Sunday, May 12, 2013

On Mother's Day and Doubting Children: What Would You Do?

This morning, Mother's Day, I received a tearful phone call from a friend of mine who lives in another part of the country. I will keep the details vague so as not to identify or embarrass her. But really, her struggle is one most mothers of faith face: what to do when our children begin to question the truths with which we have raised them?

My girlfriend's son is 14 and he isn't "scheduled" for Confirmation for another two years. The age of confirmation, I have learned, varies diocese by diocese. Our eighth grader, still 13, will be confirmed next Sunday for example. My girlfriend is distraught. Her son told her he isn't an atheist, but is wondering whether the truth of the faith is really the truth. He told her he's agnostic. What's a mother to do?
I'd like to hear my readers' thoughts. Here are mine.

1.  I think doubt is a normal part of one's spiritual development. The other day, while driving and listening to a contemporary Christian radio station, I heard the DJ say he regularly told his four children to "find your own Jesus." In other words, instead of blindly adopting his beliefs, they needed to make the faith, and their relationship with Christ, their own.

I believe that too. And I told my girlfriend that I think questioning the faith must happen in order for a person to use his or her free will to discern exactly what their role in the universe is.

I would much prefer to raise a child who questioned, than one who blindly followed my beliefs, or worse, pretended to follow my beliefs. It made me both sad and angry to witness contemporaries who married in the church, or who baptise their children in the Church "to make our parents happy."  Those are empty, and dare i say, sacrilegious gestures.

2. The best thing we can do as faithful Catholics is to model for our children the behavior we hope one day they will adopt. Our actions are powerful. Much much more powerful than our words, which with teenagers ends up sounding like the Charlie Brown parents.  Consider this.

 This is one reason my husband and I are committed to going to weekly Mass and we make it clear to our sons that missing Mass is a serious matter. We go to Confession with a fair amount of regularity - when we miss Mass or when life in our family gets out of balance with too much shouting and not enough patience.

3. She should not let her son off the hook by letting him miss Mass. Our sons must go to weekly Mass with us, and to Holy days of Obligation, whether the mood strikes them or not. It doesn't always feel convenient or necessary to me either, but off I go.

But in addition to requiring Mass attendance, we need to try as best we can to model the love God has for us - by showing them as much love and kindness that we can muster every single day and for them to see us modeling that in our marriage and in our neighborhood and our careers. Christ is an irresistible force and we try to show them that by the way we live. 

What our sons decide to do once they no longer live with us is between them and the One who called them into being. I can't micromanage someone else's faith journey and my efforts to control their spiritual wanderings speak to my lack of faith in a God who will call them home. 

4. Finally, pray. I pray for my own continued conversion, for my husband and our sons' and for the conversion of the young adults who one day will lead our Church.

These are my thoughts. What are yours?


  1. Hi Allison -- All of this is good. I just wanted to add a bit from our experience with our 14 year old daughter who was confirmed in late May. Just prior to when the process started about 2 years ago, she and I would battle nearly every Sunday before Mass (or when she had to go to our church's GIFT program). It was exhausting for me, and I'd end up entering Mass totally fraught with anger. Not good. So after one particularly bad Sunday, I turned the car around, dropped her back at home and went to church without her. After Mass, calm and with firm resolve, I came home and told her her faith live was hers, not mine. Her father and I had led her to this point -- and the decision to continue was 100% hers. And then I let go (Chris has already let go to this struggle). She chose to be confirmed -- and in that next two years, I never again had an argument. Somedays she didn't want to go - -especially to GIFT on a weeknight with lots of homework, and sometimes she didn't. But the choice was hers -- and my impression is that she really owns that choice. What would I have done if she had turned her back on the church? I'm not sure -- prayed like you, hoped through our family shared faith experiences that she'd change her mind, recalled that as a Freshman at Georgetown the first theology course we took was called Problem of God, exactly to challenge our young adult beliefs so that what came out the other side was our own. And yes, some subset of us with be with you all next week (though a dreaded swim meet may also be in the picture for Henry).

  2. It's about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a love relationship, a choice they make on their own. I've thought about this quite a bit, having forged my own path, different from my parents, in the Catholic church.

    It's wonderful he's seeking and really looking on his own. He will OWN his personal relationship with Jesus. "Christ is an irresistible force." It's tough while going through it, but have boundless confidence in the ability of Jesus to 'draw all things to Himself.' Have confidence in the eternal beauty of the Catholic church, how Christ uses her to draw people closer to Himself.

    Grab onto St. Monica, St. Augustine's mom. There's a heartening example of a Mom who never gave up on her son, but prayed and suffered to the end. She is such a great example, and so human! Lol, all the crying and arguing and following around she did! :-)

  3. Allison, I share your thoughts, although I have not been as intentional about modeling participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation as you have (I have my own difficulties with Reconciliation). We have insisted that our children attend regular Sunday Mass and Mass on Holy Days of Obligation, while they were children and teens, with no resistance by them. Now that they are adults, they still attend, with the odd absence due to work or oversleeping(!). My son is living with us while he goes to school.

    All that being said, I don't know if it was their personalities, our example or just the fact that "this is what our family does". St. Monica is a good source of comfort and solace to all mothers of doubting children. Oftentimes, by the example of their parents, doubting teens and young adults will find their way back. And I agree that doubt is a sign of intelligence. Better to have a frank discussion with our kids then to just insist on blind belief.

    This is an excellent post and very timely for Mother's Day!