We have a son who wants nothing to do with our religion. This causes us a lot of pain. We can’t support the decision he is making to walk away when we know it is wrong. Besides praying for him, what is the best way to address this?
I will give you my opinion, since I am in this situation myself and this approach has worked for us in that we have a beautiful, close, loving relationship with our kids.
Unconditional love is always the answer.
Unconditional love means you edify, honor, cherish and respect him, right where he is right now. It means you see him as the same as you (not as someone who is bad or wrong in any way) and allow him to find his way in life.
Here are some principles which helped us to understand our options.
Principle 1: There are only two states from which you can to respond to any situation. You can respond from love(focused on honoring, edifying and validating the other person) or you can respond from fear (focused on what you need). Every possible response fits into these two categories.
Principle 2: There are two core fears which drive most human behavior. They are the fear of failure and the fear of loss. When you let these two fears drive, your behavior is selfish, not loving.
Principle 3: Fear-based behavior triggers defensiveness, selfishness and resentment in the other person. They can feel that you are focused on your own needs, and this triggers them to get defensive. In this place they will defend their current behavior and resist changing even more.
Let me explain how these principles apply to your situation by giving you some do;s and don’ts.
Don’t blame yourself. Having your adult children reject your religion triggers both your core fears. You are afraid of failure as a parent (if your child leaves the church) and you are afraid of loss (spiritually losing your child). If you continue to focus on these fears, you will make this situation about you and your child will resent you for this.
You can get away from these fears when you choose to trust that your value as a person, and a parent, is not on the line. Life is a classroom, not a test, so you cannot fail. You can trust that even though you weren’t a perfect parent, you were the perfect parent for your child. If you messed him up, you messed him up in the exact way he was meant to be messed up.
Trust the process of life. I believe that your life (and your child’s life) are playing out exactly the way they are supposed to — so you can both learn the specific lessons you are meant to learn here. You can trust this process is a safe one and put your child in God’s hands. You can trust that everything will be OK. You can do this because the only other option is fear and suffering.
Don’t say anything negative about his choices. Don’t criticize his ideas. Don't say, "I told you so," when things go wrong. Don’t say, "Things would go better if you were doing what’s right." Don’t say he should consider making different choices. Statements like these disrepsect him and his process of growth. If you talk down to an adult child you will damage your relationship. Just be quiet and love him through it.
Let life do the teaching. Life is a better teacher than you, and when you say too much, you make it about you again. If you have to say anthing, come from a place of compassion, humility and love. Treat your child as an equal and speak to him with respect.
Don’t manipulate, lecture, blackmail or use guilt,. Don’t say anything that implies you are anything less than totally proud of your kid. Don’t deny love or approval. Don’t grant financial help only if they get active in church. Don’t spend time together talking about what you think they need to hear. This isn't about you.
You don’t have to agree with his choices, but you do have to respect and honor his right to choose his path. You should not act hurt or wounded by his choices. You should not expect him to change so you can feel better. These are selfish, fear-based reactions.
Edify, encourage, listen and validate your child. Spend every minute you have with your child building him up. Ask lots of questions and listen way more than you talk. (Listening is the key to good parenting at any age.) Ask about his thoughts and feelings. Validate, honor and respect his right to see the world the way he sees it. Make sure he feels loved, admired, respected and cherished. Look for the highest and best qualities in him, and tell him what you see every chance you get.
It is only when someone feels totally unconditionally loved for who they are right now that they will ever be open to changing. (Read that again.)
So love your children unconditionally, fully and passionately, and keep seeing the best in them no matter what religion they choose.
(By the way, this is how God parents — and I think he knows what he's doing.)
"Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for, to be what they choose for themselves, without any insistence that they satisfy you." -Wayne Dyer
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of ldslifecoaching.com and claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker who specializes in repairing and building self-esteem.
2/15/2016 10:13:41 am
Great advice. We are going through this and it is hard. But love is always the answer.
2/15/2016 11:15:15 pm
I loved reading this, I'm going through this now with my 20 yr. Old twins (boy)&(girl) and my 13 yr. old son and my 24yr. old daughter.
2/17/2016 12:46:53 am
I would be the adult child in this scenario and I have to say this is exActly right. I am touched by the clarity and understanding you teach with. I have learned so much about how I need to change my everyday parenting from reading this article. This knowledge, these principles apply to so much more than having different religious views. This applies to all people in all differences. I'm printing this and setting it as my desktop background so I can read it over and over, get it engrained in my way of thinking with my kids. Thank you SO much for your gift of knowledge and understanding.
2/17/2016 11:22:02 am
Thank you so much! This is exactly what I needed to read right now. For the most part this is how I handle my kids, but sometimes I let that fear enter in. Then I look back and say dang I messed that up. I love so many of your thoughts here. I have a great relationship with those of my children that have strayed. But I really needed to read this and I'm going to put more of this in practice. Thanks again for sharing this.
2/18/2016 01:20:00 pm
All of our children are adults and live out-of-state. We have wondered and prayed often about staying with our unmarried son and his girlfriend in their home or staying in a hotel. We feel uncomfortable, yet judgmental at the same time, because we stay with our other married children. Yes, we love our son unconditionally, or do we because it's difficult to stay overnight as a guest in his home?
2/18/2016 11:27:17 pm
I think this article has very helpful advice! Thanks for sharing it! I think what you have shared is truth!
2/19/2016 06:25:14 pm
I have a 26 yr old son who served a mission, came home,fell in love with a beautiful girl. She decided to go on a mission, he felt rejected and got mad at her. He then told us one night that he was done with the church, I cried and still cry. He has not found good friends and has now added a tattoo on his arm (I was devastated to say the least) he lives with my parents in their basement. I have often wanted to send him a letter and his testimony he wote while on his mission, but everytime I go to do it, it doesn't happen. It is so hard to see someone who had such a great testimony go so far off the path. I pray for him daily, attend the Temple, put his name on the prayer role. I love him with all my heart, he is my only son. I know he must learn for himself but it hurts to see him do things that will permanently hurt him in the future. Thank you for the article, I will continue to love him and pray for him.
2/20/2016 08:38:40 am
Can you write it about the other point of view. (I chose to leave my family's religion and I feel like an outcast, preached to all the time, like they don't love me, etc......) I feel that sometimes we don't realize that the people who love us are just doing the best they can with the knowledge they have and it would do the person good just to realize that instead of getting offended if they share something. You don't have to be rebellious and fight back just accept who your parents are and let them know you are happy in your life and appreciate their concern for you. Don't automatically assume they are judging you either.
2/20/2016 01:53:04 pm
3/24/2016 05:17:29 pm
Matt. I think the angle of the article: love over fear, is mostly universally applicable the other way as well.
3/24/2016 06:41:16 pm
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.