The Spiritual Element of Parenting

"The Spiritual Element of Parenting" - 2012/10/03 - KL pending

More questions from parents! I love taking a crack at answering these and love your comments. I hope these answers "make sense!"

What is your best advice to a mom who is the spiritual leader in the household but has a hubby who is not a believer? And she is trying to instill spiritual values in her children? 

Tough situation. I refer to people in your shoes as "spiritually single." I would encourage you just as I would any typical single parent. You must look for key people to invest in the spiritual formation of your children alongside you. This is one reason I constantly beat the drum of the need for a good church home (I did an entire radio program on it - click here). All parents need the help from fellow trusted members of a good church family. No parent is completely equipped for the training needs of their children. If your kids are young, you may have to do some of the leg work to help get these relationships established. If they are teenagers, you should encourage them to find a spiritual mentor. 

Warning: NEVER allow this issue to cast a negative shadow on Dad. Remember, Dad - even if he's an unbeliever - is still Dad. You never want to cultivate an attitude that Dad is less-than. God still uses unbelieving fathers to instill vital values into the lives of children. Often we see a spiritual hunger emerge through the process of raising kids from parents who never got that sort of thing growing up. If Dad is willing, I would encourage you to find a church that suits him; you would rather have your children see their dad go to a church he prefers vs never attend at all. As your kids get older, they may notice that Dad is disinterested in spiritual things. You as the mom and wife should coach your children to continue to honor their father - which is a command that God never repeals.

How do you co-parent w/someone who is difficult and has different views than you? 

Similar to the question above. The distinction here is when you get to key values that are essentials Biblically. You may be in a "co-parenting" situation where important truths like the nature God, the authenticity and dependability of the Bible, moral issues related to sexuality or the absolute sufficiency and exclusivity of Jesus as Savior and Lord, just to name a few. In these cases, do your best to broker a friendly difference of opinion. Creating a religious war in your home is not good. Always foster respectful disagreements and reiterate that no difference of belief will ever effect the love we have for one another.

What would you suggest for a parent of a very reluctant 9 year old boy that does not want to attend church and does not want to learn about Christ? 

I think you have a strong willed 9-year-old. Welcome to parenting! In all seriousness, these are difficulties many parents face. Consider it normal. At this age (9), he doesn't get a vote. There are some things that are decided by the parents FOR the children, and there is NO vote. I would agree you want to be careful shoving religion down your kids' throat. I would give a little space for your child to express his interest in other things without being too concerned. Little boys are interested in lots of things. My son is extremely interested in science, so we engage that. Remember, the parenting role is RELATIONAL first then it's educational. Too often Christian parents, motivated by their own faith in Christ, drive Christianity way too hard in their homes. They get resistance from their children because the proper relational infrastructure is lacking. Engage what your child IS interested in. It may still mean you drag him to church, but he will see that Mom and Dad do care about what he cares about. IN addition, one problem may be the church environment. I long for every child to be in the kinds of churches that are serious about engaging families. If the church you are in treats children like an afterthought - GET A NEW CHURCH.

What are some practical things to do to take a new Christian child from a young Christian to a teenager that has a strong identity in Christ?

Great question! Essentially you are asking how to disciple your child.  Again, as mentioned above, I see lots of eager parents unknowingly force Christian teaching on their kids at a time, in a way or at a pace inappropriate for the child. You really have to watch each child and allow their budding spiritual interest serve as the thermostat for how you approach this. Don't be surprised if one minute your child asks, "Why did Jesus die on the cross?" then the next minute asks, "Why to frogs eat flies?" Kids can bounce back and forth between seemingly unrelated topics effortlessly. They have not learned the tragic skill of compartmentalizing their lives fully yet. That's wonderful! So go with the flow. Also, remember that discipleship in its purest form is NOT compartmentalized. For a parent to disciple their child, they must not only teach the truths of God's word but how to tie shoes, how to handle money, how to behave in public places - ALL of it is discipleship. Many of the modern approaches to discipleship only cultivate a fragmented view of life. This will ultimately breed what Jesus called out in the Pharisees, "you honor me with your lips but your hearts are far from me." Specifically regarding spiritual development, just build in a few things: 1.) pray for your child and what he/she is facing today. 2) Read Bible stories to them - I recommend Giant Love (obviously) as well as the Action Bible and the Jesus Story Book Bible. 3) use your own life as the example. Share your successes and failures (when appropriate) to allow your children to see how you handle spiritual things in your own life. Beyond that, have tons of fun with your kids - keep building a great relationship.

How to change a child's perspective about themselves to line up with what God says about them? 

This question addresses a critical issue for our children as they grow up - their identity. This world will continuously present a false and damaging identity for our kids. If our kids are going to grow up with a healthy identity, one defined by God and not the world, we must start "early & often" to build that identity in them. Hear this loud and clear - keep the following worldly values in check: Prestige, Power and Performance. These are what I call "salt water values." The more our children drink in these values, the more thirsty they become. The bottom line is these values NEVER build a healthy and sustainable identity.  

Prestige: The quest for physical appearance and material items. Prestige is all about pleasing people. We must be careful that we don't add undue pressure to our kids to "look" a certain way. Particularly with young girls, this value is extremely dangerous. Likewise, with material things, we must be careful not to give our kids so much that they find their identity in having the biggest and best.

Power: The quest for wealth, education or superior status. Power is all about what you have in comparison to others. Comparison is a deadly trap. We must be careful not to instill a sense of "better than" in our children. This will come naturally but should be addressed. Power is very addictive and most people handle it poorly. We should model and expect our children to direct their sources of "power" toward serving and meeting needs more than getting ahead.

I hope these answers make sense. A child's spiritual health can be the cause of much of a parent's anguish over the years. Remember to love your child no matter what, and always remember to pray!

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Posted by Andy Savage at 1:45 PM
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