If you’ve experienced a faith shift, you know it can be painful, regardless of whether or not you still participate in religion.
You might find that you no longer align with traditional views of women’s role in religion, LGBTQ+ individuals, scripture and authority, or something else entirely. Whatever the specifics, you’ve upended your deep-seated beliefs or behaviors.
That’s hard, disorienting work.
One of the most difficult aspects of a faith shift is how to talk to your kids about it. To this end, we’ve created some tips to help you navigate next steps. Try them out at home.
1. Celebrate that life is always full of change.
To set the context, highlight all the changes you naturally encounter throughout your days together.
- Go on a walk and notice the changing weather, sprouting seeds, falling leaves, etc.
- Look at old photographs of family members, pointing out how each person is always changing
- Talk about how your kid’s interests have shifted over time — how they’ve moved on from things they once loved to do
When the time is right to talk about the details of your faith shift, the fact that you’ve highlighted that change is natural will help your kids recognize that there is stability in change.
- Try saying, “We all experience change, just like the seasons.”
Change is constant. With practice, kids can learn to feel grounded despite change.
2. Nurture a “field of love.”
Despite all the change in life, at least one thing is constant: Love.
Tell your kids the story of when they were born or another key moment when you felt pure love for them. Let them know that even though life is full of change, you have an abiding foundation of love for them that they can always take comfort in.
The importance of this love can’t be overstated, especially in an era when kids frequently struggle with depression and anxiety. Eventually, your kids will leave home and you won’t physically be there for them. However, by instilling in them a sense of your unchanging love, you give your kids a foundation to stand on when you’re not there.
Fred Rogers embodied this practice well when he said, “I like you just the way you are.” As kids internalize a statement like this, they sense that they have inherent worth — that they’re safe in what Lisa Miller, professor of psychology at Columbia University, calls “a field of love.”
- Try saying, “I love you and hope you feel that love always.”
This field of love, deeply felt, will guide you and them through the most difficult times.
3. Tell stories about your ancestors, especially those who had a faith shift themselves.
No matter who you are or what you believe, someone in your family line experienced a faith shift at some point in their lives. Their story will reveal a basic truth, which is that you are part of an evolving story of change over time.
Even if you don’t have stories on hand about anyone who experienced a faith shift, telling stories about ancestors helps ground your kids in their identity. Psychology research shows that knowing family stories helps your kids through hard times. One writer summarized it this way: “If you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones.” Another researcher wrote, “When parents share more family stories with their children—especially when they tell those stories in a detailed and responsive way—their children benefit in a host of ways.”
- Try saying, “Just like great-grandma experienced hardship and got through it, I know we will too.”
Family stories ground us. They help us feel like we belong.
4. Validate all feelings.
Some kids (especially young kids) might not care about your faith shift at all. Other kids will care a lot — especially if your faith shift means you’ll no longer be attending religious services where they have friends. Kids also might feel fearful about what will happen to you and them spiritually or socially.
Whatever they feel, validate those feelings. You don’t have to all agree, but each person should recognize that all feelings are real and deserving of space.
In this vein, encourage your children to ask questions and have an open and honest dialogue with you about your faith shift. This can help them better understand your perspective and can also help strengthen your relationship.
- Try saying, “No feeling is wrong. We can practice expressing all feelings in a healthy way by first being honest about how we feel.”
There’s no need to force it or pressure them into asking something right then and there. Just let them know that they can come to you at any time to talk about what’s on their mind and that you will do your best to answer.
5. Celebrate differentiation.
Children can often wonder if they are responsible when their parents experience major life shifts. It may be helpful to remind your kids that your faith shift did not occur because of them and that you take ownership over your experiences. Explain that each family member is free to develop their own individual values and beliefs, and they can differ from other family members. Love, unity, and emotional connection in a family can thrive while each family member’s unique differences are celebrated.
- Try saying, “I love seeing you become who you are.”
After you first discuss your faith shift with your children, you’ll likely find that the topic will surface again naturally. You’ll see it appear in a movie you watch together, in a situation your child faces at school, or in a fraught moment in the home. In other words, you don’t have to cover everything in a single conversation or sit down. Just hold an intention to keep the conversation going — listening deeply to what each moment calls for, if anything.
To read more about this topic, see our Beginner’s Guide to Parenting After a Faith Shift. In addition, our lesson library helps families have content to explore together during and after a faith shift.