I’m in an online group of Catholic moms of teens, and based on the posts in that group, it’s clear that many of us struggle with how best to parent our teens.
From dealing with them dating to driving to going off to college, it’s an exciting (and nerve-wracking) time! One other issue looms large and can be a big source of worry: Many of us are especially concerned about passing on our Catholic faith.
Hopefully, by the time they are teens, our kids have seen how much we love Jesus and value being part of the Catholic Church. They should know both the joy of the faith and the sacrifices of taking up the cross to follow Jesus.
Our witness to the faith will continue to have great impact on our children in their teen years, even if we can’t perceive the difference it is making.
As they become adults, they will remember their parents making sacrifices to get to Sunday Mass, to make time for prayer, to seek out the sacrament of confession and to help those in need.
However, we may not be able to reach our children through direct teaching as we once did. Forming them in the faith as young children might have felt easier or more natural, whereas now it can seem to be an act of imposing our wills on theirs at a time where they are desiring a degree of independence from us.
For this reason, perhaps the most important task is to maintain a good relationship with our teens, so that they feel valued and their opinions respected, knowing our unconditional love.
When we are able to maintain a relationship where our teens are confident of our love and comfortable spending time with us, we will have openings for talking about being Catholic. We might even find ourselves impressed with their enthusiasm, faith and desire to do good in the world.
Teens, like younger children, continue to ask questions, and yet now they are more capable of understanding certain arguments.
We may find ourselves confronted with a direct question, such as, “Why do Catholics believe X?” Or they may even make statements that offend us, such as “I think it’s so stupid that the church X.”
These are our opportunities for continuing to share the faith with our kids, and we should be grateful that they are thinking about these topics, even when it seems to challenge Catholic beliefs.
It may happen that we don’t have an answer to a challenging question, or we lack the ready response to an angry assertion. It may not be ideal, but it is perfectly OK to admit to your teens that you want to do some more research and continue the conversation later.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a great resource where we can find answers, and there are many other books to help us learn more about church teachings. Our willingness to admit we don’t know everything and want to learn more about the views of our faith can itself be a powerful witness.
Being Catholic isn’t about being perfect or knowing everything, but it is important to recognize where we can continue to grow in our knowledge and practice of the faith.
This is also true when it comes to making mistakes. It’s helpful to remember that our teens are works in progress and they will make mistakes, just as we did as teens and still do as adults.
Occasionally parents see their teens heading down scary paths where they must intervene. But there are other times when we are simply disappointed in their behavior or surprised by their attitudes because they fall short of what we expected or wanted for them.
If we think back to our teenage years, no doubt we will realize that we weren’t perfect as teens either!
We want our teens to grow in independence, and that means they have to learn from their mistakes. Within reason, we have to let them make mistakes.
What we don’t want is for our children to give up or give in to a downward spiral where they feel their lives have become irredeemable. Here we can see the importance of maintaining a close relationship where our children are confident in our unconditional love and the knowledge that they are always enough for us.
Even in their mistakes, they remain our beloved children and God’s beloved children.
And amazingly, God’s grace can always meet us where we are at that moment. Both we and our teens need to remember this so that we don’t despair during times of difficulty.
The sacrament of confession provides a great opportunity for that sporting spirit of being willing to admit fault, seek forgiveness and try again. If we can help provide opportunities for confession, and frequent it ourselves, we can help our kids to stay positive and optimistic even when they know they have made a mistake.
As our teens become young adults, we want them to remember our love and God’s love for them, making those relationships feel affirming.
We can embrace their curiosity and intellectual ability for understanding the faith with our willingness to have difficult conversations. Our faith can help them and us to contextualize mistakes as opportunities to grow closer to God.
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(Morrow holds a doctorate in theology and is the author of A Busy Parent’s Guide to a Meaningful Lent and Sin in the Sixties: Catholics and Confession, 1955-1975. She is the mother of seven children and resides in New Jersey.)