If you have a son or daughter who will be coming home from college for the first time over the upcoming holidays, be prepared. They may not eat the same foods as they did before they left. They may have turned into absolute pigs in the cleaning department. And they may show a lack of interest or have very strong opinions about their current religious beliefs.
Unless your kids go to a Christian college or work for a Christian company, chances are good they are being exposed to ways of thinking that conflict with the values you’ve instilled in them. This is not a bad thing. This is the world in which we live, and they have to learn to navigate it diplomatically and kindly. But it is very hard to take when you realize that your kids are no longer going to church (after 18 years of weekly sermons and Sunday School!), are questioning their faith (did I mention those 18 years?), or – as some of us have faced – no longer practice their Christian faith.
Unfortunately, I have personal experience with this. My daughter – who, it needs to be said, has one of the kindest hearts and sweetest dispositions I have ever encountered – has radically different beliefs. It started in college, where she met a lot of non-believers, who are amazingly good at arguing their viewpoint. But it really was a process that continued as she traveled around the world immersing herself in cultures that celebrated Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and even African tribal faiths. More and more young people are exploring the world and coming back with quite different viewpoints. Even those who stay right here and attend the local college are encouraged to question their faith.
Let me first say that it is perfectly okay to feel hurt, pain, sorrow, disappointment, and even guilt. But know that you did the best parenting you were capable of, and what our children do when they leave the nest is unfortunately out of our hands.
So what can we as parents do when our adult kids make these decisions? It helps to remember the following:
- You do not have to change because your kids have. You should absolutely continue your religious traditions when your kids are in your home. You can’t force them to participate, nor should you forego saying grace at dinner time because you don’t want to offend them. I’ll admit that my husband and I have fallen out of the habit of saying grace since our kids have grown. I found it interesting that when my daughter came for dinner, she sat patiently and waited for the prayer. She even asked, “Aren’t we going to say grace?”
- Try to show your Christianity through your actions, not your words. If your kids feel you are “preaching at them,” it will likely have the opposite of the desired effect. If you keep prodding them, it will only drive them further away. Instead, show them what a Christian home looks like through your respect for one another, your prayer, your observance of Christian traditions, and your own language and responses.
- Never be afraid to tell your kids you are praying for them. In fact, tell them often. My son recently told me he had an important presentation coming up at work. My simple response: “I’ll be praying for you.” Or within a family group text I’ll say, “Cooper isn’t feeling well. Can everyone please pray for him?” It’s that simple. It’s a reminder to your kids that prayer is their connection to God and should be a daily practice.
- Instead of getting caught up on church-going or your kids’ verbal pronouncements of their feelings about religion, emphasize the relationship you have with God. Your kids should know that your Christian values form the basis of your decision-making and your day-to-day dealings with other people. I can’t tell you how many times I have used the phrase “It’s the Christian thing to do,” when explaining my response to a certain situation. My kids know that my faith informs my decisions. It’s not something I just talk about; it’s something I try to live every single day.
- Never make your kids feel bad for questioning or voicing a different opinion. It is precisely at that time that they will decide it’s not worth telling you anything if you’re just going to make them feel bad about themselves. How much more beneficial will it be if you listen, show respect, and express your own beliefs? The most important thing is not that you agree with all of your kids’ decisions, but that they always feel comfortable talking to you about them.
So pray for your kids. Pray hard, every day. I fully believe that the questioning my kids are doing now will lead to stronger Christian faiths for both of them in the future. If you don’t push them away, they will return. I have faith.