I’m speaking about faith practices and families this week at Mo Ranch in Hunt, Texas. I’m half-way through the workshops (two down, two to go!) but one of the things that I’ve found so far is the same thing I find nearly every time I present about faith practices and children: a lot of grandmothers show up. They tell me the same things, these faithful grandmas:
- “I am the person who is present to pass on faith to my grandchildren, I want them to grow in faith and I need some ideas.”
- “My children don’t go to church, but they don’t seem opposed to the idea that I would share faith with the grandchildren.”
- “I want to share my faith with my grandchildren, but I’m worried about crossing a boundary or interfering somehow.”
Grandmas (and grandpas too!) I have excellent news for you: I have a TON of ideas to help you pass on your faith to your grandchildren in ways that are easy, respectful of your children, and create memories that will help your grandchildren to understand and love the faith you so want to share with them. Keep reading!
- Be the initiator (or guardian) of tradition for your family. Grandparents and tradition go together like peanut butter and jelly! So many among us remember how every year grandma and grandpa would (fill in the blank). Create a tradition with your grandchildren that you stick to as much as you possibly can. Perhaps your tradition is to take the grandchildren to church on particular holidays or to say a special prayer with them before every meal. My book, Seamless Faith has traditions for every day and traditions for Holy Days (holidays) that you will want to use. Whatever tradition you choose, make it your own. Traditions should be memorable, they should be simple, and they should happen frequently.
- Make faith connections with your grandchildren about the things you already do with them. Do you go out and look at stars with your grandchildren at night? Take the opportunity to talk to them about how God made the stars and the world and everything in it. Do you have bird feeders outside? Let your grandchildren fill them up and talk to them about how important it is to take care of God’s creatures. Do you cook or bake with your grandchildren? Make extra goodies and take them to folks who need them, explaining to your grandchildren that you do this because you believe it’s important to care for others. Your grandchildren will get the message, I promise. It’s not necessary to have a separate “faith time” with your grandchildren, just weave it in to what you are already doing!
- Provide faith connections with your grandchildren during key transition moments in their lives. In the book, I call these “ceremonies” but you can call them rituals, or celebrations, or whatever you like! Find a way to “mark the moment” with your grandchildren in a way that honors faith. Perhaps it is the first day of school and you’d like to honor that moment with a remembrance that God is with your grandchildren wherever they go. The same is true of graduation, or the birth of a new grandchild. Ceremonies can also be valuable with your grandchildren when they experience hard times. Be there for them when they are anxious, lose a pet, or have to deal with the hard current events stories they are sometimes faced with.
- Think creatively about spiritual practices that you can teach your grandchildren. Often when we think about spiritual practices to practice with our grandchildren, we remember prayers and meals or bedtime. This is great, but there are so many other spiritual practices we can use, too. Again, if you’re not interested in coming up with your own, you can use the ones I lay out in Seamless Faith, some examples are: creative prayer, imagination, and meditation. There are also plenty of ancient spiritual practices that speak to children today. Things like the daily examen, the labyrinth and lectio divina can all be used with your grandchildren.
A lot of times people ask me some variation of this question: I raised my children in the faith, but they don’t go anymore. How can I get them to take the grandchildren to church?
This is a tough one, and certainly something that I hear a lot. Each family situation is unique, but I have a few “dos and don’ts” that grandparents I’ve talked to have found to be helpful:
- DON’T say things that inspire guilt or drive a wedge between your children and you.
- DO talk with your children respectfully and with genuine curiosity about why they’re not interested in church. Perhaps you will find that there is something about the theology in which your children were raised that doesn’t seem to fit with what they believe now. Many children who were raised in the 70s, 80s and 90s found that when they became adults, the faith of their parents was too judgmental, too exclusive, too difficult to relate to. They need sympathetic ears who will listen to the kind of faith they are looking to embrace. There are plenty of faith communities out there that are daring to reimagine faith and Christianity, but a lot of people don’t know where to look, or how to start.
- DO share your faith in ways that are natural and not preaching. St. Francis of Assisi’s most famous quote is, arguably, this: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Your grandchildren and children will continue to remember how important your faith is to you when they see how it affects the way you life your life. When I learned how to crochet, my brother said “Yeah, I remember how grandma used to crochet those little hats for babies in the hospital. I always thought that was really cool.” I never knew she did that, but clearly it had a profound impact on my brother.
- DO ask your adult children how they feel about your incorporating your faith stories or activities with your grandchildren. If you say “I would love to make a bird feeder with the children and talk to them about how God cares for the earth, is that ok?” your children are likely to say “Yes! That sounds great!”
- DON’T tell your grandchildren everybody must believe the same way you do. One of the number one reasons I hear from parents of young children who have decided to stay away from the church is that they feel the church is too closed-minded and is not open to a diversity of opinions. Even if you have strong beliefs about right and wrong, your children and grandchildren may not. It will help you to maintain a strong relationship with your family if you are clear that you are sharing your beliefs and do not expect them to think exactly the same way you do.
- DO provide unconditional love and acceptance of your children and grandchildren, no matter what.
Interested in resources that you might want to use with your grandchildren to help them grow in faith? I have some ideas about those too!
- Here, again, is a link to my book Seamless Faith. It has 50 easy to use traditions, ceremonies and spiritual practices. I’d say about 1/2 (or more!) of the people who buy this book are grandparents.
- Would you like to have a grandma “faith jar” on your counter? You can get the resource here. It’s 48 different faith practices that you cut in to strips. Each time you are together with your grandchildren, pick out a practice from the jar, and do what it says!
- My favorite Children’s Bible is the Children of God Storybook Bible I also recommend the books God’s Paintbrush, In God’s Name and Love Letters From God.
Grandparents: What ideas do you have about sharing your faith with your grandchildren? I’d love to hear them below! Also, what questions can I address in a future post?
My parents always succeeded in getting me to fall for age-appropriate April Fool’s Jokes. I still remember the first one, I was very small. Five years old, maybe younger. “You have dirt on your face! Go wash it off!” I went to the mirror and looked “No I don’t!” I said to which I heard the resounding “April Fool’s!” When I was older my dad said “Traci, there are some ducks out in the backyard.” I was wiser and so I said “No, there aren’t, it’s April Fools’ Day!” but when he left the room, I had to look just to be sure.
There are a lot of great and silly April Fools’ jokes for families to do together, and I’m linking to them at the bottom of this post. It occurs to me, though, that April Fools’ Day is also a wonderful day to talk to kids about kindness and compassion. Some kids love jokes, some kids are sensitive and feel picked on if they don’t understand them. Here are five pointers for April Fools’ Day Conversation with Kids:
1. Talk about how April Fools’ Jokes should never hurt the person (physically) or hurt their feelings. Ask children: What kind of jokes hurt feelings? Have you ever had your feelings hurt by a joke? Explain to children that they can tell you if a joke ever hurts their feelings and tell them that you will tell them if their jokes ever hurt your feelings.
2. Talk about mutuality in practical jokes. It’s not kind to always play a joke on someone that can’t also play a joke on you. Explain that you can’t play the same types of pranks on children much younger than you because they might feel hurt or left out.
3. Talk about asking permission to play jokes. Parents can be accomplices in helping children play pranks on siblings or family members, but sometimes jokes can cross the line. Establish a culture of asking permission.
4. Talk about the difference between playing a joke and telling a lie. I saw a clever April Fools’ Activity for parents that involved making a “sunny side up egg” from a cut peach and a pile of whipped cream. Is it a lie, or a joke? How do you know the difference?
Note: This article was referenced in my monthly Seamless Faith Newsletter. This month there is a free download to an Easter Activity for New Subscribers.
For Further Exploring:
Traci Smith is Author of Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life