Recently, I spoke with several older couples about the challenges (and joys) of parenting adult children. One mother shared her sorrow that her son not only has fallen away from his faith, but is actively antagonistic towards the Catholic faith and to her. A father of four adult sons talked to me about the frustration of finding out that his older son (who spent years serving as an altar boy and who had once considered a vocation to the priesthood) has stopped attending Mass. Yet another woman shared the sad situation of her daughter’s same sex relationship. All three of these parents, faithfully practicing Catholics, asked “What do we do now?” and “Where did we go wrong?”
I’m not an expert, but I do have some experience with parenting an adult child who has abandoned his faith. Here are some reflections that my husband and I have come up in dealing with adult children who have abandoned their faith.
1. Unconditional Love (Love the sinner, hate the sin)
This might seem like an obvious one, but I know some parents who’ve shunned adult children because they’ve stopped going to Mass or are engaging in immoral lifestyle choices.
My gut reaction to that is, “How are they ever going to learn to change if they don’t have your example to follow?” Also, how are they going to experience God’s unconditional love without a parent’s unconditional love? You can love without encouraging immoral lifestyles. If a son or daughter is cohabiting, when they visit your home, separate sleeping arrangements should be in order. If you have younger children, this shows them that you don’t agree with their lifestyle choices, but still love them and welcome them into your home… a home that does not condone cohabitation.
2. Pray for Your Children Every Day
This is also obvious, but a parent’s prayer for his or her child is a powerful one. Our Lady is a powerful intercessor. St. Monica (whose son, St. Augustine, made immoral choices) prayed for her son’s conversion (and it eventually happened!)
3. Look for Opportunities to Dialogue
This can often be awkward. Most adult children of faithful Catholics know what their parents are going to say, but sometimes it still needs to be said. Take the opportunity whenever you can to reiterate your love for them and your disagreement with their choices to live a life contrary to the Catholic faith. However, avoid engaging in conversation if you know they might be antagonistic, especially in front of other family members.
4. Be a Virtuous Example
You can teach your kids all about the faith, especially in the areasof marital sexuality, but if you are not living that faith, these truths may be lost or ignored. This also goes for even more basic virtues like patience, fortitude and hope.
5. Hope, Indeed!
I’ve seen adult children convert very late in life; I’ve witnessed imperceptibly slow conversion resulting from a child’s experience of steadfast parents. Don’t lose hope. Don’t underestimate the value of your prayers for or your personal effect on them.
Parenting adult children who have fallen away from their faith can be challenging. Love them unconditionally, pray for them every day, look for opportunities to dialogue, be a good example and remain hopeful that they will return to the faith.
Copyright 2014, Ellen Gable Hrkach