From the time our eldest child, Caleb, was just an infant (and possibly even before), I knew that I wanted to do something significant to mark the point when our children would come of age. I reject the whole notion of the “teenager” (a modern construct invented in the 1940s by pop culture), and instead wanted to reinforce with our children that adolescence is a critical time in which a child grows into adulthood.
“Coming of age” ceremonies are not unique in the history of humankind, of course. Various communities around the world and throughout time have marked the transition of a child into an adult with rituals and ceremonies, possibly the most well-known of these being the bar mitzvah in Jewish communities. Historically, age thirteen is when a child comes of age and enters a period of training for adulthood. For Christians, this can be a wonderful opportunity to stimulate a young man or woman toward Christian maturity.
Caleb is now fifteen, and we had his Manhood Ceremony two years ago, and Kate just turned thirteen, so we had her Womanhood Ceremony recently. We have been asked about the ceremony both times we’ve posted pictures online, so here is a brief run down of what we did.
First, we have created anticipation with our children from the time they were young concerning their thirteenth birthday—This is when you will begin to leave childhood behind and prepare for adulthood, I’ve told them repeatedly. They know that their thirteenth birthday will be a special time.
Several years ago, we began to intentionally read with each of our older children books we felt would help them cultivate godly disciplines, deal with struggles they’re facing, or simply grow in their knowledge of Scripture, personal holiness, and love for Christ. We’ve read things like What Is the Gospel by Greg Gilbert, The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality by Luke Gilkerson, Disciplines of a Godly Young Man by R. Kent Hughes, Feminine by Design by Scott Brown, and Core Christianity by Michael Horton, among other things. These have been wonderful opportunities to have significant conversations.
Then over the six months or so leading up to their thirteenth birthday, I began to specifically plan what we would do to mark the occasion. For Caleb, I benefited from reading Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood by Robert Lewis and modeled Kate’s in similar ways as well. We talk with the kids about marks of godly manhood and womanhood as they enter this stage of life.
For the evening of the Manhood and Womanhood ceremony, we invited men (for Caleb) and women (for Kate) from our church with whom they have had a relationship. We asked these friends to join us in encouraging and challenging Caleb and Kate toward Christlikeness and mature manhood/womanhood in the days and years ahead. For Caleb, we had a nice meal of BBQ brisket, and for Kate the ladies enjoyed a nice formal tea.
I prepared a formal ceremony for each with many similarities, but of course slight differences as well. But in both cases, I (for Caleb) and Becky (for Kate) gave a challenge to them, and then each of the other guests spent a few minutes encouraging and admonishing them with biblical principles they believed would serve them as they transition to manhood or womanhood.
I prepared a Declaration of Manhood / Womanhood certificate for Caleb and Kate that they signed, resolving to pursue the biblical character qualities with which we had charged them, and the other guests signed the certificate as witnesses. We added a picture of the evening to the certificate, and they are framed in each of their rooms as a continual reminder of what they should be striving after.
We don’t expect the events of those ceremonies to be a magical charm, and our young adults have many challenges ahead of them, but it is our prayer that by marking off this moment in their lives in a significant and memorable way, our children will continue to pursue those biblical qualities that should characterize all godly Christian men and women.
Both kids were understandably nervous being the center of attention leading up to the ceremony, but they both really enjoyed them and thanked us afterwards. We plan to continue this tradition with our two younger children.
If you are thinking about how you might mark your own children’s coming of age, I hope this narrative might give you some helpful ideas. For more tips, including reading recommendations, see my book, Let the Little Children Come.