In this month’s issue of Yoga Journal magazine, several articles discussed the importance of practicing yoga with your children. The cover story, entitled “Teach your Children Well,” by Shannon Sexton describes how parents should do their yoga practice out in the open so that children can observe it and join in. She also recommends that parents teach them age-appropriate things like postures and breathing to help them not only develop physically, but emotionally and spiritually.
In a short reflection article by Monette Chilson in the same issue, she tells a powerful story about sharing yoga with her daughter and how it’s taking root in her now that she is a teenager. She writes, “Though I had been a dedicated yoga practitioner since long before she [her daughter] was born, I knew that didn’t ensure that my way of life would rub off on her.”
I was struck by how different her comment is from what I hear from parents about passing along their Christian faith. Even people within Iowa Conference United Church of Christ churches tell me things like, “I want them (their children) to come to it on their own.” Or, “They’ll come back to the church when they’re adults.” We’d never say the same thing about teaching our children to read, cook or drive a car.
A lot of recent research in the sociology of religion supports the notion posited by Chilson in that Yoga Journal article. In Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, researchers from the National Study of Youth and Religion write that they found a very strong corollary between the faith lives of parents and that of their children. In other words, if parents practiced their faith and demonstrated that it was important, their children were far more likely to do the same thing. They write, “For better or worse, most parents in fact still do profoundly influence their adolescents — often more than do their peers — their children’s apparent resistance and lack of appreciation notwithstanding. This influence often also includes parental influence in adolescents’ religious and spiritual lives.”
Although somewhere in recent history we seem to have given up this important area of parental influence, I’m encouraged by the traction conversations about parents and faith are gaining in the mainstream media. In particular, the national media attention garnered by Kenda Creasy Dean’s article in a recent issue of The Christian Century that outlined the vague and somewhat incoherent faith espoused by many young people (and adults) who consider themselves Christian. Programs like Faith Inkubator’s FAITH 5TM practices for the home or ideas and resources created by Vibrant Faith Ministries, provide resources for churches to equip parents to teach faith in their household — not leave it up to the child and their peers to figure it out on their own.
If families pass along faith practices more effectively, we’ll have a new generation of young people on fire for the church. Parents and other significant adults will have healthier relationships (spiritual and otherwise) with young people. More of us will have experiences with children like what Chilson describes in her Yoga Journal reflection: “I felt humbled and honored to sit beside my daughter as our voices joined and resonated with the voices of those around us, articulating divinity in this deep and primal way. In that moment, we shared an understanding of reverence for the Divine that simply wouldn’t have been easy to access in a casual mother-daughter conversation.”