10 ways Asian parents unwittingly stifle their children’s faith
As believers, we desire for our children to grow to know God personally. Yet we can indirectly stifle their faith without even being consciously aware of it. Worldly values, desires, fears and practical considerations often get in the way of raising our children to live as citizens of God’s kingdom.
Philippians 3:18-20 ESV For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
Traditionally, Asian parenting patterns have focused on a predictable set of rules that have been passed down the generations. These include:
- Material provision | Responsible parents provide the best materially for their children
- Academic results | Academic results matter over all other interests
- Future income | Children must be steered towards high-earning professions
- Elders rule | Parents know best, children should defer to their elders on all major decisions
- Strict obedience | Children show respect by obeying, parents are not obliged to listen, communicate, explain, compromise, or negotiate
- Anxiety-based control | If necessary, use threats, comparison, and competition to push children to produce results
- Punishment | Children must be punished severely enough so they don’t forget their errors
Love that is rooted in anxiety
Asian parents often make immense sacrifices for their children’s future. The apostle Paul noted that he could sacrifice everything he had for others but it would all come to nothing if he did not demonstrate love. This love is not what the world defines as love, which is often conditional and transactional. In other words, “you do something for me, and I will do something for you.”
1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Paul described the qualities of love as patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not arrogant, not rude, not irritable, not resentful, will not insist on its own way, does not rejoice in wrongdoings but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:3-7 ESV If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
When we contrast this with traditional Asian parenting patterns, particularly in the area of anxiety-based control mechanisms, we can see why most Asian children do not naturally feel secure in their parents’ love.
This sets us up on shaky ground to understand God’s love. We may intellectually know that our parents care very deeply for our well-being but can feel unworthy to receive love until we have done something to demonstrate that we are worthy. In the depths of our hearts, we cannot believe that we are accepted and can be loved just the way we are. If the parenting style we experienced growing up did not model grace, children will find it hard to receive God’s grace too.
1 John 4:16 ESV So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
Here are some 10 other ways a child’s faith may be stifled by their parents.
1. Dishonouring our spouses
No marriage is perfect and no spouse is perfect, and we may be tempted to complain about or talk behind the backs of our spouses. By openly dishonouring our spouses, we also teach our children to do the same thing. We sin against our children when we teach them that they can, or even ought to, dishonour one of their parents, because this will bring a curse upon their lives.
Ephesians 6:2-3 ESV “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
Matthew 15:4 NLT For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’
2. Focusing on securing their futures
This world is an increasingly insecure place to live in, and we may be tempted to teach our children to build up various securities for themselves. These are very honest and practical considerations but we will sin against our children if we teach them to place their faith in the things of this world. This can mislead them to pursue the “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” (partly to please us), rather than “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
1 John 2:15-17 ESV Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Matthew 6:19-21 ESV “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The best assurance for them is to learn to follow God in all their ways and trust that He will provide for them. We need not be overly anxious about their lives: what they will eat or what they will drink, or what they will put on. Instead, we can teach our children the importance of seeking God’s kingdom first and living in His righteousness, and trust that God will take care of the rest of their needs. Only God can secure their futures. As parents, we cannot out-last, out-plan or out-provide our Creator.
Matthew 6:25-34 ESV “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
3. Mis-judging misbehaviour
The vast majority of children want to please their parents. They will not naturally choose to rebel or sin against their parents without reason.
The Bible shows us that every person falls into sin when they’re enticed by their own desires. Similarly, children may misbehave out of legitimate desires that they lack the capacity or the vocabulary to express or explain.
James 1:14-15 ESV But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
For instance, they may express frustration, throw a tantrum, or rebel because of:
- Hurt | They feel anxious and hurt that they have been overlooked in favour of a sibling
- Trauma | They have been abused by someone older and warned not to tell anyone
- Shame | They are being bullied at school and don’t know how to tell us about it
- Misunderstanding | They mis-read the intentions behind our words
- Unfair accusations | They are being punished for something that no one told them was wrong or inappropriate
When children misbehave in our adult eyes and we react in anger or insist on “good behaviour” without slowing down to ask questions and listen, we may plant a belief in our children’s hearts that all authority figures will not stop to understand their hearts. When we couple our quick judgements with overly-severe punishments, we can end up teaching our children that authority figures will fail to tenderly care for and love them. Unfortunately, this impression will then be wrongly projected onto God, the highest Authority there is.
James 1:19-20 ESV Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
4. Only reinforcing good behaviour
We often associate positive reinforcement with something we do to reward children when they do something right. Yet positive reinforcement can, and should, include affirming children simply for who they are – for no other reason than that they have been made in the image of God.
When we acknowledge the beauty in our children simply as God created them, we praise and glorify our Creator’s handiwork. This is an important aspect of building the foundations of our children’s faith; by teaching them to see the good in themselves because they have been created by a good God.
Ephesians 2:10 ESV For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Some Asian parents withhold praise and affirmation for fear of instilling pride or encouraging entitlement in our children. Or perhaps we have not experienced such acknowledgements from our own parents and hence find it unfamiliar and awkward to extend it to our children.
Yet these should not hold us back. We see that our Heavenly Father has set an example for us by affirming Jesus at His baptism, even before His Son had done anything in His God-given time of ministry on earth. We can certainly follow His lead.
Matthew 3:16-17 ESV And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
When we only recognise children for their good behaviour, we can instil a wrong understanding of love; that our approval, acceptance, and affirmation only comes because of their works. In the same way, they may see that their salvation and relationship with God as being based on works too.
Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
5. Neglecting emotional nurturing
Our decisions are mostly driven by our innermost desires, which are in turn, driven by our emotions. We grow in emotional maturity as we learn to discern and manage the thoughts and emotions that swirl inside us so that we do not sin. This enables us to practice self-control and make wise decisions.
Proverbs 29:11 ESV A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
Yet the traditional style of parenting amongst Asian families tends to lead us to suppress our emotions in favour of more practical pursuits.
Asian children may hear that:
- They should ignore their desire to play and just study
- When they do play, they should not do so too loudly or enthusiastically
- They should be strong and fearless
- They should not cry
- To help the family, they should take on responsibilities that are beyond their current age e.g. an eldest daughter is told to take her mother’s place in looking after her younger siblings
By ignoring and becoming deaf to what is truly going on inside their hearts, children will not develop the ability to identify and differentiate between deeper emotions such as anger, sadness, shame, or fear. As adults, they cannot tell you how they feel, because they have never been encouraged to.
As parents, we need to not only nurture a child’s mind and body, but also their heart and soul, because they will be called to love God with all their hearts, all their souls, all their strength and all their minds. When their hearts are free to feel and express themselves, they will also be able to experience God’s love, hope, peace, and joy deeply in return.
Luke 10:27 ESV And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Children who are not nurtured emotionally can certainly develop into successful high-performers but they may tell you that they can’t feel God’s love or feel the Holy Spirit’s convictions of sin and righteousness. Because their hearts have not been nurtured, their feelings have become deadened towards the immense love that the Holy Spirit pours into their hearts.
John 16:7-8 ESV Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
Romans 5:5 ESV and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
6. Prioritising their happiness
While the fruit of the Holy Spirit includes love, joy, and peace, following Jesus can also entail much suffering. Jesus has warned us that whoever wishes to follow Him needs to also be ready to pay a price, because the world will hate us just as it has hated and rejected Jesus.
Matthew 10:22,24-25 ESV and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
The world will teach us that our children should be entitled to do whatever they like, as long as they are happy. This is a carnal doctrine of self-gratification. When raised on this thinking, our children will struggle to see God as good when God decides to discipline them for their own good. They may expect God to do what pleases them and end up begrudging and judging God whenever their happiness is at stake.
Hebrews 12:7-11 ESV It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Finding the right balance of ensuring our children’s happiness and disciplining them for their own good certainly takes lots of wisdom. Thankfully, we have a perfect Heavenly Father who can teach us how to navigate this fine balance when we ask Him for wisdom.
James 1:5 ESV If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
Proverbs 2:6 ESV For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
7. Thinking on their behalf
As parents, we are anxious that our children do not suffer needlessly, especially if we can help it. So, we try to tell them what to do and how to do it. We think of every possibility on their behalf and give them advice in all areas of their lives (mostly based on our own life experiences and family backgrounds).
The danger with this approach is that we coach our children to consult us for all their answers on everything, rather than teach them to go to God for His limitless wisdom.
Psalm 147:5 ESV Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.
The opportunity for us as believers is to pray with our children and teach them to ask God for all their needs. This may seem counter intuitive, especially if we see ourselves as being ultimately responsible for the outcome of their lives, but the flip side is that we can unwittingly make ourselves our children’s “gods” otherwise.
Jeremiah 10:6-7 ESV There is none like You, O LORD. You are great, and Your name is mighty in power. Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you.
8. Expecting their lifelong loyalty
Jesus has said that when our children turn to Him and follow Him as their Lord and Saviour, that their devotion to Him will have to overshadow all close human connections, including to their parents and family. To give up guardianship over our children can be hard thing, but it can also be liberating when the Person we hand them over to is God Himself.
Luke 14:26 ESV “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
But when our children sense any envy or reluctance on our part, however, it can become difficult for our children to fulfil the first and most important commandment; that is to love God with all their hearts, all their souls, all their strength and all their minds. Let’s not unconsciously make them feel disloyal and guilty for following Jesus.
Matthew 22:37-38 ESV And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.
9. Labelling them
Because of our position as our children’s spiritual authority while they are young, the words we speak over them can turn into spiritual blessings or curses. Even when some things may be said in jest, they can have lifelong effects.
James 3:10 ESV From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
We may not be aware that we can greatly impact a child’s self esteem and self image when we say innocuous-sounding things, such as:
- “Why don’t we try harder to do well in school? Look at your cousin, she studies diligently and gets good grades.”
- “You are my cute chubby baby.”
- “How is it that you can’t control your own pee by now?”
- “Don’t be naughty.”
- “Why can’t you be more like your sister / brother?”
- “You are going to have poor and penniless if you pursue your interests.”
- “It looks like you are as useless at math as I am.”
- “People in our family die early and never grow old.”
We may not see such statements as curses since they do not include profanity, but such words will stir up anxiety and fear in our children’s hearts rather than instil hope and peace. Fear is not from God.
1 John 4:18 ESV There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
When a child grows up harbouring bad feelings about themselves, they may also have difficulty going before God because they may:
- Judge God for giving them parents who hurt them with their words
- Blame God for making them the way they are
- Assume God will put them down as their parents have
- Wrongly see God as an un-compassionate insensitive authority
As believers, we have the opportunity to tell our children that they belong first and foremost to God, and confess that their parents will make mistakes but God will never make mistakes. God’s love, understanding, and compassion will always surpass ours and they should love Him first and foremost.
10. Not turning away from family pagan traditions 100%
Most Asian families originate from pagan and occult backgrounds. Many of us are the recipients of idolatrous hierlooms, artworks, shrines, rituals and lucky charms, passed down from one generation to the next. We may be expected to visit ancestral shrines and make offerings to honour our forefathers at various festivals.
The world may call these cultural traditions, but God makes it clear that He calls them spiritual adultery. He even goes as far as calling our family’s rituals “religious orgies on the mountains”.
Jeremiah 3:23-25 NLT Our worship of idols on the hills and our religious orgies on the mountains are a delusion. Only in the LORD our God will Israel ever find salvation. From childhood we have watched as everything our ancestors worked for— their flocks and herds, their sons and daughters— was squandered on a delusion. Let us now lie down in shame and cover ourselves with dishonor, for we and our ancestors have sinned against the LORD our God. From our childhood to this day we have never obeyed him.”
We need to keep in mind that all these were developed outside of God’s sovereignty, by the god of this world, Satan, to deceive the world into rebelling against God. The Bible states that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
1 John 5:19 ESV We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
As believers, we are earmarked to be “redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to us from our ancestors.” Let’s be careful not to go back to idol and ancestor worship just because of peer pressure and persecution from our family or elders.
1 Peter 1:18 NIV For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors,
God does not accept part-time lovers. We need to choose who we will be loyal to first – our family or almighty God Himself. We can honour our parents by respectfully acknowledging their desires but we cannot disobey God by bowing down to their demands. All forms of idol worship bring curses onto our future generations, down to the third and the fourth generation. Let us not bring a curse to our own children.
Exodus 20:5 ESV You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,
The 10 examples shortlisted here are drawn from the confessions of followers of Jesus Christ who have learnt to overcome ungodly influences from their Asian family upbringings over their understanding of God.
It is impossible for us to be perfect parents who will never leave unintended marks on our children’s souls but we can trust that our perfect Heavenly Father will make straight all our paths. Taking the first step in becoming more aware of the ways we may unwittingly stifle our children’s faith is already a great step in that direction.
Proverbs 3:6 ESV In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
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