“Mom, I don’t believe.”

Posted on

Earlier this week, for the first time ever, my nine year old son confessed to me that he doesn’t really believe in “it”. I asked what. He said, “God and the Bible and stuff like that.”  In my mind, “My heart broke! I wept inside and wondered where I went wrong!” is perhaps what I should have been thinking, but instead I marveled at the demonstration that he was really considering and weighing the things my husband and I have been teaching him about God – and to me, this is a really good thing.


Yesterday, I read an article that was drawing awareness to the possibility your child is just borrowing your faith. The author said she believes the best way to decipher whether your child has a faith of his own, or is simply borrowing yours, is whether or not he is asking questions. A child who is borrowing your faith will leave the home and eventually leave faith too, because it was never really his own, she says.

I told my son that I can’t make him believe in God and the teachings of Christianity, but it is my job to teach him about Christianity. I asked if he could see germs on his hands, and explained that even though he can’t see the germs on his body those germs can still hurt him.  As his parent, it is my job to teach him proper hygiene. It’s also my job as his parent to teach him how to eat healthy. Eating healthy or unhealthy has an impact on his body even if he doesn’t believe it so.

Similarly, it’s my job to also teach him how to take care of his soul. I have to teach him between right and wrong, like the differences between healthy and unhealthy foods. I have to teach him that not everything invisible is non-existent. While he is under my care as a child it’s my job to make sure he has proper hygiene and eating habits to keep his body healthy. And while he’s under my care as a child it’s also my job to make sure he learns how to choose right from wrong and seek God in order to keep his soul healthy. When he leaves my home as an adult, it’s up to him to take care of his own body and soul.

I can’t make my kids Catholic. God had only two children in the Garden, and both Adam and Eve betrayed Him. Jesus had twelve apostles, and yet one of those betrayed Him so terribly it lead to His crucifixion and another denied Him three times. God is our example of perfect parenting, and yet even perfect parenting doesn’t always result in perfectly obedient children because God allowed for free will AND He respects it so much that He won’t interfere with it. Why? I imagine it’s because only in complete freedom to choose can one offer his or her purest love to God, and nothing short of one’s purest love for God can enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

While I continue to pray for my children, and educate them about God and about their souls, I know that I can’t force true love for Christ upon my children. Pure love for Christ is something that they need to cultivate in cooperation with God’s Grace dwelling in their souls. I told my son to pray daily, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:24)

As for the status of my son’s faith, two weeks ago he was telling me he needed to begin altar server training so that he could become a priest, and the day after he told me he didn’t believe in God he nearly started crying at daily Mass because the priest skipped over him at Communion and just offered him a blessing. It’s a rollercoaster, this parenting thing, but thankfully the teachings of Christianity make it easier to understand along the way.



lenten photo journey

20 Replies to ““Mom, I don’t believe.””

  1. Adrienne, this is very insightful. I have to be more aware of my kids’ questions. Questioning makes us stronger. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. It took me 60 years to form the same opinion as your son. He is a great person because he has the honesty and integrity to not take the Eucharist. That is like coming out of the closet. Please continue to respect his genius and try to overcome the scare tactics that the Church has used to force people to be dominated by it. Your son will not go to hell for not believing. You don’t need that threat hanging over your head.

  3. Great points! Even our idea of “perfect parenting” does not guarantee children who blindly obey. Free will definitely means they will need to stretch their own spiritual legs and come to those conclusions and own them themselves.

    Bill, could you please share the basis for these comments: the scare tactics that the Church has used to force people to be dominated by it. Your son will not go to hell for not believing.

  4. My husband is going through the same thing. However, he continues to practice the faith in terms of praying with me and attending mass. He does receive communion and is considering going to confession and telling the priest that he does not believe. I am praying for him and I try not to let our differing opinions affect our marriage.

  5. Even the faithful struggle against the pride of intellect:

    Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

    Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

  6. “Even the faithful struggle against the pride of intellect”

    Pride of intellect? You are taking his greatest quality, the ability to perform critical thinking, and turning it into something that he is struggling with. Maybe Catholicism makes no sense to him and he is just being honest about it instead of pretending that it does like most kids probably do.

  7. Dear Adrienne,
    So many people, especially when they are young, question the existence of God. It is hard to believe in something we can’t see. I questioned too when I was near his age and then again in my early teens. I know my mother probably had a cow (although she didn’t show it!) when I told her I wasn’t sure if God existed or not. She did not use any “scare tactics” on me, nor have I ever witnessed anyone using any, but just kept me exposed to my faith and allowed me to research and find what I believed. I am a very logical person who thrives on knowing why something works and how it works. I needed to figure out why I believe and if I believed. I need facts. I think it is why I am so firmly rooted in my faith now… I found those facts, figured out that just because you doubt doesn’t mean it isn’t so, and learned that in the end God is there.

    At his age especially it is hard to understand many things in the world. I’m thankful he felt comfortable enough to come to you and tell you how he was feeling. What a wonderful relationship you must have for him to be able to do that. Give him space, answer his questions, and model your faith. I have no doubt God is working in him right now and has big plans for him! Many of the saints have doubted in their lives and look how God used them! Lots of prayers for you and your son and thank you for sharing this with us!

  8. Bill, could you please share the basis for these comments: the scare tactics that the Church has used to force people to be dominated by it. Your son will not go to hell for not believing.


    The Church and the Bible do not provide the basis for my comments. So, if these are your accepted sources of the truth, I have nothing to provide to you to counteract the claims that we must trust and believe these sources. The way I see it, the Bible would not be the best seller that it is and the Church would not have over a billion members if people weren’t thoroughly convinced of the importance of believing both. I believe that the early church, and maybe Jesus himself (unless he was misrepresented in the gospels) enticed people to believe by promising an eternal reward for those who believe and an eternal punishment to those who don’t. If you are afraid to give this conspiracy theory your careful consideration, that demonstrates what a successful tactic it has been. Once I realized that, I chased away my fears of not believing and just really convinced myself that if God does exist, he would not be a very good God if he was offended by my doubting his existence. That is much too petty for a Supreme Being.

  9. If someone had thrown the Catholic church at me at the age of 9, I probably would have backed away slowly too. Even though, now at a much older age, I’m Catholic. I’m Catholic because I met Jesus Christ, though, not because I belong to a family group where everyone is expected to be Catholic for some therapeutic reason.

  10. I would want my nine year old to have as much pride of intellect as can be instilled in him. If he can’t use his intellect to get himself back to accepting his faith again, I don’t know that he will ever grow and be comfortable in it.

  11. Both Adam and Eve thought they were smarter than God. Not that that’s a problem everyone else doesn’t suffer from. But given the choice between humility of intellect and pride of intellect, I choose humility.

  12. When trying to decide whether or not to believe what you’ve been taught by your parents, you really have to trust in your ability to use reason and logic. You can’t doubt yourself. You have to believe in yourself. With humility of intellect, you wouldn’t be sure if you could even figure it out for yourself. You might just give in and go with what others think instead of what you think and that would be the level of faith you would wind up with. If you are proud of your powers of reason, you will dig into it, read what others have to say about it and be sure of your decision. If your decision then is to believe, your faith will be stronger.

  13. Thank you so much for this article. My daughter came to us a few weeks ago and told us that she is an atheist. We have been struggling with this and the hurt and anger that came with it. This has been truly helpful.

  14. Carrie,

    What you need to do is accept that religion is not for everyone. I was Catholic for 60 years and then one day I just decided that I didn’t believe anymore. To say that my world was turned upside down would be an understatement. My wife felt like you probably do now. But we’ve learned to respect each other’s right to their own opinion and I continue to accompany her to mass, pray with her and go to church functions. I actually still enjoy those things about being Catholic that do not require a belief in the supernatural. You would be surprised at what I can still enjoy.

  15. Carrie,

    Why the anger? Did someone lead her astray and are you mad at that person? Is your daughter being disrespectful of your faith? Is she trying to make you abandon your faith? Anger will only make matters worse. You need to work through it.

  16. Powerful article. I panic everytime I hear one of my kids question the faith and yet, I know that their journey is ultimately in the Lord’s hands. I have taught them to pray the prayer that I pray whenever doubts creep into my mind and heart: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24)

  17. Bill, I thought a long time before jumping into this discussion, but I just want to mention one thing. It isn’t about God being offended and punishing us for not believing. It’s about us making a choice. If we tell and show God that, yes, we want to be with Him – we’ll get that chance. If we tell Him we don’t want to be with Him, he won’t force us to be, now or for eternity.

  18. Bronwyn,

    Some people, including myself, have done the research and determined that God, to them, is a myth, passed on from generation to generation. Others believe he is real. It’s OK if you do believe. It’s OK if you don’t.

    It’s not choosing not to believe as it is not believing there is such a choice to be made. I sympathize with the young man. He is being honest about what he finds to be rational and what he finds to be irrational.

Comments are closed.