When Your Child Doesn't Share Your Faith
I have two amazing biological children. (Today I'm not talking about the bunch of non-biological, temporary kids, but know that they're out there and I love them tons!) Lydia entered the world in 1995 and Christopher showed up in 1998. I have not regretted them one single bit!
Caring for these two humans, so dependent on me for the first few years of life, and now completely independent, was the joy of my life. I would have laid down my life for them. Patrick and the children and I did more laughing and playing and working and cooking and cleaning and everything than I could have imagined that a family (and the occasional cats) could have done in those years when we all lived together. Music, books, chaos, church, love, kittie cats - it was all there.
I thought I knew about parenting kids until I had a couple. Then I realized that I knew nothing, so I turned to the experts. In the 1990s and 2000s in the Evangelical community, we got our parenting advice from parachurch organizations that existed to support "traditional" families like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and Family Life. Our churches held parenting conferences and preached about parenting from the pulpit. There were tons of Christian books about parenting. (Although, really, if there was a Christian way to parent, why were there so many books?)
There was a clear message here: If you raise your kids right, they will turn out well. You will get good, Evangelical adults who will get heterosexually married, be middle class, and give you grandchildren. And, that's what we all wanted. It's a good life, let's pass it on to our kids. Maybe I'm being a bit simplistic here, but you get the idea.
They used the scripture Proverbs 22:6 as their justification for their advice. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." The rest of the "biblical" advice is varied at best and often taken out of its biblical context. And, honestly, the Bible doesn't really say that much about parenting. The best Christian parenting books are like the best parenting books in general. They rely on well-done psychological and sociological studies.
We also homeschooled our kids. Our curriculum was one of the least conservative of the Christian ones out there, and we still cut some of the conservative stuff out. For example, we did not use any of the Young Earth Creationism material. Being part of the homeschooling community, though, we were exposed to a lot of parenting philosophies that included significant sheltering, outdated gender roles, and courting instead of dating. Some homeschoolers talked about raising up a "Joshua Generation" that would reclaim the country for God and the Republican party (we were all Republicans). Patrick and I found a lot of this to be over the top. Nonetheless, we did hope that homeschooling would allow us to give our children a biblical foundation for their life, even if we didn't accept all of the most conservative ideas.
Patrick and I read the books and went to the conferences. We were a bit selective in what we used in our parenting. We used very little corporal punishment. We used mostly rewards and dialogue and not a lot of punishment in our home and it seemed to work. Our kids were obedient and happy. As far as we could tell, life was good.
So, we did it all right, we thought. It was kind of crazy at times, but it was a good crazy. We were all about following Jesus. We did our family devotions. We prayed together before meals and at dinner. We were at church a lot, and the children were both on the worship team. We were training up those kids!!
And now, Lydia, age 25, and Christopher, age 22, are neither one Christians. What did we do wrong? Did we not shelter them enough? Did we shelter them too much? Did we not teach them enough of the Bible or apologetics? Was it a lack of prayer? Should we have done more conservative homeschooling? Should we have put them in school so they could have learned to defend their faith earlier? Should we have prayed more? Did we use the wrong homeschool curriculum?
And the answer to all those questions is who cares now! It is what it is. We can't change the past. And, honestly, considering my own faith journey right now, I don't really want my kids to be toeing the Evangelical line. If it was up to me, I would have them as Jesus-loving progressive Christians. But it's not up to me. As I've pondered this over the last couple of years, I've realized that their faith journey is their own. Patrick and I certainly influenced it with their early upbringing and education, but Lydia and Christopher are their own people. It was always going to be their choice in the end as to whether or not they embraced the faith. They have always had the choice to be Christians or to walk away. And they have the choice to come back to Christianity in any one of its myriad forms.
I think back to my college years. I was not a stellar Christian, although I would have claimed to be a Christian. There were a couple of years when I went to church once or twice a semester and barely cracked a Bible. Only God knew that I would come back embrace the faith very firmly a few years later.
Lydia and Chris are wonderful people. They are hard-working, generous, loving adults. Patrick and I love interacting with them now as grown-ups. They have independent interests. They keep up with current events and we can have fun discussions about lots of things. There's not much I would change about them except that they don't believe in Christianity.
Lydia is happy to talk about faith and religion. They say that they don't really have much time for religion and call themselves non-religious, but they love to talk about things that they or I have read that have to do with theology or church. Lydia isn't currently believing or participating, but they find it interesting. Christopher has some issues with Christianity's claim to exclusivity and concerns about hypocrisy. He would best be characterized as an agnostic.
The kids' current lack of belief is not due to lack of knowledge. Lydia, in particular, can talk circles around Bible college graduates. Their knowledge fund is huge! But they choose not to engage with religion, any religion, right now. Patrick and I feel like we gave them a good start in Christianity and it is up to them to make of it what they will.
It distresses me, though. Not because I think they are going to hell, because I'm not convinced anymore about hell (i.e. eternal conscious torment) as a concept. Rather, I wish they could get the benefits I do from walking with Jesus regularly. Christianity is about loving God and loving others, but when we do this, benefits accrue to us. That's not why we do it, but the peace and contentment that God gives in this life is fulfilling.
Could I have done anything differently as they were growing up that would have kept them in the faith? I don't know. Around the time that Lydia left the church was also when they were sorting through their gender identity and sexual orientation issues. I wish we had been in a religious environment where they could have worked through those issues with someone who could have supported them within a Christian framework. I was still working through those same issues in my own faith journey, so I couldn't be as much of a support to them as I would have liked, although Patrick and I loved them unconditionally and never gave them any cause to feel rejected for their sexual or gender identity.
So, here we are. Patrick and I are Christian believers, but of a generally progressive type. As my last post showed, we're no longer Evangelicals. Our kids, though, never knew anything but Evangelicalism, and they have both left that. I pray every day for them, that they'll find their way back to an authentic faith. And that's all that I can do.
Have you had similar experiences? Your thoughts?