Monday, June 13, 2011

What to do When Children Leave the Church

You spend all those years doing your best to bring your children up in the Catholic faith, and then, as teens or adults, they decide it isn't important and choose to walk away. It has to be one of the most heartbreaking moments in a parent's life. What do you do in that moment and in the years to come?

Marge Fenelon has a well-written article on the subject in the National Catholic Register: What to do When Children Leave the Church.

Licensed clinical counselor Kevin Prendergast insists that keeping the door open to communication and relationships is essential when an adult child leaves the Church. He counsels many such families in his Cincinnati practice.

“We have to remember that faith is a gift from God,” he pointed out. “I don’t think we Catholics realize that doubt and searching can be a stage in our faith journey. When our children are searching, we have to validate that searching as part of their journey.”

Prendergast recommends that parents take a non-reactive stance of patient listening when their adult children begin to question or even exit the faith. Approaching them with aggressive evangelization or emotional arguments may further encourage their departure and cause more division.

“Opening yourself to dialogue doesn’t mean you agree with your adult child or that you’re ready to abandon your own faith,” he said.

On the contrary, Prendergast recommends a deepening of parents’ own faith as testimony to the truth. “Our living witness can be more powerful than any words. Show your children that your faith means the world to you and that you wouldn’t give it up for anything,” he said.

Prendergast offers St. Monica as a symbol of hope to parents with non-practicing children. She prayed for St. Augustine for 30 years without apparent results. In the end, it was St. Ambrose who directly converted St. Augustine, not his mother, although her prayers were instrumental in the process.

“Take a developmental perspective,” Prendergast said. “Realize that this is something they have to work through and be open to the possibility that you may not be able to reach your child, but that God may be able to through someone else.”

Read more: What to do When Children Leave the Church

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