Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Parent/child communication (from Children's Spirituality)

Children's Spirituality Chapter 12 "The Co-Construction of Spiritual Meaning in Parent-Child Communication." (Chris J. Boyatzis)

That's a mouthful and this may be a little too academic, but think about how your conversations with your child affect his/her faith and spiritual formation.

Boyatzis says, "Parents have a scriptural call to search for the sacred all day and night, in all contexts." (p 183) "When Moses told his people to talk with their children about faith and God throughout the day and in various settings, Moses was also unwittingly telling researchers where to look for a crucial context of spiritual socialization and growth. (p. 196)

From my perspective, we need children as much as they need us. I think "co-construction of spiritual meaning" suggests that parents and children are both building together at the same time. As adults, we teach and train our children yet we must become as children to enter the kingdom. How can we do that if we aren't around them? If we don't learn from them? Not only parents, but adults and children need each other.

Some parents and children journey together listening to one another, asking and answering questions together, building together. Some parents approach parenting as spiritual experts and expect their children to sit at their feet, listen, learn, and obey. And there's all degrees in between, depending on the situation. Parents and children have distinct conversation styles, learning styles, teaching styles. Does our communication style affect the faith of our children? Do their questions and answers affect our faith? How? We had a short but profound conversation with one of our kids recently. Her observations about the affects of our faith on our parenting and how it affects the expression of her faith were profound.

"Unfortunately, an assumption that pervades the social science literature is that such exchanges [parent child religious discussions] feature a unidirectional parent-to-child transmission of religious beliefs and practices..." Boyatzis] gives an example: a father initiates a conversation with a child and it largely consists of "test" questions in order to determine what the child knows with mild corrections. But, she says, in this kind of conversation the child is more apt to be passive not active in the "religious socialization" process. (p. 183)

The alternative? Parents and children growing together and working together to make sense of their faith. She likens this to "cultivation" as opposed to "indoctrination." "Mutual exchange" as opposed to a predominantly one-sided conversation. (p. 183-184))

Some of their questions (p. 194-6), pending more research but interesting to think about from personal experience ie. conversations between you and your parents or you and your children:

1) "[T]o what degree does parent-child communication. . . influence the spiritual growth of children? parents ?

2) How does the conversational style we choose reflect our beliefs? How does it affect our beliefs?

3) To what degree do parents see their role as "sacred" or "holy" ? Would this lend itself to more give and take in conversation or less?

4) Do you use different communication styles for different topics? different aged children? different gender to gender? Many studies show that children talk more with their mothers than fathers about religion-related topics and have more intimate conversations with mothers. (p.186) Is this only when mothers are more available or does it also occur as often when fathers are more available?

5) To what degree does parental conviction or uncertainty direct or affect communication? Some children (and adults) need communication with a distinct sense of closure. Some do better with open-ended discussions. Some deal better with fact, some with possibilities.

6) Does a child's religious style and orientation continue through adulthood?

7) How does childhood experience affect adult spirituality?

8) How do parents influence the spiritual growth of their children? How do children influence the spiritual growth of their parents?

Research to date reveals children to be spiritually active, not blank tablets waiting for the rest of us to write on them. Having once been children, we know that. We don't really know what we're writing on our own children unless we're watching, listening, and sharing conversation.

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