My church is a fairly large, non-denominational Christian church in the Midwest. Every year around Mother’s Day, we have a dedication service for parents with new children to dedicate them to the Lord. Baby dedication services are typically a ceremony that affirms a commitment by the parents to raise their children according to God’s will. In my church, the ceremony is held after the regular, although shortened, sermon. They play a slideshow of pictures set to music of all the children and families participating. The pictures are invariably adorable. Some are a series of pictures that show how much the child has already grown or just a collection sweet and silly snapshots. Then all the parents gather on stage with the child being dedicated, other children, and sometimes other family members that have an important role in the child’s life (like a grandparent.) They are introduced to the congregation and repeat an oath of commitment. The congregation is asked if they will help support the family in raising their children in a Godly manner and the congregation agrees that they will. Last year, all the parents were given a rose as well.
While I watched all the pictures of the babies on screen, I almost wished I had submitted the baby dedication form myself. My daughter was just over a year old and would have been a sweet addition to the rest of the children. In fact, after the service, my minister’s wife asked me why my daughter’s pictures weren’t up there. I excused myself by claiming to have lost the form and missed the deadline (all true) but there was more to it than just that.
Something made me feel uncomfortable. There was no description or explanation detailing what parenting “according to God’s will” looks like. I’m sure I could have set up a meeting with the Children’s Minister or another minister at the church to clarify. Being quite shy and hesitant to delve into potentially awkward conversations, I just allowed the event to pass us by. To my church’s credit, they are now offering a Godly Parenting Class on Wednesday nights. So for all the parents that participated in dedicating their children and anyone else interested, there is support and information available.
I think my reluctance stems from not fully agreeing with some teachings often associated with Christianity.
“To Train up a Child” type discipline
Many times you’ll hear parents touting the “spare the rod, spoil the child” reason for being pro-corporal punishment. From my, limited, understanding of shepherd-ing, the rod was used to guide the sheep, not to beat them. But the book, which I have not read, has been linked to many cases of abuse and even deaths of children. Parenting is hard. It’s hard deciding what parenting strategies will work for your family and which strategies absolutely will not. Spanking is a pretty hot topic, but it isn’t something I feel God leading me to do. In fact, absolute obedience is nothing I want my children to participate in.
I do have plans to teach my daughter about dressing appropriately. I believe there is a time and place, and sometimes age, associated with different kinds of clothing and I hope to teach my daughter when and where they are acceptable. However, dressing modestly to “save” the men who may be around her is not one of the lessons I plan to teach. I firmly believe that women have the right to dress however they are comfortable and men do not get to place any demands on that. Once during my high school youth group meeting, we had a very open discussion about how the way we dress can cause others to stumble. Many of the guys spoke up about what clothing distracts them the most and what I came away from that meeting was any part of the body can cause someone, somewhere to think about sex. I didn’t feel like it was my responsibility to cover my shoulders around one boy and make sure my ankles were covered around another. My daughter shouldn’t have to take ownership of anyone else’s body issues either.
Blindly Choosing Christianity
My daughter doesn’t have her ears pierced. I fondly remember going to get my ears pierced and feeling like such a little grown up. It was my choice, one of the first times I really felt ownership of my body. I got to pick the earrings and was in charge of caring for my new piercings. I don’t want to take that choice away from her. Similarly, I want my daughter to have ownership in becoming a Christian, if that’s what she chooses to do. Mostly I don’t want my daughter deciding to be a Christian just because her father and I are. I want to show her why my faith is important to me and how it has played different roles throughout my life. If she decides to explore other religions, I will gladly support her and help her find out what really works for her. Ultimately, I want my daughter to grow up and become a successful, happy individual, whatever that looks like for her.
Just like there are things about Christian parenting that I don’t like, there are several aspects I agree with and hope to incorporate in our home as well.
Love for People
There are several scriptures advocating love for your neighbors. Obviously, neighbor doesn’t just mean the people living in the houses on either side of mine. Loving people, or at least treating them with kindness and respect, is one of my life goals. I don’t want people to come away bitter or hurt just from knowing me. I hope my daughter learns how to treat everyone she comes into contact with as though they are worthwhile and have value, because they do. Even if someone doesn’t look like her, talks differently, enjoys different things, I hope to teach my daughter that those differences aren’t bad. There are many things she can learn from spending time with people that are different that she is. And I hope she will take advantage of that and develop a kind heart and love for people.
A major cornerstone of my faith is forgiveness. Something that has helped me immensely is learning to let go of things that have happened to me so I can move on. I have been able to forgive people that have hurt me, while remembering the lesson that taught me and trying to avoid going through something similar. I don’t want my daughter to become a doormat that will forgive any transgressions while remaining in the same position to receive them again. However, I do want her to be free to move through life without holding on to grudges that can drag her down. Mostly I just want her to find peace so that when something bad happens, it won’t steal her joy.
While I’m leaving it up to her to decide what she ultimately believes, I will share my belief in Heaven with her. Hope that someday I will meet my friends and family in Heaven. Hope in a better future is helpful while growing up too. I remember thinking that high school would last forever and my classmates would be more important in my everyday life than they have ever turned out to be. That was temporary. College was so much better than high school. Even I went through a rough patch in college and really wanted to drop out; I had hope that life after college would be even better. And so far, it has. So many things seem endless when you are in the middle of them. Sometimes, they seem to last forever. But most of the time, those situations are temporary and the only thing that got me through them was hope that things would get better. That is what I want to pass on to my daughter.
Overall, I am committed to raising my daughter, the best way I can. Whether you can call my parenting “Godly” or “Christian,” I’m not sure. But I hope my daughter, and other potential children, can say they always felt loved and supported, even when I make mistakes.
(Image: getty images)