February 12, 2007

Mommy, What Is God?

The vast majority of us grew up with one religion or another. Whether it be Christianity, Judaism, or Atheism, we grew up being told something about religion, and then at some point, we went through some kind of maturation process, and decided for ourselves (hopefully) whether we agree with what we were taught.

I'm probably opening Pandora's box here, but I'm going to admit, that among the many life choices that we've made that aren't traditional, one of them is to not bring our children up in any religion.


My husband is atheist. I'm Buddhist. But we don't label ourselves, well, ever. In fact, I think this might be the first time I've described ourselves as such. Our beliefs are obvious, and our children know what we feel about these things. But, we haven't tried to teach them to be one way or another.

In other words, we are letting them decide, now, whether they want to be religious.

So far, they haven't shown any interest.

They've asked about God, they've gone to church with friends, they've seen me meditate and done yoga with me. And we've talked about the "big issues". But whenever we get to a topic where hubby and I have an opinion, but there's no actual fact, we tell them "I don't know the answer to that. Everyone has their own opinion. This is mine. What's yours?"

They might ask us what our opinions are of God, and the afterlife, and why I meditate. But we tell them that ultimately, they have to figure that all out themselves. In fact, that's part of being human is; to figure out the meaning of life.

We've taken this approach with pretty much everything that isn't math or otherwise completely obviously true. The vast majority of what each human "knows" is actually, just opinion.

What we know is based on what we've been taught, what we've read or seen, who we know and where we live. Our knowledge base comes from somewhere inside, from our perspective, and is shaped by weighing the information we have accumulated.

We've decide, as parents, to give as much information as we can to our kids, but what they think about it, what their final conclusions are theirs.

Just an example - the pilgrims. During Thanksgiving, we opt not to do any particular pilgram-oriented activity. We focus instead on thanking the people who are with us, and who make our lives wonderful by being there. We don't thank the pilgrims.

But, if the kids thought the pilgrims should be thanked, that'd be fine too. In other words, we talk to them about everything we know about the pilgrims; what they did, who they served, what their lives were like, why they were here, etc. And, in the end, the kids decide if they need to be thanked or not. So far, the kids haven't been all that enthusiastic about the pilgrims.

On the other hand, they don't have any negative reactions to them either. It is what it is, they get it, let's move on.

Most of what we "teach" them is not a matter of telling them how or what to think, but providing them with as much information as they can possibly stand at the moment (and often, them telling us that our info is wrong, so we do research together) and we all come to our own conclusion about it, which is often different from one another - and it's all OK.

They are still young, so I know that no matter what they think right now, there is a very high likelihood that they will change their mind at some point. And, I'm kind of hoping they do change their mind a lot. Get a different view of things. Try on different perspectives. And if they get to do that now, while they are little, then when they are adults, they won't have to break away from anything to explore their own perspectives. They will have gone through their childhood figuring out where they stand on things. And they will (hopefully) continue that practice through the rest of their lives.

A friend of mine asked if I would be upset if my children decided to be Christian or some other religion that's based on organized worship. I said, "I can't say that now, because if they do decide to do that, there will have been some kind of process that got them to that point. The process will shape my feelings about it more than the final result. So, ask me when they get there, and I'll tell you how I feel about it."

And in the end, how I feel about it isn't really that important anyway, because if my kids' process takes them there, that's their choice. My role, as a parent, is to give them as many tools as possible (and lots of space) to figure out who they are. The number one tool is the grounding of a strong and supportive family.

So, Mommy, What is God? It's exactly what you think it is, dear.


The Barefoot Bum said...

This is pretty much how I raised my children as well.

I would quibble, though, with one statement: "We've taken this approach with pretty much everything that isn't math or otherwise completely obviously true. The vast majority of what each human "knows" is actually, just opinion."

I think quite a lot of science qualifies as real knowledge, more than just opinion.

Anonymous said...

When she was four, my daughter told me what God was. Although we are spiritual, we are non-religious and have no set practices regarding worship. Except for my daughter, who regularly prays under our sofa table and in her room and meditates when times get a bit tough. Back to the subject: My daughter told me, and I believe her, that she is God...and I am God...that we are all God. Works for me! See good in everything and be positive. See God in everything and be Powerful.
Rita Deo Barber