Finding Community in Christian Parenting

I recently was added to one of those online communities where everyone is asked to introduce themselves. Woman after woman seemed to share a heart filled with loneliness. They were different ages and in different life circumstances. They were from all over the world, but they all longed for meaningful Christian community.

Parenting has some tough moments – and that’s when you don’t encounter additional challenges. Christian parenting is even more difficult. You are trying to parent in counter cultural ways because you understand the parenting choices you make can impact your child’s spiritual life. As any teen can tell you, going against the crowd can feel very lonely at times.

Perhaps it seems like your life has been an unending string of lonely parenting moments. It doesn’t have to be that way. God created Christian community to help us through those lonely times – whatever the cause.

At times though, tapping into that community can appear more difficult than climbing Mt. Everest. Perhaps you have been praying that God will bring you the community you so desperately want and need. There are things you can do to scale that metaphorical mountain and find that supportive Christian community. God will be there to guide you, but He may want you to grow in your ability to create connections with others by trying some of these tips.

  • Find a church home. It’s hard to find Christian community when you don’t stay in one place for very long. No church is perfect – even the ones that seem that way at first. Find one that teaches the Bible as accurately as possible and make a home there.
  • Make yourself at home in your church. Attend regularly, introduce yourself, engage in conversations with people whose names you can’t seem to remember yet. Attend classes and small groups. Volunteer to serve in a ministry. All of these will give you opportunities to connect to fellow Christians.
  • Look outside the box. Don’t just look for friends who are exactly like you. Sometimes the most supportive, helpful friendships are with people different from us. They bring a unique perspective to our experiences. People just like us tend to get stuck in the same places we get stuck. We often learn more from people who are older and have gotten to the other side of those things with which we are currently struggling. Younger friends can often bring a bit of carefree joy back to our lives. People from other places may have tips we would never hear from people who have been in the same place for decades.
  • Be brave and ask. If you see someone you think is interesting or wise, ask her to lunch or coffee. Most adults are in their own routines. They don’t think about looking for new friends, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want new friends. It is rare to have someone approach anyone they barely know and seek a chance to fellowship and get to know one another. So don’t wait – initiate.
  • Don’t take rejection personally. Since these are often people we don’t know very well, you probably don’t know their responsibilities and struggles. They may be overwhelmed and need help themselves. It is not a reflection on you or your value. Try again later or move on to the next person.
  • Give it time. Occasionally you will bond with someone you just met as if you have been best friends for years. Most of the time, it takes time spent together and sharing experiences and hearts to build a friendship.
  • Be okay with different levels of relationship. You may have one woman who is your advice person. For many reasons, you will never be best friends, but she is available when you need advice and gives godly advice. That’s okay. You can have acquaintances, friends, activity friends, best friends and a host of other types of relationships. All will ease your loneliness and give you some of the Christian community you need.
  • Accept disagreements and practice forgiveness. It’s rare that even the best of friends agree on everything. People who spend a lot of time together can get on each other’s nerves at times. Disagreements are not a reason to end a friendship. Forgiveness is crucial. Yes, there are rare instances when a friendship becomes toxic and you may have to spend less time with that person. In general though, think of your friendships as a way to improve in showing others agape love and practicing forgiveness.

God doesn’t want His people to be lonely. Remember how He created Eve so Adam wouldn’t be lonely? Escaping loneliness will probably take some effort on your part. Having those godly friends who encourage you in your Christian parenting journey makes any work seem worth it. Don’t let Satan continue to discourage you with loneliness.

The Importance of 13 in Christian Parenting

For many years, those who wrote or taught about Christian parenting had to rely on personal experience and patterns they observed in the families they knew to help explain how God’s commands and principles worked in day to day parenting. Over the last several years, the Barna Group has focused on conducting a lot of actual research about Christians.

Their focus most recently has been on Christian parents and their children. They are trying to quantify what the difference is between parents who raise children to be faithful, productive Christians and those whose kids are not as faithful or reject God entirely as adults.

They are finding what many of us had noticed anecdotally. There are definite, specific things parents can do to improve the chances their kids will be faithful, productive Christians as adults.

We try to share as many of these specifics as we can with you. One of the most important findings is key for parents and churches to understand. The bulk of a person’s worldview is in place by age 13. This means if parents and the church they attend have not invested enough time and effort in helping kids develop a biblical worldview by age 13, they are leaving those young people extremely vulnerable.

Yes, there are things you can do after age 13 to help young people strengthen or develop a biblical worldview. As many parents of teens can tell you though, trying to change directions by beginning in the teen years can be difficult. It is much easier if you start when your kids are really young.

If your kids are under age 13, it’s time to get serious about helping them develop strong faith foundations and grow towards their godly potential. It’s time to encourage your church leaders to make the spiritual education of children one of their top priorities. Not by giving it lip service or throwing money at it, but by really auditing everything they are doing to make sure it is as effective as possible.

If your kids are teens or adults, don’t give up. Your job may be more difficult, but with God’s help, nothing is impossible. If necessary, apologize to your kids for the mistakes you have made. Explain why you want to make their spiritual health and growth your top priority. Engage them in working together to help them become the people God wants them to be.

Impactful Christian parenting is also intentional. Understanding the number 13 will help you remember your kids are never too young for their spiritual education to be your top priority. Because the earlier you start, the more successful your efforts will probably be.

Parenting Goals That Work

New Year’s Day is full of hope. It’s a fresh start. A new year. In this case, a new decade. We haven’t made any resolutions yet, so we haven’t broken them either.

The temptation is to make a long list of everything you want to change about yourself. All of those parenting things you’ve wanted to do better, but haven’t had the time. So you begin by listing things you want to add to your family’s schedule, like family devotionals.

Then you add other things to your list of parenting goals. Perhaps you want to behave differently towards your kids or work on being a better example. Then you remember, you need to spend more time with your kids helping them improve on a few character and attitude issues of their own.

Your list is now becoming quite long. Many of your goals are actually rather difficult and time consuming to achieve. No wonder most of us give up on our new goals within a week or two.

There are some things you can do this year to change the normal pattern. Doing these things could help you follow through and actually accomplish your goals.

  • Make your normal list of goals. Make it as long as you would like. Put everything you would want to accomplish this year as if it is going to be a perfect year.
  • Whenever possible, make your goals specific and measurable. “Have family devotionals” won’t work as well as “Spend ten minutes each day having a family devotional.” If you make the goal even more specific, it will be even easier to know when you have actually accomplished the goal.
  • Prioritize your goals. If you could only accomplish one thing on the list this year, what is the most important goal? Continue deciding which goal is the next most important until you have them all ranked.
  • Write you the goal that is your top priority on a different sheet of paper. Save the list of your other goals, because you will need to refer to it later.
  • Break down the goal with a task analysis. What are the steps you will have to accomplish to successfully complete the goal? For example, if I want to wake up a few minutes earlier every day to spend time reading my Bible and praying, I would include steps like “set the alarm fifteen minutes earlier before going to bed”.
  • Instead of the entire goal, you may need to focus on only one step at a time. I am naturally a morning person. Getting up early might not be a challenge for me. Perhaps I get stuck because I can’t decide what to read in my Bible. My husband would struggle with getting up earlier than usual. He may need to spend a couple of weeks just learning how to wake up earlier. I may need to spend a couple of days finding a Bible reading plan that is realistic and helpful to me. Trying to accomplish every step of a goal can seem overwhelming if each of those steps is normally difficult for you. Focusing on one step at a time allows you to slowly build on your success.
  • Continue adding or completing tasks until you have accomplished the goal. This may take a day, a week or the entire year. That largely depends upon how complex or difficult the original goal was. As long as you are making forward progress towards your goal, you are succeeding.
  • Give yourself time to adapt. Estimates vary, but I have found it can take up to a month or more to be consistent in a new habit. It may take longer if the habit is something with which you struggle. Don’t move on to the next task or step until you are confident the one on which you are currently working has become more natural to you.
  • Give yourself grace. I am firmly convinced Satan knows when we are trying to become more godly and throws distractions in our path. We have all fallen into that trap. If it happens and you fall back into old habits for a day or even a week or a month, don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t quit trying. As soon as you realize you have stopped working on your goal, start back where you left off or start from the beginning again if that is necessary.
  • Don’t try too many new things at once. It’s too much to remember and honestly, a lot of stress. Focus on achieving that first goal well. When you believe you are accomplishing it or have completed the goal, then you can return to your original list of goals. Choose the next one on your list of prioritized goals. Repeat the process you just used to accomplish that first goal. Continue adding one new goal as soon as you are consistently accomplishing or have completed the previous one. Over the course of a year, you can often accomplish more by focusing on one goal at a time, than by trying to accomplish ten new things at the same time.
  • Don’t be afraid to dream godly dreams when creating your goals. God can help you accomplish many things for His Kingdom using your gifts and talents…if you are open to where He sends you. Don’t be afraid to write down those goals on your heart that seem too farfetched. You won’t know if the Holy Spirit put them on your heart or they were your own wild idea until you start moving towards that goal.
  • Don’t forget to tap into God’s wisdom, power and strength as you work towards your goals. God wants to help you be more godly and the best Christian parent you can be. We just forget sometimes that we need to ask for His help. Prayer, Bible study and other spiritual disciplines can keep us in touch with God and give us the strength and wisdom we need to accomplish our goals.

This method of accomplishing goals is a little more difficult than that most people use for New Year’s resolutions. Taking the time to do the extra steps though, can make achieving your goals more realistic. It really is worth your time and effort.

Words Matter – 5 “Positive” Things to Stop Saying to Your Children

The positive self esteem movement has created parents who build up their children constantly. Not just in the relatively benign, “Great job!” way, but more along the lines of “You are the most perfect child who has ever lived!” Now studies are finding these types of statements can actually do more harm than good.

We don’t think of the positive statements we make to our kids as capable of causing any damage to them. Yet, the wrong positive words can create inflated egos, a sense of entitlement and even extreme disappointment when they compare reality to their parents’ proclamations.

So what are some positive things parents should avoid saying to their kids?

  • That is the best ….. ever! All kids are great. Realistically though, less than 5% are going to be outstanding at any given thing. Making them believe they are going to be in that 5%, when it is obvious they are no where even close to that, sets up all sorts of issues for the future. It’s fine to encourage your kids. Look for specific things to complement like, “I love how you used so much color in your painting.” Or compliment them on their growth and improvement. You don’t have to pretend they are the best at something in order to encourage them.
  • You can do anything you put your mind to. I understand the intention of that statement. Hard work and persistence can sometimes help you achieve your goals. But there is also some realism involved. I never did learn how to swim well at all. Trying to make me believe I could be in the Olympics would have been borderline cruel (if I had believed it) and set me up for disappointment as I continued to struggle. Christian parents also need to make their kids very aware that God has a plan for their lives and they need to follow that. Even though they may be able to do something, doesn’t mean that it is best for them spiritually or in God’s plans for their lives.
  • You are better than him, her or them. Once again, as an adult I understand the message is to not engage in poor behaviors just because others have chosen to do so. What young people often hear though is that they are literally better than other people for some reason. If you do believe some people are more worthy of God’s love and your love than others, please do some serious soul searching. Don’t pass on those attitudes to your children.
  • They are just jealous of you. This is often said to comfort a child who has had a peer treat them badly. While sometimes it may be true, it isn’t always the case. This statement can backfire in any number of ways, if the real reason is something different. It’s better to have discussions about how God wants us to treat people who would consider themselves to be our enemies.
  • It doesn’t really matter if you… Fill in the blank – read their Bible, go to Church every week, pray, have Christian friends, participate in things that will help them grow spiritually… the list goes on and on. Downplaying the importance of working on their spiritual health and growth can cause young people to stop growing spiritually altogether. Some will even reject God as being unnecessary in their lives. Your kids should always hear you reinforce them when they want to do something to grow spiritually – even if it can’t logistically happen for some reason.

What parents consider positive words can cause damage to your kids, too. Think carefully before you speak positive words. They need your encouragement. They don’t need hyperbole or downplaying things that can help them grow.

Words Matter – 5 Types to Avoid in Parenting

He is a Hollywood star and author. The type you would easily recognize if you saw him out in public. He has been successful in multiple entertainment fields. Yet even now, in his mid 70’s, the words his parents said to him as a child still obviously haunt him.

Sadly, this Hollywood star isn’t alone. Untold numbers of adults are walking around deeply wounded by the things their parents regularly said to them as children. No matter how hard they try, they can’t seem to erase those hurtful tapes.

I’m sure most parents don’t sit down when they have a child and think of all of the things they can say to their child that will break him or her. They don’t look into their child’s teary eyes and think, “Awesome! I really hurt my kid’s feelings this time.” Yet, many parents repeatedly say things that are slowly breaking their kids into tiny little pieces emotionally.

This brokenness can negatively impact their self image, their relationships and even their spiritual lives. Sadly, most of these parents are probably totally unaware of the damage their words are causing. They may think they are just teasing their child or helping their child be “better” somehow.

So what are those words that break children emotionally? It’s important to remember, we all misspeak at times. Apologizing as soon as you realize what you have done and trying to make amends, can heal any cracks your words may have caused. What causes the deep damage is repeatedly saying these types of things to your kids.

  • You are…statements. These may be said directly to the child or the child may overhear their parent constantly describing them this way to others. Not the positive statements, but defining statements that are negative. For example, “You are so difficult”, “He is such a handful”, “She is so prickly”. If you are unsure whether or not the statements you are making are positive or negative, just don’t say them. Your kids are a mix of thoughts, feelings, words and actions. They don’t always align. A child who appears difficult may actually be a highly gifted child who no one is helping reach his potential, so he is bored out of his mind. When you repeatedly use “You are” statements, many kids begin to define themselves with that label – and sometimes only that label.
  • Complaining statements. Okay, we have all had bad parenting days. You know those days when you aren’t sure whether or not you or your child will survive their childhood. Or there may be things you want to do that aren’t practical at the moment because your children are still at home. If your children constantly hear you say what a burden they are to you, or how you can’t wait until they go back to school, they will begin to believe you don’t love them. Even worse in a young person’s mind, they will think you don’t like them. They will begin feeling unloveable and unlikeable. After all, if their parents don’t like them (and in a kid’s mind that’s part of the parent’s job), then who else can possibly like them?
  • Name calling. Stupid. Bad. Idiot. Klutz. Thunder thighs. Ugly names have no place in Christian parenting. Often parents view these as “pet names” used in “teasing”. They actually serve no purpose other than to demean. Your child doesn’t really think these names are funny on any level. (Even if they pretend to laugh along or begin calling themselves the name.) Don’t use them with anyone, but especially your children. (The Hollywood star’s parents called him “dumb dog” throughout his childhood.)
  • Cursing. Christians should avoid cursing for a number of reasons. When you curse at your children, they know it is a sign of anger and disgust. When they constantly hear you cursing at them, they feel they are disgusting – whether or not that is what you meant to convey.
  • Broadcasting your child’s weaknesses and mistakes to others. We aren’t talking about prayer requests for kids struggling with something like drug abuse. We are talking about posting on social media or telling everyone within earshot of the embarrassing things that happen to your kids. Or complaining about how they got in trouble for something in school. Or posting one of those posts meant to mortify a child that disobeyed. Kids need room to make mistakes and suffer consequences without feeling like the whole world now knows what they did.

If you have been guilty of using these types of words in your parenting, please stop. Apologize to your child. Look into getting you and your child outside help repairing your relationship and their self esteem if you need it. Don’t make the damage worse by continuing bad speech habits. Being kind in your speech to your children can give them the strength and resiliency they will need to live the Christian life.