When your adult child has religious beliefs different from yours

Are we in the midst of a religious recession?

A number of studies show that young people are less religious than older people and that religiosity has declined with each successive generation. At the Pew Research Center 2015 report On religion and public life, 36% of 21-27 year olds are classified as unaffiliated, a much higher proportion than among their parents’ (17%) or grandparents’ (11%) generations.

In in-depth interviews with parents and their 18-29 year olds for our book, Turning 30: A guide for parents in their twenties, we have found that religious questioning is part of the identity explorations woven into this stage of life.

When a family’s religious beliefs are challenged

Most emerging adults think it would be wrong for them to simply accept what their parents and others have taught them about religious matters. Their investigation sometimes leads to a confirmation of their childhood beliefs, but more often to their modification, and sometimes to a wholesale rejection.

Rather than sticking to traditional beliefs, the majority of 20-somethings generally hold a vague but inclusive belief in a God who watches over the world and wants people to be kind to one another.

For some parents, their children’s religious choices are a hot topic; for others, the subject is almost a non-issue. If the parents do not have a strong religious affiliation or a commitment to spiritual pursuit, then what their twenties believe is of little interest or concern to them; they may not even know it.

Parents may view religious acceptance as a measure of success

But when parents’ religious beliefs are central to their worldview and daily lives, their emerging adult’s beliefs can be one of the most important measures of their success or failure as parents: success if their children accept and adopt the beliefs they have been taught, and failure if they do not.

For these parents, their responses to what their adult children believe can be emotionally complex, fraught with meaning as to their merit as parents. Below are some questions you may face and our answers.

What if your 20-year-old doesn’t want to celebrate religious holidays with you?

Even if older and younger generations no longer share religious beliefs, it is not unreasonable for parents to expect their children to participate in family traditions – Easter at Uncle Mike’s or Easter at Grandma’s. -mother. Some young people may resist, because they feel that it would be hypocritical (not to say boring) to participate in rituals in which they no longer believe.

Growing up as digital natives, connected to high-speed media all day, they can feel the rhythm and peace of a typical church service, it’s like walking through the door of a century past (and many less exciting), a place where they can feel like strangers in a foreign land.

In truth, it will be a sign of their maturity when they can accept such family occasions out of respect for their parents, without feeling threatened or defensive. But if they don’t want to, at that age, they can’t be forced to go.

What if your emerging adult strays from your faith?

For some parents with deeply held traditional beliefs, emotions run particularly high on this: they may criticize or even reject their children as punishment for not staying home.

We sympathize with parents who find themselves in this situation, where children drift away from the fundamental beliefs of their family. However, keep in mind that a rejection response is unlikely to be effective.

Criticizing young people for their beliefs (or lack thereof) will not bring them back to your religion and make them accept what you believe. In fact, given the importance emerging adults place on making their own decisions, trying to force them to believe anything is more likely to cause them to back down and become even more resistant.

A fact of modern life is that people decide for themselves what they believe, and today’s emerging adults feel they have not only the right but the obligation to make that decision (among other ) by themselves.

“Turn the other cheek” is perhaps the wisest solution here. The best way to persuade children of the value of your faith is to show the fruits of it in your life, including your ability to forgive your sons and daughters for not believing what you believe.

What if your twenties were more religious than you?

There are also parents who are surprised to see their children become After religious as adults than they were at a younger age, and more devout than their parents – young Jewish adults who kept strictly kosher when their parents were more laissez-faire or young Muslim women who wore scarves when their mothers did not.

The National Youth and Religion Survey surveyed more than 2,500 young people and found that about a quarter of 13-17 year olds classified as non-religious became Christians between the ages of 18 and 23.

This change can be as difficult for non-religious parents as the change from believer to non-believer is for devout parents. In either case, it is shocking for parents to realize that their children have adopted a way of seeing the world that is radically different from their own.

But for non-religious parents, it can be helpful to see this as a measure of their belief in the value of encouraging their children to think for themselves. If you think they have to make their own decisions on matters of faith, it makes sense that you respect what they have decided, even if their choice is different from yours.

What if your son or daughter marries someone of a different religion?

Interfaith marriages and wedding ceremonies bring many religious issues to center stage. Where will the wedding take place and who will officiate, if there are two different traditions to reconcile?

Sometimes a compromise is reached with a member of the clergy from each tradition present. Or, for example, an interfaith Hindu and Christian couple may have a traditional Hindu henna painting ritual first, then a less formally religious ceremony. Sometimes the path of least resistance is a non-denominational ceremony with a non-religious judge or officiant.

It is also true, statistically, that people living in interfaith marriages are less likely to practice a religion, and children from interfaith marriages tend to receive less religious training. However, there are exceptions, and if your son or daughter’s faith is important to them, they can be one of them.

Either way, your job is done here. You have done your best to raise them in the faith that is important to you. The more you express your faith through love, forgiveness, and generosity of heart, the more faith is likely to seem appealing to your adult children, their partners, and their future families.

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Elizabeth Fishel is the co-author of Turning 30: A guide for parents in their twenties (Workman edition). Read more
Jeffrey Arnet is the co-author of Getting to 30: A Parent’s Guide to the 20-Something Years. Arnett is a professor in the Department of Psychology at Clark University. Read more