When they were little, I repeatedly told my daughters I had two primary goals for them: I wanted them to love Jesus, and I wanted them to love books. My rationale for this simplistic parenting strategy was as follows: loving Jesus would open their hearts and loving books would open their minds. With open hearts and open minds, I believed, everything else I dreamed about and wished for my girls would surely follow, and they would create for themselves lives of meaning and purpose. I still pray these things for my girls every day.
As Christian parents, many of us share similar goals. We offer our tiny babies in baptism in front of our congregations, promising to raise them to be disciples of Jesus. We bring them to church, and we pray with them every night. We protect Sundays from the ever-looming encroachment of extracurricular activities because we want them to understand the importance of regular worship and service with a faith community. They grow up as “church kids.” We pray the seeds planted during childhood will blossom into a lifetime of faith.
In recent months I have had numerous conversations with friends who, like me, are surprised by the changes they see in their young adult children, many of whom are pulling away from the church. According to the Barna Group, the experience of my circle of friends is not unique. Their research finds that three out of five young Christians disconnect from their churches after the age of fifteen. While there are many cultural, sociological, and developmental reasons for this trend, my focus here is not to ask why. Perhaps a more useful conversation would be to look at the ways we, as parents, might choose to respond when we see these trends play out in our families.
Here are a few of the things I am learning as we travel these uncharted waters.
It’s not about me
As parents, especially as moms, we tend to immediately take on every decision or action of our offspring as proof of either our efficacy or failure as parents. With both my children now in their twenties, I am beginning to understand my voice is only one of many to which they are listening. Yes, we as parents are the most consistent and powerful influences in our children’s lives, but not the only influences. Late adolescence and early adulthood is the time for them to experiment with new ways of looking at the world, and there is a high likelihood they will land a few places with which we will disagree. Questioning the messages of childhood is a normal, healthy part of growing up. It can feel like a personal attack when they are questioning things we hold dear, but we are wise to remember it is not about us.
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