April Hendrix was raised Baptist and took all four of her children to the same little church in Adrian, Michigan for years – at least until March 2010, when her daughter, Jodi, decided that being Baptist wasn’t for her.
“She was around 14 years old when she converted to Islam,” says Hendrix, who lives in Osseo, a small town in Hillsdale County. “She wrote me a note and then we talked about it. I knew she had a friend she talked to about Islam, so it was not a surprise.”
That’s not always the case for parents whose children decide to opt out of the family faith, though. Sometimes it can come as a pretty big surprise – and even a source of anxiety and tension.
So, what should you do when your child’s religious choices veer a different direction? Here’s a bit of insight.
An emotional experience
Processing the news is often challenging for parents. In fact, Cynthia Reynolds, the executive director of Family First Counseling, which has locations in both Detroit and Bingham Farms, says some parents may experience feelings of guilt, regret and even failure.
“Most of the major religions are based on commitment and a responsibility to educate your children and family about the religion so that they become a part of it,” she explains. “If your family isn’t involved in your faith, you don’t see yourself as being successful in that – and it would illicit those emotions.”
While Hendrix took the news of her daughter’s conversion in stride, she did feel afraid that her daughter would be bullied or even harmed for her religious choice.
“We live in a rural community, and I did not think it would be very well-accepted here,” she says. “The general view on Muslims in this area is that they are likely terrorists or somehow trying to do harm.”
Still, Hendrix chose to learn more about Jodi’s new religion and supported her however she could. She spoke to Muslims that she knew, asked questions and drove her to the mosque.
And when family, friends or anyone else criticized or questioned Jodi’s new religion, she stood with and defended her daughter.
“Ultimately, I knew it was her choice. I would not want someone telling me I could not practice a religion of my choice if faced with that,” she adds.
Being a supportive parent
Hedrix’s decision to support Jodi helped to strengthen their mother-daughter bond – and is an approach that Reynolds suggests to parents who are struggling with their child’s religious choices.
“It’s important for parents to be supportive (of their children) in that decision – and every decision that they make, even if we don’t agree,” she says. “Not supporting them can cause deep family problems and a lot of dissention in the future.”
She suggests that parents whose children align with another religion, or even no religion at all, first show some interest in their child’s choice and avoid reacting with anger, rejection or insistence that the child adopt their point of view.
“Don’t just blow it off or discount it. Ask (your child) some questions about it. That will give them the opportunity to talk about it,” she says. “If you are still unsure, educate yourself.”
Hendrix agrees and adds that parents should keep an open mind.
“I think it is important for people to see each other on a human level and not just a religious label,” she says. “I definitely do not think that someone should be speaking out against a person’s religion if they really do not know anything (about it), other than what they have read on a Facebook post.”
Seeking extra help
If you still struggle to support your child’s religious choices, Reynolds suggests seeking unbiased counseling with a non-secular counselor or a religious counselor that does not work at your place of worship.
“Religion is not unlike other things that have to do with raising children, but sometimes people like to separate things like religion or sexual identity,” Reynolds says.
“At its core, (parenting) should be about love, understanding and acceptance. The primary emotion when you accept people is love, and most people are going to benefit from that.”