Walking Away from the Faith
By Catherine Hickem, LCSW
One of the most common issues I hear in my work with parents of adult children focuses on the unexpected outcomes in their children. Parents struggle when their children stray from how they were raised and embrace different values, beliefs, traditions, and people. The greatest challenge is overcoming the surprise of who their children have become and learning how to proceed when they feel they don’t know them anymore.
There is a deep sense of loss, as well as shame that their children abandoned their family’s values. Most moms and dads feel like they have failed in their parenting when their children walk away from the most important part of their parents’ hearts.
A parent’s anger usually slips out several times before they begin to realize the full impact of what they are feeling and the disappointment behind it. Serious damage can be done to the relationship because parents are functioning in the parenting role without remembering they no longer have the right to guide, dictate, or control their children’s choices or lives.
Another issue for parents is the sense that their family life is totally out of control. This is a tough spot if parents do not know how to resolve this season of their parenting in a healthy way. Unmet expectations, a sense of betrayal, and fear of the future for their children can create chaos and broken relationships if not processed well and handled in a healthy manner.
When parents face these moments, they need to step back and reflect on some important questions: How long has my child been moving toward these changes? What was happening in their life when these changes began? Did my child attempt to talk to me about these new thoughts and ideas, but I did not listen or take them seriously?
Recognizing the answers to these questions is important because it allows a parent to initiate the dialogue from a position of curiosity, not authority. Parents will do well to take them seriously, be respectful, and listen carefully. Chances are really strong that parents will not understand or agree with many of their choices, but that cannot be the central area of focus. Parents want to remember their goal is to maintain the relationship and to keep the lines of communication open.
Doing two things will help them to get unstuck. First, grieve the losses these changes symbolize. Whether they are moral issues, a change in faith, complex problems, or lifestyle choices, parents need to give themselves permission to feel the pain so they can move on to the next step. It is important to tell God how you really feel and pour your heart out to Him. He welcomes your honesty, transparency, and hurt. He grieves when you grieve and wants more for your children than you.
Once parents have acknowledged their grief and disappointment, they can move on to embracing hope. This step is not about putting hope in your children or making them your project; it is about loving them in the midst of your disappointment and putting your faith in the God who created your children.
Loving our children when they have walked away from the values and faith they were raised with reveals to them the depth of your love for them. It tells them our love is unconditional, and we will be there for them through thick or thin. This love does not mean we rescue them from their consequences or we alter our own convictions to be loved by them. It means we will be respectful to them, listen well, and be there through it all.
More times than not, children return to the foundation on which they were reared. However, they return when the beliefs have become their own. During this time of waiting, hold on to your faith, stay focused on the things that matter, and love well no matter what. This is not wasted time, but an opportunity for you to grow in many ways and to know God at a deeper level.