By far, one of the most common questions I receive when speaking or writing comes from well intentioned Catholic parents of older children, teens and even young adults who have devoted a lifetime of care to their domestic churches and find their children slipping away from the practice of their Catholic faith.
Since my own sons are still teens, I hesitate to share too much “expertise” on this topic, considering myself a novice (despite my age) and our family a work in progress. And yet, the questions persist, so I thought it might benefit all of us to open a dialogue here on this important theme. With many teens viewing the sacrament of Confirmation as a “graduation” of sorts, and young adults out from under our roofs and leading lives of their own, how do we keep our older offspring practicing or even encourage them to return to our Church?
For wisdom, I turned to a few of my most trusted Catholic parenting sources, who shared the following bits of counsel:
- Teach your children to have faith and to love God. Your children will love God and have strong faith only if you do. They will only pray…if you do. They will only be joyful about attending church…if you are. My wife and I are devout Catholics and for us, the greatest vocation is our family and raising our children to love and serve Christ and follow our Faith. Need further encouragement? The white paper Religious Involvement and Children’s Well-Being by Lisa Bridges and Kristin Moore (www.childtrends.org) reports that young people who frequently attend religious services and say their faith is important to them exhibit higher levels of altruism and lower levels of drug and alcohol use and sexual activity than those of little or no faith. Randy Hain, http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/
- Use Their Strengths. Most young people are naturally passionate about social justice and cultural issues. Help them find outlets for their youthful confidence and energy. Encourage your kids to join youth groups or volunteer organizations that build up families, fight against poverty, oppose abortion, or otherwise “make a difference” in the world. Help them to see their involvement in these causes as part of their Catholic identity. Danielle Bean, http://www.faithandfamilylive.com/
- Nurture Your Own Faith Life. Michael and I have four grown kids, now all in their 20s. Sharing our faith and our Catholic values was always of primary importance to both of us. This translated over the years into practical things like celebrating the sacraments together (yes, even going to Reconciliation as a family), family prayer every night (which became Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours when they got older), family dinners together where every topic was allowed, no matter how crazy! But for me, the bottom line on this topic has to be that we can’t give to our children what we don’t have. Our own adult Catholic faith has to be vibrant, honest, and growing. If I want my children to know the importance of daily prayer, I must, myself, practice daily prayer! If I want them to go on retreats and to attend events that challenge and encourage their faith as they grow older, *I* must be already doing that as an adult. My example is truly the most important gift I can give my children, and this must be real, genuine, honest–not from a textbook, but from my heart. María de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda, http://www.mymaria.net/
I love each of these “best practices” shared by families I admire and respect and find myself pondering my own answer to the question at hand. Like Randy, Danielle, and Maria, my husband Greg and I have tried to make family mass attendance, frequent reception of the sacraments, and a commitment to savoring our Sundays together a top priority. This year, we watched our oldest son leave the nest and are enjoying seeing Eric begin to nurture his own faith life in his college setting. He’s found a church home, is singing in the student choir, and has sought out relationships with fellow Catholic students. But I know he’s also fallen victim to the time pressures and social stresses that can begin to pull some kids away from the solid foundation they have been given.
In this new role of mine, I have learned to check in with him regularly (especially on Sundays!), to share faith-oriented resources with him by email and on Facebook, but most of all to ardently pray for him every day. I know from the example of my own parents, who raised five of us into committed Catholic adulthood, that this “prayer warrior” role of mine is one that won’t end any time soon!
Do you find yourself anxious about or struggling with your older children’s commitment to their faith life? Have you raised great kids who are now sharing the faith with families of their own? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this topic – what worked for you? What obstacles do you face? What can our Church do to support you in your role as primary faith formation teacher of your children? Please chime in below with your thoughts and suggestions.