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Letting Children Own Their Faith
By Susan Hines-Brigger

Q U I C K S C A N

A Natural Development
A Lifelong Process
For Teens: Own Your Faith
For Kids: Ask Away




ďI do it!Ē I hear this phrase nonstop on a daily basis from my two-year-old daughter, Riley. Needless to say, sheís a bit independent. But then again, so are her older brother and sister. I frequently reassure myself that independence is a wonderful thing. And I recall the saying about parents giving their children roots and wings. The roots part Iíve got down. Itís the wings thing thatís giving me problems, especially the older they get. But I know that at some point I have to let go a little and let them try to spread their wings. They are growing, learning and developing their own sense of who they are. And that pertains to all aspects of their lives, including their faith.

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A Natural Development

Our faith is an ever-changing, ever-growing process. Numerous studies of faith development have confirmed that. In many ways, it is a perfect match to the journey we take as parents in providing solid roots to carry our children through the many stages of faith development that lie ahead. How we do that is the tricky part. Of course, we can take them to Mass and religious education and discuss our faith at home. But as parents discover, each child is distinctly different. They are different in their interests, temperaments, personalitiesójust about everything. So itís only logical that a one-size-fits-all approach to anythingó including faithówonít work. That is why parents are such important teachers of faith. Only they know the size that fits each child best.

As you accompany your children on their faith journey, here are some things to keep in mind:

Encourage growth. Give your children opportunities to question and try out new things, both in life and in their faith. Present opportunities where they can try things that will stretch their minds and abilities. In short, work on helping them develop their wings. And remember that your faith is not automatically your kidís faith.

Embrace differences. Everyoneís faith is different. For instance, some people find comfort in the more traditional aspects of our faith, while others welcome change with open arms. Neither is wrong, just different. Try to be open to those aspects of our faith that arenít necessarily your cup of tea.

Ask for help. There have been a number of times when one of my children has asked me a question that left me stumped. I often take those questions to a priest friend of mine and he helps me craft a response that is appropriate for my childís age and understanding.

Donít be afraid. Change can be scary, but it can also be exciting. As your children grow and change, embrace it and remember that itís all part of a normal process.

Know when to step back. At some point your kids are going to have to take charge of their own faith. Let them do that. Sure, theyíll make mistakes, but havenít we all? The best thing you can do is prepare them for what lies ahead and then be there for them to come to or fall back on if need be.

Tag along. As your children grow and explore, go along for the ride. Youíd be surprised how much you might learn or be re-energized in your faith. Recently, Maddie, my oldest, asked me to help her begin praying the Memorare and I had to admit that I couldnít remember how it began. That simple request provided me with an opportunity to get reacquainted with the prayer. And it reminded me that our faith journey is a lifelong one.

The key is to realize that itís a process and that on any given day everyone in your family may be at a different place in that process. And hopefully theyíll be able to spread their wings and push off from the solid base you have provided.

 

A few years back I went to a conference about the various stages of faith development. When the presenters said that during the teenage years it was completely normal for questions about faith to arise, I was amazed. No one had ever told me that and I thought I was having one massive crisis of faith. Turns out it was totally normal.

You see, these are the years for you to start taking ownership of your faith and making it your own. For instance, you may discover that you prefer a more contemporary-style Mass than your family usually attends, or that you are interested in certain social-justice issues. You might also consider becoming involved in the parish life as a eucharistic minister, a member of the choir or the youth group or a teacher of religious education. You may find that some of these experiences stick with you and others donít. The important thing, though, is to explore your faith and make it your own.

If thereís one thing kids are good at, itís asking questions. And no matter what adults sometimes tell you, thatís a good thing! Thatís how you grow and learn things. So put your questioning skills to the test.

Is there someone you would like to know more about, such as a grandparent, relative or family friend? My kids love to ask their grandpa questions about his Army service during the Korean War. Ask that person if they would sit down and talk with you. It can be either about their faith life or about their life in general. Then come up with a list of questions you have and start asking. You might discover something new and interesting that you didnít know before.

 

Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at “Faith-filled Family,” 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to Family@franciscanmedia.org.


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