I was part of a short Twitter conversation and one of the participants was concerned about raising her kids so that they believe in God on their own and don't have it forced on them. She doesn't want her kids to be in a spiritually abusive environment. How do we raise our kids in spiritually healthy ways? Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.
Pray!! That's the first and last thing we must do in any endeavor. Pray without ceasing. Pray for your children. Pray for yourself. Pray for the world that they'll be entering.
Let them see our faith lived out. That means that they need to see us reading our Bibles and praying at times besides mealtimes, but it doesn't mean that we have to force them to have "quiet times". Family devotions are good things. It's also good for our kids to see us really serving others in our community - working at the local food bank or soup kitchen or other "real" ministry.
Take them to church. Yes, I said take them to church. But, make sure that your family is part of a spiritually and emotionally healthy church. Your kids won't grow up healthy if they are part of an unhealthy church. If they are taught legalistic concepts in their Sunday School or AWANA classes, they are going to have issues. And somewhere in their teens, you need to decide if you are going to require them to go to church. In our family, we decided that Sunday morning services were part of growing up in our home. But, we didn't require the kids to go to youth group once they were in high school. We homeschooled and did Bible as part of homeschooling (but that's a whole different issue).
Teach them about Jesus. A lot of what we teach kids early on are the Old Testament Bible stories. These are great stories, but we end up teaching them to kids and making sure they learn a moral lesson. But our faith isn't about morality. It's about grace. Children need to learn early on that we love Jesus because he first loved us. We obey Jesus because we love him, not so that God will love us. So often, it seems that we teach kids in Sunday School that the goal of church is to learn to "be good". No, the goal of church is to learn about Jesus. No matter what your church is teaching, make sure to teach them about Jesus at home.
Don't isolate your kids. Someone in the 80s decided that it would be a great idea to raise kids in a bubble, so the Christian homeschooling movement was born. Oh, what a disaster! Homeschooling is wonderful; Rosie Girl never went to school full-time and Wild Man didn't start high school till his junior year. But, keeping kids only with other Christian kids by homeschooling or sending them to a Christian school may not be the best idea. While your kids still live at home, they should be exposed to plenty of people who don't share your beliefs. This way, you can work through any issues they come across together. For example, a couple of Wild Man's classmates identify as gay. This actually hasn't been that big a deal, but it's good for us to have been able to talk to him about it. Rosie Girl took choir at the public school and had some issues with the choir director. Being in the public school environment gave her a chance to learn to deal with it.
Talk to your kids. Whatever it takes, talk to them. Have time set aside where you can just hang out. Sometimes, you will only talk about superficial stuff, but sometimes, it can get deep. Let it. I remember Wild Man (at the time, age 3) asking me from the back seat of the car when we were going to the nursing home for me to do rounds, "Mommy, how do I ask Jesus into my tummy?" Yes, that's hysterical, but it set the stage for some serious discussion. Nowadays, we talk about things from his current events class or Rosie Girl's Christianity Class (she's in college). Rosie Girl's favorite thing nowadays is to come home for the weekend, wait until I've taken all of my sleeping meds, and get into deep, emotional conversations with me. Rosie Girl, can't we do this while I'm awake?!!!
Be firm in your discipline, but make sure your kids trust you. I've developed a theory (with some evidence behind it), that if your kids learn to trust you from early on, they're likely to obey. For example, if you tell your preschooler that you'll get to play a game together after the playroom is cleaned up and you play that game, you've earned their trust. The next time you tell them to clean the playroom so you can play a game together, they're likely to trust that and obey you. The same thing works on the negative. If your child doesn't do what they're told and they're given consequences consistently, they trust that that will happen regularly. The more that your child trusts you, the more that they will do what you ask without much fuss. As they get older, we can then talk through more of what we ask. Hopefully, by the time they are teenagers, they understand that we are trustworthy parents and not capricious.
Pray, pray, pray. Proverbs 22:6 tells us, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." This isn't a guarantee, but more of a guideline. Nonetheless, it is hopeful. It tells us that parents can have an impact on our kids. And then pray some more!!
Remember, though, that a child is a separate human being from you. As much as you may want them to be a Christian and believe the same things you do, they may choose a different path. Rosie Girl is 20 years old and isn't the Evangelical Christian that I expected she would be at this age. But, she's a Religious Studies minor and delving deep into the Bible and loving it. God is guiding her and I have to trust that he's going to keep his hand on her. Wild Man is graduating high school this year and planning to study vocal music so he can be a worship leader.
Did PWM and I do a good job of parenting? We did the best we could. And the advice I've given above came from 20 years of hard work, tears, and laughter. As a good Evangelical, I believe that God gives individuals the chance to accept or reject faith. God is also full of mercy and grace, and those who seek him will find him.
I hope this is helpful for someone. What would you add?