I recently heard the story of a parent who was concerned that their teenage daughter, who used to be so obedient in listening to them, was now listening to everything her friends said by allowing them to influence her decision making.
The parents didn’t understand why, until someone wisely pointed out that their daughter didn’t change beliefs, she just changed who she was listening to. You see, those beliefs had never become her own in the first place, and as a result, she had simply mirrored the beliefs of her parents until she was influenced otherwise.
As parents, a great danger we face is in simply giving our children a knowledge of what to believe, without instilling within them a desire and passion for why to personally believe it. Our ultimate goal must be that even once our children are out from under the umbrella of our authority, the things we have instilled within them will have become a part of the fabric of their character and the very foundation of their lives.
Their faith must become personal to them.
And in order for that to happen, we must give our children opportunities to own their own faith, or else potentially abandon it forever.
So how can a parent successfully help their children own their own beliefs? Here are three important ways…
1. Don’t solve every issue or problem for them.
Our children need guidance, but sometimes we need to allow them to make their own decisions, and the resulting consequences. Whether it’s the issue of money, how to deal with friendship struggles or what to do when they’ve been wronged, our job as parents is not to solve our children’s problems, but to guide them through them. (Sadly, many parents bend over backward running to the rescue of their child’s every whimper or struggle, but to their child’s own detriment.)
This requires that we be their guide, but not always their decision maker. We must give them opportunities to make their own decisions, and learn from them.
There are times when my children want to spend their money on something I feel is foolish, so I give them guidance, and allow them to make the decision, one way or the other. Sometimes they make the right decision, and are glad that they did, and other times, they make the wrong decision, and learn to accept the consequences.
You may have heard the old Chinese proverb that says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This is a great parallel in parenting.
“Childhood is the university for life, so helping our children learn how to properly deal with life now helps them learn how to properly make life decisions for years to come.”
While this is sometimes hard to watch as a parent, it’s very worth it when you keep the end result in mind—a child who is equipped to solve their own life problems both biblically and responsibly.
2. Don’t expect them to mirror everything identical to you and your preferences.
This has been a difficult one to learn and accept as our children have gotten older. There are certain things my children enjoy and preferences they have that I might not personally choose. And I’m learning that that’s OK. Yes, there are certain things that are non-negotiable, and biblical lines that should never be crossed, but then there are many things that are more a matter of different preferences than anything else.
For example…my son enjoys some types of clothing styles and hobbies that wouldn’t be my preference, but there’s nothing superior about my preferences over his. My daughter also enjoys playing the ukelele and singing like Grace VanderWaal, neither of which match my tastes. However, she’s become quite good at both.
What I’m learning is that God has gifted my children in ways that are unique to them, and very possibly ways that He can use in the future to fulfill their own personal calling. And it’s OK for them to own their own gifting and preferences to become the person God wants them to be, even when they don’t match my own.
“My job as a parent is to reproduce my values in my children, but my job is not to produce clones of me and my preferences.”
Each of my children are uniquely created by God for a specific purpose. My job is to help them own their own beliefs as I guide them to find, follow and fulfill that purpose.
3. Teach them how to listen to the voice of God for themselves.
I believe that one of the greatest things you can ever teach your kids to do is to listen to the voice of God, and make decisions based upon the moving of His Spirit in their own hearts and lives. All too often, as Christian parents, we fall into the trap of thinking that we have to make all the decisions for our children from the time they are born until they are 18 years old and on their own. And as a result, we fail them.
We fail to prepare them for life, and we send them into the world without the proper capabilities to make wise decisions for themselves, independent from mom and dad. As parents, it is our job to put ourselves out of a job by reproducing ourselves (our faith, our values and our beliefs) in our children.
In order for that to happen, it’s very important that as soon as your children are old enough to be saved and to start facing life’s challenges, they are old enough to be given liberty to let God direct their steps and help them to make wise decisions. (Of course, this involves teaching them to pray and read God’s Word on their own.)
If your children are used to praying for themselves, receiving your guidance and personally listening to the voice of God at young ages, they are going to be more than equipped to own their own faith by making godly decisions once they’re living life on their own.
We are sadly seeing a mass exodus of young people leaving the faith of their parents, and I believe that this is often one of the main reasons why—we’ve always owned their faith, and inadvertently allowed them to simply mirror ours.
Sadly, this often only becomes all too evident, all too late, when we’re standing there watching them walk away.
I know that your heart’s desire as a parent is to help your children own their own faith. So ask yourself, of these three things, which one do I need to work on the most? And remember…
“If we never give our children opportunities to own their own faith, it’s quite possible that they never will.”
Do you agree? Disagree? Or what else would you add to this list of ways to help your kids own their own beliefs?
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This article originally appeared here.