by Dr. Steve Wilke, clinical psychologist
A worthwhile goal for any parent is to have a relationship in which issues of faith are discussed.
Here are some tips to help that relationship develop:
- Be attentive and give your full attention to allow a meaningful conversation to occur, especially when your son or daughter initiates the topic. Faith discussions can be challenging because these thoughts are hard to clearly articulate and finding the right words is difficult. The conversations need not be heavy and long, but they do need to have your full attention.
- Be open about your own faith journey, especially your faith questions and challenges. You don’t have to share everything, but at least let your youth or young adult know it’s okay to not have everything figured out.
- Be careful about your judgments, and be aware that this may put your own faith to the test. As parents, we have made a multitude of decisions on behalf of our kids by the time they are teens. You know your own children well and have worked to provide them a good life. However, when talking about faith, future plans, and upcoming decisions, youth usually want you to be non-judgmental, supportive, and confidential. Treat this as you would a brainstorming session: Just because an idea is shared aloud, does not mean it will be acted on. That said, God does not call anyone into self-destructive behaviors. If your youth or young adult shares any thoughts related to harming themselves or others, seek professional help.
- Gain a good grasp on the difference between living with expectancy and having expectations. Be a co-explorer as your daughter or son dives into this time of discernment. Work hard to set your own expectations aside. Studies of those who have changed careers as adults indicate that many of them went into their first careers to please parents or grandparents. In time, those who go into a career they don’t want can regret the choice and resent those they feel pressured them. Check in from time to time to see what pressure your children may be feeling from you. Your goal is for them to have the abundant life God has in mind, not necessarily one that matches your expectations.
- Share stories of family and/or friends. All of us have stories of decision moments that you can discuss. For example, in my own life, my paternal grandfather had planned for my dad to be the third-generation owner of the family funeral home. Dad was the only son, the funeral home was a good business and my grandfather had set everything up for my dad to have a good life and livelihood. The problem was that my dad had a different calling. When my father told my grandfather he would not be returning after college to run the funeral home, my grandfather and my dad didn’t talk for about two years. Dad went on to graduate school after college and my grandfather sold the funeral home shortly after. This example has been a discussion starter with my own children, because they could see both my father’s and grandfather’s side and gain a better understanding of the issues involved.
- Be ready to talk about money. One of the biggest walls youth and young adults put up when discussing their futures is a worry about future income. This is hard for most American parents. Many a youth director has shared that their parents have discouraged them from seeking God’s input into their lives out of fear that they will be called into a profession that doesn’t make much money. Here is my observation over the years: First, God does not call all his disciples into poverty. In fact, God’s disciples live across the social economic spectrum. Second, over time, God will be more persistent and convincing than anyone else in the seeker’s life. Persons who have a deep inner peace and confidence in who God created them to be, and who are living out their purpose, generally have few regrets and would not trade their lives for the promise of more money.
- Finally, do not expect your son or daughter to carve out a path that looks like yours or those of your generation. Futures are getting harder to predict. Many young persons will be doing jobs in the future that don’t exist today. The world is needing new insights, understandings, and people with new ways of doing things. Your child’s faith in God can be their steady rock even when the world around them is full of new opportunities and challenges. Your love and support can be God’s confidence and encouragement in the flesh. As with most occasions when God shows up to people, the first spoken words by God or his ambassador are “Fear not.” These are good words for a parent as they co-parent with God and watch in faith as their child’s life unfolds.