Do you remember how old you were when you chose to assume your family’s faith as your own? I was a Junior in high school. My husband was in college when he experienced his “re-version” (a conversion-like experience for those who might be considered cradle Catholics). Many of my friends started taking their faith seriously in high school or college, but more of them actually lost their faith during that time. Now that I’m a mother, that knowledge has left me concerned.
What can I do to give my children the best chance at remaining faithful as they get older? What is the difference between those children who never lose their faith and those who do? What did their parents do differently? In my experience as a youth minister, I have found a very solid indicator for a child’s future faith life. Do you want to know what it is? It’s probably not what you think.
What’s the best thing that mothers can do to make sure that their children remain faithful? Make sure that their husbands live their faith in an authentic, visible way.
Consider these statistics from this 1994 survey that looked at the likelihood that a family’s religion would pass from one generation to the next. If both mother and father regularly attended church together with their children, 33% of children will remain faithful, 41% will become “irregular” churchgoers, and 25% won’t attend church at all. If only the mother attended with their children, only 3% of children remained faithful, 37% became irregular, and a whopping 60% of children will stop attending church altogether. The numbers are still quite a bit higher than I am comfortable with, but the truth is clear: mothers, if you want your children to remain faithful, you need to make sure that your husbands live out their faith in a visible way.
If you’re wondering why this might be the case, consider these 3 reasons why the father’s faith life is the greatest indicator of his children’s future dedication to their religion of origin.
1. When fathers do not attend church with their children, it’s easy for adolescents and young adults to view worship as a “women and children” affair. Obviously, this point is more relevant to boys, but nowadays, it can be applied to girls as well. If a boy sees that his father doesn’t attend Mass, he can easily reach the conclusion that church, and faith in general, is just for girls. Attending Mass is only something he’ll need to do until he’s grown up and no longer a child. Even girls might be tempted to believe that going to church and praying regularly are tailored more toward a “traditional” woman who is “only” a wife and mother. A girl with aspirations to succeed in this “man’s world” might believe that she is better off leaving such a “womanly” habit behind.
2. Psychologically, as children grow up and begin to consider their place in the “outside world,” they increasingly look to their fathers for guidance, especially in households where the mother works primarily in the home while the father works primarily outside the home. If your mom usually stays at home while your dad works, you might be more inclined to look to him for ideas on how to act in public. If your dad goes to church with the rest of your family, you’ll be more inclined to believe that going to church is part of living in the “outside world.”
3. Children whose fathers are not as involved will struggle to understand and accept that God is a Father, and many children will associate the lack of involvement they see in their earthly father with a lack of involvement in their Heavenly Father. This is probably the strongest explanation for why so many children stop practicing their religion of origin as they get older. If a child has an uninvolved father, one who doesn’t attend social events, academic gatherings, or religious activities, they will most likely develop an understanding of God as a father who is also uninvolved. And most people don’t want to worship a God who is uninvolved, or worse, doesn’t care about you.
So if you’re like me and you’re worried about your children’s future faith, get your husband to go to church with you. Encourage him to pray in front of his children. Have him lead your family in prayer on a regular basis. Let your children see his faith. If you and your husband have agreed that your children’s future faith life is important, make sure he realizes just how important his role is. And if your husband isn’t devout and has no interest in changing his behavior? Focus on what is in your control, and never forget the power of intercessory prayer. St. Monica knows all about persistence in prayer, antagonistic pagan husbands, and wayward children.
Sts. Monica and Augustine, pray for us!