Today, it’s tough to raise children with good progressive and Christian values. This advice is your guide.
In Bless This Mess, Baskette and O-Donnell tackle some of parents’ toughest questions on raising progressive Christian children. With a blend of science, psychology, and spirituality, the two authors provide an honest guide that doesn’t shy away from tough questions and offers advice to parents raising their children with good progressive and Christian values.
Table of contents
- Raising Progressive Christian Children
- Instilling Christian and Progressive Values
- Autonomy and the Self-Determination Theory
- Teaching Moral Ambiguity
- Teaching Values While Respecting Autonomy and Independence
- Incorporating Religion in Your Family Life
- Key Takeaways
Raising Progressive Christian Children
One of the concerns they tackle is that raising kids with both progressive and Christian values isn’t impossible or in opposition to the other. Both authors noticed that many of the current resources on Christian parenting didn’t tackle some of the toughest questions kids, or parents will have about navigating a chaotic world. In Bless this Mess, they offer a guide forward that doesn’t provide a black and white perspective but instead encourages teaching children about navigating those moral grey areas while leading with their values. Written by a reverend and child psychologist, you get a really interesting perspective both spiritually and scientifically.
Instilling Christian and Progressive Values
Each child is unique, and there’s an opportunity to evaluate and parent based on what your kid needs instead of what you’d rather them do or need. The authors first talk about what it means to raise kids in accordance with their character. They bring up ego-involvement, which is a parents’ tendency to over-identify with their kids’ successes and failures. Ego-involvement can lead to placing expectations on children that are more satisfying to the parent than the child, who may naturally gravitate toward a different path.
Baskette and O’Donnell invite parents to do some soul-searching and ask tough questions like, “Who are these children God’s given us, and how can we work with their God-given temperaments?” When you know who your kids genuinely are and aren’t placing your dreams and expectations on them, it lays a solid foundation for parenting strategies built around what will work for your kid. There is a difference between instilling good values and forcing kids down paths that might not work for them.
Using Kids’ Uniqueness to Guide the Process of Teaching Important Values
An actionable insight the authors offer is creating a safe home environment that allows for some autonomy. According to the self-determination theory, everyone is born with a reserve of inner motivation. Parents can harness that theory for their kids’ good to encourage the development of independence and self-motivation, skills and values critical to them navigating an often challenging and confusing world.
Autonomy and the Self-Determination Theory
Autonomy is about empowering kids to make their own decisions, which leads to that sense of independence and self-motivation. Within reason, it’s ok to let children choose their course of action and help them learn to rely on a sense of self-trust and inner drive.
Of course, that doesn’t mean allowing children to call all the shots. Parents should still be parents and provide a much-needed structure through limits and consequences. The authors explain that structure can be created by clearly communicating our values, explaining that decisions have repercussions, and justifying our thought process when we insist on certain behavior.
The authors also explain the importance of involvement. Asking kids why they want to make the decision lets them know they’re cared for and could lead to a deeper understanding of any underlying causes of behavior.
They’re stressing the importance of letting children know they’re cared for and giving them a safe space to work out who they are and what matters to them. When you can model empathy and the values that matter most to you, it gives kids a great example to follow in a chaotic world they’ll have to navigate.
The concept of creating that safe space inside the home while your kids live there is a simple but impactful way of both giving them a break from the overwhelming things outside the home while simultaneously preparing them for it.
Teaching Moral Ambiguity
The authors have additional insight on ways parents can help prepare kids to navigate a confusing world. They discuss the importance of teaching children about moral ambiguity. From an early age, children are familiar with the concept of a good guy and a bad guy. While it may seem like a clear-cut view in movies, real life isn’t always as simple. Even Jesus took more nuanced stances and chose to advocate for social outcasts, meaning we shouldn’t be scared of moral gray areas or talking about them with our children. Opening the door to those conversations early on will also help when it’s time to have those difficult talks about things like sex, drugs, and alcohol later on.
They give some ways parents can approach those conversations and ideas with their kids through actionable examples. For example, asking your child why they think
so-called bad people might make the decisions they do and what experiences might have shaped them, allowing them to develop a more nuanced moral reasoning and empathetic response.
It’s also another opportunity for parents to walk out the same values they want to see in their kids’ lives, in their own. So, think creating a backstory for why someone cut you off in traffic and responding with empathy instead of anger. It’s a simple example, but kids are sponges and pick up on how you react to situations. Modeling a nuanced response instead of enforcing moral absolutes will give them the skills they need to navigate the world with kindness and empathy.
When it comes to more complex conversations about topics parents would probably prefer to avoid, avoiding absolutes and being as honest as possible can equip children to make values-based decisions.
Teaching Values While Respecting Autonomy and Independence
It’s pretty clear that communicating family values through words and actions is an important part of teaching them to your kids. The authors also talk about the importance of autonomy and independence. With that in mind, there are way for parents to actually ensure values are being lived out in their kids’ lives while respecting their autonomy.
Clear communication of family values is key. The authors suggest writing them down and making them known, then employing your child’s creativity to make an ornament with a family mission statement that can be displayed where everyone will see it regularly. This can help your child know and easily identify what values are important to lead with.
Of course, autonomy and independence are still important. We’ve already touched on it earlier, but having that structure and letting kids know about the consequences of their actions builds their independence and self-trust as they learn to make decisions based on family values. You can give children the opportunity to choose those values on their own by linking them to their decision-making process. You can help them do this by laying out the options available to them when faced with a choice and communicating the consequences of each action, comparing them to a specific value.
Incorporating Religion in Your Family Life
One of the biggest, and most obvious ways, is going to church with your family. Another way to incorporate religion into your lives is by praying together or reading the Bible as a family. You can also make it clear your child is open to asking any questions they have about God. Having these seemingly small routines or dialogues open will play a big role in making God a part of your family’s life.
You can’t protect your children from everything. The world is chaotic, and they will face challenges, but one of the best things you can do as a parent is to help them face their fears and learn to overcome them. Anxiety, for both parent and child, is expected. Prayer and faith can help with things that feel out of your control.
What you need to remember is you’re giving your kid the skills and values they need to do good in the world. It’s possible to raise children with good progressive and Christian values without compromising beliefs or stifling their independence.