We understand that no two families are the same. Many families have one parent, two parents, no parents, or grandparents as primary caregivers, just to name a few. There are families with divorced parents, widowed parents, and remarried Parents with blended stepchildren. Some families have healthy relationships while others have dysfunctional relationships. There are families with multiple faiths in the home. There are families with one child and families with more than eight children. Everyone’s family will face a different obstacle when imparting faith.
The information in this section covers some of the broad challenges that many families face today and offers some suggestions on how to overcome these challenges. It is by no means exhaustive. If you find that these faith activities are more complicated than you thought and have become a burden, please seek the advice of a minister, Christian friend, or other families in your situation to find some encouragement and additional suggestions. When you are doing faith activities, you are in essence presenting who God is and what Christianity is about.
Although parents will not be perfect before they offer spiritual guidance in their families, realize that the presence of verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, or substance abuse in the home will greatly distort a child’s view of God. If abuse occurs for a long time, it can cause significant damage to the spiritual and emotional life of a child. This can make children want nothing to do with God or Christianity because of the negative associations between their abusive parent and faith. A child has a hard time understanding the love of Christ as a father if their own parent hurt them over and over again. If you find yourself in one of these situations, and you or your spouse are not in control of your/their behavior, it is imperative that you seek professional assistance from a counselor or minister.
ONE UNBELIEVING PARENT
It can be difficult to implement these faith activities without the support of your spouse. This can be a big source of conflict between spouses. Talk with your spouse and share how important doing these faith activities is to you. Invite your spouse to participate, but make it clear that this is something that is too important not to do. Don’t let their unbelief discourage you. Find someone to hold you accountable and to encourage you when you feel like sharing your faith with your family is becoming too difficult. The unbelieving parent may get jealous of the positive time you spend with your children or away from him/her. Make sure this parent has positive time with the children and with you.
ONE UNMOTIVATED PARENT
Many times there are two believing parents, but one is unmotivated to do anything to share their faith. This can be difficult to overcome. It is important to talk about, but if you have tried that and haven’t made any headway, it is important to implement the faith activities even if your spouse would rather not participate. Remember not to guilt your spouse or be pushy about it. Have open conversations about it and share some of the special moments that you have shared with your child. Be patient. Your spouse may join in the activities over time.
Being a single parent is difficult. The weight of responsibility that is typically spread over two adults rests on the shoulders of one. When it comes to everyday tasks like laundry and grocery shopping, there are few opportunities to share these responsibilities with friends and family. When it comes to faith development, however, it will be crucial to allow other adults to help you as your child matures. For instance, if you are a single mom, it will be necessary for you to make sure your son has a positive male role model. Sons will begin to emulate the men with whom they spend the most time, and you want to make sure those influences are positive and spiritual. If you have a daughter, it is also important for her to observe families with positive fathers as she begins to understand God as her own father and as she begins to think about qualities she would like in her future husband. Single fathers, this is equally important. Daughters will need an older female friend with whom they feel they can talk and with whom they feel comfortable to help them through some of those difficult times when a female confidant is required. It is important for your sons to know how to treat women. If this is not modeled by you, they will learn how to treat women from their friends, media, and other male influences that may not be healthy.
There is a lot that you cannot control when it comes to being a divorced parent. You may not have full custody of your children and only get to see them once a week or less; on the other hand, if your children live with you most of the time and visit their other parent, you likely have no control over what occurs when they are visiting their mother/father. Ideally, parents after a divorce will try to co-parent their children in a manner that includes open communication about how they are parenting in different households with similar rules and discipline in each. Unfortunately, whether both parents have a belief in God or not, co-parenting can be a big challenge that often comes with a lot of conflict and ends in each parent trying to parent as they see fit; this is usually vastly different from each other. Communication between former spouses can be difficult, limited, or nonexistent, and the children are left in the middle, feeling divided between the two.
If both parents have a faith in God, then it will be important for each of you to work on the faith development of your child together. If you and your former spouse have good communication or can speak in a civil manner, then make it a point to speak on a regular basis about the faith activities that are occurring each week. Let each other know what is going on and encourage your children to participate not only with you but also with their other parent. It is possible, for many reasons, that your child may be more comfortable doing these activities with one parent over the other. If you notice this happens, don’t get discouraged or feel threatened. Try to resist the urge to “out-do” the other parent to win the favor of your child. Avoid criticizing the other parent to make your child think you are the better one; this will not help you provide a positive, Christ-centered example. Instead, it will confuse your children and make them feel they must not tell you about any positive moments they have with their other parent.
If your former spouse is not agreeable to discussing faith activities or implementing them in his/her household, stay focused on imparting faith with your children based on the amount of time you spend with them. Share with them the importance of your faith in God. If your child has a special time with you each week, it will serve not only as consistent spiritual guidance, but also as a protective factor against some of the emotional difficulties that can come with divorce.
It can be very tough to implement faith activities as a whole family within blended families. Many times the child or teen will resent the stepparent and not want to receive any discipline or authority from him/her. Because of this, the biological parents should lead the faith activities until it is clear that the child is ready to receive spiritual direction from the stepparent. In some cases, it will be necessary for the biological parent to have faith time with the son/daughter first, apart from the stepparent, and later decide when or if the child is ready to have faith time with the stepparent or the whole family. It takes time for a stepchild to develop a relationship with their stepparents. Stepparents, be patient and positive and realize that the stepchild’s faith is more important than your inclusion in this process.
CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES AND SPECIAL NEEDS
You may need to adjust activities to the abilities of your child. An activity listed as 4’s and 5’s in this booklet may work well with your second grader. Nobody knows your child better than you do. You know that your child may cover his/her ears when there are loud noises, won’t transition quickly from one activity to the next, will not want to read in class, or will fidget the entire class time or while sitting in worship, etc. Even though your child has fidgeted or talked the entire class time, he/she has learned that God loves him; and, even though your child has colored the entire worship service, he/she has learned to sing “Here We Are To Worship.” You also know that he/she is surrounded by brothers and sisters who love your child. You know what works for your child. Adjust activities to meet his/her needs. Shorten story time. Use more visuals. Go with what works. Teach your child about the Bible and God’s word at a level that works for your child. Pray for guidance. There will always be individuals who are not familiar with your child’s needs. Communicate with teachers and your church family. Let them know what to expect and what works. Ask for help from your brothers and sisters in Christ and church leadership when needed.
If you have two children close in age, you may want to consider putting them on the same track of faith activities to make doing these faith activities as a whole family easier, especially if you have more than two children. It is important tomake sure that you don’t neglect the important faith-related one-on-one time with them either.
LARGE AGE GAPS
When you have a large age gap between children, it is often difficult to find activities that will work for the entire family because of the different levels of spiritual development of each child. It can also be affected by the fact that a teenager’s activities often become separate from the family’s activities. Becoming involved with the youth group, going on youth group trips, and driving to church in another vehicle are some of the changes that will prevent your younger child from interacting as much with your older child. One way to make the most of this situation is to have your older child be a role model or mentor for your younger child. He/she can lead the dinner prayer. As often as schedules permit, sit down to dinner together. Use this time to ask about the day’s activities. It is a great time to teach what the Bible says about the world. The older child can often respond to situations that are affecting your younger child, such as bullying, and can incorporate what the Bible teaches. When your older child goes on a youth group trip, talk about where they went and the purpose of their trip. Keep the spiritual journey of your entire family intertwined on a daily basis. Creative ideas include asking“Would you rather” questions, using Gabbit: Family Faith Edition (an electronic question game) to get family-friendly conversations started (view www.youtube.com video “Gabbit Game: A toy that helps families talk about faith”), or having the older child read (or tell) a Bible story to the younger.
When you have a large family, there will be certain challenges and sacrifices to make on behalf of your children that will not always be easy. Prayer is vital to your peace and effectiveness as a parent, but there is also strength in numbers. As your oldest children become older, they can actually become significant contributors to the faith of your younger children. Take advantage of this natural leadership that will develop in the older siblings. It is important to cultivate and encourage your individual children’s identities, but it is very helpful to cultivate your “family identity” as well. Find something specific and spiritually meaningful that your family enjoys and can do well together. Put yourselves into it wholeheartedly. This can be service projects, volunteer work,visiting shut-ins, musical collaboration, drama, or anything else that you can use in God’s service. Read the sections on “Close age” and “Large Age Gaps” if these apply to you as well.
If you are experiencing resistance from your 6th grader or younger child, do it anyway. It may be beneficial to take breaks from activities from time to time, but it is important to be consistent. Kids don’t know better than you do about what is best for them. This is an area where opinions and approaches will vary greatly. It is a time for prayer to seek God’s guidance. The method for overcoming will vary from child to child. With young children, “I Don’t Wanna” is often a response caused by tiredness or a resistance to structure. Changing the time of the activity may be a simple solution. Selecting activities that are interactive and fun may also help. If possible, include a friend. Some children thrive on routine and as your faith activities become part of your regular routine, the resistance will fade. Here’s an example: If a child asks what happens on Sundays, you could say, “We go to church on Sundays we’re going to go praise God.” You could make it a habit to get your things(i.e., Bible, church clothing) ready for Sunday morning on Saturday night.
Sometimes forcing teens to do faith activities can cause more damage than good. Many times teens simply want to be heard! Talk with them and listen to their reasons for resistance. Be clear that you will have faith activities, but be flexible about when and how these are to happen. Provide them the opportunity to decide what they want to do and possibly lead the activity itself. This way the faith development is on their terms and not being forced upon them. Simply giving them choices instead of only offering one option is the key to overcoming resistance to these activities.