Should parents influence the faith of their children?

The faith of our children

A lot of parents indicate that they don’t want to influence their kids too much as to which religion they choose. They want their kids to be able to choose their religion freely for themselves without any kind of bias.

I think that’s a really neat idea.

That is…if your religion is as arbitrary or as inconsequential as your favorite color.

If, on the other hand, one truly believes their religion to be true, it’s not only a bad idea to take this approach, it’s negligent.

Imagine if I took the same approach with, say, crossing a busy street. And I decided I didn’t want to educate my toddler about the dangers of crossing a busy street because I wanted him to be able to decide on his own exactly how he wanted to cross it.

Not even a terrible parent would do that.

We decide what our kids eat. Where they sleep. What time they go to bed. Where they go to school. Who their friends are. What kinds of activities they are involved in. And what they will learn in almost every aspect of their life. We’re often comfortable influencing who they should vote for and which social issues are good and which are evil. But when it comes to the fundamental and most important truths of our being, we think it wise to leave them vulnerable, unprepared and adrift in a world of nonsense that is going to influence them whether we decide to or not.

Either you believe your religion, or you don’t. Either you believe the busy street is dangerous, or you don’t. And if you’re unsure, I hope you’ve dropped everything else in order to figure it out as soon as possible. Especially if you’re letting your kids go it alone.

[photo credit]

32 comments Add comment

Chris Wright September 2, 2010 at 9:53 am

If you don’t influence your children’s faith, someone else is waiting to do so.

Carol September 2, 2010 at 10:19 am

This is really funny timing on this one. I just had a conversation with a friend who “hates all religion”. I happen to know that his mother (may she RIP) is a VERY good Catholic. She DID teach her children about Catholicism, but she did it in a very passive way, assuming that, like herself they would be free-thinking individuals and reach the natural conclusion that Catholicism was the Church established by Jesus and the best means to being closer to the Creator. Anyone who DOES go the extra mile and do the required research to determine the truth of this will be well rewarded.

Unfortunately, what my friend’s mother didn’t realize and I think what most Catholics of her generation are unaware of is that our culture is FAR from unbiased regarding religion, especially Catholicism. From the moment we are conceived we are bombarded with an anti-Catholic smear campaign that foments throughout our entire school-life and culminates in our college “education”. Catholicism is blamed for war, famine, poverty, excess, you name it. The “Black Plague”? – Oh, that was just a natural result of Catholicism. The list goes on and on. Think I am making this up? Ask ANY public school kid what a Catholic is and prepare to be shocked. Does anybody ever actually look in their kid’s history books?

Even if the child goes to Catholic school, the problem does not entirely go away. Not all Catholic schools are Catholic. And let’s not forget the vast anti-Catholic bombardment from ALL the media sources.
Matt, I agree 100%. Passivity leads to destruction for your children; both in traffic and in spiritual growth. The big difference being that at least in traffic, the cars aren’t TRYING to kill your kids. Think about it.

dbond September 2, 2010 at 10:34 am

To not influence our children’s faith is likened to building a house on a foundation of shifting sand. There is no strong foundation, and the house will move or fall and crumble as a result of a strong wind. Satan and his minions are waiting with baited breath to blow apart such foundation-less souls, and bring them to eternal ruin.
We leave our children helpless and easily corrupted if we leave their spiritual health to happenstance. The soul is that portion of the person which is everlasting, and a child is given to the parent to be nurtured and cared for. If a parent neglects any portion of that child God has entrusted to their care, be it physical, emotional and/or spiritual, we will answer to Him for it. “To much that has been given, much is required”. And, whoe to those who would cause the loss of soul of any of these, His little ones, (to paraphrase), it would be better for him to have an anchor tied about his neck and tossed into the deepest part of the sea. No worse harm can a parent do to their child than to neglect giving them a foundation of faith built on Truth, upon Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the one True Church which Our Lord founded upon the rock of Peter.

MyFeminineMind September 2, 2010 at 11:11 am

I think this question is the same as “Should parents pass on their values to their kids?” Everyone would say of course. I think you’re right though, if parents don’t have strong religious beliefs, then they don’t think that it’s something important to share with their kids and thus they don’t understand why those of us whose faith is extremely important to our lives would want to share that with our children. Perhaps as an aside though, not all of us do decide what our kids will eat, or where (and if) they go to school, etc. But I won’t go into that here, but just let anyone who is interested in why anyone would think such a crazy thing as that to go to my blog :)

Lisa@SoundMindandSpirit September 2, 2010 at 11:21 am

What an important topic. I wish I had the guts to send this to my in-laws. This is the avenue they chose with their sons and now, my husband still is floundering in his faith and beliefs. He had absolutely no foundation of faith growing up. Thankfully, he is supportive of my passing on my Catholic faith to the kids. Thank you for laying it out so nicely.

Eyeball September 2, 2010 at 11:49 am

If you dont expose your children to church before they reach age 7, then the odds are that they will go through life without religion. There kids will also never be exposed to religion.

Deacon Tom September 2, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Thanks for the topic. As a deacon, I’ve struggled with many forms of this debate. Some parents decided (when the children were 2 or 3 years old) that the children were too much trouble to try to keep quiet and respectful and so they stopped bringing them to Masses…. and by 7 or 8 years of age, the kids didn’t want to go because it didn’t mean anything to them, etc. etc. There are many variations — all too sad. And while we have our own mistakes to pray about — at least I’ve repented and tried to give strong later year example. Some parents will meet a harsh and just Judge rather than a feel-good, touchy feely Jesus. May He have mercy on us all. Blessings. dt

Brett Salkeld September 2, 2010 at 7:37 pm

To me the biggest problem with the mentality that lets kids pick their own religion is the idea that you can somehow provide them with a neutral space from which to pick it. If you were really into the sort of epistemological humility that says, “I believe this, but I could be wrong, and it’s best you make your own decision,” I could respect the decision to let your children pick their own religion . . . if there were any neutral ground for them to pick it from. Problem is, if you don’t give them the ground, something else is gonna fill in the blanks for you. And as much as everyone likes to pretend, there’s no such thing as neutral in religion.

Marc Cardaronella September 2, 2010 at 11:39 pm

In Deuteronomy 6, God tells the Israelites to repeat the Shema day and night and to drill it into their children. I think the same exhortation stands for parents today. I think this family component of faith is so incredibly important and so lacking. Even beyond the above extreme, what about parents that do want to raise their children in the Faith but have no religious dialogue with them. I believe the Faith has to be lived within the family in some way for it to really stick with the kids.

Michael P September 3, 2010 at 2:08 am

I am married and have two little ones. My problem is my fault and I take responsibility for it. My wife was baptized Catholic and not raised Catholic, however she did attend Catholic grade and high school. My in-laws are immigrants from Italy who do not believe in the teachings of the Church. I am a revert to the faith even though I knew God was with me all along. Ever since I got married I dreaded this and thought OMG my kids won’t have my faith. This made me along with another vice increase my faith as I was forced to my knees to ask for help from Him. I am challenged with liberal views about abortion, contraception, end of life issues and all the rest. An example of the feeling I get is when I wanted to take my daughter to mass for Jan 1 holy day I was told not to make our kids Jesus freaks or for reading the bible on my iPhone. The little ones are only 4 and 1.75 years old, but my time to impact them is waning. I am sorrowful and scared for my kids (and my wife) and their souls (and my marriage) as they didn’t get a chance because of my disregard for the sacrament of HOLY marriage and lack of self-confidence to stand up to this. I am not sure where to turn and have to handle this with kid gloves. Or maybe I have to raze my house with hey this is how its’ gonna be around here. I would love a Priest friend that is true to the Church’s teachings and is not afraid to tell me how it is. Key learning here is that marriage prep needs to be one on one with a priest and NFP needs to be a required learning.

Any suggestions and your prayers would be greatly appreciated!!

enness July 11, 2011 at 10:07 pm

In response to the “Jesus freaks” comment: there are a lot of worse things they could grow up to be! I don’t think she’d be able to argue with that! :)

MyFeminieMind September 3, 2010 at 10:31 am

To Michael-
Such a cross! I think Though I would tend to side against “razing your house.” Belief in anything cannot be forced, and although you may be able to force outward compliance, you cannot force genuine belief. And forcing the issue would likely cause a lot of resentment. St Francis of Asissi says, “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.” I think you should show respect for your wife’s journey, partly because we beleive in religious freedom, and partly because it is respectful to the dignity of the human person. God does not force himself on us, but gently knocks and always invites. Also, the most important religious instruction we can give our children is to model our beliefs. I think by living your faith, and having spontaneous, natural conversations about God and about different aspects of the faith both to your wife and your children, I don’t think she could object to. After all, you’d simply be sharing yourself with them. And I believe the most effective evangelization is personal. Meeting a person where they are, loving them as they are, and then helping them take that next right step. Hope this helps and hope it made sense. If you want to talk more, you can DM me on Twitter, and I’ll give you my email.

Marc Cardaronella September 3, 2010 at 11:06 am

This is such great advice! Michael, I think MyFeminieMind is right. You really can’t force faith on your wife. In my work in the parish, I deal with many couples that are mixed faith Catholic/Protestant or a Catholic married to someone with no belief. It’s definitely worse to try to pressure your spouse to believe what you believe.

However, I also think it’s important to let your wife know that this is important to you and you would appreciate the freedom to introduce and raise your children with faith. It’s so very important for fathers to be faithful. Fathers usually carry the influence regarding whether kids will actually practice the Faith once they leave home. There’s much more chance if the kids see the father truly living it and discussing religion with them. You can be a very valuable influence in this regard.

Andrew September 3, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Yes, this is such a strong line of reasoning, I’m always surprised I don’t see it more often.

And I agree that fathers are the ones the kids are looking at, especially the boys. They will do whatever Dad does.

Michael, I would dramatically increase your hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Try to bring your kids when you can. If your wife questions it, tell her you like to read and the chapel is a quiet place where you can get some reading done. Which is all true. Good luck.

Thonas September 3, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I was raised in a non-religious, post-Protestant home and now I am a devout Catholic…. but there is no way that when I have kids that I am going to play some sort of sick Russian Roulette with their eternal souls, hoping that somehow they will all hit the jackpot of faith.

Kayla September 4, 2010 at 9:53 am

I totally agree Matt. People try to say that you shouldn’t indoctrinate your kids (teach your kids about God), but the truth is, they’ll be “indoctrinated” either way you look at it. Great post!

Jacky September 4, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Great post Matt! This comes up time and time again.

Mark September 8, 2010 at 4:05 am

Excellent post, and a full reflection of my opinion on the case. I hear the contrary all too often, and I always wonder how the people who say that view their own faith. Maybe they think it is indeed just a preference that makes them feel good, like their favourite food or, indeed, colour.

Gina September 12, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Well I went to a Catholic school for the first three years of my school days, but I was baptised Christian at eight years old, my parents let me decide, and I dont believe they let me wait long enough because I have made some mistakes as every teenager does, but if you think about it being baptised is giving yourself entirely to God and thrieving in his word. And when I have children I will take them to church, a catholic church because I believe they are more true to their values and concepts but when the time comes I will allow my children to decide that is there choice and theirs only. YOU CAN NOT FORCE RELIGION ONTO ONE,they must find themselves before they can commit themselves to a lifestyle as they please.

dbond September 14, 2010 at 3:52 pm

As a child becomes an adult, Gina, they can reject the religion they were brought up in, but faith, not religion, is that thing which cannot be forced upon anyone. You, as a parent, can raise your child to participate in the religion of your choice, you as a parent not only have that right, but that responsibility. As a person wanting to live a good Catholic life, you are to raise your children as Catholic. You are joining with God in helping to build and shape that child into a person of faith-although no one can force faith into that child’s life. Our Lord God will not force faith onto that child. Faith is a gift, one we should ask God to bless our children with, and ask Him for the graces needed so that they will accept that gift.
What you do, when having that child baptized and taught the truths of the Catholic Church, is presenting the best climate for faith to germinate and grow in that child. Preventing that child from receiving the gift of everlasting life and sanctifying grace that comes to them in the sacrament of baptism is neglectful, and something that we as parents will have to answer for. Suppose your child would die before being able to reach the age of desiring baptism? You wouldn’t want them to be prevented from entering into heaven because of your neglect, right? Baptism makes up adopted sons and daughters of God, erases original sin from our soul, and makes available sanctifying grace-gifts only God can give, but only available if we bring our children to Him in the sacrament of Baptism.

enness July 11, 2011 at 10:09 pm

May I add they not only have the right and responsibility, but a clear mandate: “Raise up your children in the way they should go, and when they are grown they will not depart from it.”

dbond September 14, 2010 at 3:57 pm

“Baptism makes up adopted sons and daughters of God”,
Sorry, I meant to say: “Baptism makes US adopted sons and daughters of God”
I need to proof-read better! Mea culpa.

Florence October 4, 2010 at 9:55 am

YOUR ALL RIDICULOUS. i am a child and studying this and your all insane. why are you choosing the path your children take? your forcing them to be something that they might not want to be. let them decide. if they are intellectual individuals then they will choose to be religious or not, and be happy with their decision, otherwise you all may end up with your children resenting the choice you made for them. I personally have felt that.

enness July 11, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Florence, I’m sorry you feel that way. Do keep in mind that as you get older you may see things in a different light. I know that sounds silly, but it happens sometimes. In elementary school I could not see any possible value to learning to type systematically on a keyboard. Many many years later, I started reading a lot of job applications that required a certain level of keyboard skill; I began to count up all the missed opportunities and, though I haven’t told her, I kind of wish my mother had been more persistent about making me learn.

If your parents are like most parents, I’m sure they are motivated by the sheer love of you and the desire for you to have a good future — which, for religious folks, usually includes a good eternity!

dbond October 4, 2010 at 10:18 pm

you wrote:
“i am a child and studying this and your all insane.”
Would you care to explain what you mean? YOU are a child? What do you mean “studying this”-studying what? And, what makes you think we (not sure who you meant by “we”) are all insane?
I am confused about what it is you are trying to say here. Please clarify.

tracy chambers November 2, 2010 at 11:59 am

i know my religion is the truth. but i do not have to force my daughter she just watches her mother models a christian life

Aaron April 27, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Wow, I’m getting Ignorance Overload Syndrome from this article and the comments here. I must leave…

Carol April 28, 2011 at 10:13 am

This qualifies as an unhelpful comment. One has to wonder what the purpose of making it is.

To call someone “ignorant” but do nothing to correct said ignorance is tantamount to simple name-calling and, I’m sorry to say is exceedingly lazy as well.

Aaron, while your reply may have felt good at the time it has done nothing but emphasize the points made here. The IOS you feel is coming from within.

If you are a child, I can empathize; these things don’t make sense until you have seen the world a bit. It’s called “wisdom” and, alas, can only be obtained from experience.

Bill April 29, 2011 at 9:43 pm

I was married for 25 years to a woman I adored who believed just like the parent who would rather let the child choose… but that is because she was brought up a Jehovah’s Witness and couldn’t wait to leave home.

Matt, this is a good topic. I often wondered why my Protestant Friends were so against Child Baptism. They argued it should be something they do once they are old enough to understand and confess Christ. I know of a WONDERFUL Baptist family who had a son that was never baptized. HE was AFRAID of it. HE went his whole life confessing Christ but was not baptized until he was in his late 30’s, after the death of both his Parents.

As a younger man I was all for infant Baptism, even when I LEFT the Catholic Church and went to the Evangelical Church. I always argued that Look at God’s intention. IN the JEWISH law, a newborn male had to be presented to the temple and circumcised, where he would become a partaker of the Covenant. AS Christians, Catholics we baptize our Children traditionally at the same time. Even though we don’t believe in LIMBO, why wouldn’t you want your son or daughter ADOPTED INTO the Family of God… his Church as soon as Possible? Then that child has the Holy Spirit and the sanctifying GRACE of the Sacrament. HE IS not only a member of his family unit… but the larger family of God. Partaker of God’s Mercy. To me… It is a NO Brianer!

Additionally Matt, I agree with your post. Train up a child in the way he should go… in EVERYTHING… ESPECIALLY the Important stuff. My son went to church with me every SUNDAY.

Melanie September 30, 2012 at 9:19 am

I agree with your argument for bringing up a child in religious direction. My great grandparents were devout Anglicans, my grandparents also (both sides), both my parents left the faith as adults but had my sister and me baptized as infants before that. My grandparents took us to church, taught us and encouraged us to be confirmed with Holy Communion which we did. Later I was married in the Church and my children have been baptized and attended church weekly from infancy until 15 / 16 yrs old (eldest), others still involved (young / mid teens). While our eldest (almost 19) is not practicing at present she still has some faith but is testing the waters and working out her own beliefs / journey.

The thing is that she has a starting point, something from which to make her judgments regarding religion and faith. I wandered for a while but came back after owning it for myself. I am so thankful my grandparents did not have the same attitude as my parents, that we would figure out our own path somehow. I believe I have been given a rich background to draw on and wanted the same for our children. If you are really convicted of the truth of your religion why would you rob your children of sharing it? Humans are not robots, they will not be programmed, if they don’t agree they will choose to leave themselves as my parents did. However, if faith develops within them then they have truly been given a great gift!

My hope is that our children will have a spiritual base to return to even if they have a period of time in the wilderness sorting it out for themselves as older teens / young adults. I really believe what the scriptures tell us to do, to ‘train a child in the way the should go’.

If it is important to people it’s probably worth thinking through this issue before getting married and having children. It can be difficult if parents disagree about spiritual practices when it involves children. My husband doesn’t talk about his faith a lot with the kids unless they bring it up. He attends church weekly, prays at meals and as children prayed with them at night. So they see it as important to him. I pray that has some influence but ultimately it is between each child and the Lord and His mercy.

BIll October 1, 2012 at 8:28 am

When I married our first child was baptized Catholic. Then I left the Church for an Evangelical Denomination. Our second child was not to be baptized until “conversion.” 25 years later I returned to the Catholic Church after vowing never to do so. God is merciful and only in the Catholic Church do you find the FULLNESS of Faith. Then my 18 year old daughter asked me “… was I ever baptized?” When i told her no, she was VERY disappointed. There was about 10 years where I attended NO Church and my now x-wife NEVER attended any church. Now as a young adult my daughter is faced without that key foundation and drifts as a result. If she chooses to become Catholic or marry catholic, she may have to go through RCIA which although it is an incredible experience (I am an RCIA team member) it is timely and requires a lot of work and time. As a team member I truly enjoy and benefit from the RCIA experience as I get to watch so many people grow and ‘blossom’. It does require a lot of time and energy and I don’t know if i am going to be able to convince my daughter of its value … especially as she is in college and in a ‘relationship’ with someone who is not Catholic. Life gets to complicated and I pray God forgives me for not doing a better job of instructing her in the faith. Please learn from my mistake. I now realize that just as you have welcomed a new born child into your family as a whole; WHY wouldn’t you want to welcome her also into the FAMILY OF GOD. Let her make choices when she is older and has some foundation. It is easier on you and her.

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