We recently spoke with four older couples about the challenges of parenting adult children, especially those who have fallen away from the faith. One mother shared her sorrow that her son not only has left the Church, but is actively antagonistic towards the Catholic faith and to her. A father of four adult sons talked 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. One couple shared the sad situation of their daughter’s same-sex relationship. Another couple was heartbroken that their daughter now considers herself “transgender.” All four 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 adult children who have abandoned their faith. Regarding blame: Recognize that our world has gone astray. Our adult children are being bombarded with messages contrary to the faith. Unless we have kept our children in a box their entire lives, they will come to know many more people who are living a hedonistic lifestyle than living a virtuous one.
Here are some suggestions that my husband and I have come up in dealing with adult children who have abandoned their faith.
- 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 and 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.
- 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!). My husband and I recite the Rosary for our adult sons every day (one decade for each son). Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive.” Storm heaven for them. It is God’s will that our children spend eternity in heaven. We may not live to see their conversion, but we’ll be able to rejoice in heaven with them.
- Fast and Sacrifice for Your Children
Fast and sacrifice for your children. When you’re going through a difficulty, offer it up for your adult children, especially those who have fallen away from the faith. Fast on Wednesdays and Fridays (I do the Ash Wednesday-Good Friday fast of eating two small meals, no meat, and the third meal not larger than the two smaller ones combined.) I’ve seen amazing results with fasting because it’s like lighting a fire underneath our prayers.
- Look for Opportunities to Dialogue (But Don’t Nag or Preach!)
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 unconditional 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. And don’t nag or preach.
- Be a Virtuous Example
You can teach your kids all about the faith, especially in the areas of 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.
- Find Supportive Parents Who Are Going Through The Same Thing
Find a support network. I’m a member of a Facebook group called “St. Monica’s Moms.” A support network can give us consolation, especially when we remember that we’re not alone in our struggles. We can also pray for other parents going through this and ask for advice or suggestions on how to handle a specific situation.
- Be Hopeful
I know adult children who converted very late in life; I’ve witnessed imperceptibly slow conversion resulting from an adult child’s experience with steadfast parents. Be hopeful. Never underestimate the value of our prayers.
Parenting adult children who have fallen away from their faith is challenging. Love them unconditionally, pray and fast for them, look for opportunities to dialogue, be a good example, have a support network and remain hopeful that they will return to the faith.
This video is also helpful for parenting young adults who have fallen away from the faith:
Copyright 2019 Ellen Gable Hrkach