agency, parenting, religious socialization, intergenerational transmission of religion, bidirectional influence


This study considers relational meanings and processes associated with parents' desire to pass on their religious faith to their children while also honoring their children's personal religious choices. In a nonclinical sample of religious families, we explored meanings related to the significance of faith transmission and children's agency to parents in addition to processes related to religious socialization. Parental desired continuity was defined as parents' desire to have their children remain committed to the faith of their family of origin. Parental perceived agency was defined as parents' perception of their children's rights and ability to make personal religious choices. Guided by research questions about how parents balance their desire for religious continuity with their perception of their children's agency, we present a theoretical model that illustrates the relationships between these concepts. Parents and children described relational processes that supported both parent's desires and children's agency such as: (a) teaching principles and values, (b) providing expectations of religious participation and responsibility, (c) setting an example, (d) not forcing faith, (e) allowing exploration and mistakes, and (f) showing respect for children's views. Additional analysis examined parental interpretations of their children's current or future faith choices. These varied interpretations included parents' expressions of failure if their children left their faith, parents' acknowledgment of acceptance of their children's alternative choices, as well as parents' hopes for their children to internalize values and to learn for themselves. These findings support previous research about bidirectional and transactional processes between parents and children and suggest that religious decisions can provide a rich context for these processes.

Original Publication Citation

Barrow, B. H., Dollahite, D. C., & Marks, L. D. (2020, January 13). How Parents Balance Desire for Religious Continuity With Honoring Children’s Religious Agency. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Psychology of Religion and Spirituality




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor