By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
BETTENDORF — Rosanne Pappas, a mother of four from Florida, strived to be the perfect “church lady.” When one of her sons stopped believing in God at age 16, she was angry. “It was messing up my image of myself. I had done everything right! “
At Lourdes Family Mission Feb. 25-27, Pappas explained how her son’s decision ended up changing her perspective on parenting from one of control and shaming to one of grace and understanding. Pappas, an artist and inspirational speaker, didn’t claim to be a parenting expert, just a Catholic mom hoping others might learn from her story.
Previous to her son’s revelation, Pappas said she believed that if she could exert some kind of control over her children’s decisions and actions, they would be shielded from harm. If they made a mistake, she took it personally. She would ask them questions like, “How could you do this to me?”
She saw her children as a reflection of herself and the “good church lady” persona. After her son became an atheist, she worried how others would perceive her. “I realize that though I want what is best for my children, I also want them to ‘live’ in a way that makes me feel good and look good. I want them to fulfill my plan for their lives,” she recalled thinking.
Pappas recalled a surprising revelation from her therapist: that her attitude could be contributing to her son’s desire to go a different religious route. This revelation made Pappas take a look at her philosophies on parenting and herself. “The problem is my attempt to control (my son) sends the message that I don’t believe he wants to choose good for himself. Further, control is impossible, unhealthy and actually self-centered rather than God centered, as it goes against God’s plan of free will.”
Many of the parents in attendance wondered if having a house of grace meant sacrificing boundaries and rules. Pappas assured them this wasn’t the case. “Rules are rules, but you can have grace for how they feel about what they’ve done. …You can take it from a general indictment to openness for discussion.” Doing this can help children self-correct.”If they are misbehaving, there is probably a reason. You can have conversations that will help them grow emotionally. (Mistakes) are an opportunity for them to know themselves and for me to get to know them, too.”
While Pappas said she still struggles to adopt this philosophy at times, she believes it contributed to her son’s re-conversion about eight months after he denounced God. Coming to faith on his own terms, in God’s timing, meant that her son could enter into a more authentic relationship with God. “He’s now a very religious young man.”
Christine Smith, a Lourdes parishioner, appreciated Pappas’ honesty and related to her story, as did many audience members. “She taught me a lot. I know the Holy Spirit is working through her.”