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Mike Levanduski wrote:

Hi, Mike —

I hope you can help.

My dilemma: My oldest of two teenage daughters turns seventeen this month. She has been raised Catholic all her life; she has been baptized and received First Communion and Confirmation.
She has had a boyfriend for a year who has no religion and now she tells us she does not believe in the existence of God. They are both juniors in high school and carry 4.0 GPA's.

I'm devastated and I don't want to say the wrong thing to lose her for good. Her boyfriend comes from a tough home. He lives with his mom and younger brother in a nearby trailer park. He is very nice, polite and respectful, but I fear his outlook on everything has turned her views. I've always been open about my faith and belief in God and miracles.

I know I've been blessed with much but I don't know how to get through to her without both of us being visibly upset. I don't want to jump the gun and disown her, although in my mind, her mouth and attitude would justify it.

  • Is there any reading material that would help both of us?
  • Do you have any suggestions which would be helpful in this situation?

I'm praying for some resolve but haven't received any answers as of yet.

Thank you,

Mike Levanduski

  { What's your advice for handling my daughter and her atheistic views without losing her for good? }

Mike replied:

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the question.

Boy, that's a tough one!

I'm going to pitch in my two cents, being single, but in order to give you an opinion from all sides, I'm hoping one of our married couples with children or priest-friends would be willing to share some advice.

I have a niece who is fifteen and believe she may be going down a similar path, although I'm not sure. As a close Uncle to my brother's family, I've found that a combination of:

  • praying the Rosary
  • trying to be a strong but silent Christian witness, and
  • trying to have fun with her at her age

will hopefully persuade here that I'm an Uncle she can turn to when needed. Nevertheless, I'm an Uncle, you're a father. The reason why I share the above is because at times I've felt that if I say or do things in front of Kate, my niece, she will turn me off completely. This is why prayer is important. Before I ever visit my brother's house I say the following prayer:

Lord give me the grace to say the things I should say,
at the right time and in the right manner.

Give me the grace not to say anything I shouldn't say.

Give me the grace to do the things I should do,
at the right time and in the right manner.

and not do anything I shouldn't do. Amen.

I believe when we say this prayer, the Lord looks at our state of life, e.g. father, brother, uncle, mother, etc. and helps us accordingly. The prayer has worked pretty well for me.

It appears your daughter's CCD education, like my nieces, was received as more of
"just-going-through-the-ropes", instead of an intellectual acceptance of Christian truth, which it should be, even at the early stages of our lives. Like my colleague John has said, to many times, our Catholic youth have been sacramentalized without being evangelized. They don't appreciate the riches of Catholic Christianity they have inherited.

I believe this is a problem many parents run into and a reason why early religious practices and mini-education in the home in addition to formal religious instruction are vital.

If I could recommend one thing to all parents it would be to set aside 5 to 15 minutes, after praying the family Rosary, to talk about questions their children may have about the Catholic faith or God in general. This does imply a certain level of discipline after family prayer, (e.g. no video games, no T.V., no Play Station, no cell phones), just family talk only. The kind of talk you have when you loose electricity in the house. One of the parents/guardians could start the conversation by posing a question that he believes confuses his children about the faith.

For example:

  • Why is the Pope against gay marriage?
  • Why can't women become priest?

These are questions, as adults, we should know the answer to, but a young teenager may have not received satisfactory answers during their formal religious education. If you or your kids are having a difficult time with any question, you can always search our knowledge base for answers. The main things you want to share with them is:

  • The only dumb question, is the one not asked.

As to suggested reading material, Steve Wood has an excellent fatherhood web site at:

He has several CD's, one being:

If there is a lot of tension between you and your daughter perhaps the two of you can sit down and talk things over.

If you don't have a daily prayer life, I would start immediately. Setting aside 15 minutes out of a 1440-minute day to say five decades of the Rosary, is very beneficial, just as one hour out of an 168-hour week is worth making your weekly obligation by going to Sunday Mass in a state of grace. Even three to eight hours out of an 168-hour week to:

  • get to daily Mass, and
  • make an hour of Adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament

is a very good deal.

If your daughter's boyfriend is "very nice, polite and respectful", I believe it is important to share with him, one on one, man to man, your obligation to raise your daughter Catholic and your desire to see your future grandchildren brought up Catholic.

If he is truly respectful, he and you can have a candid discussion. He may have questions about the faith, which means you may have some homework to do for questions you are unable to answer, but just tell him, you will get back to him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a great resource of doctrinal information.

I hope these suggestions are helpful.

I will keep your family in my prayers,

Mike

Mary Ann replied:

Hi, Mike —

Get and give her Peter Kreeft and Fr. Ronald K. Tacelli's Handbook of Christian Apologetics. It is a great book that appeals to young people. I got my kids over the hump with that, and similar books. Tell her that if she is going to be grown up enough to decide her beliefs, she should be grown up enough to have good reasons for them.

This book gives all the reasons for unbelief, and addresses them in a way a young person can understand. Another good book is Making Choices by the same author.

Mary Ann

Mike Levanduski replied:

Dear Mike,

I want to thank you for responding. The reason for the culmination occurred when we were headed home from a family birthday party and we told the girls that we were going to 8:30 Mass on Sunday. They both were upset because they couldn't sleep in on Sunday morning. This is when, Sam my oldest daughter spoke about her lack of faith. I'm floored but I have to believe it's a phase.

My wife told them as long as they lived in our house they were going to church on Sunday. I told them it would be OK with me to sleep in and I would take them to our other Mass at 11:00am.

I told Samantha that if she truly felt she did not believe, then she should not receive Holy Communion as it would be a sign of disrespect to people who really do believe. I wrote my original letter to her in the morning after our flare up in the car but before anyone got up on Sunday.

I got little sleep, thinking about what I could say or do without causing this matter to flare up again. I got up and went on-line about 5am and found several sites, but I was really drawn to your site. I believe it was fate.

I wrote my letter to you and your circle of good friends, and woke my wife to go to Mass. Boy, did I pray for help and some answers! When we arrived back at home we woke the girls. As an opening gesture or olive branch, I offered to make eggs for them which they gladly accepted, and until we left, there was no more mention of the ride home the night before.

Sam went out with her boyfriend, his younger brother, along with our other daughter, age 15, and a friend, to ChuckECheese for his brother's birthday. When Sam left she came up and gave me a kiss good bye, like always, and said "I love you dad". I was floored! I told her the same, so I know were at least on good terms.

I like Mary Ann's idea of telling her to seek out what she does believe, and I am also glad you can help. In response to your first letter, for almost three and a half years I have been saying a Rosary every day, a personal promise to Mary when I got my current job. I want you to know daily prayer is a part of my life. I just didn't realize Sam had doubts; hopefully we will communicate more now. I at least understand what I have to do, slowly, and more steadily for sure.

Again I can't thank you enough for taking the time to try and help me.

Take care Mike,

Mike

Mike followed-up:

Hi, Mike —

Thanks for replying. I have a copy of one of the books Mary Ann suggested. I'll see if I can get it out to you over the next few days. I was talking to my younger brother Mark, (whose family of four kids is probably less religious than yours), about your situation.

His take on it was at that age, they tend to be in a "I want to be on my own" phase.

Case in point: We joke around from time to time about whether this week Kate is an atheist, a Hindu or a Buddhist. For some reason, it can be difficult, in the mid-teenage years, to keep teens intellectually Catholic except for strong religious families.

Mark's view: If Kate "leaves the Church" by just closing the door, that's good, but if she "leaves the Church" by slamming it, that is another thing. This first scenario he sees as "leaving with an open-mind to come back."

I personally don't agree with him, but he does have a "family view" and I am single. He also has a B.S. in Psychology. Sam also may be in that phase referred to as Psychological or Adolescent Atheism. You can read more here.

My view would stress more of the prayer life and the appreciation of your obligation as a Catholic father to keep your kids Catholic from cradle to the grave. This involves developing a culture of prayer early within the family, although if you force it at a later age, it may be rebuffed; prudence is in line.

I tend to agree with your wife's attitude that if my daughter has that attitude of "I want to be on my own.", my reply is "Not while I'm paying the bills and providing the warm house and food."

The Church does teach that the parents are the primary educators of the children:

  • not the children's friends
  • not the children's culture
  • not the T.V. the parents allow the children to watch
  • not the children's video games, and
  • certainly not the children's public school system.

I believe one mistake a lot of parents make is they want to be their children's friends. Any child or teenager that has not fully matured is never going to understand issues like discipline and proper behavior. They will only appreciate these issues when they have matured and see their benefits.

  • Does a parent let her five year old cross the road with on-coming traffic because the child wants to cross it?

In a similar manner, parents have an important responsibility of instilling Judeo-Christian values into their children. Values, which may never have been instilled in the local Catholic CCD religious classes, for their good!

A parent's discipline is an act of love. Your daughter probably won't understand this aspect of love until she intellectually understands what love really is, especially within the context of Marriage.

A sacrifice of one's own life, body and soul: A man, for a woman's, body and soul; as well as a woman, for a man's body and soul, for a life-giving lifetime.

KEY ONE: Having a balance of a prudent, mature, prayerful attitude while instilling Catholic values and weekly family obligations the best you can.

KEY TWO: I was listening to a Steve Wood program on bringing your children up Catholic.
He made some great points. The main one was "You can't instill or transmit religious values without first establishing a solid, fun relationship with your kids."; it is so important to develop a "having fun with them" relationship with them. This would involve:

  • playing basketball with them,
  • throwing the football,
  • going to a family-friendly movie,
  • going to a Dallas Cowboy's game, though I'm a Pat's fan.

Because my family is a video game family, I've play my fair share of video games with my niece and nephews.

The point he emphasizes is that you can only instill religious values successfully until you have developed a playful relationship with them. If you try to instill religious values without first establishing this relationship, you can come across as "the religious freak" in the family.

Get involved with the fun things Sam enjoys doing.

Know you are in my prayers,

Mike

Rob replied:

Hi Mike,

I have two daughters, one is 19 the other is 17 (I also have two sons aged 14 and 12).

  • What can I, as a father, tell you?

That you have (likely) done nothing wrong and that the best that we can do for our children is bring them up in a loving family that is devoted to God. After a short time on this planet, we must deliver those children up to God (similar to the story of Abraham and Isaac). If you have brought your daughter up the best that you can (and don't be thinking that means perfectly, just as well as you believe you could — no self-recriminations here!) then she will, by the grace of God, come to see the Truth.

Many adolescents in their later years go through spiritual questioning periods. The fiction and nonfiction sections of the bookstores are absolutely filled with just such occurrences. Please continue to pray for your daughter and then give her 'her space'. Each and every person goes through a personal journey towards God. As parents, we feel that we have better answers for our children (and we often do, in fact, have better answers), but we must never take away from our children the right to choose. God has given us all the right to choose to open our hearts to Him or to go "our own way". Many adolescents come back to the Church after only a few years.

As for you, I recommend that you demand respect for your beliefs just as you daughter is likely demanding the right to her disbelief. In your house, say a prayer (out loud) before every meal.
If you daughter chooses to not participate in the prayer, that is her choice, but she must accept the procedure as a prelude to the meal. Go to the Eucharistic Celebration each Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation and invite her (and her boyfriend) to go with you. You cannot force your children into communion with God. Only God can facilitate that, and He does so under His own rules.
We want what is best for our children. This is patently true. It takes most children a very long time to figure that out.

I hope that this helps.

Robert Coutinho

Bob replied:

Mike,

Don't try to coerce or convince her overtly; be subtle. What could be happening is that she is testing you to see your commitment to her as an independent emerging woman. A wise move would be to show her that you are committed to her, regardless of her ideology. You may respectfully disagree with her, and debate the points in a charitable and well informed manner, presuming you can articulate your faith with reasoned explanations.

This other guy will likely become old news sooner or later. Don't try to compete with him, but show yourself as the truer love.

God bless.

Bob K
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