By Amy Simon
My husband builds model ships as a hobby. Usually he starts with a kit that contains all the necessary pieces; he just has to put them all together.
Recently he tried to build a model from scratch, with no kit to work from. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. A kit may contain pieces that don’t fit together well, requiring extra effort to complete the task. When building from scratch, he knows all the pieces will fit together properly, but he has to work without a kit.
Being a first-generation Christian parent is like building something from scratch. When you haven’t grown up in a Christian home, you have no role model to follow—but that’s not always a bad thing. Some Christian parents provide poor role models, leaving their adult children with poor examples that are hard to correct.
My husband and I are first-generation Christian parents trying to raise our three kids “from scratch.” We’ve made our mistakes, but we’ve also learned a great deal about building a Christian family from the ground up.
Parenting Book Pros and Cons
Perhaps the most important lesson we’ve learned is to work together in developing our own style of parenting. For us, that has meant limiting our exposure to parenting books, Christian or otherwise, and trusting the Holy Spirit and our God-given instincts to guide us.
While parenting books can be helpful and insightful, they can leave us feeling inadequate if we don’t live up to their standards. They can also make us feel that a single style of parenting is the only right way. Every family is different and not everything will work for you.
We’ve also found that parenting books can cause strife in our marriage. I tend to read a book and accept the author’s advice as gospel, then try to convince my husband to follow it. The results are seldom positive. Parenting books can be a great asset if you read them with your spouse and apply them with discernment and marital unity. If you choose to get advice from parenting books, just remember this: No book, other than the Bible, should trump your God-given instincts and your relationship with your spouse.
Good Models, Different Sources
Even though we didn’t come from Christian homes, we developed some godly philosophies of parenting by watching both positive and negative examples. Joe liked the way his brother-in-law raised his two boys to respect him, and the fact that they always did things together as a family. Growing up, I watched what happened when my strong-willed younger brother wasn’t hemmed in with consistent boundaries and consequences.
My job assisting adults with developmental disabilities taught me the importance of firm but loving boundaries. God gives us both instincts and the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. As we’ve spent time in Scripture and prayer, our parenting philosophy has evolved (and continues to do so), even though we haven’t had earthly models to follow.
As you and your spouse seek to establish a Christian family, you’ll probably face objections from extended family members. Perhaps you’ve chosen not to baptize your infants like your sister did, you home school your kids, or you don’t drink alcohol at family gatherings. Maybe church plays a more important role in your life and schedule and you’ve been candid with your kids about Santa Claus. We’ve run into most of these issues and have come up with some ways to handle them.
Answers for FAQs
We decided ahead of time how we would respond to frequently asked questions. When the kids were babies, the “Aren’t you going to baptize them?” question arose often. We agreed upon a brief and simple explanation and offered it every time that issue came up. It kept us from being tongue-tied and unprepared.
“Why do you home school?” is another popular one. When asked, we reply, “We believe God has given us the privilege and responsibility of raising our kids, including their education and character. We don’t want to give that responsibility and privilege to anyone else.” Most people don’t want to hear all the reasons that contribute to our decisions, anyway.
We don’t live close to our extended families, so that makes handling objections easier; but we still run into issues. We have learned that our immediate family is our top priority. We don’t have to please our extended families nor win their approval. If that means our contact with extended family needs to be limited in order to preserve the values of our immediate family, then so be it.
Every family and every situation is different. You will have to prayerfully decide with your spouse how much contact you want to have with your extended family. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles can be a blessing, but they can also undermine your goals for your family and cause unnecessary strife. Don’t be afraid to limit their place in your life if needed.
Creating Meaningful Traditions
Another aspect of family life we’ve had to navigate a little differently is in the area of family traditions. Every family has to decide how to create holiday celebrations of their own, but first generation Christian parents have it a little harder.
Holidays like Christmas and Easter mean something very different to Bible believing Christians than they do to unbelievers. You may have grown up leaving cookies and milk for Santa and listening for reindeer on the roof, or hunting for Easter eggs and eating chocolate bunnies. Those things aren’t necessarily bad and you may choose to incorporate them into your family traditions. But it requires thought, prayer, and discussion with your spouse to decide how to celebrate the Christian side of these holidays. Having not been raised in a Christian home, you may feel at a loss as to how to make these and other holidays spiritually meaningful for your children.
Talk with your spouse about the core meaning of each holiday and what you want your children to get out of it. Look for ideas from books and other families. Pick and choose what you like and throw out what you don’t. I keep a notebook of the traditions I try to implement at Christmas. Each year, I note whether we liked them or not and record the things I want to remember. Traditions are developed over time. It’s not necessary to “get it right” the first time. Try some things and see what you like and what seems to speak to your kids. If it works, keep it for next year.
Some traditions will change as your kids grow. Halloween is one that gets revisited every year for us. We’ve gone from boycotting the night entirely and going out to eat during trick or treat hours, to handing out candy, to taking the kids trick-or-treating in costumes that don’t represent evil things.
Being first-generation Christian parents can be challenging. As you and your spouse determine the best way to provide a Christian environment for your kids, make sure your decisions are rooted in prayer and chosen purposefully. Your way doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s—it just has to honor God.
Amy Simon is a freelance writer in Jackson, Wisconsin.
Improve Your Parenting Skills
Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent
by Jonathan McKee
(Standard Publishing, 2011)
Building the Christian Family You Never Had:
A Practical Guide for Pioneer Parents
by Mary DeMuth
(DoubleDay Publishing Group, 2006)
Redeeming Halloween: Celebrating without
by Kim Weir and Pam McCune
(Focus Publishing, 2004)
Holidays: Family Nights Tool Chest
by Jim Weidmann, Ron Wilson,
and Kurt Bruner
(David C. Cook, 1998)
Family Nights for Advent and Christmas
by Terry and Mimi Reilly
(Abbey Press, 1995)
Intentional Parenting: Autopilot Is for Planes
by Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan
(Thomas Nelson, 2013)