We are committed Christians, she is an atheist and has at times been very scathing about our faith. She refused to come to church with us when they stayed at Christmas, when they also insisted on sharing a room. Our son was brought up a Christian, but in adult life has drifted in and out of faith. Since he met Laura he has seemed much less interested. We don’t want to stand in the way of his happiness, but we are struggling to see how she is a good choice for him. We worry that he may never return to God, and that our relationship with him will suffer.
When my three-year-old says, ‘Mummy, don’t help me…I am doing my own thing’, it both excites and concerns me. I know that he must gradually learn to navigate life’s challenges for himself, but there’s also a part of me that wishes I could protect him forever from any hurt, mistakes or danger. Reading your letter, I sense that same desire behind your words.
I am curious that you haven’t asked me a question. It makes me wonder what it is that you really want. Perhaps you don’t know and that is ok. Sometimes when we are in the midst of a distressing situation it is hard to think about what we want from others, God or ourselves. But in the absence of a question, I am going to address one that I believe is relevant to your situation and to all of us at some time or other. What can we do or say when we feel a loved one is making what we believe is a huge mistake?
1. Love unconditionally. Katharine Hill, co-author of Keeping Faith…Being family when belief is a question, writes, ‘The challenge for most of us is how we demonstrate unconditional love for our children, even when the decisions they make disappoint us, so that they know that they are loved anyway.’
What would it look like if you were to keep loving your son anyway, whether he marries Laura or not, and whether he rebuilds his relationship with God or not? How could you show Laura that you are interested in her even if she does appear to reject you and your faith?
2. Show compassion. Part of showing compassion is about understanding and being empathetic to another’s struggles and motivations. Another point in Keeping Faith is that most children who struggle or turn away from their family’s faith don’t do it lightly, nor do they do it to deliberately hurt their parents. If you could put aside any agenda and talk openly about their beliefs, hopes and dreams ? I wonder where that would lead? The same holds true for understanding why your son loves Laura.
3. Focus on what is real. When we are upset, anxious, disappointed or hurt, it can be difficult to think clearly or have fresh insight. We can get stuck in the ‘if onlys’ or the ‘what ifs’ and we can make assumptions about what is going on. It can be good to challenge our thinking and ask ourselves whether what we are worrying about is real or not.
4. Let go. As parents, there comes a point where we need to let our children fly solo and rely on their own navigation system to find their way through life. We have to trust God and them that they’ll be ok in spite of and because of the mistakes they’ll make along the way.
5. Be authentic. It can be tempting when someone doesn’t like or agree with us to try to change ourselves to suit them, but that rarely works.
Keep on being you and celebrate that. If you and your husband would rather they didn’t share a room when they stay with you before they are married ? tell them. They might not agree with you but you can still ask them to respect your choices.
6. Be united. If you and your husband definitely think that they are making a huge mistake in marrying each other, consider talking to them about it. You could share honestly from your own experiences of marriage and mention a few things that you have found challenging. Or you could use gentle questioning to help them think through some of the challenges you can see in their relationship. However, try not to say anything that you’ll regret if they do decide to marry.
7. Pray. Get support from a few trusted friends with whom you can share your hopes, dreams and frustrations. Keep praying, and ask God to give you the strength, love and wisdom to say and do what is needed today and in the future.
Remember this isn’t the end of the story. We don’t know if they will get married or whether Laura will become the mother of your grandchildren or, indeed, if they will find faith. Let me encourage you to keep on hoping, trusting and praying. There is, after all, something powerful and precious about a mother’s love and prayers.