faith shifts: what about the kids?

be kind and gentle with yourself

One of the most tricky parts about shifting faith is wondering what it means for our kids. I wrote a post several years ago called kids & faith: what are we creating and recently shared a little bit more specifically about the kids & faith shifts in this me-just-talking-to-Travis-Reed video conversation on The Work of the People:

I thought today I’d also share a little excerpt from Faith Shift centered specifically on this because so many of us struggle on how to navigate these tricky waters as parents. As a mommy of 5 kids, I know it’s not an easy dance.

Ways Faith-Shifting Parents Can Help Their Kids 

Kids don’t need to know all the details. We said too much out loud at a time when our oldest two kids were almost teenagers in Christian school. While some things can’t be avoided when you live in the same house, my weeping, my anger about the church, and the specifics of how I had been hurt were details my kids didn’t need to know. Frankly, it left them really confused. There’s a way to be honest and authentic without exposing them to all the intricacies and emotions. I wish I had just said the truth: “I am going through a really weird season in my faith where I am struggling with God and the church, but I am going to be okay. We’re going to be okay.” I understand that you might be thinking, I’m not sure I am going to be okay and I don’t want to lie. But I’ll remind you: somehow, some way, you’ll make it to a new place even though you’re not sure what that place may be yet. Kids need this kind of security from their parents.

Kids can live without church programming. It’s okay to give that up. There are all kinds of ways to teach kids about God and faith without going to church on Sunday mornings. It’s amazing how much instruction we have handed over to the church instead of engaging with it ourselves, and it’s a good challenge not to rely on outside forces to teach our kids.

Kids can live with church programming. It’s okay to keep participating in church if that’s what you choose. Faith shifters need to be cautious about what kids are being taught, but remember, kids love stories and ideas. There’s a way to take part without having the church system infiltrate every part of your family’s lives and hearts. At the same time, it’s important to stay on top of what they are being taught and not assume it’s completely safe or doesn’t matter. Ask questions and find out what they’re learning. It’s okay to disagree with teachings and talk about it together (depending on their age). I have said to my kids, “I don’t agree with that” or “I don’t interpret the Bible the same way they do,” and it has helped them see that there are multiple perspectives. We need to be careful, though, that we are not part of systems where we are constantly at odds with teaching because that is too confusing for children.

Focus on what you do still know. My three youngest boys are probably the healthiest when it comes to spiritual things because they have been part of a free system for the longest. Even though there’s a lot I doubt now, a few truths remain that I can pass on: God loves them, God will always be with them no matter what, and Jesus’s ways are worth following. These truths have helped them become more secure.

Discover what’s going on with the kids by asking questions. “What do you guys think about this?” became one of my favorite questions, because they always share the most amazing little kernels of beauty and truth. In my Fusing days I would have wanted to correct them and make sure they knew the “right” answers. Now, I appreciate their responses and acknowledge the richness of their thoughts even though they might be challenging. This means we, as parents, will have to live with answers that might freak us out or things they may say in front of our old friends from church. It’s good to loosen our grip on these things, defuse power struggles, and let our kids participate in their faith development in a more organic way. We can teach our children to ask questions instead of blindly accepting whatever someone in authority is teaching them is “biblical.”

Decide on your essentials. Every family has its own essentials, but it’s a good idea to decide and name what those might be. Then you know you can let go of the nonessentials and release guilt that you might carry for not passing on “enough” to the kids. Essentials are enough. Some of ours are love God, love others, love yourselves in whatever ways you can.

Trust their long-haul journeys. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and see only our mistakes or what our kids are lacking. Every child has a life of spirituality ahead, and each will wrestle with faith in different ways over time. Seeing the big picture is wise. As you trust your own long-haul journey, you can trust theirs as well.

Actions are better than words. Kids are visual learners. They love to practice, engage, and participate in learning. Instead of talking about our beliefs, we started acting on them by loving people, sacrificing our time for others, and just serving instead of talking about why we’re supposed to do it. My husband went to law school a few years ago so he could get a second job serving domestic-violence victims as a pro bono lawyer. He didn’t say “God wants us to do x, y, and z to serve him properly”—he just did it.

It’s so hard to parent through a faith shift! It’s scary, and my heart hurts for all of the suffering many parents have endured wondering if their choices were going to damage the kids. It’s important to let go of perfectionism and control when it comes to this important task. We will mess things up. We will make mistakes. We will feel afraid. But in the end, the best we can offer is modeling our own authentic faith.

Remember, we’re always doing the best we can with what we’ve got. This is tough stuff, but your caring about it matters.

Be kind and gentle with yourself. We’ll need grace and mercy to fill in the cracks.

(Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart, pp. 207-211)

I am sure there are many others, too, and would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

I asked my older kids to quickly share with me what advice they had for parents related to their kids and a shifting faith. The best quote: “Better to be honest than pretend you have all the answers.” 

Yep.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

11 Comments

  • I agree with your kids. It is important to be open and honest with our children, particularly about matters of faith. Faith, afterall, will shape their approach to every other aspect of and experience in life. If we are disingenuous with our words or actions, our children, who watch everything we do for examples of how to live, will recognize the inconsistency and learn that they cannot trust us (and, by extension, anyone else either). I don’t tell my children what to believe, but I am honest with them about what I believe and answer their questions as best I can. I also try very hard to make sure my words and actions match. For a parent, there’s nothing like wanting to set a good example for our children to keep us in check and on our toes. Raise them right to believe in higher truth and the power of love, and leave the rest to God. That’s all the more we can do.

    Reply
  • Very important subject, which gets too little attention. Thanks, once again, for your honesty, vulnerability.

    As to what is taught, led in churches, those of all stripes have a long way to go to having age-appropriate curriculum, with the “right” (or healthy, developmentally helpful) subjects engaged in the content. A few years ago, ProgressiveChristianity.org surveyed and realized they needed to commission a new curriculum for prog. Xn kids. They released the first, I think for age 6-10 or so a couple years ago… “A Joyful Path”. But I don’t know much about it and have heard little feedback. They may now have finished the next age level… I’ve not checked lately. And much more needs to be done.

    Then when it gets to youth/young adults, for a while I’ve been saying they should take in voraciously but try to restrain themselves from locking into specific theologies (doctrines or even theism [supernaturalism, typically] vs. atheism) until at LEAST age 25, preferably 30 or past. If they have kids of 3 or so and up, still don’t rush. Until and unless one understands not just the rational, outward arguments for religion in general or any specific one, but the social, psychological, etc. ones… the benefits that are not purely spiritual, and the “traps”d…. one should be wary. I believe rare is the person who can gain that perspective and knowledge much short of 30. So let kids be kids, and do lots of exploring.

    Reply
    • thanks, howard. i know that’s been a bit of a dilemma for our refuge kids pastor. she’s had to come up with a lot of her own stuff (she’s amazing). working on a SD faith shift processing party so will keep you posted. it would be so fun to see you!

      Reply

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