Intentional Parenting: Giving a Strong Spiritual Legacy
And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:6–7
Every parent thinks about how to pass on their values and their faith to their children. In the passage above, God Himself instructed and entrusted parents with this important role. There has been a lot of sociological research done in the last few decades on passing faith and values on to our children. Here are four principles distilled from this research.
The Legacy Principle
Too often, parents hope to “outsource” the spiritual formation of their children to the “trained professionals” at church. And while a good church is very important, the primary context in which faith is formed is not the church, but is in fact your own home. This means that passing a strong faith to our children begins by having a strong faith ourselves. This does not mean that we need to be perfect little Christians or that we need to pretend to be perfect Christians in front of our children. But if our own spiritual health and growth has been sidelined by other priorities in our lives, it is time to put it squarely and permanently into the center. We decide what our priorities are in this life; nobody decides that for us. Jesus Christ must be the center. Some of us need to break negative cycles that may have started with our own upbringing in order to launch a new, more healthy spiritual legacy for the next generation. Our God is the God of new beginnings, and he can give us the strength for a new start as we learn to trust and love him.
The Relationship Principle
The good news is this: in the context of healthy family relationships, children do tend to embrace the values of their parents. The age-old wisdom of Proverbs 22:6 tells us to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” While God gives each of us freedom to choose Him for ourselves, kids are far more likely to embrace their parents’ faith if they enjoy their parents’ company! That is a big part of the reason parents are warned not to “provoke your children to wrath” but rather to “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Bottom line—a strong relationship with mom and dad is key to a strong Christian faith. And relationships are built on presence. Be present with your children to build this relationship, even if it means you have to move heaven and earth at work to be at home more. For both mom and dad, it is possible to find quality time daily with your children. You don’t need to always talk about God or pray or have “spiritual conversations.” Those things are great in their place but so are light saber fights and tea parties. Do not underestimate the tremendous power of simply being together. It will communicate your love to your child more than anything else you can do for them.
The Lenses Principle
The Christian faith is more than a philosophical system or a religious preference. It is a worldview—that is, it is a certain way of seeing the world, of seeing reality. Our Christian lens allows us to see the Goodness, Beauty, and Truth in creation and in our culture and in other human beings that we could not see without it. Without our Christian lens, the world can seem scary, godless, and dangerous—especially to parents. It can seem like something to escape from, rather than something to give our lives for. However, our Christian worldview constantly impresses the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love into our vision of reality. And the greatest of these is love. As parents we must avoid the culture of fear, stress, busyness, and materialism that pervade the world around us. When faith, hope, and love define our vision of the world, living the Christian faith feels like an awesome and challenging adventure, rather than a boring set of old fashioned and outdated rules. This is the vision we must strive to give to our children. Christ gave his life for the love of the world, and we are called to do the same.
The Learning Principle
We must keep in mind that the Christian faith is much more “caught” than it is “taught.” However, there is real teaching involved. We need to vary our approach to teaching each child based upon his or her unique personality, learning style, and most importantly, stage of development. Children fall into one of three stages of development that should guide the methods we choose for discussing our faith and values at home.
The Imprint Period: (Toddler to about Age Five to Seven)
Small children are all ears. They will believe it because mom or dad said it, much like a baby gosling that imprints itself onto its mother and follows her wherever she leads. Young children soak in what we tell them, so this is an ideal season for teaching them basic Bible stories, memorization, and other building blocks of our faith.
The Impression Period (About Age Six to Eight to Early Teen/Puberty)
During this season, children no longer accept what we say at face value. They may question us, push back, or even argue. During this season, children do need to know what we believe. But they also need help understanding the rationale behind those beliefs. Although this period is more demanding for the parent, this is a positive part of a child’s faith development because it means they have grown past blind acceptance and are ready for deeper understanding.
The Coaching Period (Early Teen to Young Adult)
Our job changes when our kids enter the coaching period. We can motivate, encourage, challenge, and advise. We can’t force-feed. We can help them clearly articulate what they believe, challenge their thinking, and remind them of the “basics” learned during the “practices” of the imprint and impression years. We can provide a safe environment to wrestle with, even question, the values they’ve learned. Maintaining a strong relationship and frequent dialogue are the key to our influence during this period.
In light of these realities, we must remember that we will not be the perfect parents. We will need the forgiveness of God, our spouse, and our children as we go along. But the God who has the whole world in His hands, also holds our children close to His heart.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who settest the solitary in families: We commend to thy continual care the homes in which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee, every root of bitterness, the desire of vainglory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh. Turn the hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents; and so enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectioned one to another; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, 828
For the Care of Children
Almighty God, heavenly Father, you have blessed us with the joy and care of children: Give us calm strength and patient wisdom as we bring them up, that we may teach them to love whatever is just and true and good, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, 829
For Young Persons
God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world: Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance to learn true humility, without which they cannot see you. Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep alive their joy in your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, 829 with additions
- View other Bringing Faith Home resources
• Your Child’s Relationship With Christ
• Preparing For Adolescence
- Soul Searching: The Religious And Spiritual Lives Of American Teenagers By Christian Smith And Melinda Lundquist
This is a fascinating work of sociology articulating the spiritual climate of the average American teenager.
A highly respected organization teaching parents how to effectively discipline their children at any age. LoveAndLogic.com
- Raise Happy Children: Raise Them Saints! By Mary Ann Budnik
A step by step guide to developing your child’s character through the Sacraments.
- It Starts at Home By Kurt Bruner And Steve Stroope
This book helps parents understand the process of faith formation at home and has a practical plan for becoming intentional from an evangelical perspective.
- Parents’ Guide to the Spiritual Growth of Children By John Trent, Rick Osborne And Kurt Bruner
They offer a road map for parents to shape the faith of children under twelve years old.
- Parents’ Guide to the Spiritual Mentoring of Teens By Joe White And Jim Weidmann
This helps parents coach the faith formation of older children.
- Christian Fatherhood By Stephen Wood
This book is an invaluable tool which helps dads gain a Christian perspective on fatherhood.
This site provides resources to help parents instill faith in their children such as the Family Night Tool Chest series. HeritageBuilders.com
This is a site that offers ideas to create a Christian culture in your home. Domestic-Church.com
- Children & Family Ministry
Incarnation has a thriving Children & Family Ministry. There are many opportunities to connect with other parents and families in the same season of life as you. For more information, visit Children & Family Ministry.
- MOM’S TALK is a group of moms that meets every other week for study, support, and prayer. Go to incarnation.org/connect/community-life-groups for more information.
- Get Connected.
Join with other parents and families from our church who are meeting together to study and connect and pray. Go to the Growth Groups web page for more information.
- Get Involved.
Use your gifts! Take our Spiritual Gifts Assessment to discern ways to get plugged into the life of Incarnation.
- Serve the Poor Together.
Go to our local outreach page to find out how your gifts can change lives.
- Talk with a priest.
If you would like to talk about anything related to parenting and the spiritual formation of children, feel free to schedule a meeting with one of our clergy. Any of the priests on staff at Incarnation are happy to meet with you for direction, counsel, or simply just to talk. Email a priest to set up a meeting. Or call the parish office at 214-521-5101.