Claire Hailwood vowed never to inflict cringey practices on her kids and ended up doing just that
When I was in infant school (year 1 or 2), my Mum and Dad were the local vicar and his wife and they regularly came in to do assembly in school. A particular highlight was when my Mum came in and sang the classic ‘I am a sheep’ song
I am a sheep, baa baa and I like to be well fed
But like a sheep, baa baa I’m a little stupid in the head
I go astray most every day o what a bother I must be
I’m glad I’ve got the good shepherd looking after me
Ha ha ha ha, baa baa.
At six years-old I thought they were really cool. Most of the other children loved it so my parents were, in my small primary school, minor celebrities!
But there were many more moments when I cringed at what my parents and family did. As a tweenager I remember going on a ‘March for Jesus’ in my local city, mortified by ‘having’ to be there. I remember internally vowing that I’d never make my children do anything related to church that they didn’t want to do.
During my teenage years (when I wasn’t so ‘quiet’ in how I expressed my displeasure) there were some days when I resented some of the practices of faith in my family. I didn’t want to pray at mealtimes or watch Christian TV shows as a family, especially not if my friends were anywhere near.
I resented some (not all) of the rhythm of church life when it didn’t suit me or it wasn’t my style choice. I was happier to co-operate when it met my needs and preferences.
We will never say grace at mealtimes!
Again, I remember moments where I ‘decided’ that I wouldn’t ‘inflict’ such things on any future family I had, and felt I was a better person for making this decision. I remember, in a particularly teenage moment, announcing to my family that we would ‘never’ say grace at our house.
Here’s the thing – I think I was right.
And also quite wrong!
There were times where what we did felt inflexible to me, and therefore restrictive rather than freeing. Some of it (unfairly) seemed like meaningless ritual that I didn’t understand. My parents probably tried to share vision with me, and I was deaf to it.
But where I think I was ‘right’ (with the benefit of hindsight) is that some of my resistance was wanting to feel authentic in the expression of whatever practice it was. And I didn’t always feel that.
I hope my children challenge me in pursuit of authentic expression as they grow up. It may help me not to fall into religious ritual and habit.
These practices and rhythms were so important to us as a family. It meant that I grew up around faith, not as something just connected to a Sunday activity, but a lifelong, whole life impacting reality. My parents’ example was foundational and I was wrong to think that their motivation was a deliberate ploy to make my life a misery!
In our family today, our rhythms and practices look different but the desire to create a culture of faith, hope, questioning and openness to God remains. For us it includes making Sundays, our sabbath, a different day to the rest of the week – featuring the best breakfast of the week that we eat together, 24 hours of no screens, adventure and time together.
It is not something universally loved by all in our family.
I hope we do well at continuing the conversation, at flexing in our agreed practices when appropriate so it’s not a series of rules to follow. I hope we get better at sharing the vision and the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ so something of it captures their hearts.
Some days it feels like it has.
On other days our teenagers have passionately expressed that they ‘will never do this’ to their future children.
I’m sure that my parents made some of their choices on how to raise us and build our family culture rooted in their own ‘I’ll never do that’ from their upbringing. Perhaps that inevitable circle of life is OK as each generation seeks for their own expression and what’s important are the foundations laid and principles established.
In summary, my parents were gracious people (and so very patient with me) and as we continue to raise the next generation, we should expect their expression of faith and family culture to look different. Those unintentional moments of cringe are probably OK, especially as we cultivate openness in our homes to talk it out.
What I hope and pray is rooted deeply in them is a love for God and the principles of living different as the salt and light in the world that they’re called to be.