Mothering the Skeptic

how to patiently lead skeptic children through doubt and questioning

Every once in a while you get lucky, as a parent, to encounter a teacher who completely understands your child. My daughter’s third grade teacher was a wonderful angel in disguise who saw into my little girl, understood her, and accepted her.

At a parent-teacher conference, while discussing my daughter’s perennial habit of rushing and turning in sloppy work, this teacher said, “You know, she’s not a kid that’s ever going to take your word for it.”

I felt truer words were never spoken.

A Child’s Personality

All of our attempts to discuss the importance of effort and legible handwriting seemed to fall on deaf ears. Our daughter would nod and agree but then return, within the hour, to blasting through assignments with record speed and little precision. She does not deal with the currency of our words. She has yet to experience value in slowing down and doing careful work. So she’s sticking with her tried-and-true method of getting it over with as fast as possible, regardless of the outcome.

My Natural Questioner

My little girl’s mind moves faster than her body. She is filled with wonder, curiosity, and a fairly sizeable dose of skepticism. Like her teacher accurately summarized, she won’t naturally accept something as fact until she’s probed it, tested it, and found it worthy.

This doubt also extends to Faith. She’s a modern-day Thomas who wants to see the nail marks and stick her fingers into the side of Christ. As her mother, this attitude can be challenging. Everything requires a litmus test.

“How do we know Jesus was a real person?”

“If prayer doesn’t work all the time, how do you know it’s not just luck?”

“Why aren’t the dinosaurs in the Bible?”

I want my daughter to believe and encounter all the beautiful promises the Lord fulfills. I want her to be wrapped in the comforting embrace of our Catholic Faith. But I also realize that, despite my wants, this is her journey. Her doubts and questioning are part of her Faith formation. I am here to help facilitate, but not to control.

How to Mother the Skeptic in Love and Patience

Coming from this perspective, here are some approaches that I’ve found helpful in mothering my own little Doubting Thomas.

1. Pray

I include my daughter in my personal daily prayers to our Father. I ask Jesus to walk beside her and Mary to bring my child to her Son. For myself, I ask for patience and understanding as my daughter finds her way. Prayer makes me feel like I am doing something, even as I recognize that God will take care of this for me in His own time.

2. Never Force

The fastest way to get someone not to do what you want them to do is to force it. I want to create an invitation instead of resistance, so I never force my daughter to declare her belief as a condition for participation.

In our home, attendance at Mass and Religious Education is not optional. Joining in the family prayer before meals is not optional. But I do not couch these activities as available only to those who believe without question. God can handle our doubts and everything else we throw at Him. These are activities we do as a family that help us encounter our Faith and learn more about God. It is my hope that repeat exposure with gentleness will someday translate to love of Lord and His Church.

3. Live by Example

The family is an important holy unit within God’s larger Holy Church. How we act and how we choose to spend our time as a family communicates what we believe is important. We attend Mass together and pray together before meals. We try to be plentiful in professions of thanksgiving and praise to God. I tell my children how thankful I am that God chose them to be my children here on earth. By setting an example, I am demonstrating the different ways Faith can be professed.

4. Allow Questions

I allow my daughter to ask whatever questions she needs to ask to develop her faith. There’s nothing off-limits. If it’s standing between her and God, I want to do what I can to help her.

I cannot definitively answer a lot of her questions. For example, I can provide no tangible proof that we will go to Heaven when we die, but I can acknowledge that I’ve struggled with the same doubt. I can tell her that belief in Heaven has been with us for thousands of years and people just like her have doubted. But the belief still stands. I can tell her that Jesus is a widely accepted historical figure, not just for those who are religious. So He really walked the earth. There is truth to it because lies don’t withstand the test of time.

Questions show that my daughter is engaged, and I will never discourage her engagement.

5. Encourage the Positive

My daughter loves to sing. She’s in our parish’s children’s choir. She goes around the house singing hymns. I tell her all the time how happy it makes God to hear singing for His sake. I am sure at the moment, children’s choir is a fun, social activity that she enjoys with her friends. But in time she may come to feel the lyrics as beautiful prayers.

If there is something a child loves about the Faith (the stained glass, the bells, greeting Father after Mass), I capitalize on it. Because that love can serve as a future inroad.

6. Make Faith Fun

Neither of my kids will say Mass is the most interesting way to spend an hour each week. That’s to be expected.

In our family, we try to engage in religious-themed activities that are kid-friendly and enjoyable. On some Sundays, we visit nearby cathedrals that provide a change of scenery. We celebrate the feast days of our patron Saints, cooking special food and reading about their lives. We take day trips to destinations that have religious significance. This summer we have plans to visit a monastery and a local Lourdes shrine.

The kids may not fully grasp the religious significance of these sites, but they will eventually associate happy family times with spiritual pilgrimage and growth.

7. Be Patient

As parents who have found comfort in the Lord, we naturally want our children to experience the same comfort and belief. When I feel frustrated that my daughter has not wholeheartedly accepted our Faith, I remind myself of my own journey. Mine has gone in fits and starts. My daughter’s journey will be her journey. It will take as long as it has to. God works in His own time. I must be patient, and all will be realized.

Facilitating Relationship with the Lord in Faith

It is hard, as a mother, to feel an essential part of your child’s well-being is underdeveloped or lacking. I want to step in and facilitate, to draw her toward the Lord using my limited, earthly powers. But belief that my daughter’s spiritual path will develop at its own pace and along its own,unique route is also part of my faith formation. I must trust that her belief will progress according to His plan and that she will grow to be among those who are blessed to believe without having seen.

Do you have a child who is naturally skeptical? Do they question certain aspects of the Faith? How do you handle those situations?

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Katie Maggiore is a wife, mother, and full-time corporate employee who looks to find faith in all her life’s unique circumstances. She loves writing, reading, watching her family grow up, and being in the beautiful outdoors. You can find out more about her here.

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