Who do you think is going to have the biggest impact on the faith life of your children? It’s you. When you think about your kids growing older, you wonder what their faith life will be like: Will they stay Catholic? Will they even go to church? Will they take time to pray? Will they raise their own kids to be faithful? The easiest way to answer these questions is to just look at yourself. It’s YOU!
So says Dr. Christian Smith, author of Soul Searching and architect of the National Study on Youth and Religion. After studying thousands of young people, he claims that they tend to mimic their parents’ faith life and practice as they come into their adult years. In fact, numerous studies have all concluded the same thing: when it comes to faith, hands down, parents have the most significant influence on their own children.
If that’s the case, then it’s critical for us as parents to make sure we are doing whatever we can to make our influence count. Here are some tangible things we can do:
Be a Disciple Ourselves
This is all about modeling. If our kids see us having faith, believing, practicing faith, and having spiritual disciplines, it’s likely we’ll be instilling the same in them. Don’t worry if you don’t see the “mimicking” right away, or even while they’re still in the house with you – it will happen. Be rooted in the simple disciplines of a disciple: daily prayer, going to Mass at least once a week, frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation, studying the faith and growing deeper in your own knowledge, fellowshipping with other believers, sharing your faith with others, and serving others, etc.
We need to pray FOR our kids every day, and we need to let them know that we are doing it. At times, I think we need to go that next step of actually praying for them “live.” Instead of saying that you’re going to pray for them later, stop what you are doing and pray for them right then, and do it out loud so they can hear what you are saying. This kind of modeling prayer is an amazing way to teach our kids how to pray.
Take time to pray with them while THEY are praying. (And don’t just pray with your children when they need something.) Help them navigate a prayer time, help them read Scripture, ask them what they are hearing as the Lord speaks to them. Now, this may be unfamiliar even for some of us as parents. That only makes a stronger case for the need to grow as a disciple ourselves first. These types of experiences in prayer are regular fare for a disciple.
Bring Your Faith Into Conversations
First of all, this implies that you actually have conversations. When studies show that average teenagers spend around 9 minutes a week in meaningful conversation with their parents, I guess I can’t take that for granted. So for starters, if your are not talking regularly with your children, start making more time for that every week. You’ll be surprised how much they actually desire to talk with you.
Secondly, this doesn’t have to be forced or awkward. In fact, the more natural your faith is in your own daily life, the more naturally it will come up in conversations with your kids. Share how your faith is important to you, how God has been present to you, or some way He has blessed you. The point is, in order for your kids to be influenced by your faith, they actually have to see you practicing it. I’ve met many parents that say their faith is something private to them, and they don’t like talking about it with others, even their own families. All I can say to that is that you have to get over it. We are losing a staggering percentage of young people from the Church these days. Many are leaving in their teenage years, and even more in their young adult years. Most talk about the shallow, empty experience they had with the Church. They experienced adults as hypocritical, judgmental, and wishy-washy in their own belief. We need to be better than that for our kids.
Be a Disciple-Maker
One of the most significant roles we have to play as parents is to help our kids become true followers of Christ. This can be a daunting task, but not impossible. It requires lots of patience and perseverance. But most importantly, it is not a task we handle alone. God is at work with us in this effort! And He has an amazing amount of grace to provide – all we have to do is ask. He is even more invested in the outcome of our kids than we are, even though we’re the parents.
There are many resources out there that can help. But the basic principle is simple – as you grow as a disciple, you are more and more capable of helping someone else be a disciple, hence the term disciple-maker. Keep growing, keep learning, studying, and rooting yourself in God’s plan, and you will know how to help your children do the same.
One final note: a good disciple-maker knows how to disciple through the context of a relationship. We see this evidenced most clearly by Jesus Himself. And at the heart of good youth ministry is the ability to build a relationship with young people. Well, I have always believed that if parents would just see themselves as youth ministers, their parenting skills would improve manifoldly. Especially as our kids get older, sometimes we need to get out of the disciplinary role and move more into the adult friendship role. Get into relationship with your children, share your faith with them, and don’t be afraid to be their discipler. You may feel inadequate, but you are actually the best person for the task!
“Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother, exercising their royal priesthood, penetrate the innermost depths of their children’s hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface.” —John Paul II, On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, 60
How am I growing in my relationship with Christ and becoming a stronger disciple?
How can I be a better discipler of my children?