By Alison Andreasen
Raising kids is hard. Raising kids in a culture in which you did not grow up is even harder. You don’t know the words, traditions, music, important people, or behaviors of that culture and yet you want to pass that knowledge down to your children. Many immigrants to our country know this. And if you are like me and did not belong to a Christian family growing up but are a Christian now, you know this too. Christianity has a culture. There is a belief system with certain words, traditions, music, important people, and behaviors that all Christians share. You want your children to grow up being a part of this new culture, even though you, yourself are playing catch up.
This is particularly obvious in church on a Sunday morning. What should I do with toddlers when they throw a tantrum in church? How strict should I be with older kids who are able to participate, but don’t? What do I do when my kid yells a word at the wrong place at the wrong time? I have been there. I think all parents have been there. For those of us who don’t have a clue how to respond because we never experienced being the child in these scenarios, this difficulty is very real. Below are a few thoughts for those who weren’t raised in the faith, but are raising their children as Lutheran Christians.
1. Give thanks to the Lord. He has worked faith in you and made you a part of His family. You were once an outsider, but now you are a child of the living God! If there is one thing you take away from this post, I hope it is this: You know more than many others what a blessing it is to be called a “Christian” and to have Christ’s name put on you to describe who you are. You didn’t deserve it, but out of His mercy, He chose you! And He wants you to raise your children in that same knowledge. Thanks be to God for His mercy!
2. Surround yourself with role models slightly older than yourself: It is helpful to find people who can inform the way you do things. If those individuals meet the criteria of a faithful family according to Scripture, then observe how they interact in church, ask them questions, and consult them during times of uncertainty. It is best if this can be someone you see often in person. Internet relationships are good, but can also create a misleading depiction of what someone’s life is like.
3. Put your children in the way of other Christian role models: Immigrant parents will often make sure that their children are around other adults who can teach them English or American culture. Because of this, it is often the children who become comfortable in the new culture more quickly than the parents. This is not an excuse for parents to halt learning, but rather a recognition of a reality of your own weakness and the desire for your children to be impacted by other experts in the field. This is something my own mother did and I am extremely grateful for her humility and diligence.
4. Remember, the Christian life is a marathon: When you are passionate about raising your children in the faith because you know what an amazing gift it is, you may feel such an urgency in the task at hand that you sprint and get disheartened easily. Sometimes when we feel such an urgency, we see aspects of the faith as checklist items, either patting ourselves on the back for what our children can do in church or feeling like a failure when they can’t or won’t. Just because a 2-year-old says the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t mean you can check that skill off the list. In two weeks or two months, that same child may defy you and not say it. Likewise, a child who refuses to stand during church, is not showing that they reject the faith. They may just be tired.
5. Children are their own people. They are not always a perfect reflection of your parenting. No matter how faithful of a parent you are, you cannot make your child be a child of God. That is the Holy Spirit’s work. That is why we pray for our children. We also know the Spirit works through His word. You speak God’s word of rebuke, guiding, forgiveness, and grace to your children frequently. Their misbehavior is not always a direct reflection of your teaching and modeling. Take heart that just as your own salvation is not dependent on your work, your child’s salvation is not your work, either (or dependent on their own behavior in church!).
6. Talk to your children about your previous life. What was it like to not be a Christian? My mother often said she felt like she was in control and that everything was up to her. Sometimes that felt good, but most of the time it was an incredible weight. My own controlling personality has benefited greatly from her experience.
7. Confess your sins and receive forgiveness. In the task of raising your children the way God would have you do, you are bound to miss the mark. There will be gaps in your child’s faith education. You may loose your temper or slack on discipline. We should all be doing what we can with perseverance, but when we can’t or don’t or won’t and we feel trapped by guilt, we need to hear that Christ has covered all those blemishes. God the Father looks at us and sees not our failings and misgivings, but Christ’s perfect life. You are more than a parent raising your children in the faith. Did you catch that? In this all-consuming task of child rearing--you are more than a child-rearer. You are a child of God, cleansed and being renewed by your Heavenly Father as we speak. He loves you and has brought you into His family. Rest in His care and when your confidence in His unfailing love has made you whole, speak His words to your children, trusting that His words have life-giving power for all who believe them.
You may wish you had grown up in the faith like your children are blessed to do. You may shed tears of joy as you bring your children to the baptismal font, thankful that they get to spend nearly all their days with the promise of God upon their heart and head. Yet, there is no difference in the grace granted to God’s children, no matter when they enter into the family. God has claimed you and made you a part of His chosen people. What a blessing that you and your children can share in God’s love together!
Alison is a wife of one, mother of four, and teacher of many. She lives in rural South Dakota where she enjoys life on the prairie as a dual parish pastor’s wife. A trained Lutheran school teacher and homeschooling mom, she has a passion for children’s education, especially education in the Christian faith. She loves locally grown food, foraging with her family, reading classic literature she's never read before, and day dreaming.