Recently a Kitchen Kop reader asked:
Do you have any advice on how to raise kids to be committed Christians? I grew up Catholic, but apart from going to church and religion classes my parents didn’t make any efforts in this area, so I’m completely blanked out on what other parents do to bring up their kids in faith…
For Kent and I, this is our number one goal as parents, to raise kids who love Jesus so they can know Him and be used by Him to help others in this world, and so we can all be together in the next. I just don’t see how anything else matches this goal when you think of eternity. (We’re all going to spend eternity somewhere. Not sure about this? Read my Christianity FAQ’s here.)
Some say they want to raise good people. Of course we all want our kids to grow up to be kind, generous people, but what is “good” and where does that standard come from? That’s too wishy-washy and too susceptible to whatever the culture tells us is right, or to whatever a person desires at each moment. We all know how easy it is to convince ourselves that something is “the right thing” when we really want it to be so. Instead we want them to be good for a higher purpose and to stand on Someone who is unchanging. (Read my new post with more about this: Why I Don’t Want Our Kids to Grow Up to Be Good People.)
What’s the answer for how to raise kids to be committed Christians?
I’ll tell you right now that I don’t know for sure and it’ll be a long time — until our kids are much older — before we’ll know if we did enough to set them on the right track. Some days I get discouraged and really wonder if how we’re trying to raise them will even matter. Is the anti-Christian/too-comfortable culture we live in just too powerful? And it seems to be more and more difficult in our crazy world — how many parents have seemingly “done everything right” and still their kids turn away from God? (How heartbreaking that would be… But God’s mercy is huge and He’s so patient with us!) Other parents offer their kids nothing but a life of dysfunction, yet they end up solid Christians with a heart for Jesus and a desire to serve others. We just never know where God’s grace will take us, I didn’t really start getting to know Him more myself until I was 27 years old. There’s no secret formula or guarantee, but God is MORE powerful than anything the world can throw at us, so Kent and I keep trusting in Him, knowing that He wants our kids to know Him even more than we do.
We’re all only human and none of us parent perfectly
As you read through the following ideas and suggestions, don’t think for a minute that our home is any different than yours, things are certainly not all sparkly around here at every moment, not even close. It’s a struggle here, too, parenting is not easy, especially when your kids become adults! All we can do is all we can do.
Here are a few random thoughts that come to mind, and I hope you’ll share YOUR tips in the comments…
- First of all, many of us probably grew up in homes similar to ones the reader described, whether it was a Protestant Christian home, a Catholic Christian home, or maybe a home with no faith at all. It’s easy to just go along in our busy-but-lukewarm lives — and even more so in our culture where a lot of us have it pretty easy. (Easy lives generally do not produce a strong faith unless you’re really striving, and even then it’s tough.)
- Obviously, you need to LIVE IT yourself. Our Pastor, Father Tony, often quotes Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary use words.” Don’t just go through the motions, truly seek to follow Him with your whole life and your whole heart. If you want that, but just don’t know how to get there, click to read this.
- When you screw up, make it right as soon as possible. We all mess up because let’s face it, each stage of raising kids can be a lot of fun, but also can be really tough at times. Toddlers and teenagers come to mind! When I blow up and yell or say something I shouldn’t have, I try to apologize quickly, say a prayer asking God to forgive me and help me do better from now on, and let it go. If the kids are misbehaving I’ll let them cool off and then go to them with a lighthearted nudge… “Is there anything you want to say to your Mom by any chance… Anything at all???” When they say sorry, even if it’s a lame apology with no sincerity (because let’s face it, sincere apologies usually take maturity, which they don’t have yet), I’ll say, “I forgive you” and also apologize for my part and give them a hug. IF they’ll let me, because teenage boys often won’t. 🙂
- When they’re young, and so open as most little kids are, use that time to reach their hearts! We listened to Jesus songs, prayed together, volunteered to feed the poor or pray for the unborn, went to summer vacation bible school, read lots of bible stories, and had great talks — we still do most of these, but as they grow older, and go through that stage where they think they’re soooo much smarter than us and don’t need God, we back off a bit. (I think most kids go through this, if yours doesn’t or didn’t, BE THANKFUL!) If they say something about Christianity or Catholic teaching that’s flat out wrong, we’ll make sure to correct them, calmly and in one sentence, but that’s it. Beating them over the head with long, painful theological conversations will only ensure that they won’t open up that way again. When they seem open and want to have a real conversation, do so calmly and with love, but not judgmentally. (Be sure you read up and are educated about Church teaching and the bible so you can have these conversations.) Don’t cram anything down their throats or of course they’ll only push back, it’s human nature, especially for teens!
- When you get some bad news or good news, pray out loud right away, let the kids hear you crying out to Him in thankfulness or begging Him to intercede for someone who is hurting. If this doesn’t come natural to you, just start. It takes practice.
- Listening to Christian music helps me grow in my faith, even when running errands, and it’s good for the kids to hear these lyrics as much as possible, instead of the ones in mainstream music. There are SO many different types of Christian music, from the more traditional fuddy-duddy stuff (not my fav), to more upbeat stuff like one of the kids’ and my favorites: Toby Mac. 🙂 Sometimes our youngest will ask questions about what he hears and we’ll have great conversations. If I hear a lyric that moves me, I’ll ask them questions to get them thinking. For example, earlier today in the car I asked, “What do you think that means, when he said ‘Forgive us Lord for seeking your hand more than your face?'” After letting him chew on it a while and sharing his thoughts, I explained that in other words, we need to ask His forgiveness for always wanting something more from Him instead of just wanting to be closer TO Him. (Note that when they’re teens, they’ll often want to switch it to a mainstream station and I don’t make a big deal of it, those are the songs they hear their friends playing after all, but usually I’ll end up casually flipping it back at the commercial, lol.)
- Only put up boundaries where absolutely necessary to keep them safe, but don’t be so rigid and controlling that they can’t be their own person either — use common sense, and pick your battles. Going to Mass and being a part of the Sacraments is a non-negotiable for us. We are firm and matter-of-fact with them and make it clear: “While you’re living here, you’ll go to Church with us.” For us, it’s best when this comes from Kent, but either way, it’s really important that you stand together on the big issues like this. However, if they don’t want to listen to your Christian music or watch movies like Woodlawn with you (as awesome as it is!), sometimes you’ll need to just let it go. Discuss with your spouse, or someone you trust, which areas you DO need to be firm on, all the while remembering that the point is to preserve the relationship so they’ll WANT to be around you later when they’re adults, and so they’ll respect you enough to maybe, hopefully, give your faith another look if they’ve fallen away. This doesn’t mean trying to be their “best bud” when they’re young and pleasing them all the time, of course there are times we must put our foot down as parents and they won’t like you, and there may even be some ugly blow-ups (I hate those), but just make SURE that you are fair and that you use common sense. Only get really firm when absolutely necessary. If you do this, then as they mature they’ll see that you were trying to do what was best and will respect you. (You have to stand for some things, but you don’t need to take a stand on all things, all the time.)
- What if they absolutely refuse to go along with your non-negotiable? Try not to lose your temper, but that’s not easy! First, talk again with your spouse or someone you trust and be sure that you’re being fair and hearing them out. My girlfriends or sisters and I often bounce these things off each other and you can get a new perspective that way. If you’ve tried to talk with them about it and they still aren’t coming around, and aren’t getting it that when there’s a disagreement the parent has the final say, well, we really can’t physically force them to follow our rules, and that drives us crazy as parents, right?! However, best is when we just calmly say, “Okay, well that’s your choice, but you’ll have a consequence you won’t like.” It really is their choice when they’re almost full-grown and they refuse to follow our rules, but we DO have a choice on how big their consequence is! Try to pray first about what is the best consequence to help them understand. As much as you’ll want to make it hurt (!!!), remember that the goal is turning them into solid people on the other side. Again, be fair, and definitely don’t choose consequences like making them read the bible or something similar! Would you ever want to pick up a bible again if it was used as a punishment on you?!!! Thankfully we haven’t had any big issues with our kids (yet?!), and so far just taking away their phones for a few days or giving them extra chores does the trick. It’s amazing how pleasant they become again in a short time. 🙂 Maybe you, however, have had some pretty big hurdles with your kids, and if so, I feel for you because again, parenting is SO difficult at times! Either way, we need to be flooding heaven with prayers for our kids and for clear direction from Him.
- Trust them unless they give you reason not to, and if they DO mess up, forgive and give them a new chance. Don’t always assume they’re doing wrong, because either way, they will live up to your assessment of their character. You don’t want them to think, “Well, they’re convinced I’m doing wrong, so I guess I may as well…” If you see that they are consistently not making good choices, let them face the natural consequences (don’t always bail them out, as tough as this is!), and then let that be it; make sure they know how much you love them, that we all mess up, and don’t keep holding it over their heads or add more and more punishment at home. Obviously if your child is generally a pretty great kid who just made a mistake, they’ll need a different response and discipline than those kids who are messing up over and over.
- Let them know they can trust YOU — keep their secrets. If kids can’t trust you, as the main authority in their lives, they’ll have a hard time trusting God. If you’ve failed at this (or with any of these), ask them to forgive you and tell them things will be different moving forward. Keep in mind, you know how you have friends in your own life who you know you can trust, because they don’t share other’s secrets with you, so you know they won’t blab your secrets to others? Well kids hear us talking to friends, and if we are over-sharing or gossiping, they’re not going to feel comfortable opening up. (I don’t blame them, it’s important to model integrity in all areas of our lives.)
- This is huge: Show them respect and start to treat them as adults as they become older teens, whether it’s giving them more responsibility or in other ways. Unless someone feels respected, they won’t care what you think about anything, whether it’s your faith or any issue at all. Here’s a really small example, but I have a feeling it meant a lot to our boys as they got older (or maybe they didn’t even notice?!)… When leaving the pew during Mass to go up for Holy Communion, Kent always lets me and the kids out ahead of him, which I love and think all men should do, it’s like holding a door for women. I’m sure his Dad did the same thing. When the kids are younger, I also let them out ahead of me so we can both keep our eyes on them. As our sons grew and became almost as tall as I am, I’d nonchalantly move forward as we moved out of the pew so they’d end up behind me. I never said anything, it was just an unspoken way to show that I know they’re becoming men.
- Remember to LAUGH as a family, have fun together, don’t let everything get too heavy around home. Life is heavy enough at times, we want home to be a safe, happy place, and we certainly don’t want them to think that living a solid Christian life is dry and boring. Show by your example that serving God and helping others is awesome. Sometimes when I feel that we’re slipping into negative attitudes around the house or I hear myself nagging on them too much to finish their school stuff or their chores or whatever, I have to remind myself to just stop. No one wants to be around that all of the time. (Yes, they have to get their work done, but when I realize I’ve been repeating myself, I’ll finally just say, “Okay, not saying it again, if this isn’t done by _____, then _____.” It gets old always needing a consequence to get them moving, but often that’s what it takes. Have I mentioned… Parenting is not easy!)
- Do your best to surround them with Christian friends. This isn’t always easy, depending on their personalities, just do the best you can. If you have “youth group kids”, be sure to get them connected in a church you trust, but our first three aren’t those type of kids, they’re just more shy, and not comfortable in those situations. (Our youngest loves youth group though!). We don’t think forcing them is always the answer, maybe it is sometimes, but this is another one you need to take to prayer to know when to push something and when to let it go — each situation is different. Some kids who are never pushed still may not come to a deep faith. Others were pushed, and they’re on fire.
- USE the great resources available out there. As Catholic Christians, we are blessed because SO many amazing materials are available now to help us live the faith and bring our kids along. (For many years it was like a dry desert!) Here are a few of our current favorites and where we allot part of our tithe money to help support these ministries, they’re that good: Dynamic Catholic, Real Life Catholic, and Ascension Presents videos with Father Mike. Our church is using many of these materials for Sacramental programs now as well!
- Remember how important Dad’s are… Recently on Catholic radio I heard about a study that said a faithful Dad makes the BIGGEST difference in a child’s faith as an adult, a Dad who the kids see by his actions that He loves God. This doesn’t mean a Dad who is just “going through the motions” or only going to church because Mom nags him to; for those kids, there was no difference at all. (It’s not that these kids have no hope of becoming committed Christian adults, it’s just that chances are a lot better if their Dad’s faith is strong.) Let them see you committing TIME in your life to God, so they know He is #1. (Make sure they know about your tithing too, so they know the importance of giving. Teach them to give 10%, and how much fun it is to help others in that way.)
- The biggest thing is to PRAY CONSTANTLY!!!! Ask Saint Monica and Saint Augustine to pray for your kids. Search online if you’re not familiar with their inspiring stories, or read one of my favorite books: Restless Flame. You could also get a book I pray from a lot: Praying the Bible for Your Children. Read more about that book here: Pray Big for Your Child. I mark each day I pray with the date so someday our kids will know how much they were lifted up. (Not to mention how much Kent prays for them too, obviously!)
- Be patient… This is one that I’m reminding myself of often nowadays. As kids grow I suppose it’s normal that many will have a time of “drifting away”, or at least where their faith seems weak. Oh how I pray this is only temporary and just the maturing process, or that it’s part of how they make the faith their own and not just something their parents make them do. I often cry out, “Lord I know you love them even more than we do, by Your grace open their hearts and bring them to conversion!“
- Now will you share YOUR advice with us?!
Writing out all of this makes me thankful for the good examples my own parents modeled in my life and the example Kent’s parents modeled for him. They weren’t perfect, and we won’t be either, but let’s all strive to grow and be better each day so when our kids are parents they can look back and say we were their good examples.
God bless us all on this journey!
More posts to check out:
- There are no guarantees with our kids, no matter how well we tried to raise them: What I’m Never Going to Tell You by Elizabeth Foss.
- If you’re into health and nutrition, check out my Kelly the Kitchen Kop blog. (Go here to get a free Real Food Ingredient Guide or click here to get my Real Food for Rookies book.)
- A Father’s Day Story – A man’s prayer to be a better leader in his home
- The best option I’ve found for keeping your kids safe online.
- Plugged-in Online – a great resource for families — I’m on here all the time to check out the latest books, movies, etc. Just tonight our daughter texted from her friend’s house asking if she could watch the movie, “The Fault in Our Stars”. I read about it there and said, “Nope, sorry.” (This depends on their age, obviously.)
- My Conversion Story and How Our Marriage was Healed
- Teaching our Children about Real Love
- Show your daughters (and sons) this video (about virtue and modesty)
- 31 Ways to Pray for Your Children
- 6 Ways to Keep Your Kids Prolife
- How to keep your kids Catholic in college from Patrick Madrid and another good article.