Praying as a family

The Power of Prayer for Families from a blog by the Institute for Family Studies

We tend to think of prayer, and rightly so, as communion with God, with the spiritual connection and benefits it entails. But when we pray with other people—especially with our spouse, parents, or children—it can also be a special form of communion with one another. While it’s difficult, if not impossible, to measure the spiritual effects of prayer, research continues to reveal the powerful benefits for individuals, couples, and even entire families.

A large body of research shows that prayer and religious service attendance are linked to stronger marriages. One 2012 study found an association between shared prayer and greater levels of relationship trust among married couples. Furthermore, other IFS research concluded that “shared prayer is the most powerful predictor of relationship quality among black, Latino, and white couples, more powerful than denomination, religious attendance, or shared religious friendships.”

Prayer helps couples deal with stress, enables them to focus on shared beliefs and hopes for the future, and allows them to deal constructively with challenges and problems in their relationship and in their lives.

New research measuring the effects of faith traditions on family life indicates that shared prayer may also benefit families in some of the same ways that it benefits couples. The recent study from researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) was published in the Journal of Family Psychology and included a sample of 198 religiously-diverse families from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths in 17 states.

The researchers asked both parents and children a number of questions about their faith traditions and how these traditions impacted their family life, including: “How does your family overcome major stresses and problems?” and “How do you share your faith with your children?” In an effort to avoid bias, the word, “prayer” was not used in the interview questions; however, prayer was referenced by family members in 96% of their responses.

Although the families prayed in different ways because of their diverse religious beliefs, there were similarities, including the timing of the prayers during specific family rituals or traditions, the priority families gave to prayer, and the relational processes the families shared. “For the 198 diverse families in our national study,” the BYU researchers wrote, “we found that ‘the family that prays together’ seems to benefit in more ways than just ‘staying together.’”

The study identified several common themes related to prayer and family relationships, including:

  • Families used prayer time as a way to transmit religious traditions to younger generations.
  • Prayer enabled family members to address problems or stresses they were facing, as well as reduced tensions in their relationships.
  • Prayer helped family members bond with one another and created a sense of family unity.

When parents pray with their children, they are not only teaching them how to pray but also modeling and emphasizing the importance of prayer in the hopes that their children will begin a practice of private prayer that they will carry with them into adulthood. And according to new research from the Harvard, the practice of prayer during childhood is linked to better physical, mental, and emotional well-being among young adults. The new study “found profound effects of child and adolescent prayer on the big three dangers of adolescence—depression, substance abuse, and risky behaviors—as well as positive effects on happiness, volunteering, having a sense of mission, and forgiveness.”

Young adults in the study who prayed or meditated at least daily as children or adolescents were “16% more likely to report higher happiness as young adults, 30% less likely to have started having sex at a young age, and 40% less likely to have a sexually transmitted infection compared to those who never prayed or meditated.”

In most religions, the act of prayer is principally an intimate form of worship and communication with God. But it’s also an important tradition that families use to help transmit core religious values to the next generation – a practice that research continues to confirm is beneficial to individual and family well-being. With the potential to strengthen marriages, unite family members, and boost adolescent decision-making and health, prayer is one of the keys to a flourishing family.