Parents need to trust the path their kids take

The untethering of parents and children may be hard, but we are passing them over into God’s infinitely capable hands.
Our Faith

The grief around weaning all four of my children still echoes in my heart to this day. To know that perhaps never again will my body be capable of giving life reflects the sorrow we feel in many of our deepest heartbreaks. To love and give greatly will always lead to loss. In the 14 years since my oldest child was born, I have learned that weaning is only the first of many steps in the slow untethering between parent and child.

This fall, our oldest will take another step toward adulthood as he begins high school. My husband and I were delighted when he decided to attend our alma mater to continue his Catholic education. As former high school educators, coaches, and youth ministry leaders, we are excited about all the new experiences he will encounter. But the realization that his childhood is ending—and we are about to experience loss again—has hit me harder than I ever expected.

Like most parents, I know what life in the next few years will throw at him. He will have to navigate new social territory and figure out interpersonal relationships, all while his mind and body change at a rate equivalent to that during the first five years of life. There will be decision points about alcohol, drugs, and other behaviors. He will have to grapple with figuring out what it means to live in a world where racism, sexism, poverty, and all the other powers and principalities hold sway. We will have to guide him through moral decisions about friendship, sexuality, honesty, and equality. His friends will become more important, and I am anxious for him to choose good influences. He will have to work hard academically to succeed. And he will have to do all this in a culture where everything is competing for his attention with no thought for an individual’s mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical health.

Most urgently, though, I worry about whether he will continue to practice the faith. As someone who loves Jesus wholeheartedly and has spent my adult life trying to help others be in relationship with him, I desperately want my son to know how deeply God loves him. With approximately 1 million young Americans leaving Christianity annually, there is no guarantee that he won’t be among them.


I find hope in watching parents who are just a little older than me walk with their children through their teenage years. One couple in particular at our former parish sticks in my memory. An interracial couple, they were raising four children, all of whom were leaders in youth ministry, went to Mass weekly in college, and one of whom even considered a vocation to the priesthood. From the outside, they were a typical American family whose kids were in sports, plays, and band and had great social networks. What made them different was the way they spoke to their kids about faith, interweaving it into normal conversations; how they made social outreach part of their routine; how they encouraged their children to ask questions about God—and to God in prayer; and how they encouraged their children to have relationships with other adults who also loved Jesus Christ. As they untethered their children from their care, they showed their kids how to pick up the different threads of lives and weave them together to form an enduring tether to God.

I must admit, though, despite the example of such parents who are raising happy, healthy, and holy children around me, I am still anxious about the teenage years. On the other side of that, however, I hear the words of Jesus: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26).

My son is so important to God that God became human and redeemed him from sin and death. The world will tell him that he has to earn love, but that is not the truth. And while I cannot guarantee what my child’s religious practice will be as he grows, I do know that I can speak the love of God to him over and over again so that he never doubts his belovedness. I can teach him how much God loves others by modeling a life of compassion, justice, and service to others compelled by the witness of Jesus Christ.

My husband and I are attempting to do this in a multiplicity of ways. If we are involved in social outreach, we discuss why an issue is important, what systemic issues might also be at play, and what the biblical vision is for human life. When our son worries, we pray with him. We share with him why it is personally meaningful to participate in the sacraments and liturgical year. We identify how God has been present in our own lives and what we have seen God do for other people’s lives. When he asks for advice, or even when he messes up, we ask him to think about what the best way would be to love another person and about who God wants him to be.


And in the midst of all of this, God offers me an invitation: to trust that the God whose eye is on the sparrow is also watching over the child that came from God 14 years ago. God is inviting me to hand over my worry and trust my son with more responsibility and age-appropriate freedoms. I also have the opportunity to trust that the foundation we have laid in parenting over 14 years has given our child a firm footing as I unravel another length of rope.

Looking forward to the next four years of high school, I cannot wait to see who my child becomes. I want to see how the things I love about him shift, change, and grow as he encounters the world in new ways. I look forward to the ways he is tested and affirmed; the ways he relies on us and the ways he takes ownership of his own destiny. I hope he will find community, self-assurance, maturity, and peace. I will be praying every day to trust God and to trust my son, despite how much I wish he could stay with us forever. The slow untethering of parents and children may be a release of our most precious gifts, but we are also passing them over into God’s infinitely capable hands.

This article also appears in the May 2024 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 89, No. 5, pages 43-44). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Unsplash/Vasily Koloda


About the author

Shannon Wimp Schmidt

Shannon Wimp Schmidt is the content director for TENx10 Youth Ministry Collaboration, cohost of Plaid Skirts and Basic Black Podcast, and author of the book Fat Luther, Slim Pickin’s (Ave Maria Press). She lives in Chicagoland with her husband, Eric, and their four children. Follow her on Instagram, TikTok and Threads: @teamquarterblack.

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