The longer I am a mother and the more I see my children grow in faith, the more I have come to understand that we parents have humbling power. We are our children’s first authority figures. We are their guardians and protectors. We are the ones who nurture and provide for them. We are their primary encounter with love.
These are some big shoes to fill. But there is something that makes them seem even bigger. How we fulfill our roles our parents will determine how our children (at least in their youth) understand God.
It is not a coincidence that the Scriptures refer to God as our Father. In recent years, we have heard a lot of outcry in the Church from those who reject the image of a male, paternal God. It’s not that these faithful “don’t like God.” Many of them had absent, passive, or abusive fathers, who made it impossible for them to understand God in a similar light.
There is an important lesson to be learned here: Our parenting will shape our children’s vision of God.
If we are permissive, our children will come to see God as lax in His discipline. If we are inconsistent, our children may come to believe in a changeable and volatile God. If we are overindulgent with our children, they may come to see God as their celestial butler, there to bow to their whims at a request with no expectations of his own. If we are detached and disinterested in the things that our children are passionate about, they will likely come to think of God as a big, disinterested Santa in the sky.
Can you even call such a God “God?”
It behooves us then, as parents, to ask the hard questions of ourselves.
Am I slow to anger?
Am I quick to forgive?
Do I keep any record of their wrongs?
Am I patient and merciful in the face of my children’s missteps and sin?
Am I consistent in discipline, or am I too permissive?
Am I gentle and instructive in my discipline, or is it more about me asserting my authority or venting my anger?
Do I demonstrate to my children by the way I spend my time that they are valuable?
Am I laying down my life for them each day, and not just reminding them that I would take a bullet for them in the unlikely event that I would need to?
How do I speak to my children?
Do I accept their unique quirks and value the ways they are different from me?
Do my children see me serving others?
Do my children see Jesus in me?
Of course, none of us can be God. Nor are we capable of “saving” our children. God can and does work in spite of our and other’s shortcomings. But by virtue of our being parents, we have been gifted by God with a special calling, and that calling is to raise our children to know and love Him. Parenting in a way that reflects God is a central piece of this calling.
We can’t do it on our own, but with His help and for love of Him, we can—we must—seek everyday to be transformed more into Him. Our children will see our journey, and through it, they will see God.