so easy and at the same time too easy to “just” pray. St. Monica, whose feast day is August 27 (today as I write), is a famous and beautiful witness to the power of prayer (and tears!) aiding in a child’s return to the faith. Her prayers can join our own! Her strong faith in God’s mercy should be a hopeful example to us as parents that our children may stray far, but we must never give up. Would we have the great Saint Augustine without her fervent prayers? Pray, pray, and pray some more! Also, the famous quote from St. Pio comes to mind, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.”
Remember that questioning is a normal part of growing up and learning.
I wasn’t a questioner growing up, but my kids are. As a homeschooling mom, I’ve learned to take their questions in stride, even when they seem hostile, and approach them as honestly, calmly, and freely as I can. Sometimes I don’t have the answers. Sometimes frustration takes over for all of us and we have to leave further discussion for later. The important part is to be open to questions, treat all questions as honest seeking for truth, and lovingly answer. Allow the conversation to be on-going, and encourage seeking! I told my daughter that it’s OK to have her doubts, and that I’m ready to talk about them when she is. Have children write their questions down if they aren’t ready to talk yet, or feel awkward just asking. If you don’t have the answer, be honest about that and try to find an answer together, even asking your parish priest if you can. Also, you might consider sharing with your child about a time that you also struggled. It can help our children to know that we have been in their shoes before.
Encourage and provide faith-experiences.
Many of us learn by experience more readily and powerfully than by reading a book. Make time to participate in extra parish activities or events in the diocese. Seeing a wider community involved, and being part of the universal Church outside of Sunday Mass, can be life-changing. When I attended World Youth Day as a teen, it was that incredible and indescribably joyful experience that strengthened my faith and I chose it as my own.
Keep living a strong faith at home and in every aspect of your own life.
Parents are the first and most important example of the faith! Have open discussions about the faith. Read the Sunday readings together. Pray as a family. If nights seem too rushed, try praying in the car. Have conversations with your spouse when your children can hear. My husband often comes home and shares about praying the rosary during his commute, or something else he read or did. I believe that even hearing parents discuss their ideas and their faith life makes an impact on children. Read about the saints. Celebrate some feast days in a special way, with a festive dessert or watch a movie about the saint’s life.
Also, let go of the guilt. Guilt won’t help any of us. Maybe your child’s doubts are a sign that you could also use a boost in your faith and prayer. Take that as a welcome sign and ask God to help! Maybe your child’s questions have nothing to do with what you have possibly “missed” in their faith education, and only to do with natural questioning. Be a support and their best listener. And remember, it is our great duty to raise our children in the faith, but in the end, they have just as much free will as we do. We are to do our best in sharing and handing on the faith, but the final decision rests with our children. Do your best! Pray hard! Be a living witness, and hope in God’s loving hand guiding your child the rest of the way.