Helicopter parents. Tiger moms. Laissez faire parents. Free range parents. It seems like every time you look up, there is some new type of parenting. Most of these end up doing more harm than good for the long term development of kids.
Christian parenting is even more challenging. You are trying to help your kids develop not just appropriate behaviors, but to also have godly hearts. Who knows if the parenting flavor of the month can have any positive impact on spiritual parenting?
The good news is that there is a parenting style that helps children develop strong spiritual foundations and develop to their godly potential. There are no guarantees in life, but talk for a few minutes to parents whose kids have grown up to become strong, active Christians and you will definitely find almost all of these parents did the same things.
If we had to put a label on this type of parenting, I would call it “Spiritually Engaged Parenting”. These are parents who never forget their ultimate parenting goal – getting their kids to Heaven. It’s not just as simple as taking them to church on Sundays or making sure they are baptized. Those things are critically important, but here are some key additional things these parents do.
- Know their children’s current favorite things and dreams for the future. Kids change rapidly. The child who hated green beans yesterday, now loves them. The child who wanted to be a police person, now wants to be a doctor. Engaged parents know their kids well – really well. If you don’t know these basic, rather surface things about your children, you won’t know the deeper hidden things needed to be able to parent their hearts well.
- Know their children’s current worries and fears. These change rapidly, too. Worries and fears are a part of life and especially during certain parts of childhood. Listening and trying to understand the fears and worries of your children helps you see parts of their hearts. It increases your children’s trust of you as you treat their fears and worries with respect. It also gives you opportunities to teach them how God can help them through the tougher parts of life.
- Know their children’s friends – including their personalities and how they may influence your kids. It’s not just enough to know the names of some of your kids’ friends. These are people who will have a major impact on your kids. Your children don’t have enough life experience yet to separate safe friends from unsafe ones. You can’t help them learn these skills if you don’t know their friends. Whenever possible, it’s also important to get to know their parents too – especially if your child will be spending time in their home.
- Know the current questions their children have about God, the Bible, Christianity, etc. If you believe your children don’t have questions, think again. Kids and teens are often afraid to express their doubts or ask questions. Yet it’s not the doubts that will drive them from God. It’s the unaddressed doubts and unanswered questions that might. Satan will make sure they get ungodly answers if you don’t give them godly ones. You can’t answer unasked questions though. Encourage your kids to ask questions and express doubts to you.
- Know at least one gift God has given each of their children and helps them develop and use those gifts to serve God. God’s gifts can help your kids understand the purposes God has for them on earth and in the Church. They need your help though to find the gifts God has given them, find ways to develop them and then ways to use them to serve God. Be creative. Advocate for your child to serve in your congregation in ways that use their gifts as well as in the more common “chore” areas. Find ways for them to use those gifts to serve others and share their faith in your community, too.
- Spend time daily in meaningful conversations with each child. These conversations can be with one child or all of them together. You don’t have to preach sermons. Give and take conversations about life are often the best. Point out how you see God working or a godly principle or command – anything to help them grow a bit spiritually. Even correction can be meaningful if done well.
- Spend time together daily in scripture. Family devotionals. Bible reading time. Telling Bible stories or quoting scriptures. The time can be more formal or totally casual in the car. Your kids must know what’s in the Bible in order to do what God wants them to do.
- Spend time helping their children understand the connections between the Bible and real life. What does it look like in their world to be kind or honest or loving? What does God want them to learn from that Bible story? How is life better when you live it God’s way rather than your own? Helping your children make connections between the Bible and real life, helps them understand the vital need to know what is in scripture and to obey what God has asked them to do.
- Spend time daily in prayer with and for their children. Let’s be honest. Christian parenting is really tough. The world literally is against you. You can’t do it successfully without God’s help. Prayer is your way of communicating to God your parenting concerns and needs. Bedtime and meal prayers are fine, but you need to model to your kids how to pray consistently, constantly and freely. That means helping them practice when they are younger telling God how they feel, thanking God and all of those things that are a part of prayer in addition to the “wish” list.
- Encourage spiritual growth in their children’s words, deeds, attitudes and hearts. Remember Christian parenting isn’t just about teaching your kids to say and do the “right” things. It’s teaching them how to have a heart that is right with God. You have to know each of your children’s spiritual strengths and weaknesses. You need to encourage their strengths and help them learn how to overcome their weaknesses. You have to teach them how to live their faith – be a Christian in their core – not just participate in Christianity as another optional extra-curricular activity.
Are there other things these parents do that help their children build strong spiritual foundations and develop to their godly potential? Absolutely. The main principle you need to remember is that you must parent intentionally to be a “successful” Christian parent. Your children’s spiritual roots will be extremely shallow without your focused time and attention. The ten things above will get you started in the right direction. It really is worth your time and effort.