Acknowledging the influence of moms isn’t just the stuff of Mother’s Day cards; it also became a major finding and theme in a recent Barna study of practicing Christians’ homes in the U.S. The Households of Faith report, produced in partnership with Lutheran Hour Ministries, finds that mothers—more often than fathers, or any other category of frequent participants in households—are seen as the confidants, providers of support and drivers of faith formation. We observe this dynamic in the responses of adults, who esteem and rely on their moms as sources of strength, companionship and wisdom. In turn, mothers still meet a range of needs and provide support for their grown children or, when applicable, grandchildren. But some of the clearest examples of the broad impact of mothers surface in the responses of Gen Z, who offer a portrait of mothers who are present, passionate and faithful.
Moms Are Primary Activity & Conversation Partners for Teens
For all the stereotypes of teens rolling their eyes at their parents, Gen Z are actually very open with and dependent on their mothers. Consider their descriptions of one-on-one time with other housemates. Today’s Christian teen consistently identifies their mother as the principal housemate for almost all activities. From eating meals together (85%) and watching TV or movies (81%), to talking about God (70%) and having confrontations (63%), mothers are the primary activity partner for their teens. They are second only to friendships even when it comes to using their phones for texting (69% mothers vs. 73% friendships) and calling (61% vs. 71%). The only time mothers are not leading the way is when it comes to activities like interacting on social media or playing sports, both dominated by friendships.
Teens Go to Moms for Tough Conversations & Personal Support
According to practicing Christian teens, mothers are the go-to person for all kinds of support: advice (78%), encouragement (75%) and sympathy (72%). Meanwhile, fathers play a somewhat key role in meeting teens’ tangible needs for money (74%) and logistical help (63%), though even on these two issues, they are somewhat on par with mothers.
As mothers are seen as advisors and encouragers, teens report approaching them with tougher topics. In the impressionable middle and high school years, even conversations about sex (41%) aren’t off limits between teens and moms. (Understandably, when discussing sex, there is a bit of a difference depending on the teens’ gender, with 30 percent of boys and 48 percent of girls talking about this with their mother, and 50 percent of boys and 10 percent of girls covering this topic with their father). Christian teens also primarily seek out mothers’ opinions on questions of faith (72%) or the Bible (71%), as well as things that might be troubling them (78%). No wonder 68 percent of Gen Z in this survey say their mom was the one who was there for them in their last personal crisis.
Mothers Are the Main Spiritual Coaches for Teens
Practicing Christians in their teen years consistently identify mothers as the ones who provide spiritual guidance and instruction and instill the values and disciplines of their faith in the household. Moms are their foremost partners in prayer (63%) and conversations about God (70%), the Bible (71%) or other faith questions (72%). This is consistent with Barna data through the years that show mothers to be the managers of faith formation (among other household routines and structures). Mothers are also the ones encouraging church attendance (79%) or teaching kids about the Bible (66%), God’s forgiveness (66%) and religious traditions (72%).
What the Research Means
“Over and over, this study speaks to the enduring impact of mothers—in conversation, companionship, discipline and, importantly, spiritual development,” Alyce Youngblood, Barna’s managing editor for this report, says.
“Though mothers appear to rise to many demands of parenthood, that doesn’t mean it’s easy,” Youngblood adds. “For instance, another Barna study shows that employed Christian moms struggle not only to feel connected to their work, but also to feel a sense of ‘calling’ or to find satisfaction in most areas of life. Working Christian fathers, meanwhile, thrive in all of these areas. Considering that this report shows moms carry a large share of the logistical, emotional and spiritual weight at home, this contrast in parents’ fulfillment is something the Church might need to help households address, especially as moms increasingly remain in the workplace and become breadwinners.
“Churches should ask pointed questions about how they’ve set up their ministries and how they can best support moms as they help support their families,” Youngblood suggests. “Outside of women’s ministries or a certain Sunday in May, how often do sermons speak to the experiences of moms—whether single or married, working full-time or staying at home? Are programs for families and children based on realistic assumptions about the schedules of working parents? Sometimes the demands of church involvement (for themselves, or for their children) might contribute to moms’ busyness or stress—are moms also being encouraged to observe sabbath, prioritize rest and rely on community? Additionally, would participation in some areas of ministry feel like a help or hindrance for single parents who are already carrying a heavy load?
“These are just a few considerations that can help churches become even more valuable partners in the sacred work mothers are already doing at home.”
About the Research
This study began with in-depth qualitative interviews with highly active Christians of various household types: two nuclear families (white Millennial parents with young children), one multi-generational family (Asian American household with children and boarders), one single-parent family (African American family that is sometimes multi-generational) and a roommate household (white Millennial males). Key insights about what makes a vibrant household or how faith grows in a household setting were initially identified through this research.
The results from the qualitative interviews were used to shape the questionnaire for quantitative online surveys conducted from April 5–11, 2018. In total, 2,347 interviews were conducted, including 448 with teens between the ages of 13–17. In order to qualify, respondents had to identify as Christian, agree strongly that their faith is very important in their life today and report attending a church service at least once in the past month. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 1.8 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.
Individuals living by themselves are excluded from this study. This sample is not designed to be representative of all household types in the U.S. As the goal of this study is to observe interactions among practicing Christians who live together and how faith is experienced and transmitted among them, households of a single person did not qualify for participation.
Practicing Christians are self-identified Christians who say their faith is very important in their lives and have attended a worship service within the past month.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2019