When I was growing up, religion was hardly an authority in my family. My maternal grandmother was buried with her childhood set of rosary beads, but our participation in Christmas and Easter celebrations were of a more secular tradition – trees decorated with stars and bells and lights, chocolate eggs covered in brightly coloured foil, festive lunches with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles – and I could count the amount of church services I’ve attended in my life on one hand, with room to spare.
Reading about the horrendous ways humans have slaughtered each other in the name of their “true God” only reinforced my reluctance to identify with any of the major religions, and the natural insightfulness of an author has taught me to question the motives behind their respective beliefs and practises.
Life experience eventually led me to the path of spirituality. A subjective combination of intellectual progressivism and mystical hunger, spirituality embraces all of the conventional religious organisations, while not being constrained by their dogmas.
But when you become a parent, you lose the luxury of apathy when it comes to the Big Questions – because when your child asks a question like ‘Where did people first come from?’ or ‘What is the meaning of life?’, you’ll want some answers ready if you don’t want to raise spiritually ignorant children.
It is a well-known psychological fact that a person’s beliefs and values are heavily influenced by their parents during their formative years. And most parents want their children to follow the same moral path.
When parents are open-minded, sharing spiritual or religious wisdom can be healthy and enlightening; but when a parent pushes their own prejudices onto their offspring, it becomes dangerous, not just for the parents or the child, but society as a whole – the last thing this world needs is another racist, homophobe, or misogynist!
My ultimate goal as a parent is to raise happy, intelligent and altruistic individuals, so I have always endeavoured to answer my children’s questions with objectivity before acknowledging my own beliefs on whatever subject is being discussed.
(Luckily for my children, I am not a racist, a homophobe or a misogynist!)
It was en route to school one random morning when Master 10 asked, ‘Where did people first come from?’. Once my initial excitement at the opportunity to impart some profound parental wisdom had subsided, I had fifteen minutes to explain the big bang theory and evolution; the concepts of God and Heaven, and the story of creation.
Master 10 has since decided that he believes in the Christian “God”. Of his own volition, he says a prayer prior to dinner and bed every night, always ending with amen. He has only ever heard the word used in context when we attend the Dawn Service for ANZAC Day every year, and he never met his great-grandmother, so I’m stumped if I know where he learned how to say grace.
My youngest, Master 7, is more ambivalent than his brother; he claims to believe in a Christian God, but he says grace only when he feels inclined and he isn’t prone to literal or rigid thinking, so I strongly suspect that he will become more spiritual (and less “religious”) as he grows older.
And I’m okay with whatever my children choose to believe in – as long as they treat others with the same respect that they expect to be treated with.
After all, if either or even both of them came out as gay, I would be accepting of their lifestyle choices; why shouldn’t I accept the lifestyle choices of a Christian child?
I don’t endorse religious arrogance or fanaticism of any kind (which is why I pretend not to be home when Jehovah’s Witnesses come door-knocking), but if my children do end up walking a different theological path, then I think they should be fully informed. Like sex education, they should know exactly what they’re getting themselves into before making any important decisions.
So I have told my children the few Biblical stories that I do know, and explained my interpretation of their themes. I have also spent hours researching the histories and the practises of the major religions in order to provide the correct – or at least, the most logical – answers. However, I draw the line at taking them to mass (but will reconsider if they are still interested in Christian faith when they are well into their teens).
I have also shown my children age-appropriate research regarding evolution, such as trips to our city zoo and YouTube videos of anthropomorphic behaviour in apes and other species of animals; I have exposed them to practices, holidays and beliefs of other theologies, like meditation (Buddhism and Hinduism), aura cleansing (Wicca), and kosher foods (Judaism); and despite my own personal reservations towards institutional religion, I refrain from ridicule when answering their questions.
Because even though I don’t wear a hijab headscarf, or light a Menorah for Hanukkah, or repent for my sins in confession, or celebrate the Spring Equinox, I do understand that ultimately, every religion tells us to respect each other’s differences.
And if I can’t respect my own children’s right to religious freedom, then I am not as open-minded as my spirituality would have me believe.
Do your children follow a different religious or spiritual path than you? Have you found it difficult, or enlightening? Leave a comment below.
© Tara Jenkinson 2017