Passing The Faith To Our Children: FtJ 3

We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.

Psalm 78:4
Keeping the Faith

by Dr. Christian Smith

Article Link:

Bishop Baron’s Video Based on Christian Smith’s Book, ‘Handing Down The Faith’- How to Keep Our Kids Catholic-

  • In the article, Dr. Christian Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame, summarizes his 2020 book, Handing Down the Faith: How Parents Pass Their Religion on to the Next Generation.
  • Dr. Smith and collaborators spent  two decades studying American teens & young adults (not just Catholics)
  • The main finding is that parents have the most influence in shaping child’s religion (not religious congregations, youth groups, faith-based schools, missions and service trips, summer camps, Sunday school, youth ministers, or anything else)
  • American parents who are NOT especially committed, attentive, and intentional in passing on their faith will produce children who are less religious than they are, if they are religious at all

Christian Smith highlights 4 main ways that parents can effectively pass down faith to their children:

  • Parents should believe and practice their own religion genuinely and faithfully
  • Children of parents who utilize an “authoritative” parenting style are more likely to continue to practice their faith into adulthood.
  • Dr. Smith defines 4 parenting styles:
    1. Authoritative (recommended)
      • Parents hold children to high standards precisely because they love them. 
      • Parents also provide their children with an abundance of warmth, support, and expressive care
      • Children know that when they fail to meet their parents’ standards there will be consequences, but their parents will never withdraw love and support
    2. Authoritarian
      • Parents are demanding, but do not provide warmth and support
    3. Permissive
      • Parents provide affection and empathy but do not set standards and boundaries
    4. Passive
      • Parents do not provide warmth or clear expectations
  • Parents should routinely talk about religion
    • Religion should be part of everyday life, not just Sundays
    • Parents should be comfortable with children exploring and expressing their own ideas and feelings along the way
    • Parents should “channel” their kids into activities that reinforce what they’re being taught at home
      • Kids should have non-family adults that know them well and can engage with them on serious topics
      • Facilitate religious networks and connections through religious media, youth groups, camps, etc.
      • It is important to frame religious formation as a series of steps toward adult practice, not a set of requirements for religious “graduation.”

Final Summary by Dr. Smith

What parents can do—really, all they can do—is practice in their own lives the faith they hope their children will embrace; build warm, authoritative relationships with their children; be mindful and intentional about steering children into relationships and activities that can help personalize religion internally; and then pray and hope that the divine forces in which they believe will lead their children into lives of truth, goodness, and beauty.

Discussion Topics:

What can we do now as parents of young kids? What examples do you have within these categories?

  • Model a religious life for your kids 
  • Day to day rituals
  • Family traditions
  • Symbols/ images in your home 
  • Building relationships
  • Pray for your kids 
Other Resources

Discussion Follow-Up

We discussed how we should pray for our children while also continuing to grow in our own faith because we’ll never reach a state of perfection. We’ll always need to continue on our own journey and relationship with God and Jesus. While we can do this privately by ourselves or with our spouse in some daily ways, we also have to be intentional about including our children in prayer, teaching them how to pray, and being their leading examples of a faith-based life.

This may look like nightly prayers with them before bedtime, including them in your Bible reading, inviting them to join you in prayerful moments throughout the day, having conversations with God and Jesus, or asking them to accompany you in the rosary or daily devotional.

Although attending weekly Mass and the learning and implementing of our faith is non-negotiable, we have to be careful not to force them. We have to remember that we can’t make them have a real connection with God and our faith. We can only direct, guide, and mentor. When they come to us with questions, we must be available to them to answer to the best of our abilities, find out the answers from trusted sources, and to ask them open-ended questions that put the responsibility of their faith on them, not us.

We need to surround them with an atmosphere rooted in faith where God and Jesus are intricately woven into everyday life. We do this with the culture of our own family and our practices, faith-based entertainment or toys, holy water fonts and religious decor, Christian based groups and other Christian adults that can mirror our faith to them from an outside of the family perspective. They need these role models and peers to help them understand the faith more deeply and establish a support network for their own relationship with God.

We cannot just entertain them with the thought of the faith or with faith-based things. We must present them with challenges. Challenge them to be kind to others. Challenge them to experience sacrifice for the good of others. Challenge them to be or service. Challenge them to love God with wild abandonment and to live out Jesus’ teachings to the best of their ability.

There is no perfect formula. There is no secret to success. The reality is that we do our best and trust God to lead our children to him just as he leads us to him every day. We just have to answer him, “yes.”

Published by Kira King

I’m Kira, a God-fearing, do-it-yourselfer, homesteading, Go Dawgs-ing, animal loving kind of Savannah belle. My husband and I live on 4 acres in Savannah, Georgia and are the proud owners of a menagerie of horses, goats, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, geese and a guinea. Life is a grand adventure, and we find simple joys and new purposes around every corner.

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