I recently read an article about a family who loved to hike. Actually, not all of them loved it. One son shared how every weekend, rain or shine, he was forced to put on his hiking shoes (yes, forced) and he was loaded into the family car for what he described as a boring, wasted day of tramping in the woods. He said the numerous pre-hike conversations with his mom went like this.
“I don’t feel good.”
“The sunshine will make you feel better.”
“I’m tired. Can’t I stay home?”
“Put your shoes on. Let’s go.”
He did put his shoes on, but not without griping about it. As he hiked, he dreamed of the day when he could make his own decisions and told himself he’d never hike again.
He went on to tell how he’s out on his own now, and guess what? He loves to hike. He says hiking is one of his favorite things he gets to do on the weekend and he goes as often as he can.
This story makes me wonder if the words I told you so ever pop into his mom’s mind. It also makes me stop and consider the somewhat nebulous power of my influence as a parent. As my kids got older (and more opinionated), I often wondered what we should insist on versus what they got to decide. Things like brushing their teeth and going to school were easy (okay, easier) to insist on out of a healthy respect for cavities and detention. But what about things like going to church or participating in youth group? What about even deeper subjects like what they believed about God and faith?
It gets messy.
When our kids were young, it was easy to herd them in the car for church. “Time for kids’ church! Let’s go!”
But then our daughter turned thirteen.
“I don’t want to go to youth group. None of my friends are there.”
Geoff and I had some serious discussions. If we make her go, will she end up hating church? We’d both been brought up in church and could relate to not always wanting to go. We also knew families where they had forced their kids and now as young adults, they didn’t want anything to do with it.
It was hard to know the right path to take. Looking back, we can’t say we handled it perfectly (I bet our kids would chime in on that), but we do feel like we made a few good choices:
1. WE TRIED TO INSPIRE INSTEAD OF NAG.
Geoff and I love great worship music and great preaching, and thankfully we were at a church with both. We often talked with our kids about the teaching we heard at church and how it stirred our hearts. We talked about how worship connected us to God. We told stories about the fun and friendships in our small group, and we often hosted group at our house. We wanted our kids to see what church meant to us and how it formed our relationship with God.
2. WE REQUIRED, BUT WE ALSO LET THEM CHOOSE.
What mattered most to us about church was that our kids were exposed to adults who loved and worshipped God. This wasn’t something we were willing to let go of for our daughter, but we let her choose where these relationships would be. Would she rather go to the large mid-week group or be part of a girls’ small group? We let her decide.
3. WE LEANED INTO OTHERS.
Brittainy’s decision to go to small group turned out to be a game changer. She had a leader who remembered what it felt like to be in middle school and didn’t shy away from talking honestly about it. She shared how she remembered sometimes feeling lonely in middle school, but how she woke up every day and reminded herself of God’s love for her. She talked about how reading her Bible and what it meant to pray and know that God heard her. I wish I could say that my kids’ faith and character were because they had great parents. But I think it was because they had great small group leaders.
If you’re reading this and your kids are rolling their eyes or balking at church or faith, you’re not alone. We can’t force our kids to love God, but maybe we can inspire them. Whatever it feels like today, don’t give up.
Whatever it feels like today, don’t give up. Lean into other leaders and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Show your kids that while their opinions may change, your love and support for them won’t.