One of the books I read to my children as they were growing up was the classic Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch. Perhaps you’ve read it too—the story of a mother who rocks her son, singing:
I’ll love you forever.
I’ll like you for always.
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be.
In my home we made up a tune to go with the words. I can still sing it to this day, even though my children are long grown. This little song seems to express exactly how a mother feels toward her children—always and forever.
Loving your children as a Christian mother, though, adds another dimension. Yes, we love our children forever and always, but forever becomes redefined. It mean forever, as in eternity, as long as life on this earth lasts and into the heavenly kingdom when Jesus returns. With an earnestness bordering on urgency, we long for our children to love Jesus, to love the church, and to live lives that honor God. The desire is so strong that when it doesn’t happen—when they don’t make the choices we believe to be correct, or they walk away from the church or religion completely—it can go beyond hurt to a deep ache in a mother’s soul.
We decided to survey some Adventist moms about what it’s like to parent a child as it relates to this love that extends into the spiritual. On the surface it seemed like an easy assignment. I created the questions, sent them out to a dozen or more moms across North America with promises of confidentiality, and waited for the response.
And waited. And waited some more.
What I discovered is that this is something many Adventist moms find too painful to share even in a protected environment. They feel guilt, sadness, and grief. The love for their child is unaffected, but their inability to reach their child spiritually is a constant source of pain. One mom who responded, but did not participate, said she felt like a failure. Another referenced the enormous pain in simply answering the questions. And yet another refused to talk about it at all—unable to process the thoughts in order to respond.
Eventually I found five mothers willing to participate, all whose children were grown. I hope that after reading their conversation, you will gain new insights into the heart of Adventist moms. As we celebrate Mother’s Day, praise God for moms who desire above all things that their children learn of Jesus and gain an understanding of the marvelous gift of salvation He extends to them. Continue to pray for their courage to fight the spiritual battles for their children every day, knowing that they aren’t the only ones who love their children always and forever. He does too.
How long have you been parenting?
Mom 1: 33 years
Mom 2: 40 years!
Mom 3: 46 years
Mom 4: 37 years
Mom 5: That’s such a great question. I used to think that parenting had an “end point.” After 44 years of being a parent, I know that parenting lasts for a lifetime. The thrust/focus/method changes—but parenting is for life!
From your experience, do you think that as kids grow older, parenting gets easier, stays the same, or becomes more challenging? Why?
Mom 2: I think each age has its challenges.
Mom 3: Yes. During the early years (birth-5 years), the challenges are easier to manage. Parents understand that infants and small children haven’t learned how to communicate their needs verbally; so the screaming, temper tantrums, or lashing out is expected. In the second phase, say ages 6-12, they want to be independent. They may not want to show affection to you publicly, and may want to do things their way. The third phase, 13-18, can be challenging! During this stage the child still loves their family, but may want to be more independent of parents, preferring to spend more time with friends. Peer influence becomes more important at this stage. The choice of friends can be very problematic if they make bad choices.
Mom 1: For me it started as personal, physical care, then moved to education and training, and then to support. Now it is all about living a real-life example as a follower of Jesus.
Mom 5: I personally think it gets more complicated and nuanced as kids grow older. The early stages are more physically demanding; more time-consuming; involve more direct and constant interaction. But as kids grow older, the distance widens as parents relinquish control. As adults they make their own decisions, which may or may not be the ones you hoped they would make! Parenting older children is therefore less hands-on and more “prayer-filled” and more difficult—since a parent never fully releases the responsibility of parenting.
Mom 4: I agree. I think it is more challenging. The kids want advice, yet they are adults; therefore, you have to be honest yet respectful. All the while knowing that said advice may or may not be followed.
Mom 2: I’ve heard many parents say, “Well, they didn’t come with a manual.” But in a way they do! Read the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy (Ellen G. White) daily—both are full of knowledge on how to raise a child. Satan really wants our children, so it is an ongoing battle.
Mom 1: Sometimes it is a challenge to remain relevant to your adult child’s life.
Mom 5: Much of the parenting of our adult children we do now is done in more of a “peer-to-peer” mode. We spend more time asking God to directly communicate to them that which we can no longer say to them directly!
What kind of things did you do in your home to help your children spiritually as they were growing up?
Mom 4: Morning or evening worship; we welcomed and closed the Sabbath. We read Bible stories, studied the Sabbath School lesson; created and acted out biblical plays. We spent time talking to them about God and listening to them and answering their questions. Lots of time was spent taking them to and being with them in Sabbath School, church service, Adventurers, and Pathfinder meetings.
Mom 1: Our home was similar. I’d add that we read the Junior Guide and other age-appropriate church papers. A favorite book was Margie Asks Why. We prayed with them, played games, both nature and Bible-oriented. Also, Sabbath walks.
Mom 5: Sounds like our house! We also held family worship both in the morning and evening. We absolutely encouraged and fostered being involved in church, such as Pathfinders and church participation. A big component was sending them to Adventist schools. In addition, I’d add that we encouraged Bible reading. When they got older, we involved them in outreach through things like the Magabook program, as well as mission trips and stints at mission service.
Mom 2: Yes! We also exposed them to the needs of others through mission trips; several were with just our family of four. Helping them to see things locally with community projects was important. I was a stay-at-home mom, so I was very engaged in raising them for Jesus. I took it very seriously! The Bible and Jesus were a daily subject; creativity and play were important to me. Speaking to them how I wanted them to speak to me was critical, so I made sure to model this. I also homeschooled for four years.
Mom 3: We also did short family worships, morning and evening; read Bible stories; took nature walks; and had them participate in Pathfinders. One thing I could add is that we listened to Christian radio, and we encouraged listening to Bible storybooks and Christian cassettes. I guess that dates us! But one thing I think did make a difference was that for about six critical years, between the ages of 2 and 10, they were with my husband and me “in the mission field,” in a setting where there was no television on the entire campus where we lived. Considering the large role that media plays in the lives of young children today, that had to have been a huge blessing.
As you look back, would you do things differently as it relates to your children’s spiritual education?
Mom 5: H’mmm. Sometimes I wonder if I overdosed them! But I do not regret what I did—I did the best I knew of at the time. But hindsight is always clearer!
Mom 2: I wish I had been able to homeschool for another two years, but one of my parents became ill, and I needed time with them. Both children were in Adventist schools from third and fourth grade all the way through college.
Mom 1: I actually would rely less on the Adventist school and do more at home. I think I expected that my kids were learning at school the way I did, but they didn’t. I wished I’d figured it out sooner.
Mom 4: I guess I’d also have to say Adventist schooling. I would have sent them from elementary all the way through high school and college. But it wasn’t possible. Church school was very expensive, so we did the best we could.
Mom 3: The only thing I would probably do differently would be to have our membership in a much smaller church, where our children would likely have had more opportunities to participate in church activities. Our children were not very outgoing, and in the larger setting they would participate only if asked. In larger churches, introverted young people, although talented, are often overlooked in favor of their more outgoing and extroverted friends.
Are your children currently active and participating members in a Seventh-day Adventist church? If yes, why do you think they remain connected? If no, what do you believe caused them to drift away?
Mom 3: Our children remain members of the Adventist Church, and one of them willingly participates when asked. The other lives a considerable distance away from the only church they feel comfortable attending, and that poses a bit of a problem.
Mom 5: One of our two children is very involved. The other is very uninvolved. Each made a different choice.
Mom 1: Unfortunately, no. No one from church ever made any effort past high school to personally engage my children.
Interesting you should mention that. I asked my adult children separately why they stayed with the church and received identical answers. They said they stayed because the adults at church talked to them, asked about school, and seemed happy to see them when they came back from college. My girls look similar and are often confused at church. They both said, “They might call me by the wrong name, but at least they noticed I was back.”
Mom 1: I wish it had been the same for my children. No one at church seemed to care if they came or not. Only two members reached out to one child, and eventually both of them moved away. No one ever tried to call on the other child. Because of this, neither child sees any reason to invest the time.
Mom 4: Not all of mine are connected, but they do bring their children to Sabbath School and church, pray with them, and join them in welcoming and closing the Sabbath. For us, the church didn’t offer many alternatives for active participation. At that time the various church positions were heavily commanded by older members who, I believe, felt that young folk didn’t have much to offer or couldn’t/shouldn’t hold a particular office. Therefore, my kids took the view of “If they’re not interested, then I’m not interested either.” Those of mine who did stay were able to find their niche primarily through music.
Mom 3: It's difficult to point to any particular reason or reasons children remain connected to or disconnected from the church, isn’t it? My own siblings and I were brought up by the same two parents, who were leaders in our home church. All four children had leadership roles and were deeply involved in church activities. Yet two of my siblings are no longer practicing Adventists and believe that the church as an institution is no longer relevant.
Mom 2: I think having an open relationship when it came to communication helped my children to stay. We offered no judgment. However, we did hold the line on schooling. No form of education from elementary through college that wasn’t an Adventist school was ever an option. I also think their connection to friends from their Adventist education as a result is such a blessing.
Do you think there is any correlation between parenting and children staying with the church, or do you think it is outside influences that make more of a difference? If other influences, can you describe some that have had an impact?
Mom 5: I believe that there has to be a significant positive correlation between parenting style and some of the choices children make. But I do not have the data to support my hunch.
Mom 1: I think it is both. Being a believer and trying to save my children I think magnified my own failures to live up to biblical principles. They see my failure and then go negative on the God stuff.
Mom 3: This is a very complicated issue.
Mom 2: Personally, I absolutely think parenting and what happens in the home is the most important thing.
Mom 3: I believe that there may be a correlation between parenting and children staying in the church, but I would be reluctant to blame parents solely for their children leaving the church. I believe that most parents do their best with the knowledge and time that they have. Do parents make mistakes? Absolutely, but I believe that no parent willfully does anything that would cause their child to leave the church.
Mom 4: I sometimes wish we’d made going to church or even keeping the Sabbath a little less rigid and a bit more enjoyable. Less focus on all the things we couldn’t do and a bit more focus on what we could do—making it a day to look forward to.
Mom 5: Consciously or unconsciously, we influence our children. But because we do not or should not break their wills, they may end up making choices that we do not support—choices that may be based on other influences. Even Adam and Eve, who emerged from the perfect hands of God, made choices contrary to His will and His word.
Mom 3: I strongly believe that outside influences such as friends and worldly attractions play a major role. During the teenage years especially, children tend to compare themselves to their peers. They develop independence from their parents because peer influence and acceptance become more important at that age. They spend more time with their friends. Teens often spend much of the day outside the home with school activities, friends, and perhaps student jobs; very little of their waking time is spent at home.
Mom 4: I agree. The outside influences of friends, and life in general with its responsibilities, may have contributed to their drifting away.
Mom 2: That’s why I think starting children in school too early is not the best option. I believe that by age 10, children have a better chance to not be peer-dependent.
Mom 3: Then there's social media, computer games, fast-paced technology—so much out there to attract the attention of teens. No wonder church often becomes boring after a while.
Mom 1: Outside media and people influence is huge! The shows on TV focus on relationships and beliefs contrary to the Bible but normalized. TV characters are “good people” doing sinful but “acceptable” things, so that out-of-wedlock sex, homosexuality, alcohol consumption, and more are nonissues. Then when we suggest these “nice people” are potentially “lost,” it doesn’t make sense to them. Now when we try to discuss God, one says he believes; one rejects it all, as far as I can tell. They won’t even discuss the topic. It’s very painful.
Mom 3 There was a time when we had something called the Missionary Volunteer Society (MV Society), a program designed for young people. It was run by young people and would meet typically at a convenient time on Sabbath afternoons, thus giving the kids something to look forward to. Then Adventist Youth took the place of MV meeting on a Friday night, perhaps the worst time of the week imaginable for Adventist parents who have to be the drivers to this function. It just didn’t sustain interest and quickly died out. This meant that for much of the Sabbath, our young people were left to entertain themselves. Unless we have programs in our churches that involve our young people, they will tend to drift. I don't blame the church, but if the three institutions—home, school, and church—are not actively involved in the lives of our youth, the chances are that they’ll be at higher risk of looking elsewhere to fill the void.
Mom 4: That’s why we’re trying to do a little better with the next generation, our grandchildren, when it comes to Sabbath.
Thank you for your time and insights. I know this wasn’t an easy conversation to have. Let’s close by asking if you could give advice to young parents today. What tips would you give that you think would be the most effective in raising a child as it relates to their spiritual growth?
Mom 1: Try to show them God as a personal friend, someone who can be trusted. Show care and aid to neighbors and people in need. Be sure they learn the real meaning of “boots on the ground” community service. I think in our day Pathfinders should have done more than food once a year. Rake leaves for the elderly, go and do as God would do. I wasn’t good at that.
Mom 2: Don’t be afraid to discipline. BE CONSISTENT. Pray with them, sing with them, read them Bible stories. Go to church, always. Don’t make excuses. Being in church helps them remember the Sabbath. The earlier that good habits can be formed, the better. Parents should get up early on Sabbaths, ready to set the tone of the day for the children. Build excitement about church family. Be an active part in Sabbath School, Adventurers, Pathfinders, and all their activities throughout their school years. Remember Galatians 5:22: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. So, so important.
Mom 3: Live what you preach. Children can tell the genuine from the counterfeit. Encourage your child to participate in church activities. Enroll them in Pathfinders and church school, if possible. Do family fun things with them. Keep them engaged. Spend quality time with them, especially on Sabbath. Praise them when they achieve something that is special to them, or when they participate in church activities. Take them to Sabbath School at a very young age, so that it becomes a part of their life. Attend church every week, even when you don't feel like going. Be consistent. Motivate them to be active in sports or exercise programs. Talk to them about current events. Come across as caring for society and people beyond the boundaries of the church. Ask them questions that go beyond yes or no. In other words, get them to engage. Don’t be critical about the church. Choose your battles. Not every hill is worth dying on. And allow them to “win” sometimes.
Mom 4: Definitely demonstrating the joy of loving and serving the Lord in a more tangible way. Stressing more about God’s grace and mercy. Making the time to talk, answer questions about spiritual matters. Being more flexible—if they want to sit/lounge on the floor during worship, let them. Be happy that they are there and are willing to listen. Create more avenues to make participation less of a chore and more of a genuine, wonderful experience.
Mom 5: Pray, pray, pray. Stay connected with God. Teach by example—let them see Jesus in you; not just hear about Him. Demonstrate that you truly enjoy your walk with Him. Focus on “being,” not just “doing.” Love unconditionally—just as God loves us, His children. Relax and enjoy your children; after all, even our best efforts are flawed!