Raising Our Children Without Losing Our Minds

Facing the common Indian pressures of legalism in the church and pluralism in society, how can we be raising our children without losing our minds?

After spending some time with our grandparents, uncles, and cousins in Kerala, we were getting ready to return to our hotel. My girls rushed into the car and quickly took their seats. As I was saying goodbye to my family, my phone connected with the car’s music system and a K-pop song by BTS began to play. As we drove off, my girls were singing and dancing along to the song as they waved goodbye.

I felt my uncles silently staring at me, full of judgement and contempt. It felt like I could hear their unspoken thoughts, “Why are you listening to such music? You should be teaching your children to listen to worship songs. You know better than this.”

Apart from our frowned-upon choice of music, my non-Christian friends look down our choice to homeschool our children. They assume I want to raise my child in one faith without giving them a wider perspective. My friends think I am limiting their understanding and approach to the pluralistic world we live in.

How can we raise our children while facing pressure to conform to legalism and pluralism?

Dismantling False Messages

As a pastor’s kid, I have experienced so much legalism from Christians. Do not be conformed to this world,” they say. But Paul’s complete thought and instructions are set aside and misused (Rom. 12:1-2).

Legalism is our way of justifying ourselves before God, and to one other, by “good Christian behaviour.” So it expects disassociation from every “worldly affair.” For instance, watching movies, dancing to Bollywood music, or listening to K-pop in the car.

Legalism requires you to remember you are different and all your actions must be different too. Our righteousness is earned, not received (Phil. 3:7-11). Therefore, obedience is an obligation, not a pleasure (1 John 5:2-3).

As children growing up in the church, we were expected to behave as though we were accidentally thrown into this messy world. To justify our difference, we had to be more holy, with greater purity than everybody else. At the same time, people in the the world treated us as “extremists” and “fanatics.” We were “too holy” because of our religious beliefs.

We felt pressure from rule-keepers and rule-breakers. It was my first experience of the tussle between legalism and license.

Are rigid legalism and pluralistic license the only two ways before us? Should we be raising our children so alien from the world that they are unfamiliar with everyday issues. Are they to disassociate themselves from the interests of their peers so that they end up living a dual life—one for the church and their families, and one for themselves?

Embracing Our Identity

The scandal of the gospel is summarised in the most famous verse of the Bible: “For God so loved the world . . .” (John 3:16). He loved this world and the people in it so dearly “that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).

In a pluralistic society, we do not suppress anyone, nor do we affirm everything.

Jesus’s own intentions for Christians are clear in his priestly prayer for us, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

Though we are not of the world, God sends us into it, out of love for all who are in the world without Christ. He does not want us to conform to the patterns of the world. But, to complete Paul’s thought, he wants us to be transformed by the renewal of our mind (Rom. 12:2).

Understanding Pluralism

In India, we live in a pluralistic society. There is a mix of languages, ideas, cultures, food, music, and everything in it. Each one is unique in its own right.

Pluralism can simply mean that different ideologies, belief systems, and ideas coexist. It is not a moral statement but a realistic statement. In such a pluralistic society, no social organisation or political force should suppress the freedom of thought and expression of any citizen.

Our faith acts inwards out, not vice versa.

But pluralism should not mean that everyone is right and all school of thoughts are true. It does not mean that there cannot be counter-perspectives, conversations, exchange of ideas, or healthy arguments and debates. In a pluralistic society, we do not suppress anyone, nor do we affirm everything.

Raising our Children in the Gospel

My husband and I want our children to be able to think clearly, despite the pressure from legalism and license. We want to shepherd our children’s hearts and to nurture their affections for Christ. Our faith acts inwards out, not vice versa.

The gospel declares that we love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). In the same way, we do not want our children to obey us out of pressure, obligation, or duty. We want them to obey us in response to our love for them.

As a homeschooling family, I want them to know, learn, and grow up respecting people with other ideologies. I want them to sift through their own belief, to reason, to ask questions, and to understand all the other ideologies they will encounter in their life.

We cannot raise our kids like horses with the blinders, so they can only see one way. We have to be intentional in our conversations, gentle in our tone, and willingly discuss global and national issues in an age-appropriate way.

As parents, we want them to be familiar with events, news, cultural, social, and religious that co-exist with the biblical worldview in a pluralistic society. We want to pray for our children, understand the times we live in, and put our confidence in the grace of God, “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).

Ultimately, we shepherd our children with confidence in the gospel. He who calls his people is able to keep his people and present them with joy before the Lord (Jude 24-25).