Stories are a powerful way for parents to share their own experience and learn from the experience of others, and we want our churches to be communities who love telling stories of them and God.
We probably all know a parent whose Facebook account is full of photos and stories of their child’s achievements, big or small. I think my first child had an entire album dedicated to her first week, where she was mostly fast asleep! Those same parents are also on various different Facebook groups asking for tips, ideas and advice. You’ll hear versions of this at the school gates, toddler groups and anywhere that parents gather. Whether this is happening online or in person, the need is the same – parents are looking for places to share the highs and lows of their own experience and benefit from the wisdom of others who have been there before them or have tried something they are considering.
Parents do this for all sorts of areas of parenting from choosing schools to potty training but often helping your child grow in faith is excluded from this conversation. In It takes a church to raise a parent, Rachel Turner suggest five reasons that it is important for parents and carers to share faith stories with each other:
- It normalises parenting for faith.
- It inspires people with what real faith in children looks like. If you’ve never seen or known a truly God-connected child (explained in session 1 of the course) it can be hard to imagine what that looks like.
- It removes the fear of failure. As you hear real stories of other people trying things with mixed results, it gives you confidence to try some of those things yourself.
- It encourages parents that children can truly love God and know his love. Again if this isn’t something you had in your own childhood or have seen or experienced since, real life examples make it much easier to get your head around.
- It shares wisdom about how to help children through profoundly rough times. One of the most helpful things to a parent trying to guide a child through grief, separation, bullying or mental health struggles is to have heard stories from others who have walked that road.
So what sort of stories are most helpful for our communities to hear? Our goal at Parenting for Faith is to encourage stories that truly equip and inspire people, such as:
- Stories of children and teens connecting with God. This inspires people with what is possible: for example, this video which tells a story of children catching from God for their parents.
- Stories to convey ‘trying’. Just like the rest of parenting, helping your child meet and know God is a mixed bag of joy, struggles, comedy moments and disappointments. Here is one of my favourite stories of Rachel’s, the Triumph of the Try.
- Stories of the up and down journey. There are highs and lows and everything in between in spiritual parenting, we need to enable people to be honest, not feel like they can only share the successes.
- Stories to laugh about and encourage. Remove some of the taboo and awkwardness of talking about these things by encouraging people to share funny stories too.
- Stories that reflect all sorts of different socioeconomic and family structures. Every family and their experience of parenting for faith is unique but if you only ever hear stories from families that are nothing like yours, it can be hard to relate.
So, how can we facilitate those sort of conversations?
- Ask specific rather than vague questions. Not many parents would feel confident answering ‘How do you do faith at home?’ but they might well feel able to chip in on ‘Has anyone else had a child who didn’t like being read Bible stories at bedtime, did you find another way of connecting with the Bible that worked for them’?
- Ask for progress stories. So much of parenting for faith is about tiny tweaks or little bits of progress. If people feel only miraculous healings and faith conversations are worthy of sharing they won’t open up about little things they are trying that could really help others.
- Encourage parents and carers to create windows for each other. Just as parents’ own imperfect walks with God are powerful examples for their children, their imperfect stories can be significant in helping other parents.
- Grow safe communities. Stories are most powerful for learning when people feel safe, loved and known.
- Consider how you might help build community. We know churches with parent and carers’ Facebook pages and WhatsApp groups, as well as ones who do monthly pub trips or coffee mornings or go away together.
One to watch out for
Sometimes we hear stories of parents doing an activity with their children, whether that’s reading the Bible together or a family prayer time or mission trip. It’s great when we see how different families connect with God and each other, but the problem with prioritising those sorts of stories is that they can set other parents up to fail. Hearing about another family’s amazing breakfast devotions may induce guilt or feelings of inadequacy in a different family. They can be quick to dismiss it thinking ‘I don’t have time for that’, ‘that wouldn’t work in our family’ or ‘we tried it and it was a disaster’. Most parents aren’t looking for more things to do. They want to hear stories of things that are truly helping a child connect and know God better. What’s interesting and helpful for most parents is what people have tried, how they’ve adjusted, abandoned or persevered with it and what fruit it has produced. Try to keep that in mind when you’re considering if it’s a helpful story to share.
For lots more detail and further examples on enabling a community of stories, head to chapter three of It Takes a Church to raise a Parent.