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Making Kids Go to Church

Today’s post comes from another fantastic guest poster. She has been married for almost two decades and is the mother of four children, two of them teenagers. Beyond her attempts to be a ‘goodly parent’, since being a perfect one has gone up in smoke, she is a published author and freelance editor.

When I was 15, my 13 year old sister and I hated everything about the church. After months of fighting about it, my parents offered an olive branch; if we would agree to stop fighting them on church attendance, we only had to go every other week. I was making a lot of poor choices in my life at this time—a big part of why church was so uncomfortable for me—and after a few months of bi-monthly attendance, those choices started catching up with me and I ended up making changes that eventually restored me to full activity. I’ve been active ever since and look at that ‘desert’ of my life as a foundation of my testimony—the repentance process is a powerful teacher.

My sister, however, did not make the journey with me. She kept with the every other week for awhile and then she dug in her heels even more. Within a year of the “deal” she rarely attended church at all and in the twenty years since that time she’s never been active again.

I don’t pretend to blame the “deal” for either my return to church activity or my sister falling away completely—people and the choices they make are more complex than that, but I am now in the sphere of raising teenagers of my own and I find myself facing the same choice my parents faced.

My 15 year old daughter hasn’t liked church since she was 9 or 10 years old. She asks to stay home nearly every Sunday. No one mistreats her, but she doesn’t fit with the group of girls her age. She doesn’t like mutual, personal progress, or girl’s camp, she feels like everyone at church is trying to make her into something she isn’t. This is not a bad child and she’s not making the same sinful choices I was making at her age. She’s funny and smart and social and creative but she is not the typical Mormon girl. She’s liberal in her opinions, she’s accepting of people on the fringe of social acceptance, and I have known since she was very young that she would not be “mainstream”. I have hoped, however, that she would find her place and it scares me that she may not give church the chance to let her know she fits better than she thinks she does.

The arguments we’re having about church attendance are picking up and her father and I, who have always said we would never make a “deal”, are wondering if we’re willing to sacrifice our relationship with this child for the assurance that she sitting on a chair at church once a week. We’ve been telling ourselves for years that even with a bad attitude it’s better that she’s there, that she might feel something someday. However, she seems to get more and more hardened toward it as time goes by. In school she had to write down the attributes her parents wanted in a future spouse, the only answer she put down was religious. We laughed about it, but she wasn’t joking. In her mind she felt that we could care less if he were an abusive lump with no job or front teeth—as long as he went to church, we’d be happy.

Many years ago I heard a talk by Barbara Smith, a former RS president, at an American Mother’s Incorporated meeting and she said that the three most important things she’d learned in raising her seven children were to 1) Save the relationship 2) Save the relationship 3) Save the relationship. Am I saving the relationship by making my child attend church or will I save it by letting her make the choice? I don’t pretend to have done everything right in raising and teaching my children, perhaps had I been more vigilant about this or that we wouldn’t be facing this, but we ARE facing this and I have to remind myself that lamenting what I missed isn’t going to make this decision for me now.

So I pose the scenario to you—the Segullah audience. Perhaps you’ve been here with a child, perhaps you were this child, or perhaps you have insight that would help me and my family. I would love to hear it as my husband and I search for answers to this dilemma. Thanks in advance, I look forward to your thoughts.

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67 thoughts on “Making Kids Go to Church”

  1. I have a friend who went through the same thing during his teenage years and he made the decision on his own to attend the neighboring ward. He says that really saved his membership and his life.

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  2. I haven't faced this with children, but have watched as a number of other people have dealt with children making poor choices.

    The best outcomes IN EVERY CASE are when the relationship is saved because the parents chose to love and accept the child despite their heartbreaking choices. That counsel to save the relationship is the ONLY one that gives any chance of retaining in ties to the child. Forcing them at this age will perhaps buy you some time, but the second they're "out the door", and no longer under your "control", they'll do what they want anyway, and resent you the entire time. If the relationship isn't good, they can be lost for ages.

    On the other hand, if you stay close despite differences on this front, as one set of parents I know did (the wife commented "If we fail to love him now, unconditionally, then we simply aren't who we profess to be–saints and followers of Christ"), it may take some time, but that love will keep you connected, and like a gentle tractor beam, eventually pull your child closer to the light than they might otherwise be. Just being comfortable around you is so crucial in putting them in a position to "Stand in Holy Places."

    One of my favorite musicals is Camelot, and there's a scene when Arthur asks wise Merlin "how to handle a woman?" and his sage reply was "Love her, love her, love her."

    It is my belief that you could apply that in every case and it's the best possible choice. You'll know via personal revelation and the guidance of the spirit how to best love and nurture your child. Love the sinner even though choices made may break your heart, and you'll have the best chance of keeping them in your life.

    As for making a "deal", I think if it were me, I wouldn't ever give them "permission" to stop obeying the commandments or live contrary to the teachings. What I'd probably do is handle each situation or choice on a moment by moment basis.

    For example, on Sunday morning if they're sleeping in and not getting ready or balk at going, be understanding, express your love, and maybe even leave them some breakfast (a.m. church) or something with a nice note telling them you love them. No conditions…no sharing your "disappointment" over their choices. Just love.

    Don't focus on the things they're not doing that you wish they were. Find positives in their life to cheer for and point them out. Build them up in every way, and support and encourage them IN THEIR EFFORTS…not the efforts you choose for them.

    Being a teen is tough. They often feel unlovable and have self-image issues. Feeling a rush of acceptance and unconditional love could make all the difference in their life, and free them up to make better choices of their own volition. They know what you WISH they'd do, and they probably know what's right, but agency can't be forced, and taking it from someone is a sure-fire recipe for resentment.

    Good luck! ♥

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  3. My uncle told his children that as long as they weren't adults, their spirituality and development was his responsibility, and that it was important to him that he be able to say to Heavenly Father, "I did my best as a parent to teach them what they needed to know." He let them know that they would have the ability to make their own decisions when they were adults and on their own.

    Teenagers "seem" to have the brain development to make decisions such as this, but really, they don't. They are old enough to understand and comprehend some things, but young enough to not see any sort of big picture. I think that "Saving the relationship" is important, but I also believe that it is my responsibility to raise my children with boundaries, and that is not a boundary I am willing to cross.

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  4. My sister chose to marry outside of the temple. She married a great man who lives all the standards of the church, he just wasn't a member. I asked her about it years later and she said she partly did it out of rebellion and was tired of others expectations.

    While they were dating, my parents were concerned, as all good parents are when their children make choices that will cause pain. They prayed constantly for her and did all they could to let her know she was loved. The week before they got engaged, my mom was walking home from church and had the overwhelming feeling that they were going to get married and that it was all right. The Lord was aware of them and their choices and situation.

    They did get married and had a great marriage. He was determined that if she chose to leave the church, it wouldn't be because of him. He got her and their children out the door to church every Sunday, supported her in all her callings, and came to every baptism and baby blessing in the family. We all loved them and accepted them both for who they were. My parents kept their acceptance door wide open. He developed a close relationship with some of my brothers and felt free to ask questions whenever he wanted.

    13 years later we got a phone call saying my brother-in-law had taken the missionary discussions without telling the rest of the family and was getting baptized on Saturday. One year later their family was sealed. I don't promise those same results for everyone, but I do think there are some general blanket statements that can be made. 1) Pray, pray, pray. Heavenly Father loves you and your children more than you do and he knows how to help them and you better than you do. 2)Maintain the relationship. They are your child no matter what they choose to do. Let them know that you love them no matter what. 3) Remember that everyone has their free-agency- even teenagers. As heart breaking as it is, sometimes they just have to be allowed to go ahead and make the choice and pay the consequence. Let them pay the consequence, but be there to remind them that you still love them and they are important to you. You never know when they'll come around and be ready to make a change.

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  5. I wonder, is your family having regular scripture study and family home evening? In the long run, those personal, family habits have more chance to affect your daughter's behavior and feelings than going to Church on Sundays.

    Having said that, however, I agree with Heidi's answer. "In our family, we go to Church." You can't force your child, but you don't have to cater or give permission for them to choose another way. I loved Elder Oak's talk in General Conference 2009, where he talked about two different kinds of gifts parents give their children and that just as God makes some things conditional on obedience, so should we as parents. The talk is here: http://lds.org/general-conference/2009/10/love-and-law?lang=eng

    I would probably let my child make the choice whether to go, letting them know where I stand and what privileges they'd be giving up by not going to Church. I'd be loving and kind, but being loving and kind doesn't mean letting them think their choice is neutral or that it doesn't have consequences. For example, if they choose not to come to Church, then perhaps that week, you choose not to drive them to extra activities. Perhaps use of their cell phone is contingent on them showing responsibility and coming to Church with a good attitude.

    Good luck to you!

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  6. I'm on board with the "save the relationship" thing, and already get to practice it in my marriage, but my additional question to this guest poster's is: How do you know *when* to let go of the reins. I, too, have a daughter who's been hating going to church since she was 9 or 10 and I'm anxious about knowing when to let go. I don't think I can do it yet (she's just turning 12, plus I'm still hopeful for her 'new start' in YW), but I'm just so nervous about knowing when it would be OK. I guess, I really already know the true answer: Let the Spirit guide me, and don't count my chickens before they hatch, but still…I get knots in my stomach just thinking about it.

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  7. I don't have teenagers yet and don't feel qualified to comment. But, to paraphrase Eric Snider, that has not stopped me before! *ahem*

    1-Does she know about your own history with not wanting to go to church? Does she feel like you understand her? I think a lot of tension and adversarial relationships diffuse when we feel understood. And maybe sharing some of that (you may have already done this) will help her know that yes, you do get where she's coming from and what she's thinking. And everything you are asking her to do comes from a place of love, not a place of trying to control her. It is not that far of a leap from feeling understood by a parent to feeling understood by God.

    2-I don't know what your next step, after helping her feel understood, would be. I really think preserving the relationship is as important as Sister Smith said. I have watched as family members have left the Church, but their parents have preserved the relationship. That doesn't mean there is no tension at all, just that both parties are working to maintain a relationship.

    3-I wonder about helping her develop habits of personal righteousness (again, something you are probably already doing). What saves my testimony over and over again is the Book of Mormon. I read it all the way through for the first time as a teenager. I feel like the Book of Mormon is bedrock for my faith. If you did make any kind of a not-have-to-go-to-Church deal, I would say, you don't have to go to church every week, maybe every other week, but we need to read the scriptures together for fifteen minutes every day and then when we finish the Book of Mormon we'll evaluate things again.

    One thing I love about the Book of Mormon is that there are so many difficult situations that get wrestled with. There’s so much depth there. If she could taste it with you or your husband every day, one on one, that might help. The Book of Mormon is not shallow or fake or hypocritical, things it’s easy to see at church if you’re a teenager. It’s solid and real. If you can help her taste its power and strength, I think that would be a really good thing. Following through on that consistently will be a challenge, but hopefully one that bears fruit.

    I love this post and I think your children will one day rise up and call you blessed. You sound like a diligent and caring mother, one who is taking into account the whole course of life, and not just this one incident. I believe that God is mindful of you as a mother, and grateful for your service.

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  8. Is your daughter resistant to the gospel teaching and activities you do in the home? Do you think the problem is primarily a social one or one of belief? I think the answers to those questions could help guide where you want to go next.

    I, for one, am glad that my toddler children will never be that old (that's what I keep telling myself, anyway).

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  9. Admittedly, I don't have children. I do know, however, that my big sister and I had plenty of times where we didn't want to go to church. I think it might be a good idea to talk to your daughter about what she dislikes about church,and then see if you can restate her issues to her satisfaction–because if she feels heard without condemnation, she will probably be more willing to listen to you explain why the church and the gospel are important to you, and how you got through your own teenage struggles with the faith. Maybe you could help her find people in the church who are more like her, as well. Finally, I don't think it is wrong to insist on Sunday church attendance, especially if it's more in the context of a family rule–"this is what we do". She mightn't like it, but, like I said earlier, if she feels heard about her concerns, she might be more willing to give your way of doing things a try.

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  10. I have no experience with raising children, but perhaps my suggestion may help. When I was a teen, I didn't feel like I fit in with the other Young Women, for various reasons. But I always went to church because my parents said that was the right thing to do, and I had faith that what they said was true. Now (at 25), I look back and realize that what got me to church then and what gets me to church now is my testimony and my desire to please the God that loves me so much. I agree with all that has been said so far, and I would suggest encouraging your daughter to find her own testimony of the gospel and of going to church. That may be what she needs to keep going when she doesn't feel like she belongs. Because of my testimony, I made myself belong. It is in doing something that one discovers that it is true or right (Alma 32, Moroni 10).

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  11. I don't have a lot of time, so I haven't read the above comments and may be repeating something.

    I'm a firm believer that "because I said so" never works. The problem here is not her Church attendance. The problem here is that her faith is struggling. It's not her attendance you need to focus on.

    It's her testimony.

    Once that is rock solid, she won't CARE if she isn't "fitting in." I never fit in, but I always went to Church because I loved God. I loved Him more than myself.

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  12. At one point one of my brothers stopped going to church, I think he was about 16. My parents loved him anyway, and didn't make a big deal out of it, although it really hurt them.

    15 years later he still has a relationship with our family, and actually went to the Priesthood Session of Conference last week. Because the door wasn't shut on him, he didn't shut the door on the family, or the church.

    Compare that with my husbands family, which was "you will be in church every week so help you" and a militant approach to FHE. Out of 6 boys, 3 of them still go to church, one of them being my husband who I basically have to drag with me. Only 4 of them are on speaking terms with their parents, and it is a fine line. I don't think that forcing religion on anyone works.

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  13. i have raised eight children…most wanted to go…a couple were difficult for many of the same reasons you so well portrayed. our philosophy was…we have a sacred stewardship, scholastically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. so, there were rules that were pretty clear cut. you must attend school and do your best…let's keep junk food to a minimum and get some exercise every day, church is not optional as long as you live here. we got up early every morning and read scriptures together–FHE–growing up in a less active home i was really trying to cross every t and dot the i's.
    having said that. all are active adults except for my handicapped daughter. she was slow enough to never "fit in" and smart enough to know she wasn't wanted. i watched her trying to drum up some sort of social life every weekend for years. but, she has a testimony. she knows Heavenly Father not only loves her but protects her, she is our angel and saving grace. i am a blessed mama.
    i like what barb smith had to say.
    i believe in personal revelation.
    you won't go wrong.
    xox

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  14. I had a semi-similar situation growing up as your daughter does now. I didn't fit in with the girls and hated sitting there for two hours with them every Sunday. I still feel that way in Relief Society now as a grown woman. My mom really helped me a lot. She talked to me about it and found out what was going on. She told me that we go to church even if it's hard because it's more important than just liking or being liked. Then she and I brainstormed to come up with options that we could try that would allow me to attend church without feeling so stupid. Then I talked to the bishop about the options we had come up with to figure out which one would work for the ward. He was willing to work with me rather than see me fall off the map.

    Some of the options we came up with were:
    – attend the younger Young Women/Sunday School class.
    – attend Gospel Doctrine and Relief Society
    – ask for a calling in the Primary/Nursery

    The right choice for me was to attend the younger classes. I got along better with those kids, and even though it was still hard, it was easier and I wasn't going to Relief Society, which terrified me. I really wanted the calling in Nursery option, but the Bishop really wanted me in a class…

    I think that being allowed to be a part of the solution was good for me. I was expected to take responsibility for making a hard situation work better. Those skills have come in handy MANY times in my life.

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  15. This is a hard one. I haven't had to deal with it personally. My kids love to go to church, even the two teenagers. My daughter is the only girl her age with 6 rowdy boys. She asked the bishop if she could go to a different Sunday school class so she could learn something from the lesson and not have to deal with disruptive boys. He said yes so she is going to the class a year ahead of her. She could have easily said she wasn't going to go to church because of those boys but she figured it out on her own and her leaders saw she was committed to the gospel through her actions. I didn't say a thing but I knew she would figure it out.

    If it were my child I would pray about it and go with my gut. I'd show LOVE, LOVE, LOVE because the last thing you want is for your child to resent you and the church.

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  16. No advice from me, but I'll share my experience:

    My oldest son's last day at church (at age 17) was the day I was sustained as bishop (and he came only out of respect for me and what was happening). He had been fighting attending for some time.

    #2 son quit coming when he was 16.

    #3 son had friends at church, so he attended until he was about 17, but did not worship.

    After #3 had bailed (and I was still bishop), I was frantic.

    A sister in our ward gave a talk in sacrament meeting in which she taught that we would not have wards and stakes in heaven, only families. I had a clear thought at that moment (fortunately I wasn't asleep on the stand at the time!): If all we have are families in heaven, I had been be more concerned that my kids want to be in my home than in sacrament meeting.

    It's now about 12 years since #1 left and did not come back. None have returned to church, but all are comfortable in our home and rely on our relationship.

    My former stake president counseled me many times: Eternity is a long time. (I was pleased to hear someone say that in conference, but I can't remember who.) He encouraged me that all I could do was what I could do, and my boys would make their choices, too.

    I'm with Sister Smith: save the relationship.

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  17. My first thought kind of echoes several others. Work on helping her strengthen her testimony and realize that a lot of us don't feel like we fit in yet we go to church anyway because it's a commandment. Whenever our children brought up the "I don't feel like going to church" our standard answer was that we expected them to come with us anyway. There are a lot of things we do in life that we don't like to do (cleaning bathrooms comes to mind!), but we still do them. When they brought up seeming hypocrisy, we reminded them that they didn't need to worry about others, just themselves (and that our job as parents was to worry about them too). We answered a lot of "but I have my agency" concerns with "You expressed your agency when you chose to live in our family, and there are certain things we expect of you just because of that, now your choice is your attitude."

    I learned an incredible insight from a talk Elder Bednar gave several years ago, when he stated that Heavenly Father gave us agency so we could choose what HE wanted for us, not necessarily so we could choose what WE wanted. See Moses 7:33, D&C 11:20 and "The Tender Mercies of the Lord" (April 2005 general conference).

    We also have a quote we like to share from President Kimball about boring meetings and the fact that he'd never been in one (found in the D&C/Church History seminary teacher's manual for D&C 43). What we get out of church attendance is up to us, not up to others.

    Basically, I guess I'm saying that teaching correct principles really works. Blessings come from church attendance. Renewing our baptismal covenant is important. Loving others strengthens relationships. Parents have a responsibility to teach their children. Sometimes these principles may seem contradictory, but we can have the Spirit's guidance in helping us decide the path that is best for us and our family. Good luck!

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  18. Reading about your daughter, I can identify. I always had a testimony and loved the gospel, but the hypocrisy of my church peers (drinking and sleeping around on saturday and churchin' it up on Sunday) really distracted me. Sunday School teachers who didn't prepare or take their calling seriously bored me to near insanity every Sunday. If I were older and wiser I wouldn't have let it get to me, but as a teenager it distressed me greatly.

    I too was friends with those on the fringe, punk rockers, musicians, actors, stoners, whatever. I didn't participate in their acts which ran contrary to my religion, but I was constantly around it. I still can't understand how it was possible that i resisted all the offerings of opportunity to break my covenants, but I didn't.

    Everyone in my ward, aside from close friends and leaders, assumed that I was a rebellious and unbelieving child. The fact is, I was more believing than most of my peers, many of whom have fallen away. They misinterpreted my longing for more as a lack of testimony.

    I thank my Heavenly Father often for the wonderful and thoughtful leaders I had who saw what was really in me. I'm grateful for a mother who didn't judge me according to outward appearances. Most of all, the relationship I developed with my Bishop became the catalyst for all my gospel service. He saw my desire to make a difference and to change things and empowered me to that end. He would always give me assignments and do so in a way of trust. He had a large family who liked to actually get home after church, and so he'd let them take his car. Often, he'd stay until 6 at night. He asked me, since i lived close to him, if I would be able to give him a ride home each week. He'd give me the keys to the building to lock up as he was in his final interviews and meetings, and that trust was not lost on me.

    I guess what I'd hop you and other parents could take away from my experience is to know that sometimes the response of children is in direct proportion to the faith and trust put into them. If your daughter sees problems in the ward, empower her to find ways to change it.

    Good luck!

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  19. This is how I'm managing a similar issue in my family (as well as many other parenting conundrums): I acknowledge that the answer lies somewhere between two contradictory truths/maxims/poles. I determine which side I'd rather err on/default to. Then I incorporate both truths into my actions as much as possible, and trust my priorities when I must choose one over the other.

    I'd rather make the mistake of giving my kid too much independence in her religious decisions than too little. That doesn't mean that I erase or hide my hopes and preferences; it means that when my back is against the wall, I'd rather be guilty of inaction than compulsion. Your mileage may vary.

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  20. Pray, pray, pray. And work on your relationship with her. And strengthen your own testimony so you can bear it to her. Forcing her will not solve the problem. Persuasion and coaxing and love is better. As my kids are turning into teenagers, I find myself holding my breath a lot and watching them. We laid the ground work as well as we could while they were little and more and more I realize that what they do with that is more and more out of my hands. I had a strong testimony of the gospel from a very early age but it was by my own choice and I bitterly resented (and blew off) anybody that I felt was trying to force me in any direction (right or wrong) so I feel strongly about kids being allowed to choose. But it is hard. I had a revelation one time about how to handle a particularly difficult child–there were three things I was guided to do–two that pertain to this 1-Rely on the Holy Ghost and 2-Try and get the child to choose it (whatever I wanted from them) rather than forcing them–it works better that way. From the bottom of my heart I wish you the best!

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  21. Quote by George Q. Cannon:

    "Never force the human mind."

    I think about this quote consgtantly as I raise my teenage daughters. Wasn't this freedom of choice what we fought to have? My daughters don't always do what I want, but then I don't do what my mother wants, either.

    I support you, whatever you decide.

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  22. I really appreciated reading your post and the comments that followed.

    Every family and every child will call for different responses. So, of course what will work for one family may or may not be the answer for another.

    My husband has been on the fence in the church for some time. For years, I have felt such fear and despair as I've considered the possibility that he might eventually leave the church. The answer that I have received in my part of all this…have hope and love him. The past few years, the Lord has poured out an abundance of His love into my heart for my husband. I don't know the outcome as far as what my husband will ultimately choose, but I feel very peaceful about it all now. As so many others have stated already, this life is a very short time in the eternal scheme of things. I don't know how it all works out, but I know the temple sealings which bind us as families are very powerful (clearly, no one will be forced to choose right in the end). I believe that many, many of our children or spouses who fall away will feel God pulling them back to their loved ones.

    I personally don't believe in tying priveleges/consequences to your daughter's church attendance….just like I don't believe in rewarding a child reading their scriptures. Your children need to know that they are loved UNCONDITIONALLY. I am not sure what age is considered old enough to really make the choice whether or not to go to church…clearly a personal call…but I don't believe in rewarding or punishing someone either way.

    Hoping the very best for you and your family.

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  23. I don't have an answer for you. That would be a tough situation to be in. However, I do know that there is One who DOES know the answer. If I were you I would pray SO hard and then make a choice that feels best to you and then pray again. And yes, I agree, no matter what always let her know she's loved.

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  24. (Sorry for a 2nd thought!)

    One of my very most favorite hymns is #240- Know This That Every Soul Is Free. The tune is beautiful, but the lyrics penetrate my heart:

    Know then that ev'ry soul is free
    To choose his life and what he'll be;
    For this eternal truth is giv'n:
    That God will force no man to heav'n.

    He'll call, persuade, direct aright,
    And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
    In nameless ways be good and kind,
    But never force the human mind.

    Freedom and reason make us men;
    Take these away, what are we then?
    Mere animals, and just as well
    The beasts may think of heav'n or hell.

    May we no more our powers abuse,
    But ways of truth and goodness choose;
    Our God is pleased when we improve
    His grace and seek his perfect love.
    ~~~~~~

    It's our Heavenly Father's parenting model to teach correct principles, establish expectations, and allow natural consequences to our choices, but He NEVER uses control, guilt-trips, force, manipulation, or strong-arms us into doing what He knows will bring us happiness. No matter what we do, He just keeps on loving us without ceasing, doing all He can to maintain that relationship.

    If you focus your efforts on your relationships, and strengthen the ties that bind your family, your daughters will find refuge from life's storms in your safe harbor, and you will all have happiness and joy in your associations with each other. ♥

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  25. Parent like Heavenly Father does:

    Seek to understand her concerns and validate them. Be ALWAYS available for listening.

    Help her find solutions that are outside the box and that help her grow in understanding. (I have memories of my father and my younger brother enjoying gospel discussions out in the car during Sunday school at a time when that helped him.) Help her expand her realm of possible choices beyond simply "go" and "don't go". Make personal sacrifices to enable those.

    Speak what you know in truth and love and with clarity.

    Express trust. Bargaining inherently fosters distrust. Insisting and "making" does as well. Listening and respecting choice fosters trust.

    So, respect choice, even if you think it's a stupid one. Some people learn better from making stupid choices.

    Neither gloat nor feel like a failure when they learn the hard way. Instead express compassion and a desire to help.

    Never assume that one choice is the final choice. Always leave the door open for change without undue attention or pressure

    And, as a human being, realize that there's only one Savior in the world and it isn't you.

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  26. I am of the firm belief that at the age of 15 or so most kids need to learn on their own and make the decision on their own to attend or not attend church. A teenager should never feel forced into going to church. Heavenly Father doesn't force us around, neither does the Holy Ghost. There is something heavenly though- it is called gentle persuausion. As parents it is our duty to try to persuade our children to do what we believe is in their best interests without overstepping the bounds into forcing spiritual matters upon them..

    I was a teenager who was basically forced to attend church at a period in my life when i didn't want to go. It made the whole living at home thing very uncomfortable and I ended up leaving the church for about 10 years because of it. I decided than that I would never force my children into going to church. I now have a 15 year old who doesn't have a desire to go to church. He doesn't exactly say why but I suspect he had a bad experience there with one of the members and now doesn't wish to go, but I do not genuinely know. What I do know is that regardless of if he goes or satys home it is his own persoanl choice and that all I can do is gently persuade him when the right times come up which at times seem pretty rare.

    Growing up LDS I along with a lot of others are led to believe that falling away from the church is a damnable thing and that once fallen away all will be lost and we would never be with our family in eternity. This is the wrong mindset and one I hope changes in the next generation. Teenagers should not either be bribed to go to church or serve a mission. Nor should they have threats placed against them or privledges taken away just because they do not wish to attend. All too often I think that parents have a "name" to uphold for themselves and a wayward child might bring wrath from fellow members in the gossip groups reigning down on them and so, God forbid their child shouldn't go!

    What examples do we set for our children? Are we raising robots who can't think for themselves in spiritual matters or are we giving them the space and time for them to calculate on their own what they want in life?

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  27. I don't have teenagers yet, but I agree with what most everyone else has said:

    Open yourself up to her; pray for your own heart to be softened and for your ability to love to increase. Pray for an absence of fear in your heart–fear is what often leads to manipulation, force, and those other things.

    Get back to basics with the gospel–focus as a family on scripture study, prayer, testimony. Remind her and encourage her to develop her own testimony and find her own answers.

    That being said, the only essential thing at church each week is taking the sacrament. Yes, all the other things are very good for many reasons, but if the problem seems to mainly be social issues with the YW then let her opt out for a while, both from Sunday activities and weekday ones. That might give her some breathing room and a chance to really discover the fundamentals of church.

    I really like what others have said about God's injunction to love, persuade, coax, and never force. I need to remember that in my parenting.

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  28. Now after reading all the comments I have a couple more.

    -My idea about reading the Book of Mormon together would only work if it were not done with a sense of coercion but collaboration.

    -I think with issues like this, to make sure I was in the right spirit, I would also consider getting a blessing from my husband, increasing my temple attendance, and fasting. Those things will help put you in the right spirit as you work with her, and give you access to greater revelation.

    Thanks for starting a great discussion; I have learned a lot. I am going to store it all up for when I have teenagers.

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  29. My kids are still little and I was a teenager less than ten years ago, so my comments come from more of a teenager perspective than a parent perspective. I would say unequivocally that forcing a teenager to do anything is burning a bridge. Whether their decision making skills are good yet or not isn't really the point — the point is that they feel that they should be treated as adults and have control over their lives. If you reason with them and come to an agreement, that would be great, but force is going to make them hate you. Better to show understanding, let them know you love and support them, and offer advice. At this point all you can do is hope they respect you enough to listen to that advice.

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  30. And while suggestions to have family scripture study, prayer, and FHE are good ones, if it's a drastic and sudden change your teenager will know you're trying to make a project out of her and it will make her mad. Better to be gradual and work on building up a positive relationship in whatever way is most natural first.

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  31. I will add a second comment, also from our experience. Although my boys did stop coming to church around age 16 or 17, some of them also had adults at church who showed great personal interest in them and stayed in touch with them, even when they did not attend.

    Son #3, now 24, still has lunch with one of these adults (and his wife and kids) every time he comes home for a visit. Not attending does not mean the child's relationship with the church or its people needs to end. We were not so fortunate with all the boys, but some did have those lasting relationships that continue to bless their lives.

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  32. I was, no, AM a fringe girl. I like variety in the people I hang around with. I have more friends outside of the church than I do in it.

    I was just like your daughter, at least from the small glimpse you've given. Here's what helped me.

    My parents, Bless Them, realized early on that I was going to do what I was going to do, and there wasn't a lot they were gonna be able to do about it. I am super independent, always have been. They prayed a LOT for me, and led by example. I specifically remember my dad reading his scriptures at the table before he would head off to work.

    They didn't wake me up and force family prayers, or FHE, or scripture study. They let me be me. And it has made all the difference in our relationship, and my life. I am secure in my knowledge of who I am, and I know that even though my parents don't always agree with me decisions, they have my back. I can always go home.

    Whether or not she decides to be a member of the church, she is first and foremost your daughter, and she needs to know that she is more important than her choice of religion. Also, she could change her mind in 10 or 20, or even 30 years. But if you shut her out now, she won't have you to lean on when she does need that help.

    Save the relationship with your daughter.

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  33. You're right on the money with Relationship First. I love that Barbara Smith is your source–that's a new and clarity-making quote for me.

    Somewhere around your daughter's age, I told my Bishop I would attend the adult sunday school class rather than the one with my peers, or I wouldn't be coming anymore. I just didn't fit in. The rest of my teenage years I attended Gospel Doctrine with my Dad.

    Basically, I designed my own mormon version of the It Gets Better Project. For some of us less mainstream, being Mormon is just much easier with the latitude of an adult, than with the conformity of a teenager.

    I think of this, because it sounds like you want her to know, that she does have a place in the church, even if she doesn't seem to fit in *right now.*

    I've got two teen daughters in the YW program. I've done some negotiating and refitting and setting aside of assumptions.

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  34. And I whole-heartedly agree with Rob Osborn's comment. I will leave the church before I will threaten or bribe my sons to serve missions, or marry in the temple.

    I grew up being taught that I should look for a returned missionary, and ONLY a returned missionary, and get married in the temple, and everything would be wonderful.

    I did get married in the temple, but it wasn't to a returned missionary. And the man I married was more respectful to me while we were dating than any RM I had ever dated. Which is what won me over in the end and persuaded me to let go of the notion that I was doing something wrong if I married a NON RM. Best decision I ever made.

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  35. One thing that has not been mentioned yet in this conversation is the concept of covenant keeping. My children are still quite young, but when they allude to not going to church, I tell them that until they are 8 years old, their parents are responsible for all their spiritual development and they must attend church. When they are 8, they can decide if they want to covenant to going to church as a long-term commitment, partake of the sacrament, and keep the commandments. It becomes their choice. I seriously expect them to pray about it and make that commitment before they enter the water. Sometimes when my oldest son doesn't feel like going, I remind him of his own baptismal covenant and what he promised the Lord and tell him that in our family, we keep our promises, especially our covenants. He gets it. (I may be excessive, but I even do this with Scouts because he took the "Scout oath" and I don't think promises should be taken lightly.) Baptism was his own choice, and since they've been small, they've been taught to "finish their choice." I guess I'm saying that when teenagers are trying to "decide" to go to church or not, or to serve a mission, etc., I think it's enlightening to help them see that the decision was actually made long ago when they made personal covenants with their Heavenly Father. The real question is: Will they keep those covenants and reap the promised blessings?

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  36. I went through the same question with my teenage son and asked everyone (including the Bishop) what should I do?> The answer was and is the same… there is no right answer here. Loving them and making sure you love them regardless of their choices will help them understand more how their Heavenly Father loves them. Since my son pulled away from the church, my home had to be a spiritual haven, and I knew I had the added responsibility to make it so, since he wouldn't go to church to feel the spirit, I had to make the home more a place he knew the spirit dwelt. I also received a priesthood blessing that I will never forget. It said, be as patient with your son as your Heavenly Father is with you. wow… I love it still and am reminded of it often 🙂

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  37. Personal revelation exists for a reason, your answer is an individual one, but for the sake of discussion, here I go-

    My concern is that this is being looked at as a social issue, church is not only about socializing, it is about worshiping God and partaking of the sacrament.

    Recently I visited a branch where there is one YW, and her leader is a retired woman. Not socially exciting, yet this YW was happy to be at church. At some time we all are forced to make a decision if we will continue attending even if the sociality doesn't exist. This could be the time to teach this to your daughter instead of giving in to awkwardness. Teach her that she is strong enough to be her own person in any situation. It will prepare her for many situations later in life.

    A previous commenter mentioned parenting like God parents us. That means there would be a consequence to breaking the commandment to attend church (part of keeping the Sabbath day holy). If she doesn't go to church ask her to do the dishes or laundry with her free time while everyone else is at church. You don't have to be mean about it, just explain matter of factly.

    Of course I believe in love, but love means teaching right and wrong and providing training for life, like consequences. If she stays home be ready for other Sabbath day observances to go as well, it is a slippery slope when you begin making excuses to take the gospel "cafeteria style" as Elder Nelson put it.

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  38. I remember feeling similarly to your daughter. I disliked most of the other girls in YW, finding them alternately vapid or hypocritical (I went to one of those wards where they were sometimes nice to you on Sunday and snubbed you in the halls at school.)

    A few things kept me going, even when I didn't want to:

    1. The strength to voice my opinion in class or at an activity. I didn't have to just sit there and take it, I could present the alternate view point, the devil's advocate. I found the holes in the stories and inconsistencies in the messages. Now as an adult, I'm sure I DROVE my teachers UP A WALL, but feeling confident enough to say I didn't agree was a great help to keeping me there. Encourage your daughter to feel her voice is valuable, that church needs all people, that her opinions might help another girl, or change a leader's mind.

    (I remember telling my leaders that our activities were pointless: what was with all the crafting? That wasn't going to help us with our futures.)

    2. Learning that there is a difference between the gospel and the ward. It's a simple but valuable lesson that allows the water to roll off her back. We go to church because it's a personal commitment between us and the Lord. Other people are not the reason we're there (you know what I mean.) When I figured out that this was a personal decision and commitment, it made going easier to bear.

    3. Gospel discussion and scripture reading in our home. When I heard silly things at church I made a note to ask my parents. Ask her to take notes and bring you questions if you think that might help. Make it less a passive experience than a jumping off point for real discussion and scripture study. I rarely found the kind of stimulation and discussion my soul needed at church. It was either note and resolve the discrepancies, the doctrinal nonsense, or stop going. My parents were welcoming of my questions and helped me find true answers.

    4. Sometimes church is like school. We don't always like to go, but we need to. Valuable things are taught–including how to get along with people we don't like and who don't like us. It's a lesson we have to learn because it will happen again and again–college, work, neighbors. And, like Johnna said, it gets better. Sticking it out is hard, but I'm glad my parents persisted.

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  39. I don't have the answer for "go to church" or "not go to church", but perhaps there are others you know who are also NOT mainstream, like me, who could talk with your daughter. ? I have a hard time "fitting in" at church, but I love the gospel and I believe it. I gave the church a chance and I'm making the "fit" work. There are other who have made the same choice. It might be nice for your daughter to just talk it through with some of the non-mainstreamers. It's hard to make choices when your young and have no experience to draw on. Perhaps others can give her some of that insight.

    Best of luck. S

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  40. I was that child. I stopped going to church at around 12 years old. I definitely didn't fit in and I didn't like being there. My father was inactive and wouldn't allow my mother to make me go, which turned out to be a blessing. I had a testimony of the church all along, but I needed to know that truly belonging to the church was a choice I needed to make. I started to make that choice when I went to seminary, but it really changed when I began to attend another ward with my two best friends. I was able to choose going to church, and I have chosen it ever since (through a mission, temple marriage, and all kinds of crazy trials). As I've gotten older (especially now that I have a daughter of my own), I recognize how terrifying that must have been for my mom. However, it was just what I needed. If I had been forced, no matter what testimony I had, I would not have stayed. I'm just oppositionally defiant like that. I say let her choose, but pray, pray, PRAY that she will make the right choice. God sends all kinds of angels to save us. Save your relationship with your daughter and trust Him to send another angel to her.

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  41. Wonderful discussion! How I love Segullah! I have had a primary calling for 3 1/2 years, and Segullah helps fill that void of spiritual discussion that you just don't get teaching ages 3-11. My oldest is still young, he's 10, but he is a natural leader. There are 16 9 and 10 year-old boys in our ward. A grandma in our ward said to me that I needed to make sure my son gained his testimony because the rest of the boys will follow him wherever he goes. No pressure there! It is my deep desire too.

    Aside from the daily spiritual activities in the home, and filing this post away for future reference, I plan to travel to a third world country with my son before he turns 14 and go on a church history tour with him when he is 14.

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  42. I am in this same situation with you right now. I am struggling everyday to figure out the best way to handle an almost 14 year old who sounds like she is going through the same thing… She gets along okay with the girls at church, but she doesn't really care for them. She tells me church is boring. She tells me she "doesn't want to feel the spirit". That last sentence is the one that kills me because how can you then suggest a struggling teen to "pray about it" when her mind is already made up? She has told me that people think Mormon's are weird and she wants to be "normal".

    So I am lost. I AM praying like crazy, which I am sure you are, too. And today, when I was feeling really emotional about it all, I came here and found this post.

    Did it give me a clear answer? No.

    The link given to Elder Oaks says, "…wise parents condition some parental gifts on obedience". I have said to her, "Sometimes we do things because we are obedient."

    For me, I have decided to keep things the same, we expect her to go to church and church activities. I had already booked her into EFY before all of this came out. She has some other commitments (like girls camp) this summer. If after she attends all of these things and she is still unhappy and pushing back, we will revisit our expectations. But I haven't told her that.

    I still feel like it is my duty as her parent to teach her the things I know to be true. I have not been as faithful in some things in our home either and often beat myself up about it, but when it is my turn to be judged, I want to be able to say I did what I thought was right to save the 1.

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  43. I am late to this discussion, but I feel like one angle is being left out. A big reason for our wards and branch organizations is to teach us to serve others not like ourselves. I loved the story about Paul's bishop giving him the opportunity to serve. My own teenage and almost teenage daughters have been getting lessons in service lately because we have been driving several elderly members of our branch to church every week. The girls help with getting the canes and walkers in and out of the van, test icy sidewalks for dangerous spots, hold open doors and explain the talks lessons on the way home (one of our ladies is a little deaf). In return these ladies shower my girls with gratitude and love. The girls know they are needed at church–and not in a very traditional way. I hope this service blesses their lives.
    Your daughter seems very kind and a definite advocate for the underdog. I am sure your ward has other underdogs of many different ages. Maybe encouraging her to serve them would be a blessing for her.

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  44. This has been an interesting discussion to read, as I am someone who was raised in the church by very goodly parents, but in my early 20's after marrying in the temple, I chose to leave. (My husband & I both did, together) (Sorry, I know I shouldn’t be commenting here…don't censor me?). It was the most difficult choice I've ever made, but for one reason only: I knew how much heartbreak it would cause my parents. I have never been a rebellious type of child (the opposite really!). My sole reason for leaving was due to matters of doctrine and belief, & I was no longer able to attend church in good conscience. I like the Church, & appreciate having been raised in it…but staying was not an honest option. In the 2 years since I've left, I have never felt more true joy, peace, and confidence. However, the pain that my parents feel daily has been enormously sad. It's painful for me, but I have to hope that it will be worth it in the end. And you know, they have been so great, and kind, and loving. I can tell that my mom particularly is trying to 'save the relationship'. We talk on the phone often and are maintaining a good friendship. It gives me hope that things will always stay this way, or even improve. And I love her for it, more than ever before. I know she prays that I will come back to church someday, and while I quietly & personally know that will never happen, I support her prayers for me because in doing so, she feels better- less helpless. I think prayers for children who don't go to church may very well be useful IF they're not going due to rebellion, laziness, guilt, lack of friendships, etc. But unfortunately, if they’re not going because they no longer believe in it (for legitimate reasons), it's much less likely they'll come back, no matter how many sincere prayers are poured out.

    But I am very happy to read that so many women recognize the importance of placing the relationship with their child over the child's relationship with the Church. Just keep loving them as you do your other children. (Seriously, no differently.) Then, even if they don't come back to church, eventually everyone will see past personal beliefs and things will just be good. Normal. Joyful, even! And most importantly, families are forever- no matter what. I will always believe that. So it would make sense that family should always be placed above the Church. Like someone else commented, there are no wards or stakes in heaven.

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  45. I hope this discussion was helpful to you! I so appreciate the insightful women who post here. Thanks for bringing up such a difficult topic.

    Ultimately, I do believe it is a matter of prayer and personal revelation.

    My 2 cents experience:

    1. I grew up in the church and had a terrible time with the girls, especially in YW's. I had great nonmember friends but was a "target" of the girls at church. The leaders were not much help to me and I went to RS early. I also went to Gospel Doctrine off and on in high school rather than to my own class. I went to church because I loved the Lord, NOT because I loved the ward.

    2. My second daughter has had some bad experiences at Activity Days over the last couple of months. Of all of my children, I think she is most likely to use her agency in all things in her own way. I have set the expectation that we attend church each Sunday to renew our covenants and worship and we will all attend as a family. However, I will never force my children to attend other church activities. She has continued to attend Activity Days, but each time, I have told her about the activity and then reminded her that she can choose whether or not to go in, though I will be driving there either way as I have another daughter and a girl her age that I take. To be honest, I've been surprised that she's kept going! I don't know that she always will.

    At this stage, with my oldest being 10, I believe we will continue to expect that attending each week is what we do in our family, even if our children choose to attend class with me at some point to escape their peers.

    However, I also know that what works with most kids doesn't work with all kids, and that is why relying on the spirit is the most important thing a mom can do.

    Best of luck to you.

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  46. The reality is that the traditional Mormon pattern is not that popular with our youth. In my stake, it was shared by our Stake President that he estimated nearly 2/3rd of all kids who are active at 12-13 are no longer active by 18.

    That is an awfully high rejection rate.

    Why does it happen?

    My sense is several factors. First, normal teenage rebellion. Second, Church leadership is made up of "old guys". Third, the Church comes off as rigid and un-modern.

    Simply making kids attend doesn't overcome the fact that many teens simply don't like the modern LDS church or its culture.

    That is worthy of some self-examination.

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  47. There is a wonderful article by Orson Scott Card http://www.mormontimes.com/article/19921/Holding-on-to-the-others. It's his own account of growing up feeling different. I wish I had read it years ago. Our youngest son is inactive and has been since he was a senior in high school. It nearly killed us but he married a beautiful, lovely, wonderful non-member girl and we have worked hard to preserve the relationship. It is worth the effort – hard but worth it!

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  48. After watching what my husband's family has been through, I would save the relationship.

    My mother-in-law was/is overbearing about the church. Out of her five children, three attend and one of those three, my husband doesn't really know what he believes anymore. When they were young, instead of introducing her three sons as their names, she introduced them as "Missionaries one, two and three." When my oldest daughter tells her anything about friends the first question out of her mouth is "Are they LDS?" They could be a Nobel Prize winner but if they aren't LDS, they have no worth. Her fully faithful son she says "isn't worthy of his priesthood because he doesn't honor me." It's all very forced.

    While my husband isn't my child, it is a similar situation of sorts. I have seen what force and coercion does within the family relationship in regards to the church. When it comes to issues in the church, I am constantly asking myself "Is this a hill I am willing to die on?" I have tried it MIL's way and my husband stopped comming. I tried it my way and guess who is sitting beside me holding my hand every week.

    My views have changed in regards to what an eternal family is. It's a family who loves and cares about each others well-being above anything else. It's accepting those we love even if their beliefs vary from our own.

    I used to be embarassed about my husbands fall from faith. That people would think he wasn't living the commandments because we are trained that if someone falls from faith it's because they are sinning, right? Wrong. It was a real and honest fall from faith because his entire life he had lived in fear, shame and guilt. Fear of what would happen if he said he didn't know if he believed. Shame for not being strong enough to believe and guilt for letting everyone down.

    I'm not naive enough to think that all of my children will remain faithful in the church. That they will find their own path. While I bear my testimony to them over things I know to be true and I try to be a fervent example to them, I also know that their father doesn't share that same faith. They may choose either way. Regardless of what path they choose, I will be proud of them. I will be proud of their courage, their kindness, their hope, their imagination and everything else they are.

    Above all else, they are my children. They are a part of me and I will be proud of them no matter what decisions they make. Unconditional love means just that…no conditions.

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  49. Growing up I never thought there was an option of not going to church. My parents were not forceful but there was an expectation that on Sunday we went to church. As YW Pres I do see many of the young woman choosing not to come and the parents allowing this. As a leader I want to sometimes yell at the parents to stop being a friend and be a parent, and I often find myself seeking forgiveness for feeling this anger.
    I have found that those girls who do Personal Progress (even if they do not come to church often)when they do come they share thier testimonies and are willing to be involved. PP is truly a wonderful program and it allows the Young Woman to become the person SHE wants to become. Perhaps if you and your daughter were to work on PP and tailer it to her needs it may open a door for her to feel more comfortable at church and with herself.
    (it is also online now and it is very simple to use) I always felt that I wasn't the in the "norm" but by understanding the love Christ has for me it allowed me to seperate "church" from gospel and was able to enjoy the lessons that I learned.

    p.s. Girls camp is coming up, encourage her to go and perhaps you could be an assistant camp director?

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  50. I think we need to be careful of judging those youth who aren't attending on Sunday. Those parents and those YW may be dealing with things they are choosing not to share. To assume that they are being the friend and not the parent is entering dangerous territory. The one thing I have learned is that there is more than one way to parent and each parent knows their child and what they are and aren't capable of doing. I had one friend who was molested by a leader and while her parents still attended, she would have panic attacks just walking in the door. Is their choice to allow her to stay home being a friend or protecting their daughter? While their situation is probably the exception and not the rule, we still need to be careful.

    From what I remember, Christ was sent here to teach us the truth and allow us our agency so that we would choose to return to him. The plan of force was rejected.

    While I will always set the example and attend every week and I will get my girls ready and bring them with me, I will also allow them to gain a testimony for themselves and not force it on them. I see firsthand what force does. How much it hurts. If they are to have a testimony of the Gospel, it won't be through shame, fear, guilt or force.

    My mom had a saying that she repeated to us frequently growing up. "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar." If I make church a sweet experience, a lovely experience chances are they will be happier attending. If I show them the good I have gleened from my lessons…the strength I have gained from following Christ…the happiness I feel when I attend, they will see that. They will remember that. But, if I put conditions on my love for them, they will remember that more.

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  51. I struggled with the church when I was a teenager. I should say that I am a lesbian and my sexuality played a part in my issues with the church.

    I didn't want to go to classes on Sunday because in YW there were no other girls my age. So it literally was me hanging out with three 'old' women. Sunday school was a group of boys who preferred staring out the window/drawing cartoons instead of listening/discussing/learning. I was the only one who answered questions because I was the only one studying the scriptures and trying to find answers. I hated the hypocrisy of these boys too, boys I knew were doing unfaithful activities during the week and then had the audacity to serve the sacrament.

    I remember one Girls Camp testimony meeting when I had to confess that I couldn't feel god. I couldn't feel anything, I felt that he'd abandoned me. I wanted to love god, I wanted to be a part of the church and the wider community. Desperately.

    I turned to prayer, I turned to study. When I told my Mom that I maybe didn't think the Book of Mormon was true, she said, 'Why don't you just stab me in the heart' and left the room in tears. I didn't want to hurt my parents, so I stopped talking to them about difficult topics. I tried my hardest to protect them from this awful person I'd become. I didn't deserve to be a part of my family, I was so broken. I tried to kill myself several times and struggled with depression.

    My parents and I argued regularly about my church attendance. They said if I didn't go to church, I couldn't use the computer during the following week. I called that blackmail. It turned out though, that my parents felt my job was a valid excuse for missing church. So I'd trade shifts with colleagues to work on Sundays. This way, I didn't hurt my parents and I didn't have to go to church.

    I moved half way around the world when I turned 18, the distance did a lot to repair our relationship. Last year, I had some therapy and I was finally able to ask my parents point blank if they loved the church more than me [as I'd believe for the last 15 years]. Of course the answer was no, but being able to hear it changed everything for me.

    I am an atheist now, but I have a great deal of respect for the church and the members who practice faithfully. Less judgement on church attendance could go a long way to helping these children stay involved.

    To answer the original question though, don't force her to go. Ask her to study the scriptures with you and your husband. Pray together. Share your faith with her regularly. Express that you love her no matter what she decides to believe. Be her Mommy, forever without condition.

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  52. I'm not a parent to teenagers (yet), but I've spent a fair amount of time working with youth through different callings. So, for what it's worth, here are two thoughts I've had over the last couple of days.

    1) Preach My Gospel is your new manual. I think that the choice between "making a deal" and letting her choose to not attend is a false dichotomy. She does not have a testimony. How do you go about giving her one? You don't, because it's not in your power to do so. But Preach My Gospel teaches the keys of how a person gains a testimony, and provides some guidance to those who are there to help others along that path (i.e. you). I'm not saying that you need to sit down and teach her the lessons–you've been doing that already. The lessons comprise only one chapter of Preach My Gospel. Seek out the parts that will best apply to your daughter and yourself.

    2) Develop a good relationship with her youth leaders. You have an entire ecosystem of support in the form of your ward council, but particularly with the Young Women's president and the counselor/advisors who work directly with your daughter. They are called and set apart specifically to be a support to you.

    From a parent's perspective, you can influence the kinds of activities that are prepared for the youth. You can help the leaders understand how they can best involve your daughter, and how they can encourage her peers to be a better friend.

    From a leader's perspective, it is exceptionally difficult to help a less active youth when the parents do not communicate with you. You want to help, but have no way of knowing the best way to do so. I have seen leaders become very frustrated, not knowing why a youth is staying home, and seeing their attempts to bring them out fail. If your youth leaders feel involved with your daughter, even if it's only because they have a greater understanding and "first hand knowledge" of her situation, it will benefit all of you tremendously.

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  53. Perhaps this analogy isn't the best, but what would happen if your 15 year old daughter suddenly decided she didn't want to go to school anymore? Would you decide "the relationship is more important than her attending," "it's her agency," and "forcing never helped anyone," or would you intervene and do whatever it took to help her understand the long-term consequences of dropping out of school? Would you just give up if she continued to dig in her heels about it or would you really work and pray and figure something out to help her get to school every day?

    Just throwing that out there.

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  54. This has been a great Parenting 501 discussion. 🙂 Even though, as some said, this is a very personal issue and answers will be individual, I think sharing each others' wisdom and Gospel learning is part of how we "study it out in [our] mind[s]."

    It's interesting how many here did have periods of rebelliousness or were the "difficult" kid in our youth. There's a TED talk that talks about how it turns out that people are much more motivated by "autonomy, mastery, and purpose" than by being paid more, and as I look back at the things I was very motivated in as a young woman (and, in fact, the things that motivate me now) they were things where I felt a lot of autonomy. My parents stopped coming to church for a while in my early teens (because of depression/stress rather than lack of testimony) and I kept going on my own, at least to Sacrament meeting. I think I skipped Young Women for a while, and even when I went back I think I always felt that it was more optional than renewing my baptism covenant was–and, to be honest, even now I don't think I gained a lot from Young Women, other than some strong opinions about what I would do differently as a leader. And not coincidentally, of several girls who were in my ward throughout my teen years, I was the only one to have continuous church activity through young adulthood, the only one to serve a mission, only one to be married in the temple the first go-round. (Some have since been sealed and/or returned to church activity.) As others have said, that all comes back to the fact that I hadn't been forced, but *had* been encouraged to, and had taken the opportunity to, develop my own testimony.

    Even though I value the autonomy I felt, I wouldn't deliberately give my kids the same challenges that gave me that autonomy. It's so tricky to honor agency while still setting a good example and precedent and having high expectations–which is why I've appreciated all the thoughtful comments here so much.

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  55. Something that helped my developing testimony (and that still steadies me today) was seeing how important the gospel and service in the church was to my parents. I remember my mother listening to General Conference tapes while she cleaned the house. I don't recall her ever saying anything about it to any of the rest of us but just her example of doing that (without expecting the rest of us to do it along with her) was immensely strengthening to me.

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  56. Having been raised by parents who forced church on us, to the point that they would label us "apostate" if we didn't want to go to a youth fireside, I stopped rebelling about church and instead rebelled in every other way I could think of. Our relationship has been permanently destroyed (although the church thing in truth was not the main cause). After reading some of these responses I am left with one huge question: why are parents so threatened when their child chooses something else? This is true of so many things, although religion seems the hot button.

    I am now a mother, and an active member despite my past. My oldest is only six, but I have already decided that if we reach this point with him, I will let him stay home. I won't forget about him or stop trying to teach him of the Gospel, but turning church into a battleground is not going to make him love it. It will only make it remind him of a terrible war between us. My hope is that if he sees what his father and I gain from our faith, he will want it, too.

    But if he chooses a different path? Well, he's still my son. Always and forever. That is the message I want him to learn – that no matter what, I will be in his corner. In the end, I cannot force him to be anything. He has to decide that for himself. And if I have done all I can to teach him the difference between right and wrong, I have done my job.

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  57. I'm late commenting, but just wanted to voice a couple of thoughts that have been brewing since yesterday.

    I agree with many of the commenters who have said that as your daughter's mother, you are entitled to inspiration on her behalf. You can gather all kinds of advice, but in the end you and your husband have the right and the responsibility to decide what is best for your daughter in this case. Sometimes it's hard to discern that inspiration, but I do believe the Lord will bless and guide us as we turn to Him for help, especially when it comes to raising our children. Increased temple attendance, scripture study, and fasting will all help in this area. Somehow, as we consecrate ourselves to the Lord, it blesses our children as well.

    Providing opportunities for your daughter to gain a testimony will also help, if she is open to that. The more opportunities she has to feel the Spirit, the better. Family prayer, scripture study, gospel discussions, priesthood blessings can all be helpful.

    I also echo those who have said to approach this lovingly, with a desire to understand your daughter's feelings and an effort to validate those feelings. I haven't been in this situation, so I hesitate to say what I would do, but I *think* I would still have the expectation that she go to church. She is 15, still young enough to abide by certain family rules, and you could frame it the way some other commenters have suggested—in our family we keep covenants, so we go to church; we go to church to worship and renew our covenants, because of our relationship with God, not because of our relationship with others, etc. Counseling together with her, asking her to help come up with solutions within the boundaries of still attending church that will give her some flexibility (and you've received many of those in this thread) will help her feel more empowered. Above all, yes, she needs to feel loved and understood, and needs to feel that you are setting certain standards out of love and your desire for her ultimate happiness and wellbeing, not out of the desire to force.

    And yes, I echo Matt, who advised that you seek the help of her leaders, teachers, and bishop. They want to help her, as well. I would use as many resources available to me as possible.

    But in the end, it comes down to prayer, to your own individual right to receive inspiration as you parent your children. Heavenly Father loves and knows your daughter and knows what she needs in order to progress spiritually. He will help you figure out what that is. And, like Emily, I believe one day your children will rise up and call you blessed.

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  58. In response to the comment in which this question was asked

    "I am left with one huge question: why are parents so threatened when their child chooses something else?"

    If the something else were a different career, style of dress, or whatever, that would make no difference to me.
    But we are dealing with a gospel which makes promises to us that are of an eternal nature. And my fear is that in choosing "something else" they will be losing out on opportunities, blessings, and growth. Yes, as a church, we believe that you can come back. But I worry about all that is lost in those years of being away.

    As a parent I want my child to have the foundation of the gospel to support them throughout their lives. I want them to be able to lean on their testimonies when the fires of adversity burn up dreams, hopes, and desires. I want them to feel the peace of Spirit as they face loss and pain.

    I'm not a person who thinks your life is easier if you are a member of the church. But I do think that having a testimony of Jesus Christ and the restored gospel gives you the strength to shoulder the heaviest burdens that this mortal existence hands to us.

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  59. Back to the OP. Thanks for the thought-provoking question. I think your daughter is very lucky to have you as her mother.
    Raising kids is hard, isn't it? I think you'll have the strength and guidance to do what is right.

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  60. Your daughter is not rebellious, cares about the disenfranchised, and from your description is a fine person. Mormon missions are based on the precept that people change religions. It just might be that your daughter has already made the decision to not be the same religion that you, her mother, is. She'll get to decide, eventually, whether you like it or not. I think there is a good chance that she already has.

    If you get visibly more religious (going to the temple more often, fasting, praying, esp, in a way that lets the daughter know that you're doing it to save her from herself), you will just be telling her, over and over and over again, through your actions, that she is a terrible disappointment, and that she isn't good enough for you. This could well have serious ramifications in her future life, assuming you care even a bit about whatever non-Mormon future she might have. Your writing this particular post is proof that you feel she is a complete failure as a daughter right now. If that's what you want, either a Mormon or a destroyed daughter that you can use as an example, then go for it.

    If you want a semblance of a real relationship with your perfectly fine daughter, I'd suggest you actually accept her for who she is. Without all the religiously-tinted sturm und drang.

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  61. Sorry that this sounds so harsh, but I was your daughter, and I ended up without a relationship with my family even though my "rebellion" consisted entirely of not believing. It sucks, and I'd just as soon that it didn't happen to someone else.

    Most of the advice you received sounds to me like it would just reinforce to your daughter that you don't care about her.

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  62. Ada, your personal attacks in #63 are unacceptable for this blog, even mitigated by your half-apology in #64. I refer you to our comment policy:

    2. No insults. Critiques should address the argument, not the person.

    Nowhere in the original post do I get any kind of sense that the author feels her daughter is "a complete failure." The essence of the post is a need to preserve that relationship. You seem to be projecting your personal biases on the author's loving desire to find the best course for her family and her daughter. We welcome commenters who dissent and provide discussion, assuming they do so with respect, as other former LDS members have done on this thread.

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  63. Great discussion. Great because there are a lot of different, but still "right" answers. Every child is different so there is no one right answer.

    My two cents. I agree with most everyone else. Save the relationship. But at 12 she is still to young to be making her own decisions on these things. You might say that there are some things that you just do in your family, going to school, church, etc. School is a little easier because you have a few more options, such as changing schools or homeschooling. I like the commenter that said to look for other options to make church more enjoyable, such as attending a different class. Ideally one goes to all the correct meetings, but if it means saving the relationship, it would be better to attend a different ward, just attend sacrament meeting, attend a different class, etc.

    Good Luck!

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  64. Thank you to every response made on this post. I have felt many of the comments very deeply and appreciate that the overwhelming advice is to love my daughter and trust in God. I am reminded that while I am concerned about her 'journey' I am also on my own and have things to learn about her, myself, and my Father in Heaven. I need to be less fearful about where that learning will take ME. Thank you all so much for participating in his learning experience for me. I now know why Segullah came to mind when I wondered where I could go to for help in thinking about all the aspects of this situation. Thank you, thank you.

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