One of the greatest concerns in the midst of dismantling your faith is how shifting belief constructs affect parenting and raising children. What follows are four ways faith shifts affect children. And yes, they are all positive.
Where I Have Been, Who I Want to Raise
During my childhood and teens years, I was raised within two separate religious denominations which had both split from the same beginning about a century ago. While they formed away from one another they both developed some of the same toxic patterns: a heavy presence of spiritual pride, greed, hoarding of wealth, hiding, exclusion of the “other,” inequality for women, and an inability or lack of willingness to protect women and children. This manifests not only in their leaders, but into the core of their local church ministries and members.
As my own faith dismantled I experienced not only a deep grief at what I thought I released, but also a deep fear at how to raise our children outside and beyond what I believed as “true.”
Here’s the thing those groups need you to believe you need the church to raise children who follow and believe in (their script of) God. But what I discovered about God beyond the confines of each Evangelical denominations’ bologna was the manner in which God meets us along the way no matter where, how, or who we happen to be.
YOU do not require a denominational script to raise wholehearted, compassionate, GREAT kids.
No one denomination holds the monopoly on raising children who love well, live well, and serve God and their communities in the process anyways.
Four ways faith shifts affect children
One: On the other side of a faith shift you find less shame, fear, guilt, need to be right and instead more room for doubt and the “other.” There is less room for pride, people-pleasing, and approval-seeking while offering more understanding to WHO we are before the Divine.
One of the many ugly monsters which crept up among the young people in the churches of my youth and adulthood was the presence of shame, fear, guilt, and pride with a dabble of people-pleasing or approval-seeking to meet their elders where their elders needed to be met.
What does this look like?
A church group where we once lived had a heavy influence in the community around it. BUT you could easily identify which kids belonged from this specific church gathering because of the manner in which they treated other kids and adults who did not belong to them. It was ugly to witness. And I wondered how often we – as Evangelical Christian young people – acted like this towards those who did not go or belong among us when I was growing up?
Shame. Fear. Guilt.
One of the things I knew most in my church history was shame, fear, and guilty feelings. Whether it was outright fear of God because of those horrific “Thief in the Night” videos we watched in the dark at Wednesday night church. OR those equally disturbing “ProLife” videos which were all the rage in 1980s church gatherings. Also the UNENDING usage of Focus on the Family/James Dobson materials meant to push us closer to “Family Values.”
I knew one thing about God and the adults around me – FEAR THEM.
Be a good Christian girl, do not upset the adults or GOD. Everyone is watching and angry with you. So I prayed “The Sinner’s Prayer” every single time someone asked if we needed to just to make sure, and I grew up using the Bible like a sword the way we practiced, and I knew how to evangelize others and often.
If you identify these beliefs and tendencies in your faith history – you can offer your children hopeful alternatives. Shame, fear, and guilt do not need to be on the table of their own spiritual development. You choose healthy alternatives. Begin to choose outside the approved denominational box. Instead offer them abundant life because you understand what it means to live in the overflow.
Raising Little Church Recruiters?
TWO: Raising your children during and after a faith shift means your children sound less like denominational bill boards or walking commercials for the Christian faith.
Recently they came knocking on our door, Christian Church Recruiters wanting to know where we went to church, or if we went to church. I got the impression no matter what we said or how we said it their church was going to be the best and only viable option for our family.
I feared for my neighbors – here they come attempting to convert the whole neighborhood. All the converting.
As the door shut behind them I asked the Divine’s forgiveness – Forgive me for believing that is what you required of me.
You don’t need to save everyone. The savings been done.
As your faith shifts you let go of needing to SAVE EVERYONE. You won’t need your children TO EVANGELIZE and SAVE the whole neighborhood. And you enjoy friendship with the heathens. The heathens are refreshing and hopeful and so kind.
The good news you offer to those around you as your faith shifts wide will look vastly different from what you were taught. Honestly this is scary. But on the other side of the fear is HOPE.
You find you have no desire to raise little warriors for the faith spreading the good news where ever they go. You are not shooting little arrows from your mothering heart out into the world because YOU KNOW aiming arrows from your heart means your are shooting duds. Arrows get no altitude aiming that way. What does an arrow have to do with this anyways? Weren’t we talking about kids?
You ask what good news they are supposed to offering as they are encouraged to go friend to friend and door to door – inviting all the people to church? Usually this “Good News” is a well scripted take on the scriptures and Jesus as that specific denomination or religious group represents/believes it.
As you begin to see and shift, you show your children one very specific way the Good News for some is not the Good News for all…
Inclusion of the Other
Three: The Inclusion of Others. As we shift wide we being to ask the right questions of our faith gatherings whether we stay or go:
- How is that one true faith on being inclusive of all people?
- Are women fully represented in leadership roles as pastors?
- Can women serve communion or baptize or preach from the pulpit?
- Are LGBTQ people invited to the table and included in the faith communities -without restriction?
- Do people of color go here? How are they received?
- Do people who smell go here? How are they received?
- Do people who speak a different language and come from a different country go here? How are they received?
- How do we look after the elderly?
- How do we react when children roll beneath the pews during the service?
- What if I vote Democrat? What if I am pro-choice? What if I vote for marriage equality? How do I fit then?
If ALL PEOPLE ARE NOT INCLUDED AND RECEIVED then the “good news” isn’t Good News for all people.
It’s a cherry-picked news for that kid, and that FAMILY, but not that one there or that LGBTQ child and family over here.
Smashing the Patriarchy
Another good thing about getting beyond the faith of my youth I found the expansive beliefs of those different from me. Some of the most healing moments I found while receiving communion and blessings from women – leading and serving in our local ELCA church.
The FEMALE pastor speaking words of hope and peace over of the heads and lives of my children was something I never knew in the confines of the Evangelical churches of my youth. Women do not minister in this way. Women and children are confined and relegated to the kitchen, nursery, Sunday school classrooms, and basement.I experienced this while standing right alongside my LGBTQ neighbors I found healing and hope.
In the churches I knew there was no declarations of peace and Good News for all people coming from all sorts of people behind the pulpit.
The Good News is very white and very straight and very wealthy and very Republican and very Evangelical.
Able to Live Off Script
FOUR: As you see more clearly, as you open your eyes more fully to the world and people around you without limits or approved boundaries, while shedding prejudice, homophobia, bigotry, denial, shaming, fear, and doubt… then your children’s eyes open wider too. They begin to see in ways you can not script or anticipate. They overflow with hope and compassion for others.
They show immense grace to themselves in a way my generation never knew.
As you refuse to tie your children down to denominational baggage – you offer them hope instead. As you begin to get real about what leaves you bound, silenced, and afraid you see HOW to open your children’s lives to the expansive love of a very real God.
A lack of spiritual baggage is good news. You do not need a church to help you help your children see and KNOW God.
Read With Discernment
I know it can be very frightening to begin to let go of conservative teachings and leaders we have been told our whole lives we can trust. We cannot trust their agendas… Our kids need better teachers and better curriculum and better voices. That starts with me.
As a family we are not tied down to approved reading materials, or approved nonprofits to engage with, therefore they are not closeted into approved thoughts and narrow ideas. Because I am not bound my children are not bound. There isn’t one Bible Kids club that is better or more approved in our house – frankly they all kind of stink so we choose to engage the Word and people in other ways.
We no longer fit in closed, defined, well-rehearsed belief systems.
When you stop trying to Evangelize your children, your neighbors and friends, and then the whole world – the whole neighborhood and world opens up to you. They don’t require your saving. They require your presence, peace, love, and hope.
The Good News that lives within you and defines your life should be offered freely and openly. There is not one church that desperately needs pew-fillers to meet budget and vision goals…. that can meet your child’s need for God the way that SHE or you can. By being real, honest, doubtful, and brave about where you have wandered, what you don’t know and why – you open up your family to being real and honest and wide together.
You don’t need the church for your children to be healthy, whole and OK.
Think about how many of the toxic belief patterns in your life come from what you learned in church?
Tomorrow I will chat about confronting the faulty faith beliefs from my childhood, how the church navigates children and why we as a family are hesitant to engage the church in her current unhealthy state. How can an unhealthy church help you raise Healthy Wholehearted Children?
Join our Facebook Group for Church rejects, recovering Evangelicals, feminists, parents and singles… where ever you happen to be we have a space for you on the Front Porch – Conversations From the Front Porch
Experiencing your own faith shift? Consider this book from Kathy Escobar (affiliate link) Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart
This is part 15 & 16 in one from a series on Shifting Faith – Confronting My Church Wounds. You can find the rest of the series below:
- Coming Undone
- Pit of Despair
- Healing Takes Time
- The Act of Seeing
- Mean Church Girls
- You are NOT Good Enough
- A Year of Silence
- Evangelicals and the “Gay Agenda”
- I Felt Duped
- Critical, Sexist Church Men
- Anniversary of Tears
- Conservative Christian Women Support Trump
- Generational Consequences of Violence Against Women