If you want to start an interesting conversation with your Christian friends who are parents, ask them this question: What do you think is the biggest Christian parenting myth? Most will have at least one ready answer.
Over the past 10 years as a Christian parent, and working alongside many others with children in churches and Christian organizations, I have noticed persistent myths that stymie and cripple effective Christian parenting, particularly as it relates to the spiritual life of a child in the first five years.
For decades now, the secular world has been all over this age group like a cheap suit. It’s why multiple advocacy groups spawned for causes like universal pre-school. It’s why we have Baby Einstein, princesses on diapers, cars on toothbrushes.
A young child’s mindshare is of huge importance to policymakers, educators and marketers. It ought to be to the Church and to parents, too. Because we know these little children have spiritual lives and are primarily—eternally—spiritual beings. Never again will they be more receptive to faith than during these first years, according to studies and parental common sense.
Properly leading a child means clearing the air of our own misperceptions. Here are seven myths that block effective Christian parenting. I’ll be the first to admit I have believed them all:
1. I Can’t Teach My Child About God Because I Myself am a Big Hypocrite.
The truth is, all of humankind is hypocritical, living one way but professing another. Moses said so. Jesus said so. Paul said so. The Bible lays out that sordid history. The Bible’s prescription is that we buckle up, persevere and live and rest in the grace Christ gives us.
Be bloodied and bruised, but daily take up your cross and live the life. Don’t give up. Your child will see you working out your faith and learn perseverance along the way.
2. I Have to Know (and Believe) Much More Before I Can Shepherd My Child.
According to Exodus and Deuteronomy, you already know everything you need to know to pass on knowledge about God to your child. One day, your child will wonder or ask you about the reasons for your faith (Deuteronomy 6:20, Exodus 12:26, 13:14, 13:8). You have a personal testimony—your own version of a Passover, a parted sea, or manna—you have the saving miracle of Jesus in your life. Continue to lean on Him and learn from Him, and you will grow as a shepherd, too.
3. My Child is a Blank Slate for Me to Fill.
Even after decades of research on whether nature or nurture has a stronger influence in personality development, the answer is largely at the mercy of individual experience. I believe the same is true about our spiritual lives. For every child whose faith thrives in a certain environment, another’s will suffer in it. Ask any parent with more than one child. God created your child with a one-of-a-kind soul and ordained a unique path—before your child was even born (Psalm 139). God already has the slate mapped out.
4. The First Years are Just About Taking Care of My Child’s Physical Needs.
While it’s true that your days parenting an infant and toddler revolve around feeding and diaper changing, the actual relationship with your child is largely—and intensely—spiritual, if you will let it be. Your little miracle is fresh from the breath of God, where only His eyes saw the unformed body and knit it together. That same presence is with you during the precious early days, and you will need God more than ever to get through them.
When your hands are full and your head exhausted and you haven’t picked up your Bible in a month, pray. Sing. God wired your child to be especially attuned to your voice and benefit immensely from it. As you cultivate the seeds He has sown, your sacrifice and your child’s great need will grow your bond, as well as your heart.
5. I Can Protect My Young Child From the Sin of This World.
Of course, it is ridiculous to think we can spare our children from sin. But that doesn’t stop us from trying. We think we have the power to spare our children from the wrongs we suffered. Before a child is even born, parents begin to research homeschooling or private Christian schools in part toward that end.
But the best way to protect your child from the sin of this world is to pray over him or her every day. I’m sad to say your child will likely experience a personal difficulty at an early age from someone else’s sin—whether divorce, abuse or a family feud. Pray, and ask everyone you know to pray for your child. God will be faithful in powerful, unmistakable ways.
6. Taking My Child to Church Each Week Covers All the Bases.
Though church is a valuable part of your child’s faith community, your church leaders would be the first to dispel this myth. If they tell you otherwise, then you should look for a new church.
You are the biggest influence in your child’s life. Go ahead and pray for mentors to come alongside your child. Do your best to align him or her with good people and programs. Test and approve everything your children’s ministry teaches your child. They don’t always get it right. But know that you must invest daily in being your child’s spiritual mentor.
7. A Young Child Can Only Handle Concrete Facts, Things They Can See.
This might be the biggest myth of all. Children live largely in the unseen world, helpless as they are. Just think back to your own childhood and all the ways you strove to make meaning in your world. Spiritual battles happen in a big way at that little age.
Children know when a grown-up’s words and actions don’t match. They know the tension of an angry parent. They know that unseen forces of the world are stronger than they are. They also know unspeakable joy from the smallest pleasures in their everyday lives, and we are blessed when we are caught up in them, too.
Children, if anything, are exacting realists. We can share sweeping themes of faith with them like sacrifice, power, spirit and eternity because their hearts are intuitively set to receive them.
Concurrent with myth number seven is the belief that a child’s spiritual development can wait or that it isn’t possible at all before a child’s 5th birthday. The best time in a new soul to establish foundations of truth and wisdom are in the first five years. Never again will your child be more amenable to your teaching and guidance. Never again will you have the opportunity to dispel the myths that you might have grown up believing.