I once heard an administrator say to high school parents, "You are now consultants to your kids."
Yikes! One moment, you were your child's superhero, and the next you have become relegated to a mere consultant, a casual informant, for the life of your kid - as if you are now some kind of 1-800-number parental technician who is only useful for insolvable problems, or let's be honest, charging up empty bank accounts.
Personally, after hearing those words, I imagined my 7 month old sweet Hannah growing up as a teenager, smudging my advice aside for her lame boyfriend's.
As much as I want to disagree with that statement, it is kinda true. The role of a parent dramatically alters during the teenage years of your child than any other season of life.
As teens grow older, it is only right that they individuate from parental oversight into adult independence. In fact, we want them to do this. We want to them to grow older, find a college or vocation, get married, engage in healthy relationships, move out of the house, and become productive, faithful adults contributing to our communities and society. And for the sake of our marriage, we need our kids to do this!
But how do you - a caring, loving, and concerned parent - do this if so many other influential people in the life of your child, including administrators in your local school, consider you a consultant?
And most important, how can you provide the best opportunity possible for your child not to individuate from faith?
I believe this happens in 2 ways:
First, you must discern the distinction between individuation and influence. Your kids will individuate from you. That is a non-negotiable. It is a necessary, right, and good process for development. Yet, as they do so, it is essential for you to keep the core foundation of your relationship in place, for you will continue to remain the single greatest source of influence in the life of your student long after high school finishes. Remember, you are your child's only parent, and that relationship matters more than any other.
Your words, time, love, stories, and faith matters most to your child than anyone else's. You are the single, greatest agent of faith formation for the life of your child, even if it occurs in a seemingly tangential fashion during these years.
Recognizing this and adjusting your mindset to this perspective is half the battle.
Now, the other half of the battle is just as crucial. This is where you need to put your skin in the game and own your personal faith. For if you really desire to remain the most influential, faith formative person in your child's life during and after individuation, then you must provide them with these 7 models for why they should choose faith after high school:
1. Model Forgiveness - Undoubtedly, the process of individuation is one of the most difficult - if not the most - stages of development for parents. Familial relationships can crumble and become irreparably damaged during this season of life. But as an adult, you know it will eventually come to an end and stability will be restored. Play the long ball game. Forgive your child, as you were forgiven by your Heavenly Father. This one single act may be the game changer in the life of your student.
2. Model Community - You must stay consistently and richly connected into the local church and value it as a viable, necessary, and profound community for faith formation. Your presence, service, and passion for it will provide a concrete illustration for how your child can do the same. This means regular attendance, volunteerism, and leadership. Lean into Ephesians chapter 4, and ask yourself, how can I be a concrete model to this passage for my family?
3. Model Friendship - Your child's friends in middle and high school probably will not be her or his friendship network into adulthood. Take solace in that fact! Thus, you can set the tenor for the true meaning and value of friendships, including friends who believe in Christ and share a similar worldview. Next to family, friends are the greatest influence in one's life, and they can make or break a person's faith. Iron sharpens iron. Show your student how to sharpen iron.
4. Model Devotion - Do you read your Bible, pray, and take part in other spiritual practices on a regular basis? Are you seeking to grow and cultivate a depth of faith and relationship with Jesus that goes beyond the Sunday morning worship hour? Your child's youth pastor cannot show your student how to read the Bible and journal before going to bed. Only you can.
5. Model Giving - Your student should know that you tithe a portion of your income to the local church. You may desire to keep this a secret from others, but feel free to talk about this as a family. Everything in our world revolves around money, especially for teenagers - just ask any marketer. Companies are experts at accessing your money through your child. Your student is not naive to how essential money is to life. Therefore, let them see how important giving away your money is for faith formation.
6. Model Morality - Teenage culture is all about embracing 'young, wild, and free,' as a means of transitioning into adulthood. The Amish call is a "Rumspringa," American culture calls it "Sowing Wild Oats," and Christian Culture calls it "Emerging Adulthood." Regardless of the name, living an immoral lifestyle proves unstable, dissatisfying, and unsustainable. At some point, most everyone leaves the pig pen and embraces some sort of value structure. Embrace the values of faith so that your child will know how to return when the time comes.
7. Model Love - All of the research tells us that couples who choose to stay married demonstrate for their kids an understanding of unconditional love that equates with the love, grace, and salvation of our Heavenly Father. Perhaps the best thing that you can do for the long-term, faith formation of your child is stay married. Does this mean that if you have undergone a divorce, then you have set back the faith development of your kid? Not necessarily. It may mean, though, that you need to foster other avenues for your child to witness you model these characteristics. Perhaps it means making an extra effort to attend church? Perhaps you need to take a stand on your child attending an age appropriate small group at your church? Certainly, hope is not lost, but parents who stay married tend to provide the best possible environment for forgiveness, community, friendship, devotion, giving, morality, and love. It is the most stabilizing factor in the life of your student and embodies all of the other necessary characteristics for long-term faith formation.
You may feel like a consultant, but you are so much more. You are a witness to the transformational salvation of Jesus Christ.
Be a model!
QUESTION: What other characteristics of long-term faith formation would you include in your list?