A faith-based life has been an important family value with our children. While both my wife and I take responsibility for helping our children have a strong spiritual focus, I have found that it is critical for me to be involved in the effort, especially with our sons. Helping our sons grow spiritually is a key focus for me as a father.
A 2003 study by the Barna Research Group suggested that while 85% of parents believe that they have the primary responsibility for teaching their children about religious beliefs and spirituality, the majority of parents spend no to very little time in a given week talking about these issues.
Many of these parents take their children to church services regularly, but it seems that they are relying on others to help their children develop faith and spirituality.
So, if as parents we feel a responsibility to help our children grow spiritually, and if dads need to take a critical role in that effort, especially with our sons, then we need some action steps and strategies to accept that responsibility and teach these important values in our daily parenting life.
Consider these strategies for helping our children develop a strong personal sense of spirituality in their lives.
Rely on family spiritual rituals. We often think of spiritual rituals as the things that occur in a sanctuary on the Sabbath or on holy days, but daily spiritual rituals are important in a faith-based family as well. The American Families of Faith project at Brigham Young University identified “anchors of religious commitment” that encouraged youth to develop and maintain a religious commitment.
These anchors included:
Religious rituals, traditions and laws
Commitment to God
Faith tradition or denomination
Faith community members
Scriptures or sacred texts
The daily religious rituals that were mentioned in the research involved things like personal and family prayer, personal and family study of religious texts, and talking about faith in daily family meals and other events.
Fathers and families can do a lot for their children by establishing daily faith-based rituals early and staying with them through the child-rearing years.
Capitalize on teaching moments. As we spend time with our sons, we can often find when a topic comes up that has a faith-based or values-based issue. For example, when I was a child and a member of our extended family became pregnant outside of marriage, my dad and I had a talk about intimacy and marriage in the context of a spiritual or covenant relationship. It would have been easy for him to say how “messed up” this family member was, but he took the time to teach me about marriage as a sacred opportunity and the bounds of intimacy as taught by our religion.
Let your sons see your devotional behavior. If your family has a strong faith tradition, make sure that your son sees you taking the lead as a spiritual mentor. Reading scripture or sacred texts together with your son, or talking about what you read in your personal study, can be a way to encourage him to follow your example.
Start early by praying with your children before they go to bed at night; this will let your sons know that prayer is an important part of your spiritual life.
Attend church regularly. Weekly church attendance (for us, on Sundays) has been a long family tradition. When we attend church together as a family, we establish a pattern which our children can embrace and adopt. When dad is involved and engaged at church, our sons get permission to do the same. If your church has a men’s group or even if you get together socially with men from the church, bring your sons along.
Make time to be in nature. Dads and sons can find great experiences together in the outdoors - camping, fishing, and hunting are common outdoor activities. When you are in nature, enjoy the time together to be sure, but take time to point out the presence of God in nature. Help your sons to see the hand of God in His creations; enjoy the beauty and bounty that nature enjoys and use it as a time to teach about God, faith and spirituality.
Men with a strong faith tradition can do much to pass on their sense of faith and their feelings about God to their sons (and their daughters). With a few simple steps, and with a watchful eye for teaching opportunities, we can make a difference in the spirituality of our children.