The 21st century is a tough time to raise a Christian family. Numerous cultural influences increasingly threaten the faiths of our children as the U.S. and other nations have declined in Christian identity. To change this trajectory, we need to build up the kingdom of families, one by one. Each family needs to be strengthened in Christian faith.
Here are 10 ways to build a Christian household.
1. Make Traditions
Traditions are a cornerstone to a tight-knit family, not only because they bring everyone closer together, but also because these traditions often reflect the core values of the family. Holidays like Christmas and Easter are obvious times to practice traditions that build reverence for the faith.
One tradition that stuck out from my childhood was the reading of Christ’s birth in the Gospels before opening presents on Christmas day. In the moment, kids might see many of these traditions as painful or petty, but most will reminisce of these in the future. I know I do.
Also, not all your family traditions need to be religious. Sometimes the fun traditions, like movie nights or your family’s college football tailgating ritual, are simply great ways to bring the family together. These traditions strengthen the love between family members and exemplify healthy family life to our children.
2. Hit the Pews Regularly
For many, the most significant encounter we have with our faith is through our attendance at church or Mass. So, if we are not attending church regularly (at least every Sunday) as a family, what does it say about our faith? Do we schedule church last on our list of the things to do this weekend?
Just “fitting in” church is not nearly enough. This sends the message that church is just a nuisance ritual to eat up an hour of our time. Make church attendance a scheduled priority (i.e. try to stick to one time) and do your absolute best to get the family there on time. Football, chores, and other things can wait.
Lastly, when you’re at church, don’t dash for the door as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Prioritizing church (and hence God) is not only good for you, but also for building a respect and reverence for God in our kids.
3. Pray Together
Not a day should go by without the family praying together at least once.
This prayer might be as simple and easy as a quick prayer of thanksgiving before dinner. You can also pray together before everyone departs for work or school for the day, or before bedtime for the kids. If none of these simple times work, make (i.e. schedule) the time for it as a family.
If you feel like you’re too busy to even pray by yourself, check out these 6 ways to integrate more prayer into your daily life. Then bring the whole family into it.
4. Be the Example
Kids quickly learn to imitate the behaviors of others, especially their parents. They will adopt similar mannerisms, reactions, and language as we demonstrate. As parents, then, we have to behave the way we want our kids to behave. (Think of the famous Bobo doll psychology experiment, which boils down to monkey see, monkey do.)
Particularly, you and your spouse are the model of marriage for the next generation. Having a healthy Christian marriage is thus of prime importance for teaching your kids the value of marriage and how to maintain one. For example, let them see how you effectively manage disagreements in your marriage.
5. Decorate Like a Christian
This one might not seem all that important to you at first, but hear me out. We all need reminders of important things: changing the oil, celebrating birthdays, and paying off the credit card bill, to name a few. Might we also need reminders to keep the first commandment? To keep God first in our lives?
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” (Matt 22:37-38)
Place images, framed prayers, cross/crucifixes, or little statuettes around the house to remind the family who is the center of the family: God. It doesn’t have to be gaudy or cheesy; just put a few things around the house so that if a stranger entered your house, he or she would quickly learn your house is a Christian home.
6. Read Together About the Faith
Reading the Bible can be a family habit in addition to reading on our own time. Find some time each day or a few times a week to read a couple chapters of the Bible (starting with the New Testament) together as a family. Rotate who reads each chapter to make it a little more engaging for the family.
You don’t have to only read the Bible, either. Pick out a book on a religious subject, like prayer, theology, or living your faith more fully. Reading the doctors of the church (like St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas) is another great place to start learning more about your Christian faith.
7. Filter the External Influences
As I wrote previously [here], the western world is increasingly secular, with a lower percentage of Christians reported in the United States than ever before.
Much of the culture today has no place in our homes: the violent and perverse lyrics of popular “music”, the increasing prevalence of nudity on TV, and the societal acceptance of modern feminism and gender theories, to name a few. These are not influences I (nor my wife) want in my home, so we make repelling these influences a priority in how we interact with the world as a family.
A concrete example of this is in our school choice: we chose to enroll our eldest daughter in a classical hybrid home school program – fortunately, one that shares the same principles we hold as a family.
Our kids will eventually learn of the complex world they live in, but we, as parents, can determined when and where they confront these counter-Christian ideas, and we’ll be ready to give them the proper framework to grapple with them.
8. Make Christian Family Friends
Just three years ago, I wouldn’t have put this on my list. As young parents and new Atlanta residents, my wife and I didn’t really have any close family friends. It wasn’t until my wife began making mommy-friends and we began to integrate into our parish that we developed any real friendships (friends that we could trust with our kids and also share common parenting goals).
In just the past year, by doing simple things like staying after Mass for coffee and donuts, we have developed a (rapidly increasing) circle of family friends. Most importantly, getting to know these fine folks has helped us deepen in our Catholic faith and given us examples of other Christian families to emulate.
Get social. Meet other families at your local church, and build a community of Christian families around you and your kids. (Extra perk: Your kids will make a lot of friends, too!)
9. Confront the Issues
Following #7, the time will come when your kids will encounter ideas or beliefs counter to their Christian faith. This is the time for parents to openly confront these ideas with their kids. In practice, this boils down to talking candidly about right and wrong, why we believe what we believe, and our expectations as parents.
Our kids won’t follow “rules” blindly (most at least), so we must take on our primary role as their educators to provide them with some basic apologetics, so they know the why behind our beliefs.
10. Have Great Conversations
We shouldn’t just talk to our kids and educate them when issues arise, however. Parents need to have an ongoing family dialogue about anything and everything. As I was growing up, these conversation happened the most around the dinner table and covered politics, religion, sports, history, and more.
The best part is that these conversations don’t have to be highly structured and can often arise organically. A great spark to conversation is going back to #6 by reading regularly together. Our conversations were often derived from the devotionals we read right after dinner.
These conversations gave our family a voice and an outlet for the kids to explain their ideas about the world. Best of all, we had tons of fun and enjoyed when the conversation was amplified by each other’s various ideas. Try it out!
Building up the Christian family is perhaps the most important thing we can do today to ensure the success and ultimate salvation of our kids. Times are only getting harder in terms of resisting temptations and the sinful norms of today.
We as Christians must break the trend, go against the currents, and drive our families toward God. Then, and only then, will the culture at large take note and, by God’s grace, follow.