In the over 20 years that I’ve been writing for this magazine, I’ve seen tons of letters from parents worrying about their children’s faith lives. Most of the time it’s concern over their children stepping away from the practice of their faith.
And for years I read them from the perspective of a mom whose four children were following along closely in my footsteps of faith. Children challenging the faith of their upbringing was someone else’s problem–not mine. Then my kids started growing up and stepping out from my footsteps.
My oldest daughter, Maddie, naturally started first, voicing her concerns and questions about the Church and its teachings. As her world view and experiences began to expand through her education, so did her sense of curiosity and desire to challenge things she had always just accepted. In some ways, it reminded me of when she was younger and constantly asked “Why?” Except now she wasn’t accepting, “Just because,” as a valid answer anymore.
Shortly after, her brother Alex–who had been an altar server all through grade school and was attending a Catholic high school–began to express similar feelings. Getting him out of bed for Sunday Mass was becoming increasingly more difficult.
Luckily, our two youngest hadn’t fallen in line with their siblings, but I knew they were watching.
How had this happened? My husband, Mark, and I had tried to do everything right to avoid this exact situation. We sent them to Catholic schools, when the local public school was excellent. We took them to Mass. We modeled our faith for them.
Stay the Course
When I talked about this with my friends, I was somewhat relieved to know that Mark and I weren’t alone in our challenge to pass along the faith to our kids. But knowing that, while it brought some comfort, wasn’t much practical help. I needed concrete solutions, a roadmap of how to get my kids back on the faith track.
Then one day, I remembered something a family friend told me regarding my kids in general. I was expressing concern about something completely unrelated to the topic of faith and she told me: “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
Suddenly, it hit me. I always knew my kids were going to forge their own paths in life when it came to so many different things. I could already see that happening. The best I could do in those situations, I would tell myself, is to be a good example and pray that they’re paying attention. Why had this not occurred to me when it came to their faith lives?
Lead by Example
I thought about my own faith journey. When I was Maddie’s age, didn’t I push back when I felt like my parents were making faith decisions for me? Despite the fact that I was very involved in my parish during high school, didn’t I walk away from the Church for a while once I started college?
After a few years of questioning and searching, didn’t I return, drawn back by the tradition and sense of community my faith offered? That’s not to say that, to this day, I don’t have questions regarding certain Church teachings. But that’s OK.
My faith is constantly changing and growing, as is everyone’s–including my kids. The best I can do is to stay the course and hope they’re watching.